Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 323–341 | Cite as

An inquiry on radical empathy and the phenomenological reduction in Sartre and Merleau-Ponty

  • Elisa MagrìEmail author


In this paper, I wish to explore the contribution of the phenomenological reduction to a distinct form of empathy, which has been identified and called by Ratcliffe (Inquiry 55(5):473–495, 2012) radical empathy. This form of empathy brings to light the sense of reality experienced by the subject rather than a mere mental state. However, I shall consider whether and how the phenomenological reduction allows different interpretations of the same experience, thereby impacting on our understanding of another’s sense of reality. Far from dismissing the role of the reduction, I propose a reconsideration of its relevance for radical empathy. In order to spell out my argument, I propose a case ex negativo that looks at Sartre’s and Merleau-Ponty’s different analyses of the sense of reality experienced by obsessive patients. I argue that this interpretative difference ultimately depends on two opposite uses of the reduction itself, and that Merleau-Ponty’s account offers a promising perspective to reintegrate and contextualize the phenomenological reduction into radical empathy.


Radical empathy Consciousness Phenomenological reduction Obsessions Sartre Merleau-Ponty 



A shorter version of this paper was presented at the Annual Conference of the British Society for Phenomenology held in Manchester in September 2016 and at the workshop New Directions in Phenomenology at University College Dublin in January 2017. I would like to thank all the participants in these events for their feedback and comments, and particularly Dermot Moran and Timothy Mooney for their helpful suggestions. I am also grateful to two anonymous referees for their comments on the final version of this paper. The completion of this work was made possible by a research grant funded by the Irish Research Council for Social Sciences and Humanities.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCD School of PhilosophyBelfield, Dublin 4Ireland

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