1 Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Faculty of Humanities, Københavns Universitet2 Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Faculty of Humanities, Københavns Universitet
In recent years, there has been a great deal of controversy in the philosophy of mind, developmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience both about how to conceptualize empathy and about the connections between empathy and interpersonal understanding. Ideally, we would first establish a consensus about how to conceptualize empathy, and then analyze the potential contribution of empathy to interpersonal understanding. However, it is not at all clear that such a consensus will soon be forthcoming, given that different people have fundamentally conflicting intuitions about the concept of empathy. Thus, instead of trying to resolve this controversy, I will try to show that a fair amount of consensus is within reach about how empathy can be a source of interpersonal understanding even in the absence of a consensus about how to conceptualize empathy. As we shall see, the main controversy concerns a few phenomena that some researchers view as necessary conditions of empathy, but which others view either as merely characteristic features or as consequences of empathy. My strategy will be to try to show how empathy can generate interpersonal understanding by virtue of these phenomena – regardless of whether one chooses to conceptualize them as necessary conditions of empathy.