Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 281–292 | Cite as

A rumor of empathy: reconstructing Heidegger’s contribution to empathy and empathic clinical practice

  • Lou AgostaEmail author
Scientific Contrubution


Heidegger’s 1927 call to provide “a special hermeneutic of empathy” is linked with his later commitment at the Zollikon Seminars to engage explicitly with issues in psychodynamic therapy with psychiatrists. The task of providing a special hermeneutic of empathy is one that Heidegger assigns in Being and Time, but on which he does not deliver. Inspired by the assignment, this article applies the distinctions of Heidegger’s Daseinanalysis to human interrelations. This article generates a Heideggerian account of empathy as a multi-dimensional process that delimits and illuminates the field of possibilities of authentic human relationships. The multiple dimensions of empathy include affectedness (Befindlichkeit), understanding of possibility, interpretation, and speech, the latter including listening. The result is a reconstruction of a Heideggerian account of empathic human relations in the sense that it goes beyond what Heidegger explicitly says to what the Heideggerian method of inquiry can contribute to understanding and implementing the process of empathy. In particular, a two-by-two matrix is built and engaged in detail, cross referencing the four possibilities of authentic and inauthentic relationships with the individual and the other. A specifically Heideggerian analysis of the multi-dimensional process of empathy is the result. The clinical relevance of Heidegger’s work is made explicit as empathy is positioned as the foundation of clinical practice as exemplified in psychodynamic psychotherapy.


Empathy Hermeneutics Special hermeneutic of empathy Dynamic psychotherapy Compassion fatigue Burn out Vicarious introspection Understanding Befindlichkeit Communicability of affect  Psychotherapy Talk therapy Psychoanalysis 



I acknowledge the generous, gracious and empathic support in earlier versions of this work from Fredrik Svenaeus, Robert Stolorow, Michael Hoit, Henk ten Have, Eugene Gendlin, and Arnold Goldberg. Figures 1 and 2 are adapted from Empathy in the Context of Philosophy (Palgrave Macmillan 2010) with thanks to and kind permission of the publisher. The late Gary Banham was the first to champion this work, and this article is dedicated to his memory.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentIllinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy UniversityChicagoUSA

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