Project Details

Genealogical Approaches and the Origins of Empathy

Riana Betzler, 2016 - 2017, Fellow Postdoctoral

In my postdoctoral research at the KLI, I aim to undertake two tasks. First, I seek to investigate the method of genealogy broadly considered. Second, I aim to apply a sophisticated evolutionary genealogical approach to the case of empathy. In the first part of my project, I seek to understand how various genealogical approaches—in particular philosophical genealogies as exemplified by Williams (2002) and Craig (1990), traditional evolutionary genealogies, and cultural evolutionary genealogies, as exemplified by the Heyes (2014), Sterelny (2003), and Richerson & Boyd (2005)—relate to one another. How similar are their methodologies? What are the differences between them? What might these various forms of genealogy, which look different on the surface, be able to contribute to one another? Can they be combined fruitfully? In the second part of my project, I aim to provide a sophisticated genealogical approach to empathy that brings together insights from the history of empathy as a human value (philosophical genealogy), cultural evolution, and more traditional biological evolutionary approaches. There is good reason to look to empathy as fertile ground for such an approach because it has important connections with other traits and capacities that have been the subject of cultural evolutionary explorations, including mindreading, psychopathy, and cooperation. I hope that this sophisticated genealogical approach to empathy may help to provide the basis for a mature evolutionary approach to the emotions more broadly.