Imagining the Lives of Others

Paul Bloom: A fan of perspective-taking would say that we just have to get better at it; we should try harder. There are certain limits, however, to how far we can go. The philosopher Laurie Paul, in her book Transformative Experience, argues that it’s impossible to actually imagine what it would be like to have certain deeply significant experiences, such as becoming a parent, changing your religion, or fighting a war. The same lack of access applies to our understanding of others. If I can’t know what it would be like for me to fight in a war, how can I expect to understand what it was like for someone else to have fought in a war? If I can’t understand what it would be like to become poor, how can I know what it’s like for someone else to be poor?

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