Topic description / abstract:
Questions about how empathy should be conceptualized have long been a preoccupation of the field of empathy research. There are numerous definitions of empathy that have been proposed and that often overlap with other concepts such as sympathy and compassion. This makes communication between research groups or across disciplines difficult. Many researchers seem to see the diversity of definitions as a problem rather than as a form of benign pluralism. Within this debate about conceptualization, researchers often express the idea that neuroscientific evidence will make this problem go away—that it will uncover underlying empathy processes and thereby also sort out conceptual difficulties. In this paper, I challenge this assumption by examining how neuroscientists studying empathy use concepts in practice—both in the development of their measures and in the interpretation of their data.
Riana Betzler is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the KLI. Her work focuses on issues in the philosophy of psychology—in particular, as relates to social cognition and the emotions. She completed her PhD and MPhil in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Prior to that, she attained her undergraduate degree in psychology at Yale.