DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L154-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2019
Retrieved April 20, 2021, from

Article Summary

Empathy is a vicarious psychological reaction to the situation or psychological state of another. It may involve any, or all of, emotional contagion, sympathy, perspective taking (simulation), or affective empathy. Philosophers usually use ‘empathy’ to refer to an emotional reaction to another person’s emotion or situation that matches, more or less, what the other person feels or is expected to feel, and that has as its object the other person. In principle, one can empathise with any emotion, although empathic sadness and distress are the most commonly discussed in the literature. Empathy includes awareness that one experiences an emotion for another, whereas emotional contagion involves feeling an emotion another feels but without any such awareness. Emotional contagion is only documented in personal encounters when one is in the presence of another. By contrast to empathy and emotional contagion, sympathy is an emotion directed towards another’s welfare, but is rarely similar to the emotion the person feels. According to the psychological literature, sympathy (or empathic concern) either involves or causes altruistic motivation to help those in need. Perspective taking, sometimes called ‘cognitive empathy’, primarily describes an epistemic or cognitive state as opposed to an emotional or affective state. Sometimes people use ‘cognitive empathy’ to describe any type of understanding one might have of another. But more often, it is used to describe the act of putting oneself in another person’s situation. The knowledge gained from such a perspective shift is thought to be significantly different from that which one might gain from one’s own point of view.

Citing this article:
Maibom, Heidi L.. Empathy, 2019, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L154-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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