Empathy as a Response

Image by Ben Scherjon from Pixabay

“[In sensual empathy,] the bodily expressions of the other person draw me into her presence and by way of this process I not only attend to but also spontaneously follow her experiences through (Svenaeus 2018, 757).”

I want to briefly reflect on this supposed reality, that in empathy, the other person, through her bodily expressions, draws me to her. There is thus an invitation coming from the other person. It is a presupposition, then, that the other person is inviting me to share with her experience. Empathy is a kind of response to this kind of invitation.

In empathic experience, the other person asks me (not necessarily literally) to come and be with her. She invites me to experience what she is experiencing. She expresses that I should understand what she is feeling.

If I see my friend smiling, for example, and eager to talk about how blessed she is, I may understand that she is joyful. But even without her telling me to come to her, I would be drawn to share with her experience because of empathy. Through this “invitation,” I may thus follow her experience and may become joyful myself because she is joyful. I am responding to her experience.

The same thing happens if I see one of my friends crying in the corner. Without her seeing me, I am drawn to share with her experience. I may now come to her and ask, “What’s wrong?” Then she may open up to me about her problem. I am merely responding to the implicit invitation to come to her and understand what she is feeling.

Empathy, then, is a kind of response because I am responding to the other person’s invitation to share with her experience.

Svenaeus, Fredrik. 2018. “Edith Stein’s Phenomenology of Sensual and Emotional Empathy.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 17 (4). Springer Netherlands: 741–60. doi:10.1007/s11097-017-9544-9.

Author: XhenEd

Just a simple guy doing his master's thesis. :) I take responsibility for anything I write.

23 thoughts on “Empathy as a Response”

  1. Would be interested in your take on mechanistic philosophy/psychology. Thanks to Dennett et al. any phenomenology needs to justify itself against the scientific paradigm (“heterophenomenology”) which understands first-person accounts of consciousness to be superfluous. Why understand empathy through the play of signs in consciousness, rather than through data-driven and depersonalized empirical testing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A huge disclaimer: I’m not familiar with “mechanistic philosophy/psychology” and “heterophenomenology” as I’m still a beginner in phenomenology. 🙂 I just skimmed the wiki of Heterophenomenology, and I read a critique there coming from Critical Phenomenology, which states that behind the 3rd-person perspective is a 1st-person experimenter. Thus, in my own incomplete view, even scientists have their own 1st person biases, which would still make the whole experiment 1st-person based.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can grant that scientists are influenced by their own first-person perspectives, but there’s a whole host of literature designed to counter precisely this worry e.g. Popper’s distinction between context of discovery and context of justification, and Althusser’s theorisation of the ‘process without a subject’. The bigger issue is: why should we trust phenomenology rather than natural science? Is there actually anything which phenomenology studies which is not explained also and better by natural science?
        Sorry for the weird question lol, but I think it’s important for all of us modern phenomenologists to have a robust response to the need to justify our practice today against the encroachment of science in all forms.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. My short reply is that empathy is a cognitive manner of comprehending the emotion of another.

          Not all experiences of another’s expression of emotion is empathic; empathy is a specific manner of appropriating another’s emotional state. It is it always automatic.

          Phenomenology concerns the total reasoned state. Subjectivity is another matter. And so is experience of emotion.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Does Edith Stein subscribe to the idea that empathy is a cognition? I’ve been looking for resources about this. I think Edith Stein believes empathy to be a cognition, but I haven’t found yet any book/journal that states so. They always say that Stein’s empathy is a perception, but sui generis, but my mentor told me to be exact whether this sui generis perception is a cognition.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I don’t know who Edith Stein is. 🙂I’m just going on from what I know of myself: empathy is something that I needed to learn how to do. I did not naturally empathize with someone just because they were crying or just because they were happy. Indeed I may feel some thing while another person is feeling some thing but how I understand what is occurring is not always empathetic and less we define empathy as something so general that it almost has no meaning.

            likewise I don’t think empathy is some sort of innate a feeling that we have, some sort of emotional connection that we have to other human beings automatically.

            I think that some people are able to be more empathetic with others, but I think the issue really is how we express this. Because someone may totally feel another persons emotion of sadness and yet react to it with anger. Or they might feel a person sadness and then feel their own sadness as self-pity and resent the other person not knowing why.

            So I think empathy is a specific skill, a specific way of behaving in the presence of emotion.

            Hence, I say it is a certain type of cognition, a certain type of awareness of emotion that brings a cognition that a person should behave in a particular way, a particular empathetic way, as opposed to say a reactionary way, a way that seems “natural”, whatever that is.
            Some people indeed perceive things perceive emotions and perceive other people quite empathetically, and naturally for them; but I’m pretty sure they are a vast minority compared to the rest of humanity. I mean, with the world and our human civilization be so fucked up if empathy was something that people naturally felt towards other human beings?

