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Empathy and Culture

Empathy and Culture

(p.77) 4 Empathy and Culture
Being Me Being You
Samuel Fleischacker
University of Chicago Press

For all the room that Smith makes for human difference, many social scientists will see Smith as too universalist for their taste. Why suppose that we can enter into the circumstances of any and every other human being? The very capacity for universal empathy that Smith presupposes is likely to be rejected by those who favor hermeneutic approaches to social science, for whom understanding other cultures takes more than imagining ourselves, thickly acculturated as we are, into the shoes of someone with a different upbringing. It is argued that this objection makes an important point but exaggerates the gap between Smith’s and other ways of understanding cultural difference. Johann Gottfried von Herder is often thought to have helped found the hermeneutic approach, and a disputation is staged between Smithian and Herderian empathy. Smithian empathy is shown to be a condition for Herderian empathy, in many respects.

Keywords:   culture, Johann Gottfried von Herder, hermeneutics, social science, difference, universal human nature

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