The Science and Ethics of Empathy
The Science of Empathy: Conceptual and Measurement Issues
In my PhD, I argued that there is substantial conceptual confusion in empirical psychological research on empathy and that this leads to various problems for attempts to apply such research to social, political, and moral problems.
I continued this work at the KLI, where I thought about strategies for resolving this confusion by drawing parallels with other cases in the philosophy of biology and psychology. I am especially interested in pluralist and genealogical approaches to these kinds of conceptual problems (you can read more about my KLI research project by clicking here). I’m still thinking about how to formulate the right approach for the empathy case.
While I was in Vienna, I also spent time in social cognitive neuroscience labs led by Claus Lamm and Giorgia Silani at the University of Vienna. This gave me insight into the details of how practicing empathy researchers construct their studies and how they think about conceptualisation and measurement. This experience inspired my 2019 paper in International Journal of Philosophical Studies, ‘Finding empathy: how neuroscientific measures, evidence, and conceptualisations interact.’
I’m still very much interested in these issues and am thinking about questions about how to integrate evidence, engage in effective interdisciplinary exchange, and measure normatively thick concepts like empathy. The most immediate paper that I am working on in this area is tentatively titled, ‘Why the conceptual dispute about empathy (still) matters.’ It argues that the dispute over ’empathy’–which many authors are tempted to dismiss–is not just a semantic one. This dispute matters for reasons internal to the science and underlying it are deeper ontological issues about the nature of the phenomenon under study.
The Ethics of Empathy: Applying Empathy Research
I am deeply interested in the practical implications of empathy research and questions about whether increased empathy can really help to solve a wide variety of global problems (as so many people hope).
Within this area, I am especially interested in questions about the role of empathy in medicine and law. Should we train doctors to be more empathic? What does it mean to be an empathic doctor? My 2018 paper in Medicine, Healthcare, and Philosophy begins to deal with these issues. I plan to develop this project further by considering what empathy is good for in medicine.
Within law, I am interested in how certain forms of testimony–especially the victim statement–elicits empathy and what impact this has on decision-making by judges and justices. I hope to do more work in these areas in the future.
Natural Kinds, Human Kinds, and Classifying People
I have broad interests in philosophical debates about natural kinds versus (?) human/social kinds, especially as it relates to kinds that seem to have both natural and social dimensions, or that appear to be “mixed” in important ways. I’m interested in both the epistemic and pragmatic aspects of this debate.