            So I think your quote in this post is talking about what is occurring 11 begins to have an awareness and begins to behave towards emotional expressions in a particular way, to view them in a particular way, which indeed demands a certain type of cognition.

            But I’m going to go wiki Edith Stein now. 🤘🏾

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Thanks! Indeed, Edith Stein would say that empathy formally happens when the empathizer “follows” the feelings of the empathee. For her, empathy starts with an awareness (a sui generis perceiving) of the other person and the feelings of this other person. Then, depending on the circumstances, the empathizer may put himself/herself in the shoes of the empathee, so to speak. It’s not automatic, but there is a “call” or “invitation” on the part of the empathee for the empathizer.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. Okay. As I’m not yet familiar with the current debates in phenomenology, I can’t comment to that. But yes, I agree that we should have a good response against the scientistic mindset. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        3. OK, I briefly looked over the wiki of Edith Stein.
          If you guys don’t mind me just making a general comment:

          Whenever I see the word “phenomenology“ I can’t help but understand a great disservice to the meaning which usually follows.

          In short, I would say that there are two kinds of phenomenological approaches, or two kinds of phenomenological orientation.

          The way that I come to this “two kinds“ is to ask why I would be referring anything about what is phenomenological to what anyone else wrote about it?

          And I say this of course after having read a lot of philosophers, at least the big names and maybe some of the small names. Lol

          But no matter who I read, to me they are all really talking about the same thing. They might be talking about different aspects different ways of focusing in on particular issues, but they are really speaking from a single situation, so to speak, which is ultimately the phenomenon of existence. Even if they say “the phenomenology of spirit”, say, they are really talking about the phenomenon of existence manifested along this particular vector of subjectivity.

          So when I talk about two kinds of phenomenology, the idea of empathy of Edith Stein seems to resonate significantly against the grain of what we typically understand as philosophical phenomenology of the sort of European western kind, if I can generalize it in that way.

          To speak of “A phenomenology” to me has just told me that they are not understanding what phenomenology is, since it definitely does not have to do with a multiplicity of subjective views. But only two: One that implicitly understands the value of all existing situations within a field, and one which retains a fundamental privilege upon various occasions to assert itself.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. As I understand it, the broadest goal of phenomenology, as a field, is the description of all phenomena and the grounding of all the sciences.

            Edith Stein merely describes empathy using the phenomenological reduction. She took away all accidents surrounding empathy, and arrived at the essential description of empathy as the experience of another person’s experience.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. The field of phenomenology is the issue of phenomenon. Yes, one could say that it has to do with finding some sort of ground, But what has occurred is if we understand the definition of effort of phenomenology, The usual big-name people that we associate with phenomenology, we inevitably have to come to the conclusion that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. And I mean this in the sense that if I understand what all these phenomenologists are talking about then I have to question how I am able to even understand or relate to what they’re saying, because ultimately it is only me having this experience of that particular phenomenon of someone trying to tell me what phenomenology is. So far as science goes, it to is a phenomenon and is particularly phenomenological in as much as it deals with the gap that arises inherent to the experience of the phenomenon, in this case, science or scientific thinking or scientific data or how it is possible that it is working in such a way.

            Personally I think when I touchdown they are really gives us the answer, but again due to the definition of approach to what phenomenology is, science will never be grasped in its true phenomenon in that way. Hence these later authors that I mentioned in my last reply.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. There are many kinds of phenomenology – at least 5 to my understanding. Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, Hegel’s dialectical phenomenology, Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty’s psycho-phenomenology and the various forms of religious phenomenology that arose in the wake of Heidegger. This multiplicity doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination stop us from speaking about ‘phenomenology’ as an umbrella term. What is common to all of these philosophers is a prioritisation of first-person experience in deriving philosophical data. Phenomenology itself literally means ‘the logic of showing/appearing’, or ‘logike phainomenon’.
            When analytic philosophers explain their distrust of ‘phenomenology’ they aren’t just being ignorant of the use of the term. They are referring to the practice, common to all forms of phenomenology (from Hegel to Marion), of inspecting first-person experience as a privileged source of information.

            Liked by 2 people

          4. Yes, that is one way to define what phenomenology is. But I would argue that what they are talking about, the actual thing that they are talking about is missed by that definition. The problem about what is missed is taken up by philosophers such as of late: Zizek, Badiou, Laruelle, And the people of the likes of the speculative realism conference.

