Full paper: https://www.academia.edu/36551497/Exploring_Enactive_Empathy_Actively_Responding_to_and_Understanding_Others

Daniel D. Hutto

School of Humanities and Social Inquiry Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts University of Wollongong


Alan Jurgens

School of Humanities and Social Inquiry Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts University of Wollongong

‘I’ll teach you differences’ –

King Lear , Act I, Scene IV

empathy involves such things as: sharing affects with others; emotionally and imaginatively engaging with others; and/or understanding others.

building upon and clarifying the phenomenological investigations of Ratcliffe (2017) and Zahavi (2017), we give reasons for believing that empathy is, at its core, enactive – namely, it is a distinct kind of engaged, exploratory responsiveness to others and their situations.

empathy does not reduce to or depend on any kind of mind reading.

empathy proper does not reduce to emotional contagion or the mere sharing of experiences.

serious doubts have been raised about whether any account of empathy should take the resources of simulation theory as a starting point.

empathy always requires openness to differences. Empathy requires more than understanding what it would be like for me to occupy your situation or, even,for me to understand what it is like for you to occupy your situation. Even allowing that such imaginative feats might be pulled off, just taking on the first-person perspective of another person or seeing the world through her eyes is not enough for empathizing. Indeed, against this idea, empathy necessarily involves ‘abstaining from projection, rather than projecting an adjusted simulation’. So conceived, what is essential to empathy’ is an attitude towards the other person’s experience that involves receptiveness to potential difference.

We sympathize with people’s plight and in doing so we are not required to share their feelings. When I observe someone’s humiliation, it is pity I feel, not humiliation’. In a similar vein, your anger might fuel my anger or it might induce fear in me

empathy is taken to be ‘a form of ‘expressive understanding’ that requires bodily proximity, and which allows for a distinct experiential grasp of and access to the other’s psychological life

Bruner (1986) says of these two styles of understanding, ‘One leads to a search for universal truth conditions, the other for likely particular connections between two events – mortal grief, suicide, foul play’

He imagines a case of someone who tries to comfort to a friend who has just lost her parents by saying, ‘I know just how you feel; one of my parents died too.’ It is easy to imagine that ‘the grieving person feels she has not been understood, that her experience has not been acknowledged at all’

This is why deciding what a person is doing and what their reasons for acting are cannot be known or discovered ‘from the ‘outside’ – by means of, say, impersonal theorizing. Hence, ‘although hardly foolproof, by far the best and most reliable means of obtaining a true understanding of why another has acted is to get the relevant story directly from the horse’s mouth’

Pulling these ideas together, though the other must have a say in articulating what they are doing and why, it does not follow that the other has ultimate authority in such matters. Indeed, due to limitations of perspective, it is often the case that the other may often fail to be a trustworthy guide to what they are up to and why. Certainly, no one has a fully transparent understanding their own actions and reasons.

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