In this timely and wide-ranging study, Karsten Stueber argues that empathy is epistemically central for our folk-psychological understanding of other agents—that it is something we cannot do without in order to gain understanding of other minds. Setting his argument in the context of contemporary philosophy of mind and the interdisciplinary debate about the nature of our mindreading abilities, Stueber counters objections raised by some in the philosophy of social science and argues that it is time to rehabilitate the empathy thesis.
Empathy, regarded at the beginning of the twentieth century as the fundamental method of gaining knowledge of other minds, has suffered a century of philosophical neglect. Stueber addresses the plausible philosophical misgivings about empathy that have been responsible for its failure to gain widespread philosophical acceptance.
Crucial in this context is his defense of the assumption, very much contested in contemporary philosophy of mind, that the notion of rational agency is at the core of folk psychology. Stueber then discusses the contemporary debate between simulation theorists—who defend various forms of the empathy thesis—and theory theorists. In distinguishing between basic and reenactive empathy, he provides a new interpretive framework for the investigation into our mindreading capacities. Finally, he considers epistemic objections to empathy raised by the philosophy of social science that have been insufficiently discussed in contemporary debates. Empathy theorists, Stueber writes, should be prepared to admit that, although empathy can be regarded as the central default mode for understanding other agents, there are certain limitations in its ability to make sense of other agents; and there are supplemental theoretical strategies available to overcome these limitations.
"Karsten R. Stueber’s Rediscovering Empathy is a sustained and powerfully argued critique...important and well-argued..."—Philosophical Investigations
"...[A]dmirably complete and impartial...covers a tremendous range of ideas...anyone interested in how one person understands another, or understands a social phenomenon, will find things here to think about..."—The Philosophical Quarterly
“Stueber’s Rediscovering Empathy articulates an interesting and highly original defense of empathy as a distinctive method of explanation in the social sciences....an extremely valuable contribution to contemporary debates in the philosophy of mind...contains a wealth of fascinating details....”—History and Theory
"There are many good things to be said about this book. It takes up an important trend in recent (philosophy of) psychology: the growing insight that empathy, or mental simulation, is an integral element in the cognitive mechanisms underlying the application of folk-psychology....provides an accessible and at the same time profound introduction to the topic....rich and stimulating..."—dialectica
"...[A]n ambitious new account of the simulation theory of folk psychology...a forceful, novel, and engaging defense...warmly recommended..."—Mind
"This book will be of interest for any scholars interested in interpretation, generally speaking, but might be more accessible for philosophers of mind and social science. Cognitive scientists, social psychologists, and social scientists will also find many discussions in the book relevant for their field."—metapsychology
"This is an excellent book which addresses a very important set of current issues, sets them within a highly useful historical context, and uses that context as a touchstone for a valuable critical study. It will make a serious contribution to the discussion of simulation theory, and it should excite serious thinking about Stueber's central and suggestive hypothesis about the role of mirror neurons."
—David M. Rosenthal, Philosophy and Cognitive Science, City University of New York, Graduate Center
"Those who have come to empathy through the simulation-theory debate or developments in neuroscience may be uncomfortably aware that the concept has a history in the murky territory of nineteenth-century aesthetics, hermeneutics, and philosophy of history. Stueber cuts through the alarming terminology and gives us an overview at just the right scale. And without overplaying his hand, he mounts a determined defense of empathy's role in interpersonal understanding, particularly against those who would argue for its essentially public nature."
—Gregory Currie, Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham
"This book offers a highly readable introduction to the fascinating topic of empathy and a sound theoretical model of how it functions as a core element of social cognition and as an epistemic foundation for the social sciences. This is the clearest and most compelling interdisciplinary analysis of empathy available, essential reading for philosophers, psychologists, and social scientists."
—Bertram F. Malle, University of Oregon