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Veggie Society, Philosophy Club host talk on empathy

On Sept. 23, the Veggie Society and the Philosophy Club hosted a lecture by Adam Lerner called “Are We All Selective Psychopaths? What Empathy Gaps Teach Us About Ethics.”

Lerner is an assistant professor of bioethics at New York University.

Travis Timmerman, the faculty adviser for the Philosophy Club and an assistant professor of philosophy, said, “I have known Dr. Lerner for years and have read much of his philosophical work. He is one of the best young philosophers around, so naturally I wanted to bring him to Seton Hall if I could.”

Photo courtesy of Annabelle Dunn
From left: Travis Timmerman, Adam Lerner and Annabelle Dunn were key members of this empathy event.

In his talk, Lerner discussed empathy and explained that we feel more for someone when we see their face or hear their voice, take their face and voice to be cute and perceive fear, sadness or pain in their face, voice or body.

Lerner said that if we lacked the capacity to feel empathic concern, we would have never formed our core moral beliefs. He drew a correlation to this by saying how psychopaths do not share our core beliefs and moral judgments.

This led to a surprising twist about animal welfare issues.

“We have decisive reason to believe that if we collected empathic evidence in the proper way, we would judge that eating animal products is morally impermissible,” Lerner said.

Timmerman thought the event was incredible.

“I am not an expert on the moral psychology literature, nor on how it relates to the moral epistemology literature,” he said. “So I learned a lot from Dr. Lerner’s lecture, and other students told me they did as well.

Annabelle Dunn, the President of the Veggie Society and a sophomore philosophy major, added, “Dr. Lerner is passionate about animal welfare issues and a vegan himself. His educational background is also very impressive. I received a lot of positive feedback after the talk about how he engaged the audience.”

“We had a great turnout, and I was very impressed with all of the students’ thoughtful and probing questions,” Timmerman said. “I know Dr. Lerner was as well. On top of all of this, the Veggie Society catered the event with incredibly delicious food.”

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Dunn said she had met with Gourmet Dining Services staff to create a special menu for the event.

“It was really important to me that the event be catered so that attendees could try vegan food,” Dunn said. “A lot of vegetarians and vegans were very pleased with the food, and a lot of conventional eaters were surprised that any of it was vegan. The dining hall staff is extremely receptive to new suggestions for plant-based food, and what they’ve put out so far has been delicious.”

Dunn explained that she chose to become vegan after reading about the dairy industry. She mentioned how baby calves are separated from their mothers immediately after birth. The cows are impregnated right after they are separated from their babies so they can keep producing milk.

“I identified as a feminist from a young age, so supporting the dairy industry, which thrives off the exploitation of the female reproductive system, was really hypocritical to me,” she said.

Timmerman also noted that the Philosophy Club brings in multiple speakers every year to discuss a wide range of philosophical topics.

“The talks are open to everyone, and we hope that you’ll join us for future talks,” he said. “The Veggie Society brings in speakers too. We encourage anyone interested to stop by for either club’s weekly meetings too. The more the merrier.”

Kristel Domingo can be reached at


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