Back to School Offer

Get 20% of Your First Order amount back in Reward Credits!

Get 20% of Your First Orderback in Rewards

All papers examples
Get a Free E-Book! ($50 Value)
HIRE A WRITER!
Paper Types
Disciplines
Get a Free E-Book! ($50 Value)

The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Essay Example

Pages: 9

Words: 2594

Essay

Abstract

Empathy is a lay term is often viewed as a joining function within the field of cognitive neuroscience. In this paper, a brief review of the empathy literature is included. After giving a workable definition this paper will show that empathy is not unitary but rather a collection of neurocognitive systems. There are three main divisions which can be made, namely, cognitive empathy, motor empathy, and emotional empathy. The two psychiatric disorders associated with empathic dysfunction are mentioned because they stand in opposition to the notion of good, namely autism and psychopathy. This paper looks briefly at the animal kingdom in terms of empathy as well as a more recent view of empathy in relationships and their importance to sustaining those relationships

It is argued that empathy has importance to humanity by virtue of its evolutionary impact.

Introduction

Immanuel Kant defined humanity in 1784 as ‘crooked timber and that out of crooked timber no straight thing was ever made, a quote that has been the subject of infinite discussion and postulation. People are not perfect, in either composition or action, possessing fallible bodies and minds. But as human as frailty is, we often strive to be the best at what we do, with the tools at our disposal. Such is the case for empathy made. Describing empathy and applying a definition for empathy is not a simple task because, as it turns out, empathy wears so many different faces it is difficult to describe one without neglecting or including another. It is made from ‘crooked timber’ and nothing straight from it seems to come. There are so many definitions and views of what empathy is or is not that the reader would be dancing in circles trying to adopt just one for his purposes. Therefore, it seems altogether appropriate that this paper will describe empathy in broader terms to provide a workable definition of empathy; it will also describe empathy in Rogerian terms; ask the Socratic question, of whether empathy can be taught?; and, what it means ‘to respond to the emotions of others’? In doing so, we will look at empathy to understand how it is an important part of human relations.

Empathy: What’s the Point?

According to some (Decety and Ickes 2009) researchers seem to ask two completely different questions yet pose both in thehope of getting the same answer. The first question they ask is how is it possible to know what another person is thinking or feeling? The second question they want to know the answer to is ‘what leads one person to respond (in certain situations) with sensitivity and care when confronted with the pain and suffering of another individual? While for many these two questions are related, for many others they are distinctly different questions summoning completely different responses.

On the one hand (Decety and Ickes 2009) philosophers and cognitive scientists whose interest is in the theory of the mind suggest that lay theories about the mind be utilized to infer the internal states of others. This is the approach attributed to theory theorists. Simulation theorists on the other hand suggest that we imagine ourselves in another person’s situations and read their internal state from our own as noted by Carl Rogersand others. (Rogers 1961)

The notion of an individual responding with sensitivity to another person’s suffering is the purview of philosophers and social psychologists whose desire is the understanding as well as promotion of social action. Their goal is finding an explanation to a form of action by an individual that effectively addresses the need of another person. They would claim that their empathic feelings are for the other such as sympathy, compassion, and tenderness which produce the motivation to relieve the suffering they perceive in another person for who this empathy is felt. (Decety and Ickes 2009)

In ‘The Art of Empathy’, Karla McLaren says that empathy is an essential part of love. She goes on to say that those who express or feel empathy for others do not have to love others to empathize with them. According to McLaren, we do not even have to know them in order to empathize with them. Still, empathy provides avenues to another person’s thoughts and feelings that help us connect with them, feel with them, understand them, work with them, meet their needs, love and be loved by them. It would seem that empathy is a fundamental and essential to the health of the relationship and vitally important to social and emotional skills.

In the political world of congresses and parliaments, we see the complete opposite of empathy, especially but not solely in American politics. These practises are selfishly concerned with what belongs to ‘our side’ and ‘our party’ and function in the total absence of empathy for the other side. This is a position that is conflict based and not one devoted to care for the other side. It is also in complete opposition to empathy. (McLaren 2013) One can imagine how empathy in the political sphere on the one hand could foster a utopian change in society while on the other hand leave a particular society at the mercy of a not so empathetic society or culture envious of this one’s success.