            When we constantly look to definitions to tell us what something means then we have nearly avoided the issue that that particular phenomenological philosopher is trying to treat.

            This issue goes all the way back to Plato. There is one version of phenomenology that sees things such as the definition you put forth. And then there is a Nother definition of phenomenology which understands it as talking about the phenomenon that is occurring. The issue that arises from this latter phenomenon that is phenomenology or that appears or manifests as phenomenology is the issue that the original post modern authors attempted to reconcile; Which is to say, because the people typically take definition as an indication of a thinkers privileged centrality, rather than subjectivity as that which is the problem being treated.

            It appears to me that Edith Catholic saint, and indeed Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, attempt to reconcile the problem of what is missing by approaching it through definition and then showing how this definition automatically includes what is missing, and then through the understanding of the definition of what is missing to Verabar bring some sort of “renewed” or revolutionary state: such as, “empathy“, “ authenticity“ “ Uber Mench” etc. these all attempt to argue away from what the first definition that I put forth a phenomenology would want to put as primary and essential. These types of authors of the latter typo definition that I’m talking about, attempt to show where the orientation upon the first definition is missing something vital.

            Because the issue really is, what is understanding the definition?

            Liked by 1 person

          5. Oh.. and I like the thing I like this post about empathy and Edith Catholic saint, because I am a counselor and our business is empathy. And it seems to me that what she’s talking about is exactly getting out of the centralized thinking essence which comprehends the definition, and getting in more to what this other person in front of me is going through. Whatever definitions I might hold coming in to the encounter with this other person, who is an emotional human being, they are all set aside for the purpose of witnessing this person in existence empathetically. And such definition of philosophy is our thereby disrupted.

            Liked by 1 person

          6. As you seem so apparently enamoured with your private understanding of phenomenology, why not reverse the question: what are you calling phenomenology, having established with a good degree of certainty that it is not what almost everyone else means by it?

            I am quaintly reminded of Wittgenstein’s observation that there can be no such thing as a private language. To use words the meanings of which we alone are familiar with is not language; it is blathering nonsense.

            Liked by 1 person

          7. I am not arguing that what you are saying is incorrect.

            I am saying that it leads to conclusions that we already know. Not that those conclusions are wrong.

            End it is not just me who is coming to this idea as if it’s my own little phenomenological reality that no one else can know. I am saying exactly the opposite: i’m saying that the reality of individualized subjective worlds are not all viable given the condition of “the world” itself. And I am not the only person who is talking about this.

            But I’m just making a statement so far as to his post on empathy and what Edith Catholic saint might be saying about what empathy is.

            There is a lot of things going on in our discussion right now that is just too much to really go into in this format.

            In a strict reading of phenomenology there can be no such thing as empathy because empathy in the way that Edith Catholic saint is talking about would disrupt what is typically understood as phenomenology: because then whatever I might be feeling empathetically for another person would ultimately be based in my own experience there negating the very fact of empathy, or what it means. And I think that Edith Catholic saint, and a number of other authors are noticing this contradiction and basically telling us that there is a way or a manner where phenomenology just ceases to have any effect, ceases to have any bearing upon what is occurring.

            That is, unless we want to posit some universal consciousness that we all are involved with that I myself have an audience with.

            Which could be the case but I’m not really talking about that case right now. 🤘🏾

            Liked by 1 person

          8. … I suppose what I’m talking about is the call for a true self reflection. That’s what phenomenology is all about: seeing in the reflection ones self reflecting. But as Graham Harmon talks about, often enough people who talk about phenomenology talk about it as though they are not really seeing them selves in the text (Derrida) , they thus often “over mine” or “undermine” what is actually going on, what I call over determination and under determination, because they are determining themselves in the text as something that is more than the text or something that is within the text, which is to say “under” The discourse.

            And so what appears to be called for by some contemporary continental authors is for a determination that is actually determinate, or as a friend of mine might like to say, “mind”, lol. Which is to comment on Harman’s “mined”. And what we mean by this is that it is not a mind which is coming up on things that it reflects upon, to that contain everything within its own phenomenological conception as being.

            The call , as Laruelle might say, is to see oneself as the reflection and not as the object in itself. This is phenomenology, but phenomenology which has not taken the full turn, or really the quarter turn in Laruelles estimation, to actually see it self as what it is doing, as what is occurring.

            From here then it is possible to notice the edges of phenomenology, what some philosophers have called “in the last instance”, what other philosophers have called “the end of philosophy“ or “the end of history”. Once that edge is reckoned then we are able to entertain possibilities that were not able to be understood or entertained in a thoroughly phenomenological world.

            This is where I think Edith Catholic saints idea of empathy begins.

            Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s