Although commonly used as simply a synonym for sympathy, the term empathy means more than just one's identification with another's feelings. Instead, it refers to the the imaginative projection of your own feelings into someone else. Thus, by starting out with your own feelings of happiness at some event, empathy allows you to abstract out the principle "such an event creates happiness" and then project that as a possible result in other people who experience a similar event.
In this way, empathy is what allows you to treat other people as you yourself would like to be treated - which is what ethics and morality tend to be about. Empathy, along with reason and experience, form the foundation for secular and naturalistic ethical theories.
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What are Ethics and Morality?
Ethics is the formal study of moral standards and conduct. For this reason, the study of ethics is also often called "moral philosophy." What is good? What is evil? How should I behave - and why? How should I balance my needs against the needs of others?
What is Philosophy?
What is philosophy? Is there any point in studying philosophy, or is it a useless subject? What are the different branches of philosophy - what's the difference between aestheitcs and ethics? What's the difference between metaphysics and epistemology?