J.D. Trout is a professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, and an adjunct professor at the Parmly Sensory Sciences Institute. He writes on the nature of scientific and intellectual progress, as well as on the contribution that social science can make to human well-being. He is the author of Measuring the Intentional World, and co-author of Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. His most recent book is The Empathy Gap: Building Bridges to the Good Life and the Good Society.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, J. D Trout draws distinctions between empathy and sympathy. He talks about the “empathy gap,” which is a set of natural, evolved limits on empathy, and how these limits negatively affect society, such as when people experience difficulties trying to empathize with others who are religiously, culturally or psychologically different from themselves. He talks about how the results of empathy can actually be crippling for an individual. He talks about how we should use new research in the social sciences to overcome the empathy gap. He explores if new social science questions the basic capitalistic assumptions of the American Dream and also calls into question basic philosophical concepts, such as free-will.
He explains how new social science research supports the Enlightenment outlook. He details a number of well-researched cognitive biases that lead people to make bad decisions, such as the base-rate effect, overconfidence bias, the omission bias, the hindsight bias, and the availability bias, among others. He shares his skepticism that education about cognitive biases, or the adoption of “inside strategies,” can diminish the negative effect of such biases. He proposes that society adopt “outside strategies,” which is the government or institutions adopting policies and strategies to help the public overcome their cognitive biases, because he argues individuals will not be very successful on their own in counteracting them. And he explores to what extent these kinds of institutional or governmental strategies and policies are “social engineering.”