Tuesday, April 23, 2019
No Real Difference Between Sympathy And Empathy
First, this on empathy.
This stuff re empathy is bullshit.
Hume got it right.
Some say the word 'empathy' entered the language in the 20thC, and one linguist says it was in 1850. In any case Hume's word was 'sympathy'. Hume declared, absolutely correctly, that the greater the distance of one person or group of persons from another, the weaker the sympathies.
There are three kind of "distance" according to Hume, temporal distance, spatial distance, and a complex of differences Hume does not give a name to which can be called ethno-cultural differences.
Hume says that sympathy is a lively impression, not tepid. Nobody today feels sympathy with the tens of millions massacred by the hordes of Genghis Khaen. Most of us think that what happened was terrible, and let go at that. The combination of distances in this case prevents the rise of the lively impression of sympathy, and no degree of tub-thumping hustling by psychologists can change that.
Today, the most important kind of distance between people is ethno-cultural distance, and I don't care how many woo woo compulsory brain washing sessions on 'inclusivness' are inflicted on people, it won’t wash.
Ethno-cultural distances are intractable. Something else is needed and I haven't a clue as to what it might be, and neither do the empathy peddlers.The distances are too great.
Don, I understand how sympathy and empathy are typically differentiated, the first caring, concern and sadness for a bad thing that has happened to someone, the latter putting one’s self in the place or shoes of that other person such that “you feel their pain.” But I’ve always thought that really, drilled down, there is no difference and what we have rather is varying degrees of sympathy.
For at least two reasons:
1. How can we be sympathetic unless we understand what the other person is going through and in that understanding register to some degree how that bad experience might affect us, which is the definition of empathy?
2. And add to that this: we are all discrete individuals; we can never become, so to speak, “one” with another, never get past the boundary of our own subjectivity. So empathy’s feeling what another feels is in principle, I would think, misplaced concreteness, a kind of reification, a metaphor for close feelings or strong sympathy, taken mistakenly as something factually so.