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Grant number like: FA-50140-04

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Clifford Orwin
University of Toronto (Toronto M5S 1A5 Canada)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2004 – 6/30/2005

Pangs of Compassion

My project is to complete a book for the general intellectual public exploring compassion as a fact of modern political life and a theme of modern political thought. Never has the prestige of compassion been higher than it is today. In public as in private life, compassion and such related qualities as "sensitivity," "empathy," and "openness" are praised both in themselves and as needful to the political health of a large, diverse democracy like our own. With the advent of "compassionate conservatism," the moderate right now vies with the left over which is more truly compassionate. Beginning always from this and other current debates, I will explore the issues that they raise through an encounter with great thinkers and writers who have made compassion their theme. In order to place the modern notion of compassion in the proper historical perspective, I will distinguish it from Christian charity, on which it draws but which it diverges and which it seeks to supplant. (In order to introduce a non-Western point of reference, I will also pay some attention to Mahayana Buddhism.) I will go on to consider various aspects of the project to found politics on compassion, embracing foreign affairs as well as domestic ones. Having attempted to articulate both the strongest case in favor of political compassion and the strongest case against it, I will do my best to arbitrate between them. Among the writers discussed will be Montaigne, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Tocqueville, Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, Walt Whitman, Nietzsche, William James, Joseph Conrad, and Stefan Zweig. I will also pay attention to current approaches to these issues by intellectuals such as Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Ignatieff, and Susan Sontag.