Honors | An Interdisciplinary History of Empathy (HON)
H233 | 28999 | Fritz Lieber
Our working definition of empathy is the feeling of other people’s
feelings. As we study the history of this idea from ancient Greece
to the present, we will investigate and complicate that definition.
From President Obama, who named empathy a valuable trait in a
Supreme Court justice, to an audience at a pole vaulting contest,
who lean in their seats as the pole vaulter curves over the bar,
empathy is a central concept in government, athletics, art, science,
and the humanities. Empathy has a privileged seat at our human
table, but how did it get there? What are its roots? What can the
history of empathy tell us about the concept psychologically,
socially, and physically? Why is empathy such a pervasive and
important idea in diverse cultures and disciplines?
This course is an interdisciplinary study of the history of empathy.
We follow expressions of the concept in philosophy, medicine,
literature, psychology, art and aesthetics, social and behavioral
science, education, psychotherapy, and morality. Beginning with
Greek theories of shared feeling as the basis of physical and social
organization, we work our way to modern interpretations of empathy
in aesthetic appreciation and criticism, attitude, cultural
understanding, perspective-taking, human development, interpersonal
relationship, and neuroscience. Students will write four 5-page
papers, two on assigned topics, and two on topics of personal
choice. Each student will present one paper to the class.
All readings are original documents, and include excerpts from
Hippocrates, Plato, Erasmus, Rabelais, Montaigne, Joshua Reynolds,
Rousseau, David Hume, Adam Smith, Herder, Keats, Freud, Edith Stein,
Charles Cooley, and Carl Rogers, among others.