Qualified empathy: the spectator looking/not looking away

Keefe, John (2024) Qualified empathy: the spectator looking/not looking away. In: Through your eyes: research and new perspectives on empathy. InTechOpen, London, pp. 1-14.


This paper will reflect on empathy, not only as Einfühlung or 'feeling in' but a qualified embodied, affective, and neurocognitive response. That it may be given and withheld, sometimes at or in almost the same moment. I suggest that empathy is a complex and paradoxical response to the arousing action or event. As such, empathy needs to raise questions to distinguish it from sympathy or sentimentality and bathos. I will suggest that qualified empathy is characterised by vulnerability, can be given but with a sense of vicarious frisson. Such empathy allows and demands questions be raised and asked of us. As knowing spectators of (mimetic) empathetic moments, we look with a critical distance as well 'feeling in', 'there but for the grace...', or degrees of moral disengagement toward the other as subject-object. This other is an 'I' like me (I am subject-object to them) in reciprocal states of mutual homeostasis and shared affordances. I suggest we place ourselves 'beside' the character and event or action that not only qualifies but therefore enriches our empathy as a learning katharsis of understanding.

Key words: Distance, Embodied simulation, Fear, Frisson, Mimesis, 'Parergon', Pre-dispositions, Spectator, Subject-object, Vulnerable.

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