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Empathy, basic and reenactive

Page history last edited by Victoria Yupangco 13 years, 2 months ago

Empathy, basic and reenactive


Empathy is one approach taken to explain our folk psychological capacity. The empathy view, as  it is presented in “Rediscovering Empathy” by Karsten R. Stueber, asserts that our epistemic understanding of other minds occurs very differently from the way we acquire knowledge from other areas of investigation. Specifically, we attribute mental states to others from a third-person perspective but also imagine ourselves as minded creatures from a first person perspective. In addition, we consider access to our own mind as more direct and more privileged than our access to another’s mind. Furthermore, we recognize that others are same-minded and that they also have access to their minds from a first person perspective. Thus, in understanding the mind of another we proceed in an egocentric manner.




Stueber, argues that this egocentric method is comparable to one way in which we would determine whether the height of another person is the same as ours. That is, by using ourselves as a standard and standing back to back with another person, we would be able to determine if he or she is the same height. This egocentric method applied to learning about other’s minds involves using our mind as a model. Namely, we can gain knowledge of other’s minds primarily because we are able to stimulate or imitate the other’s mental processes in within our own mind. Therefore, when we empathize with people we determine what is ‘in’ the other person’s mind.




Stueber distinguishes between two types of empathy: basic empathy and reenactive empathy. Basic empathy is a mechanism that underlies our unmediated quasi-perceptual ability to recognize other creatures as minded, and recognize them as being similar to us. It is our ability to attribute certain mental states to the person we are observing. For example, it allows us to recognize that another person is angry, or that he or she intends to do something. However, this mechanism does not account for our understanding of why that person is angry or why he or she is acting a certain way. Thus, another component is needed. Reenactive empathy is a mechanism by which we use our cognitive and deliberative abilities to reenact or imitate the thought processes of another person in our own mind. It is this mechanism that allows us to consider the other person’s more complex social behaviours as behaviour of a rational agent acting with reason. Therefore, Stueber argues that it is reenactive empathy that plays a central epistemic role in understanding of other agents, not basic empathy.





  • Stueber, K. R. (2006). Rediscovering Empathy : Agency, Folk Psychology, and the Human Sciences. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


- Pelin Kaya, University of Toronto

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