Another point she makes (McLaren 2013) is that empathy is made up of social and emotional skills that help us to comprehend emotions, wishes, intentions, thoughts, and the needs of others. There is an inherent need and/or capacity to help others as part of the action to interact with others and to give support, assistance with individuals we empathize with. Through empathy, we are made aware of and ultimately available to emotions and circumstances of such needs of others so that we can interact with them with a measure of skill. In this view (McLaren 2013), empathy is the ‘social and emotional glue that helps us create and maintain relationships’. Furthermore, each of us is imbued with empathy and thus the trait to some degree, just as many animals have it as well, yet it can be very strong in some people while barely perceptible in others or noticeably weak. Autism and psychopathy are examples at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Nor is having empathy for oneself symptomatic of selfishness. Having said that, it does not entail the empathy to take good care of themselves either. However, neglecting oneself could result in burnout. An empathic is aware of their ability to read emotions, nuance, intentions, thoughts, and body language more than others.(McLaren 2013)

Empathy in the World of Nature

According to Waal (2009), empathy has a multitude of layers and is much like a Russian Doll (his metaphor) and at its core it is not unlike the ancient tendency to match another’s emotional state. Around this core, evolution has constructed more sophisticated capacities such as feeling for others and the ability to adopt their viewpoints. Thus it can be said that empathy is important in human relationships for the reason that it has potential evolutionary impacts on humans. (Waal 2009)

We have seen animals, dogs for instance, who when in a pack react in confusing ways. For example, when the leader of the pack begins to howl and bark another dog will whine and seem like she is crying. Some psychologists (Waal 2009) ascribe this attribute to empathy. If the lower species (it is argued) have empathy, it follows that humans should as well via evolution. If empathy has an evolutionary quality to it, then humans can only benefit from empathy in the lower species of animals.

The Rogerian View

Famous humanist and psychologist Carl Rogers is noted for having founded the client centred method of counselling. (Davis 1990) He taught counsellors how to empathize with their clients, which in and of itself means it can be taught and therefore learned by practitioners. He claimed that empathy came about when a therapist’s view of his or her client was made with ‘unconditional and positive regard’ and when they actively listened to a client’s feeding back thoughts and feelings sensitively and accurately.(Davis 1990)  Many think of this as a reflection of feeling. As a consequence, psychologically, healing could then result. In his early work Rogers described empathy as a skill that could be taught and therefore learned. Later on he moved away from the notion of a skill and described empathy as a way of being. He is famous for having said that ‘empathy was an ability to walk in another man’s shoes as if they were his own, without ever losing sight of the ‘as if’. (Rogers 1961)

There is the idea that empathy was unique and distinct from related and intersubjective processes insofar as it occurred in three overlapping stage and given to us ‘after the fact’ like a post-event realization. For example, falling in love allows us to experience the feelings without causing those feelings. Stein said that empathy was not a behaviour as much as it was a ‘happening’. (Davis 1990) Wyshograd (Davis 1990) said we were at one with our feelings and ideas when we experienced an empathic moment. However, pity is a form of sympathy whereby we feel sorry for someone, perhaps even superior to them. Carl Rogers referred to this as ‘self-transposal’ whereby we think of ourselves in the place or shoes of another person. Sympathy, pity, and self-transposal are not well understood and are often confused with empathy. All are similar. She also said (Davis 1990) that there were two characteristics that made empathy unique; it is given to us after the fact and it takes place in overlapping stages

In Blair’s view (Blair 2005) empathy is defined as “an effective response more appropriate to someone else’s situation than to our own” In other words, empathy is an emotional reaction in an observer to the effective state of another individual. To some, empathy is a unitary process and includes the emotional categories, sympathy, and cognitive empathy, helping behaviours etc. Having all of these characteristics in a person’s repertoire would encapsulate empathy by this definition.

