AuthorKramer, Max F.
Weinberg, Jonathan M.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractMost people think that empathy is a valuable trait, that (all things equal) an empathetic person is a good person. Recently this idea has been challenged by psychologists and philosophers who are worried by findings that indicate a general tendency to empathize more reliably with people who are similar to us than those who are not. This strikes a blow to those who would have hoped that empathy is precisely the sort of thing that can bridge difference. In this dissertation, I aim to challenge the implicit notion that empathy’s value comes from its usefulness as a tool. Empathy can be a tool, true, but it is not just that. It is a way of relating to others that is valuable for what it is and, perhaps, what it expresses, in addition to what it does. In Chapter 1, I aim to provide an answer to the titular question: “How Should We Think About Empathy?” The first answer is that we should think about it in terms of what I call the AAA Model, which is to say, we should understand empathy as having an attention-attribution-acquisition structure. When we empathize, we first attend to affective indicators, then make an emotion attribution on the basis of those indicators, before finally acquiring an isomorphic emotional state in virtue of making the attribution. This structure allows for plenty of flexibility, and I therefore describe this way of conceptualizing empathy as a generic approach, a framework within which other theorists could be narrower in their conceptions of empathy according to their aims and preferences. Crucially, I also argue that we should think of empathy as one of a number of fellow feelings – affective responses that bear variations on an attention-attribution-acquisition structure. In Chapter 2, “Reasons for Empathy,” I introduce a way of thinking about empathy non-instrumentally through the concept of fittingness. The recent literature in philosophy of emotion has converged on a separation between fitting and non-fitting (i.e., value-based, instrumental, or “extraneous”) reasons for emotions. After further specifying the nature of the emotions one acquires as part of an empathic response, I attempt to apply the standard fittingness framework so that we can determine when empathy (or, at least, an empathic emotion) is justified on its own terms, to use Stephen Darwall’s useful phrase. While the predominant Object View takes us a good distance, it cannot fully capture the appropriateness of empathic emotions due to the fact that they are felt, as it were, from the perspective of, and on behalf of, another person. Once this is established, we can clearly see that the empathic responses of subjects in the research which has so troubled moral psychologists are deficient on their own terms. Therefore, these findings cannot be easily used to motivate a far-reaching pessimism about empathy. Chapter 3, “You Just Have to Feel for Them,” switches from a defense of empathy to a positive argument for its necessity in human lives. The thought is that, if there are circumstances under which we are called upon to empathize, it is not something that we would want to get rid of – especially if the circumstances in which such a demand is issued are ones we value independently. To that end, I present two arguments in favor of the idea that empathy is essential to participation in human loving relationships. The first aims to secure a kind of logical or conceptual necessity. Many philosophers have observed that loving a person conceptually requires caring about them, and a significant element of the story in the preceding chapter was a close rational connection between empathy and care. Moreover, the exigencies of a loving relationship shape the caring attitude in a particular way. The idea, then, is that if a disposition to empathy were contoured along the lines of the caring attitude which necessarily presents itself in a loving relationship, that disposition would be a necessary expression of that necessary attitude. Empathy is not required in any single instance, but if one did not manifest a liability to empathize in a certain manner with one’s beloved, one could not be said to care about them in the way required by the loving relationship. If you couldn’t empathize with another person, you couldn’t relate to them in the way loving relationships demand. The second claims a necessary role for empathy in securing one of the essential and valuable features of loving relationships, namely, one’s ability to accept the ministrations of loved ones as caring, as opposed to invasive, paternalistic, or infantilizing. Against the non-instrumental emphasis of the dissertation thus far, the goal here is to highlight empathy’s unique instrumental value. Basically, in order to accept acts of care as such, one must trust that the other has one’s best interests at heart and that they are actually providing one a benefit through their actions. This is especially difficult to secure when there is doubt as to either of these things. What empathy does is allow for the development of a conception of another’s good, and a capacity to act on it, that is generated from within their evaluative perspective rather than imposed from without. So, when a loved one is motivated to act in accordance with such a conception of one’s good, one can accept it as a conception one would endorse under different circumstances and the acts flowing from it as ones they would see as being to their benefit under those circumstances. Chapter 4, “The Makings of Enmity,” explores an under-discussed connection between empathy and Schadenfreude. After first situating Schadenfreude within a category of foe feelings, which exhibit a prominent structural symmetry with fellow feelings, I tackle the question of whether Schadenfreude has anything going for it – more specifically, whether Schadenfreude is ever something we could have reason to feel toward another person. I argue that we do, given that we sometimes have reason to care in a negative sense about others, the same way we have negative reason to care about the mold sprouting in the crawl space or the growth of conspiracism facilitated by social media. Going further, there are circumstances where, by analogy with the first argument for the necessity of empathy in loving relationships in the previous chapter, we are required to feel Schadenfreude toward others. This requirement appears in the context of a nemetic relationship, that is, the relationship one has with an enemy. It might be argued that whereas loving relationships are proper parts of valuable human lives, nemetic relationships are not. Against this, I maintain that enmity is a natural consequence of wholehearted commitment to valuable projects, and therefore a part of lives that are not just decent, but some of the most meaningful around.It can be said that empathy and Schadenfreude, as well as fellow- and foe-feeling more generally, are mechanisms of identification with other people. Chapter 5, “I’m So Lost Without You,” explores the emotional consequences of identification. Some philosophers have recently argued that grief is “forever fitting” following the death of a loved one. I propose an account of grief’s rationality that avoids this unintuitive conclusion. The people one cares most about (whether positively or negatively) come to form a part of one’s self-concept, i.e., the way one sees oneself. When these individuals die, that self-image is shattered, but, because of the attachments in which the relationships underlying the self-concept consist, it is a self-image that is difficult to let go of. The rational force of a loved one’s death, the reason it provides a fitting reason for grief, is in producing and sustaining a kind of identity crisis. This means that grief can remain forever fitting if the crisis is never resolved. But, if the crisis is resolved, as it is in most non-pathological cases, grief ceases to be fitting at the point at which one has picked up the pieces of one’s identity and remade it into something truthful to the world as it is – lacking the beloved – and not to the world as one wants it to be – with the beloved still in it.
Degree ProgramGraduate College