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Edith Stein and the Contemporary Psychological Study of Empathy

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Abstract Illuminated by the writings of Edith Stein (1917/1989), this paper presents a model of empathy as a very particular intersubjective understanding. This is commonly a view absent from psychology literature. For Stein, empathy is the experience of experientially and directly knowing another person’s experience, as it unfolds in the present, together with the awareness of the ‘otherness’ of that experience. It can be conceptually distinguished, in terms of process and experience, from current models that propose that empathic understandings are ‘intellectual’ experiences (e.g., explicit simulation theories, perspective-taking) or sympathetic experiences (e.g., implicit simulation theories, contagion-related theories). As such, she provides an additional or alternative aspect to understanding other people’s experiences. Our paper provides a summary of Stein’s key analytic claims about three key facets of empathy (directly perceiving, experientially projecting, and interpretatively mentalizing). Her views are discussed in the light of debates relevant for contemporary psychology and social cognition.

Affiliations: 1: Catolica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics, Universidade Católica, Portuguesa Lisbon Portugal ; 2: School of Psychology, University of Birmingham Birmingham UK


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