Cognitive Empathy, Motor Empathy, and Mirror Empathy

Cognitive empathy is where an individual represents the internal mental state of another person which is essentially, a Theory of Mind. Motor Empathy is when the individual mimics the motor response of the observed actor. (Blair 2005)Cognitive Empathy refers to an ability to represent the mental state of another in reference to their thoughts, desires, beliefs, intentions, and knowledge. This allows their mental state to self and others to explain and predict behaviours in others. (Blair 2005)

This ability to represent the mental state of others is considered to be necessary for emotional empathy to take place. The representation of the internal mental state of others are thought to act as stimuli for the activation of the affective, empathic response. Empathy is a function of three different processes: cognitive ability is to discriminate affective cues in others assuming the perspective and roles of another person; emotional response is the ability to experience emotions and is the outcome of cognitive and effective processes operating in unison and joined together. (Blair 2005)

Motor empathy is the tendency to mimic and synchronize facial expression, vocalizations, postures, and movements of another person. At one time it was believed that motor empathy was a premature form of sympathy. Recently (Blair 2005) empathy is being looked at as a socio cognitive account and relies on the recent discovery of mirror neurons which show activity during execution and observation of an action and shows the neural circuit involved in the action execution overlap with that activated when actions are observed.

The perception of another person’s state then activates the observer’s corresponding representations which then activate somatic and autonomic responses. Anatomically, the temporal cortex codes the visual description of the action, and then sends it to the posterior mirror neurons. This means that empathy relies on neural activation and codes, an action description and mirror neurons. It then follows that if damage in the form of lesions for example should occur, these areas will be deformed and/or destroyed and ultimately disrupt the even flow of what we think of as empathy.

The argument for emotional empathy (Blair 2005) goes like this-facial expression and emotion imparts specific information to the observer. On this level, empathy becomes something of a translator of an observed action. So for example, fear, sadness, and happiness are all re-enforcers modulating the probability that such behaviours will be performed in the future. For example, an angry expression on the face of the actor are known to control the behaviour of others in situations where social rules and/or expectations have been violated by the actor.

Conclusion

This paper painted a broad workable definition of empathy and its importance in human relationships insofar as it avoided confusion with sympathy, pity, or feeling sorry for someone at the risk of looking down on them or assuming a sense of superiority over them for having perceived their suffering. It defined empathy in a number of ways and relied upon the notion of cognitive empathy, theory of mind, and the recent discovery of mirror neurons to describe the reactions of the observer relative to the actions of the actor.

With respect to the importance of empathy in human relationships, clearly, the absence of human understanding of the inner workings of those who are close or distant to us will result in miscues, misperceptions, and misunderstanding of the actions of others. We are all imbued with the ability to be empathetic but we are not all possessed of the trait to the same degree. Some of us are able to manifest the trait with more strength while others are not. An obvious example is in the psychopath whose sense of empathy is such that psychopathyis often the cause of intense suffering in others with little or no regard for this distress. In the case of the autistic, for him/her it is a deficit insofar as they are unable to perceive the social cues so readily visible by the vast majority of society.

Lastly, empathy is more than a reflection of feeling; it is a connection to the lower species within our evolutionary trek and therefore in the future development of humanity as well. Many (Waal) believe that understanding empathy in primates for example is to understand the evolution of empathy in humans. It nevertheless confounds us to know that man has only been concerned with empathic behaviour for a short number of years while the animal kingdom has been ‘naturally’ doing so for countless years. (Waal 2009)

References

Blair, R. J. R., 2005. Responding to the emotions of others: Dissociating forms of empathy through the study of typical and psychiatric populations. Consciousness and Cognition 14 (2005) 698–718.

Coplan, Amy and Goldie, Peter. 2011 Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press, N. Y. Davis, Carol M., 1990.

What Is Empathy, and Can Empathy Be Taught? PHYS THER. 1990; 70:707-711.

Decety, Jean, and Ickes, William ed. 2009. The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S.A.

de Wall, Frans, 2009. The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lesson for a Kinder Society. Random House, U.S.A.

