Collective Emotions, Normativity, and Empathy: A Steinian Account

Human Studies 38 (4):503-527 (2015)
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Recently, an increasing body of work from sociology, social psychology, and social ontology has been devoted to collective emotions. Rather curiously, however, pressing epistemological and especially normative issues have received almost no attention. In particular, there has been a strange silence on whether one can share emotions with individuals or groups who are not aware of such sharing, or how one may identify this, and eventually identify specific norms of emotional sharing. In this paper, I shall address this set of issues head-on. I will do so by drawing on one of the most elaborate, but rather neglected phenomenological accounts of sociality, namely Edith Stein’s work on communal experiences and her theory of empathy. I wish to show that a suitably amended Steinian account affords us with an intriguing alternative to both phenomenalist and normativist construals of collective emotions. Moreover, I shall argue that it provides a more fine-grained account of the different types of emotional sharing than standard accounts, ranging from face-to-face, or shared, to more robust but less direct, or collective, emotions. Finally, I will propose a tentative answer to the above questions by pointing to non-dyadic or collective forms of empathy



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Thomas Szanto
University of Copenhagen