Anchoring empathy in receptivity


In one sense of the term, empathy refers to the act of sharing in another person’s experience of and perspective on the world. According to simulation accounts of empathy, we achieve this by replicating the other’s mind in our imagination. We explore a form of empathy, empathic perspective-taking, that is not adequately captured by existing simulationist approaches. We begin by pointing out that we often achieve empathy (or share in another’s perspective) by listening to the other person. This form of empathy, which we call “empathy through listening”, involves four distinctive features: (i) the actual sharing of a perspective; (ii) dynamical unfolding; (iii) collaboration; and (iv) mutual transformation. Next, we consider the individual basis of empathy through listening. We argue that it requires an attitude of “receptivity” and elaborate on this elusive concept in terms of “epistemic respect”. Finally, we consider whether this form of empathy can be adequately explained within the simulationist framework. We argue that simulationist approaches must be complemented by a receptivity-based conception of empathy—that is, a conception that envisions empathy not so much as an individual imaginative enterprise, but rather as a collaborative practice of engaging with the other while paying her due epistemic respect.

Author Profiles

Seisuke Hayakawa
University of Tokyo
Katsunori Miyahara
Hokkaido University


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