Overcoming the limits of empathic concern: the case for availability and its application to the medical domain

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 23 (2):191-203 (2020)
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Empathic concern is essential to our social lives because it motivates helping behavior. It has, however, well-known shortcomings such as its limitation in scope. Here, we highlight a further shortcoming of empathic concern: it contributes little to understanding the relevant features of complex social situations, and unaided by further cognitive inputs, likely fails to produce effective helping. We then elaborate on the conditions needed for an accurate assessment of others’ situations: the ability to pay attention and try to understand others for their own sake. We explain that when combining these abilities with the valuing aspect of empathic concern, we obtain “availability”, an understudied mental state which plays a crucial role in helping motivation. We provide a detailed definition of that notion and show how availability can be trained and exercised by health professionals in order to improve their care and relationships with patients.



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Christine Clavien
University of Geneva

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References found in this work

Principles of biomedical ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1979 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by James F. Childress.
The Principles of Psychology.William James - 1890 - London, England: Dover Publications.
The Principles of Psychology.William James - 1890 - Les Etudes Philosophiques 11 (3):506-507.

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