"Empathy and the Family"

Nancy Sherman

In this paper I explore the conception of empathy and its implications for the family. I begin with the 18th Century views of Hume and Smith on sympathy, which I argue have influenced contemporary debate on empathy in the philosophy of mind. However, through a selective review of developmental literature, I suggest that empathetic phenomena constitute a more heterogeneous lot than the contemporary debate within philosophy tends to suggest. Overzealous attempts at streamlined, philosophical models distort the phenomena. At the end of the paper I turn to clinical psychoanalysis where the notion of tracking another mind becomes central. I suggest psychoanalysis offers further insight into empathetic capacities not taken up in the philosophical literature. I conclude with some thoughts about the attunements and misattunements that can arise within close relationships, such as the family. Underlying my remarks, Adam Smith emerges as something of an unsung hero.


1. Introduction.

2. Catching another's feelings/ Changing Places in Fancy.

3. The contemporary debate on mindreading: Theory-Theory vs. Simulation.

4. Early Forms of Empathy.

4.1. Motor Mimicry.

4.2. Mutual attunement.

4.3. Shared Attention/Social Referencing.

5. Psychoanalysis and imagining others.

6. Conclusion: Back to family and friendship.