Imaginative Resistance and Empathic Resistance
In the past few decades, a growing number of philosophers have tried to explain the phenomenon of imaginative resistance (IR), or why readers often resist the invitation of authors to imagine morally deviant fictional scenarios. In this paper, I critically assess a recent proposal to explain IR in terms of a failure of empathy, and present a novel explanation. I do so by drawing on Peter Goldie’s narrative account of empathic perspective-taking, which curiously has so far been neglected in the IR-literature. I argue that, in some cases, IR is due to a partial confusion of two kinds of imaginative perspective-taking towards a fictional character: an internal, genuinely empathic, perspective-taking, on the one hand, and an external, crypto-empathic, stance that can be characterized as in-her-shoes-imagining, on the other. I argue that, in the cases at issue, IR is not so much a resistance to imagining but, rather, to empathically enacting an evildoer’s moral and phenomenal first-person perspective. I conclude by considering some more general lessons that follow from my account for what has recently been called sadistic empathy and point to an unresolved issue for future thinking about IR.
KeywordsImaginative resistance Imagination Fiction Empathy Empathic perspective-taking Peter Goldie
Previous versions of this paper were presented at the University of Basel and the University of Copenhagen. I’m grateful for the comments I received on both occasions from the audience. I owe particular gratitude to the editors of this special issue, Susanne Schmetkamp and Íngrid Vendrell Ferran, as well as to Carina Staal and two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions. I also wish to acknowledge the generous support from Sara Heinämaa’s (PI) Academy of Finland research project “Marginalization and Experience: Phenomenological Analyses of Normality and Abnormality” (MEPA) that I received while working on this paper.
This research was partly funded by the Academy of Finland Research Project MEPA: “Marginalization and Experience: Phenomenological Analyses of Normality and Abnormality” (Grant No. 302291) (PI: Sara Heinämaa).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed the author.
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