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Compassion frequently arises, where there is no preceding esteem or friendship; and compassion is an uneasiness in the sufferings of another. It seems to spring from the intimate and strong conception of his sufferings; and our imagination proceeds by degrees, from the lively idea, to the real feeling of another’s misery.

David Hume, Dissertations of the Passions, section III, §4

Compassion is not so much a question of empathy, but rather a personal matter, in respect to the Self: the unpleasant feeling of someone else’s pain as experienced by oneself, in relation to oneself.

Compassion would therefore be, according to Hume, a mechanism which allows stopping this suffering transferred on oneself (rather than bring help to someone else by goodwill or kindness). If we cannot help but feel bad about someone else’s misery, one may attempt to help them in order to stop this unpleasant feeling inside themself.

Demonstrating compassion being a virtuous act, it is first and foremost for themself that one accomplishes such gesture, to make themself feel good; secondly, it flatters their pride, because it brings others’ attention on us and therefore their esteem.

Nevertheless, compassion simply appears to be a matter of personal satisfaction—it is what Hume attempts to make us realize. There is kindness only but for one’s own ends; to give oneself to the loved one is merely a pretext for the lover to gain even more pleasure (and which will eventually generate jealousy, as we will see).