Empathy in the Context of Philosophy


 A substantial amount of research has been devoted to the concept of empathy. However, empathy remains controversial, under-theorized, and subject to conflicting and opportunistic uses. Its systematic role in human experience has not been analyzed and interpreted from top to bottom. Keeping in mind the recommendation of a fellow Chicagoan, Daniel Burnham, to "make no small plans," I attempt in this book (and the related blog (www.EmpathyInTheContextOfPhilosophy.com) to provide such an analysis in the philosophical traditions of hermeneutics, phenomenology, analytic philosophy of language, and psychoanalysis. I apply my interpretation of empathy to the philosophical issues of intentionality, the emotions, and the checkered transformations of empathy itself. In doing so I aim to rescue empathy from the margins of intelligibility and reveal its central role in our understanding of the emotions, the integrity of our relations with others, and human community (“intersubjectivity”).  This blog includes material that is not included in my book of the same title, Empathy in the Context of Philosophy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). In other words, those chapters that, in spite of the enthusiasm of the editor and publisher, had to be deferred to volume two due to word count limitations (i.e., the economics of publishing in the Great Recession of 2008) - and assuming there ever is a volume two published (already written in draft) - are exclusively available there. Meanwhile...

This work [both the book and the blog] draws on both the Anglo-American (“analytic”) tradition of ordinary language philosophy and the continental ones of phenomenology and hermeneutics. This work follows the movement of empathy from the periphery of ethics, aesthetics, and theory of mind to a key place in establishing and maintaining the integrity and emotional equilibrium of dynamic interrelations with other individuals. Beginning with the philosophical infrastructure of the hermeneutics of empathy, this work engages the complex architecture of empathy, tracing it downward through the levels of authentic human interrelations, empathy with unexpressed emotions, the empathic penetrability of cognitively impenetrable affect, the first-ever intentional analysis of both the empathizer and the “empathasand” in interrelation, and the hermeneutic infrastructure. The consequences of empathy are exposed in the context of the emotions, cognitive impenetrability, empathy and altruism, and the intentionality of empathy as accessed through language and story telling. Drawing on the multi-method approach of hermeneutics, phenomenology, and story telling, this work demonstrates that empathy forms the foundation for community in ways not clearly appreciated in the on-going debate. In a bootstrap operation that is guided by Heidegger’s call for a “special hermeneutic of empathy,” this work engages in a delicate balancing act of unpacking the rich intellectual traditions from which empathy - the phenomenon itself, not the concept - emerged historically. The result is an exploration of the deep structure of empathy as a fundamentally human capability for creating possibilities of community and human relations. Join me in this journey.

[This work and all its contents, © Lou Agosta, Ph.D.]

(My publication)Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 by lagosta
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