Discerning other minds is an issue rooted in the philosophical tradition with implications for ethical morality, epistemology, phenomenology, cognitive studies, psychology, and childhood development. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it suggests the extent to which an agent's attempt to conceptualize and to know another agent's mental process (ie, their thoughts, mood, etc.) is applicable to a cross-disciplinary interest in the humanities and the social sciences. Stueber (2008) traces the modern intellectual conception of empathy to the writings of psychologist Edward Tichener (1867-1927), and the translation of the German term Einfühlung (literally, feeling into) into the English lexicon. Framing empathy as feeling into another implies more than an exercise in etymology, but locates the fundamental theoretical aspect of the conception: the agent's knowledge of other minds other than its own. In order to refine the development of the study of empathy in modern philosophy and psychology, it is necessary to consider the foundation of the Cartesian epistemological problem which presented itself to these early scholars of Einfühlung.
René Descartes (1596-1650) essentially conceived the world as existing outside of the individual agent's mind, and that it was therefore subject to skepticism. While thoughts and knowledge of the Self could be known innately through the individual's direct experience of their thinking-process (ie, known a priori), the external world of sense perception possesses no direct certainty of knowledge which can confirm or deny its existence and truth (ie, it is known a posteriori).
[...] While further studies could be directed exploring the relationship between cognitive development in children with empathy, specifically in terms of conditions which increase or promote its manifestation, it is clear that the emotion is at the very core of psychological studies. Childhood development allows researchers to view the positive (or negative) growth of an individual, and the increase in their cognitive abilities with the corresponding effect on their socioemotional development. By attuning to the suffering of others, and realizing how human beings develop that attunement, psychology can continue the path established by moral philosophy: care of the sick, and sympathy toward the other. [...]
[...] While Hoffman (1981) does not find empathy to be a necessary and sufficient condition for moral agency, as universal abstractions such as justice are developed through cognitive sources independent of empathic production, but her findings do centrally place the production of empathy in the moral and cognitive development of the individual. Having established that empathetic behavior can occur as a result of altruistic intentions, and are not necessarily contingent upon an egotistical response, and that they are plausible indicators of healthy biological development the exception of the psychopath, the autistic, etc.), the purpose of this essay turns to consider the nature of cognitive and emotional development in children toward the production of empathy. [...]
[...] index of empathy for children and adolescents,” Child Development 413-425. Dorit, A. Sigalit, A. (2009). “Mothers' Storybook Reading and Kindergartners' Socioemotional and Literacy Development,” Reading Psychology, 175-194. Eisenberg, N. Fabes, R. A., Schaller, M., Carlo, G., Miller, P. A. (1991). Relations of Parental Characteristics and Practices to Children's Vicarious Emotional Responding,” Child Development 1393-1408. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. (1998). “Prosocial Development,” ed. [...]
[...] W. Damon and N. Eisenberg, Handbook of Child Psychology, vol. Social, Emotional and Personality Development, 701-778. New York: Wiley. Hoffman, M. (1981). Altruism Part of [...]
[...] When presented with issues in childhood development, questions on empathy and its positive social function are both broad and compelling: for instance, the age which infants and young children begin to display empathic qualities; whether or not empathy is contingent upon cultural and social norms or is a fundamental aspect of human biology and evolution; whether personal distress is a self-serving quality of the human individual or it is beholden to an altruistic principle; and so forth. The implications are quite broad, spanning the cognitive and social development of the individual, and, while in no means conclusive or exhaustive, the above list suggests certain avenues available for study. [...]
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