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+ Way of Knowing

A benefit of Empathy is that it gives us a way of knowing the subjective experience of others. Heinz Kohut and Michael Slote talks about it.
  • A way of knowing someone else
  • A way of knowing the relationship.
  • A way of learning about the environment from others.
 
Knowing our existence by feeling our way into it. Originally empathy was coined as the English equivalent of the German word "einfuhlung," Ein means  In, and fuhlung is feeling. So to feel into. this could be feeling your way into your own experience, the experiences of others or the experience of being in the world.

Empathy was an epistemology,  a way of knowing and referred to the process by which artists and poets gained access to their subjects. Also how someone could feel their way into a work of art.

" When first discussed as "the process...which plays the largest part in our understanding of...other people"(Freud, 1920 p. 110, fn.2), a scientifically valid method of observation by which psychiatrists could gain understanding of the inner world of their patients, it was highly suspect." OHara - Relational Empathy


Heinz Kohut
Empathy... "is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person," (Kohut, 1984)

"Kohut too, regarded empathy as a heuristic tool, as a means, along with introspection, of knowing and understanding the inner motivations and intentions of his patients. " OHara - 

Empathy, he said, "is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person," (Kohut, 1984)

"After defining empathy, Kohut went further and considered empathy as a scientific method for the investigation of mental states and claimed that psychoanalysis should limit itself to studying these mental states (MacIsaac, 1997). This is in contrast to the natural sciences in which observations are made from an outside perspective with telescopes, microscopes, and so forth. Some sciences, he wrote, are founded on introspection and vicarious extrospection whereas others base themselves on introspection and vicarious introspection (empathy). The physical and biological sciences belong to the first category and the psychological sciences to the second. He meant that without empathic observation we note only physical movements. Empathy, therefore, is not only a mental state, for Kohut it is also a method of collecting data for scientific aims.
(HAKANSSON 2003)


Vilayanur Ramachandran
He tells the story of how a bear can take thousands of years to adapt to a new environment.  A young person can see their parent skin a bear and create a coat and can therefore quickly learn and adapt.


Michael Slote 





Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall & the Lack of Empathy in Science
"Pioneer primatologist Jane Goodall was highlighted in Nova's web series 'The Secret Lives of Scientists & Engineers', and in the clip above she talks about some of the ways in which Science has gone wrong: namely, its lack of empathy and its confusing of coldness for 'objectivity.'

At the beginning of her career, she was heavily criticized for naming the chimpanzees she was observing. "I was told you have to give them numbers because you have to be objective as a scientist," Goodall says in the video, "and you mustn’t empathize with your subject. And I feel this is where science has gone wrong. To have this coldness, this lack of empathy, has enabled some scientists to do unethical behavior." It was precisely her ability to connect & empathize with her observation subjects, what enabled her to do the groundbreaking work she's famous for, which eventually help revolutionize our understanding of social groups in primates & other animals."



"Empathy, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us, "refers to the power of entering into the experience of or understanding objects or feelings outside oneself." Originally coined as the English equivalent of the German word "einfuhlung," when it first appeared in English, empathy had nothing to do with psychotherapy. Rather it was an epistemology —a way of knowing— and referred to the process by which artists and poets gained access to their subjects. John  Keats' empathic ability to merge the boundary between himself and his subject matter is legendary(Rollins, 1958). 
 
When first discussed as "the process...which plays the largest part inour understanding of...other people"(Freud, 1920 p. 110, fn.2), a scientifically valid method of observation by which psychiatrists could gain understanding of the inner world of their patients,it was highly suspect.

As Herbert Feigl explained, "...We recognize that, especially in the psychology of human motivation, and in psychodynamics generally, empathy is an often helpful and important heuristic tool. But we realize also that empathetic judgements can go woefully wrong, no matter how strong their intuitive conviction. Empathy may be a source of knowledge, in that it suggests hypotheses. But it is not self-authenticating. (Feigl, 1959). (emphasis added)" 


"Second, empathy provides knowledge about important environmental properties. For instance, by seeing someone being burnt by a machine, we attach a negative ‘avoidance’ value to the machine, without first having to experience the pain ourselves [38]. In this sense, empathy is an efficient computation tool for acquiring knowledge about the values of the world around us [9]." (VIGNEMONT 2006) 



"by seeing someone being burnt by a machine, we attach a negative ‘avoidance’ value to the machine, without first having to experience the pain ourselves [38].  (VIGNEMONT 2006) 

I.e. we feel the pain the person has when they are burnt buy the fire, machine, etc, and we can avoid it.  
Similarly, we can see the pleasure  and satisfaction someone has when they eat some juicy sweet fruit and we know we want that.




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