In this chapter I review the cultural and social history of compassion. I highlight the involvement of compassion in the creation and maintenance of conditions of everyday life in western modernity. I aim to equip readers with some resources to think critically about the range of moral, political and social interests that are featured in favoured accounts of compassion and its consequences. In later sections, I provide some analytical reflections on contemporary forms of ‘compassion fatigue’. Throughout the chapter, I emphasise that compassion courts controversy, and I further underline the potential for this to marshal critical debate towards the institutional configuration and moral character of society. I maintain that compassion is a ‘social emotion’ that holds the potential to alert us to the quality of our moral attachments to others and calls on us to reflect on how we bear a moral responsibility to relate to people with care. The study of compassion involves us in far more than a critical commitment to expose its potential to operate in the service of various political and social ideologies, for the issues at stake here concern the potential for individuals to enact humane forms of society. I argue that by studying compassion we are made to attend to how individuals are more or less equipped with the moral motivation to care for one another.