Direct Perception and Simulation: Stein’s Account of Empathy
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The notion of empathy has been explicated in different ways in the current debate on how to understand others. Whereas defenders of simulation-based approaches claim that empathy involves some kind of isomorphism between the empathizer’s and the target’s mental state, defenders of the phenomenological account vehemently deny this and claim that empathy allows us to directly perceive someone else’s mental states. Although these views are typically presented as being opposed, I argue that at least one version of a simulation-based approach—the account given by de Vignemont and Jacob—is compatible with the direct-perception view. My argument has two parts: My first step is to show that the conflict between these accounts is not—as it seems at first glance—a disagreement on the mechanism by which empathy comes about. Rather, it is due to the fact that their proponents attribute two very different roles to empathy in understanding others. My second step is to introduce Stein’s account of empathy. By not restricting empathy to either one of these two roles, her process model of empathy helps to see how the divergent intuitions that have been brought forward in the current debate could be integrated.
I am indebted to Beata Stawarska who first introduced Stein’s account of empathy to me. I would furthermore like to thank Dan Zahavi, Soren Overgaard, Antonio Calcagno, two anonymous reviewers, participants at the conference “Empathy and Sympathy: Hume and beyond” (Antwerp, June 2010), and the my research group at the University Hospital Heidelberg for very helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. This study was funded by the post-doc program of the Medical Faculty Heidelberg.
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