Feeling for Another: The Role of Empathy in Moral Theory and Moral Psychology

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Empathy has for a long time been recognized to play a crucial role in ethics and moral psychology, even though its precise contribution is still under dispute. Especially in the 18th century philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment attributed to 'sympathy' – understood as the capacity to 'put oneself in another's place' – a central role for the foundation of morality. Other theorists, though, have been more skeptical about the contribution of empathy to explaining fundamental moral ideas and norms, and there are similar debates about the relative importance of empathy with regard to the explanation of moral learning and the internalization of moral norms.

The conference is intended to bring together people working on empathy from different perspectives – empirical, conceptual and historical – in order to investigate the philosophical basis and historical evolvement of the notion of empathy and to examine what role it can play today in moral theory and moral psychology, as well as in theories of evaluation and of our understanding of others in general.


Confirmed keynote speakers

Louise Braddock (Philosophy / Psychoanalysis, Cambridge / Oxford)

Winfried Menninghaus (Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt)

Paul Russell (Philosophy, UBC / Gothenburg)

Dan Zahavi (Philosophy, Copenhagen)


Saturday 21st November

9.30 - 9.45 Welcome

9.45 - 11.15 Keynote Talk Paul Russell (Gothenburg / UBC): Sympathy, Impartiality, and the Morality System

11.25 - 13.00 Parallel Sessions:

(a) Thomas Null (Edinburgh): Shelleyan Empathy and the Poetics of Sympathy; David Rowthorn (Warwick): Two Nietzschean Arguments Against Compassionate Morality

(b) Max Hayward (Columbia): Grounding Self-regarding Practical Reason in Empathy; Alejandro Rosas Lopez (UNAL): Empathy: Can It Ground Moral Judgment?

13.00 - 14.30 Lunch Break

14.30 - 16.05 Parallel Sessions

(a) Mara Bollard (Michigan): Empathy and Moral Agency: Lessons from Psychopathy and Autism; Lilian O'Brien (Cork): Understanding Alien Psychologies

(b) Simone Pollo (Rome): Animal Ethics and Sympathy; Jonas Vandieken (UCL): Reasonable Partiality and what We Owe to Each Other

16.05 - 16.45 Coffee Break

16.45 - 18.15 Keynote Talk Winfried Menninghaus (Frankfurt): Being Moved, Empathy, and Aesthetic Appreciation


Sunday, 22nd November

10.00 - 11.30 Keynote Talk Dan Zahavi (Copenhagen): Wittgenstein’s Child: Phenomenology, Empathy and Mindreading

11.45 - 12.30 Parallel Sessions

(a) Adam Tuszynski (Warsaw): On the Applicability of the Mirror Neurons Theory to the Study of Shared Agency. Exploring the Roots of Empathy

(b) Kyle Furlane (Cincinnati): Moral Responsibility for Epistemic Bias

12.30 - 13.30 Lunch Break

13.30 - 14.15 Parallel Sessions

(a) Elodie Boublil (Paris): Vicarious Traumatization

(b) Petra Gelhaus (Münster): Empathy, Compassion, Care

14.30 - 16.00 Keynote Talk Louise Braddock (Cambridge / Oxford): Why Everyone Should Be Wary of Empathy and Why Psychoanalysts Shouldn’t Do it at All


The conference will take place in the Seminar Room and in the Colin Matthew Room of the Radcliffe Humanities Building, Oxford University.

Conference participation is free of charge, but please contact either betiel.wasihun@mod-langs.ox.ac.ukerasmusmayr@yahoo.com, or lorenzo.greco@philosophy.ox.ac.uk if you are interested in coming.

Click here for the conference poster.


Affections and Ethics

Contact name: Erasmus Mayr

Contact email: erasmusmayr@yahoo.com

Audience: Open to all