Monday, February 19, 2018

The case of empathy

Subtitle above of an interview with de Waal and Thompson titled: Primates, monks and the mind. Therein they discuss the development of empathy from primates to monks. While the former provides a foundation for the latter, the latter adds on empathic capacities not in the former. (I'm also reminded of Rifkin's stages of empathy.)

Thompson: " The most basic, in a way the foundational or ground floor one, is a coupling or pairing between one’s bodily being and the being of another. This can take various forms. There are various kinds of affective and motor resonances. [...] Without it it’s hard to see how the more developed forms of empathy could arise. A second, more developed aspect, could be described as involving some kind of imaginative transposition or movement to the place of another, so that you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, imaginatively speaking. And then, third, this perspective-taking can become more complex in the sense that you don’t simply put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, but you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes such that you comprehend how they see you. Here there’s a kind of reiteration of empathy, so that you have an empathetic experience of someone else’s empathetic experience of you. 

"I see this third aspect as very important for the development of a sense of personal self. I experience my being not from a closed, first-person singular perspective, but from an open and shared  intersubjective perspective, where I have access to how you see me. Finally, a fourth aspect of empathy would be, I suppose, a specifically moral aspect, where we could say that empathy is a moral perception of someone else as a person. By ‘person’ I mean someone who has a some kind of moral standing who’s deserving of concern and respect. Or even more generally, we could say that empathy is a moral perception of another being as a sentient being, as a being capable of suffering, and therefore deserving of moral consideration. So I would see empathy as encompassing all of those different aspects" (2).

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