Gallese, Vittorio, 2003. The Roots of Empathy: The Shared Manifold Hypothesis and the Neural Basis of Intersubjectivity. Psychopathology 2003;36:171–180.

Jackson, Phillip L., Meltzoff, Andrew N., Decety, Jean, 2005. How Do We Perceive The Pain Of Others? A Window intothe Neural Processes Involved In Empathy. NeuroImage 24 (2005) 771 – 779.

McLaren, Karla. 2013 The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill. Sounds True Publishing. Louisville, Colorado, U.S.A.

Rogers, Carl R. 1961. On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin Company.Boston

Spiro, Howard; McCrea Curnen, Mary G; Peschel, Enid; and St. James, Deborah, Ed. Empathy and the Practice of Medicine. 1993 Yale University. North Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A.

Time is precious

Time is precious

don’t waste it!

Get instant essay
writing help!
Get instant essay writing help!
Plagiarism-free guarantee

Plagiarism-free
guarantee

Privacy guarantee

Privacy
guarantee

Secure checkout

Secure
checkout

Money back guarantee

Money back
guarantee

Related Essay Samples & Examples

7 Steps of Problem Solving, Essay Example

Introduction Every business, irrespective of its size or industry, has specific target goals to achieve. Thus, goal achievement entails managers making strategic decisions based on [...]

Pages: 5

Words: 1398

Essay

Teens, Suicide and Bullying, Essay Example

The act of bulling in this case involved punching as well as kicking the young Pennsylvanian boy, Nadin Khoury, then hanging the boy on a [...]

Pages: 1

Words: 325

Essay

Minnie in “Trifles”, Essay Example

Susan Glaspell’s short story, “Trifles” proffer a narrative in which the murder of Mr. Wright at the hands of his wife and the ensuing investigation [...]

Pages: 2

Words: 573

Essay

Columbia Supplement, Essay Example

Columbia University is an appealing university because it is located in one of the urban center of American politics, as the Department of Political Science [...]

Pages: 1

Words: 379

Essay

John Brown: A Hero or a Terrorist, Essay Example

October 16th, 1859, the day when John Brown raided a U.S military arsenal located at the Harper’s Ferry in Virginia in anticipation of provoking a [...]

Pages: 2

Words: 581

Essay

To What Extent Do the Concepts That We Use Shape the Conclusions We Reach? Essay Example

Introduction Human beings seem to be always determined to define human understanding, and to identify the most correct means of achieving this. Some argue that [...]

Pages: 6

Words: 1721

Essay

7 Steps of Problem Solving, Essay Example

Introduction Every business, irrespective of its size or industry, has specific target goals to achieve. Thus, goal achievement entails managers making strategic decisions based on [...]

Pages: 5

Words: 1398

Essay

Teens, Suicide and Bullying, Essay Example

The act of bulling in this case involved punching as well as kicking the young Pennsylvanian boy, Nadin Khoury, then hanging the boy on a [...]

Pages: 1

Words: 325

Essay

Minnie in “Trifles”, Essay Example

Susan Glaspell’s short story, “Trifles” proffer a narrative in which the murder of Mr. Wright at the hands of his wife and the ensuing investigation [...]

Pages: 2

Words: 573

Essay

Columbia Supplement, Essay Example

Columbia University is an appealing university because it is located in one of the urban center of American politics, as the Department of Political Science [...]

Pages: 1

Words: 379

Essay

John Brown: A Hero or a Terrorist, Essay Example

October 16th, 1859, the day when John Brown raided a U.S military arsenal located at the Harper’s Ferry in Virginia in anticipation of provoking a [...]

Pages: 2

Words: 581

Essay

To What Extent Do the Concepts That We Use Shape the Conclusions We Reach? Essay Example

Introduction Human beings seem to be always determined to define human understanding, and to identify the most correct means of achieving this. Some argue that [...]

Pages: 6

Words: 1721

Essay

Get a Free E-Book ($50 in value)

Get a Free E-Book

How To Write The Best Essay Ever!

How To Write The Best Essay Ever!