Titchener is credited to be the man who coined the term “empathy” as a translation of the German “Einfühlung”. With the raise of modern neuroscience empathy has become a key concept, and historical reconstructions give Titchener’s contribution a distinct place in the history of the development of our knowledge about empathy. What is implicitly conveyed is that the neurophysiological processes studied nowadays refer to the same entity that was discussed in the philosophical and psychological literature of late Nineteen and early Twentieth Century. This paper shows that what we have instead is the history of a term, not that of a concept. In the case of Titchener, he uses the term empathy to refer to at least three differentiable phenomena. In the first occurrence, in a lecture at the University of Illinois, he denominates empathy the “fact” that when we have a “visual image” of a given character, we contemporarily experience a kinesthetic activation in the corresponding muscles: “Not only do I see gravity and modesty and pride and courtesy and stateliness, but I feel or act them in the mind’s muscles”. In a note subsequently added to the same lecture, Titchener calls empathy the logical and aesthetic act of immediately grasping the general sense of a visual schema or of a musical composition. In a third occurrence empathy is used in the interpersonal context of the experimental setting. Here empathy refers to the “full sympathy” of the experimenter with his experimental subject: “he must think […] as they think, understand as they understand, speak in their language”. No further analysis of this phenomenon is given, it is taken for granted. Finally, Titchener returns to empathy and kinesthesis by talking of “motor empathy” in case of “feelings of relation”. Here he links together: viewing a lecturer often using in his talk the monosyllable “but”, having a picture in mind representing this “feeling of but”, and experiencing the corresponding kinesthetic activation, sometimes together with “a strong affective colouring”.
Keywords philosophy of psychology   empathy   imagination   experimental psychology   introspection
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