Empathy as a necessary condition of phronesis: a line of thought for medical ethics

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 17 (2):293-299 (2014)
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Empathy is a thing constantly asked for and stressed as a central skill and character trait of the good physician and nurse. To be a good doctor or a good nurse one needs to be empathic—one needs to be able to feel and understand the needs and wishes of patients in order to help them in the best possible way, in a medical, as well as in an ethical sense. The problem with most studies of empathy in medicine is that empathy is poorly defined and tends to overlap with other related things, such as emotional contagion, sympathy, or a caring personality in general. It is far from clear how empathy fits into the general picture of medical ethics and the framework of norms that are most often stressed there, such as respect for autonomy and beneficience. How are we to look upon the role and importance of empathy in medical ethics? Is empathy an affective and/or cognitive phenomenon only, or does it carry moral significance in itself as a skill and/or virtue? How does empathy attain moral importance for medicine? In this paper I will attempt to show that a comparison with the Aristotelian concept of phronesis makes it easier to see what empathy is and how it fits into the general picture of medical ethics. I will argue that empathy is a basic condition and source of moral knowledge by being the feeling component of phronesis, and, by the same power, it is also a motivation for acting in a good way.



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Citations of this work

The phenomenology of empathy: a Steinian emotional account.Fredrik Svenaeus - 2016 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 15 (2):227-245.
The relationship between empathy and sympathy in good health care.Fredrik Svenaeus - 2015 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 18 (2):267-277.
The phenomenology of empathy in medicine: an introduction.Fredrik Svenaeus - 2014 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 17 (2):245-248.

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References found in this work

Nicomachean ethics. Aristotle - 1999 - New York: Clarendon Press. Edited by Michael Pakaluk. Translated by Michael Pakaluk.
On Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1999 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sein und Zeit.Martin Heidegger - 1928 - Annalen der Philosophie Und Philosophischen Kritik 7:161-161.
The virtues in medical practice.Edmund D. Pellegrino - 1993 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by David C. Thomasma.

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