Empathy & Imagination

by Rick Lewis

What is empathy? It is usually defined as the ability to ‘identify with’ another person. It seems to involve having a good sense of what the other person is feeling, and not merely with an air of scientific detachment, but knowing in the sense of sharing. But is empathy in fact possible? After all, people are so very complicated and we have no direct access to the minds of others. How do we know what they think, or what they feel? How do we know if they think anything at all? Maybe they are all just zombies, or robots, to give two examples that often crop up in philosophy of mind? Nonetheless, we do sometimes think that we empathize with one another. If I see you accidentally hit your thumb with a hammer, I wince.

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