Empathic foundations of clinical knowledge

In K. W. M. Fulford (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry. Oxford University Press (2013)
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This chapter sets out several views of empathy that draw not only on psychology's literature but on philosophical and psychiatric writings. Empathy is a set of complex concepts involving perception, emotion, attitudinal orientation, and other cognitive processes as well as an activity that expresses character traits and, hence, one of the virtues. In other words, an examination of the philosophical and clinical literature reveals empathy to be not one unified concept but instead a set of related characteristics and qualities needed to be an ethical and therapeutically effective clinician. To this end, the chapter offers reasons as to why empathy is important to clinical work: empathy is both epistemically and ethically necessary to good social relations and, in particular, clinical relations. It then distinguishes empathy from a related concept called "world"-traveling and situates its relevance to therapeutic relations. Finally it brings these ideas together by highlighting Iris Murdoch's ideas of "just vision" and "loving attention."



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Nancy Potter
University of Louisville

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