On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Seven
The Death of Ivan Ilych
By Leo Tolstoy

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~1 Corinthians 13:13

How exactly do we love our neighbor as ourselves?  Chapter Seven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of love with examples drawn from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych.  The discussion today distinguishes attributes that are frequently either misunderstood or confused. 

As Karen wrote

While not the same as love, compassion is connected to love. Moral philosopher Martha Nussbaum explains that compassion is more than empathy. Empathy allows someone to imagine what the experience of the sufferer might be like, but compassion goes beyond empathy. Compassion characterized Jesus’s earthly ministry, leading him time and time again to heal or help those suffering. To have compassion is, literally, to “suffer with” someone (com meaning “with” and passion meaning “suffer”). Compassion involves “a sense of mature judgment and an understanding of the relatedness of life” and “directs our attention to life and the suffering of others.” Psychologist Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy, argues that compassion—love, concern, and motivation to help others in their suffering—is more helpful and healthy than empathy—the ability to feel another’s pain. Charity is the bridge between mere empathy and compassion. Charity “orders our lives and our loves toward God and, subsequently, the whole of creation” and “always seeks the best for its beloved.”

Is compassion enough to fulfill the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves?

On Reading Well


Published by

Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life