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On Empathy

Uploaded by palma on Oct 09, 2000

Sam Vaknin's Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Foreign Affairs Web Sites


The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1999 edition) defines empathy as:

"The ability to imagine oneself in anther's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfühlung and modelled on "sympathy." The term is used with special (but not exclusive) reference to aesthetic experience. The most obvious example, perhaps, is that of the actor or singer who genuinely feels the part he is performing. With other works of art, a spectator may, by a kind of introjection, feel himself involved in what he observes or contemplates. The use of empathy is an important part of the counselling technique developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers."
Empathy is predicated upon and must, therefore, incorporate the following elements:
(a) Imagination which is dependent on the ability to imagine
(b) The existence of an accessible Self (self-awareness or self-consciousness)
(c) The existence of an available other (other-awareness, recognizing the outside world)
(d) The existence of accessible feelings, desires, ideas and representations of actions or their outcomes both in the empathizing Self ("Empathor") and in the Other, the object of empathy ("Empathee")
(e) The availability of an aesthetic frame of reference
(f) The availability of a moral frame of reference
While (a) is presumed to be universally available to all agents (though in varying degrees) - the existence of the other components of empathy should not be taken for granted.
Conditions (b) and (c), for instance, are not satisfied by people who suffer from personality disorders, such as the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Condition (d) is not met in autistic people (e.g., those who suffer from the Asperger syndrome). Conditions (e) is so totally dependent on the specifics of the culture, period and society in which it exists - that it is rather meaningless and ambiguous as a yardstick. Condition (f) suffer from both afflictions: it is both culture-dependent AND is not satisfied in many people (such as those who suffer from the Antisocial Personality Disorder and who are devoid of any conscience or moral sense).

Thus, the very existence of empathy should be questioned. It is often confused with inter-subjectivity. The latter is defined thus by "The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995":

"This term refers to the status of being somehow accessible to at least two (usually all, in principle) minds or 'subjectivities'....

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Uploaded by:   palma

Date:   10/09/2000

Category:   Science And Technology

Length:   13 pages (2,865 words)

Views:   1725

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