Recent debates around the meaning and implications of "compassionate conservation" suggest some conservationists are uncomfortable with emotion, disparaging it as a false and misleading basis for moral judgment and decision-making. These notions arise from a long-standing, gendered sociocultural convention whereby reason is seen as separate from and superior to emotion. We discuss the intellectual heritage and legacy of this dualistic and hierarchical thinking, pointing out that it is neither scientifically tenable nor morally tractable. We elaborate on our understanding of compassion as an experience of interdependence and a core virtue for conservation. In these capacities, compassion illuminates conservationists' responsibilities to individual beings, enhancing established and widely accepted beliefs that conservationists have a duty to protect populations, species, and ecosystems (i.e., biodiversity). Emotion in general, and compassion in particular, should be affirmed and embraced by conservationists for the novel and essential insights they contribute to conservation ethics. Article impact statement: Conservationists should accept that emotions like compassion provide insights that can help them understand and navigate their moral lives. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

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