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Rediscovering Empathy

Rediscovering Empathy: Agency, Folk Psychology, and the Human Sciences

Karsten R. Stueber
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Rediscovering Empathy
    Book Description:

    In this timely and wide-ranging study, Karsten Stueber argues that empathy is epistemically central for our folk-psychological understanding of other agents--that it is something we cannot do without in order to gain understanding of other minds. Setting his argument in the context of contemporary philosophy of mind and the interdisciplinary debate about the nature of our mindreading abilities, Stueber counters objections raised by some in the philosophy of social science and argues that it is time to rehabilitate the empathy thesis.Empathy, regarded at the beginning of the twentieth century as the fundamental method of gaining knowledge of other minds, has suffered a century of philosophical neglect. Stueber addresses the plausible philosophical misgivings about empathy that have been responsible for its failure to gain widespread philosophical acceptance.Crucial in this context is his defense of the assumption, very much contested in contemporary philosophy of mind, that the notion of rational agency is at the core of folk psychology. Stueber then discusses the contemporary debate between simulation theorists--who defend various forms of the empathy thesis--and theory theorists. In distinguishing between basic and reenactive empathy, he provides a new interpretive framework for the investigation into our mindreading capacities. Finally, he considers epistemic objections to empathy raised by the philosophy of social science that have been insufficiently discussed in contemporary debates. Empathy theorists, Stueber writes, should be prepared to admit that, although empathy can be regarded as the central default mode for understanding other agents, there are certain limitations in its ability to make sense of other agents; and there are supplemental theoretical strategies available to overcome these limitations.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28453-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    Typical adult human beings have developed the ability to understand other persons as minded creatures, to recognize others’ states of mind, and to make sense of their behavior in light of their mind’s causal powers. We understand that our fellow beings are creatures who can see what is in front of them, remember things that happened to them in the past, deliberate about what to do in the future; they can feel pain, be happy, feel depressed, guilty, ashamed, or proud. We also grasp that other persons act the way they do because of their state of mind and that...

  5. 1 Folk Psychology and Rational Agency
    (pp. 33-64)

    Any investigation into our folk-psychological capacities to interpret, predict, and explain the behavior of other people is best conducted by first gaining a preliminary understanding of the central features of the conceptual framework that is used for such purposes. Philosophers and psychologists are not only divided about empathy’s epistemic role within this context; they are also fundamentally at odds about how to characterize the essential features of our folk-psychological practices. In particular, they disagree vehemently about whether folk-psychological interpretations of other agents are constrained by the assumption of rationality, an assumption that will be central to my defense of the...

  6. 2 Charity and Rational Contextualism
    (pp. 65-98)

    The previous chapter has shown that the current debate about whether we are justified to consider human beings as rational animals is riddled with terminological confusion on both sides. For that very reason, one might get the impression that the rationality debate is merely verbal, that both sides talk past each other. Even if the concept of rational agency in the traditional sense has not in fact been jeopardized, proponents of the nonrationality conception could insist that psychological research has shown that our mind is not programmed according to the proper norms of reasoning. Prima facie they are also right...

  7. 3 The Theory of Mind Debate
    (pp. 99-130)

    As explained in the introduction, philosophers of social science, with a few notable exceptions, have taken a rather negative view of empathy’s role in how we understand other agents. Only within current philosophy of mind has empathy found new and enthusiastic proponents in defenders of simulation theory. But to properly evaluate simulation theory a bit of stage setting is required. Even more so than in the traditional debate about empathy, the current simulation proposal has been closely linked to an empirical investigation of the underlying psychological mechanisms of our folk-psychological abilities to interpret, explain, and predict the behavior of other...

  8. 4 Basic Empathy and Reenactive Empathy
    (pp. 131-172)

    Thinking through the nature of our grasp of our folk-psychological concepts will show that neither of the accounts of folk-psychological concepts associated with either simulation theory or theory theory—despite the prima facie plausibility of each—is without significant blind spots. For that very reason neurobiological research on mirror neurons should not be understood as decisive evidence for simulation theory and against theory theory. Instead, it should enable us to reconceive of the debate between the two approaches on a new level that recognizes basic empathy as the primary perceptual mechanism for interpreting other agents. As I will argue, the...

  9. 5 Folk Psychology and Normative Epistemology
    (pp. 173-194)

    As we’ve seen, today’s theory of mind debate is best understood as a continuation of the tradition going back to Hume’s and Locke’s causal analyses of the functioning of the mind as dealing primarily with questions ofquid facti. Conceived of in this manner, the current debate cannot provide us with an exhaustive and philosophically satisfying analysis of our folk-psychological practices. Folk-psychological practices are epistemic practices in which knowledge claims are made, defended, and negotiated. We are not only interested in answering factual questions of how we causally produced our folk-psychological interpretation of another person. Rather we are interested in...

  10. 6 The Limits of Empathy
    (pp. 195-218)

    Philosophers of social science have objected to the notion of empathy not only because they see our understanding of other agents primarily as a theoretical enterprise. Philosophers from the hermeneutic and Wittgensteinian traditions agree with proponents of empathy that interpretation in the human realm cannot be conceived of on such a theoretical model. Yet they have given up on the concept of empathy as well and generally adopted the concept of understanding to express their opposition to conceiving of the interpretive project in the human realm on the model of the natural sciences. Hence to point to empathy as the...

  11. Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 219-220)

    In this book I have limited my claims for empathy to the question of whether or not empathy is central to our ability to understand other individual agents within the folk-psychological realm, which is also the current focus of the theory of mind debate. I agree that claims about empathy as the only method of the human and social sciences are exaggerations. But as I have shown, empathy must be regarded as of central epistemic importance and as the epistemic default mode in understanding other agents. In order to make that argument, the book has distinguished between basic and reenactive...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 221-250)
  13. References
    (pp. 251-270)
  14. Index
    (pp. 271-276)