Empathy and the extended mind

Zygon 44 (3):675-698 (2009)
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Abstract

I draw upon the conceptual resources of the extended mind thesis to analyze empathy and interpersonal understanding. Against the dominant mentalistic paradigm, I argue that empathy is fundamentally an extended bodily activity and that much of our social understanding happens outside of the head. First, I look at how the two dominant models of interpersonal understanding, theory theory and simulation theory, portray the cognitive link between folk psychology and empathy. Next, I challenge their internalist orthodoxy and offer an alternative "extended" characterization of empathy. In support of this characterization, I analyze some narratives of individuals with Moebius syndrome, a kind of expressive deficit resulting from bilateral facial paralysis. I conclude by discussing how a Zen Buddhist ethics of responsiveness is helpful for articulating the practical significance of an extended, body-based account of empathy.

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Joel Krueger
University of Exeter

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