What Is Empathy?

What Is Empathy?

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did and never can carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations.

- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I, 1

Podcast of the Day

Walk a mile in my shoes goes the saying. But beware the swapping of footwear. Many believe that what the world needs now is empathy; large dollops of it. President Obama, no less, raised empathy to a question of public policy, comparing the dangers of an empathy deficit with the big hole in the federal budget. It sounds right and feels good but is empathy really necessary for sound moral judgement? Worse, could it lead to injustice?

Listen the The Philosopher's Zone episode on Empathy

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

...In the past few decades, interest in empathy has spread beyond psychology to primatology and neuroscience. In the 1990s, neuroscientists studying monkeys discovered mirror neurons, cells in the animals’ brains that fired not only when a monkey moved, but also when the monkey saw another one make the same movement. The discovery of mirror neurons spurred a wave of research into empathy and brain activity that quickly extended to humans as well. Other recent studies have further widened empathy’s reach into fields like economics and literature, finding that wealth disparities weaken empathic response and that reading fiction can improve it.

But as Kristof and Bloom illustrate, there is still some cultural debate about what empathy means today. And in the psychology community, the answers are no more clear-cut...

Continue reading Susan Lanzoni's article: A Short History of Empathy

Further Reading

Despite its linguistic roots in ancient Greek, the concept of empathy is of recent intellectual heritage. Yet its history has been varied and colorful, a fact that is also mirrored in the multiplicity of definitions associated with the empathy concept in a number of different scientific and non-scientific discourses. In its philosophical heyday at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, empathy had been hailed as the primary means for gaining knowledge of other minds and as the method uniquely suited for the human sciences, only to be almost entirely neglected philosophically for the rest of the century. Only recently have philosophers become again interested in empathy in light of the debate about our folk psychological mindreading capacities. In the second half of the last century, the task of addressing empathy was mainly left to psychologists who thematized it as a psychological phenomenon and process to be studied by the method of the empirical sciences. Particularly, it has been studied by social psychologists as a phenomenon assumed to be causally involved in creating prosocial attitudes and behavior. Nevertheless, within psychology it is at times difficult to find agreement of how exactly one should understand empathy; a fact of which psychologists themselves have become increasingly aware...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Empathy by Karsten Stueber

Posted by in Ideas, 0 comments