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Being Me Being YouAdam Smith and Empathy$
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Samuel Fleischacker

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226661759

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226661926.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 September 2021

Smithian Empathy

Smithian Empathy

(p.23) 2 Smithian Empathy
Being Me Being You

Samuel Fleischacker

University of Chicago Press

Chapter two explores Smithian empathy in detail. For Smith, empathy has cognitive content. As against Hume, who had seen empathy as spreading automatically from one human being to another, Smith thought that it requires us to enter in imagination into the circumstances of others. We thereby gain insight into what it is like to occupy their perspectives. In fact, this entering of others’ perspectives is essential to learning what it is to have a perspective at all: to recognizing even that we ourselves have a perspective. And these linked phenomena—empathy, on the one hand, and the having of a perspective, on the other—are uniquely human accomplishments. They indeed help define what it is to be human. This Smithian conception of humanity makes room for individuality even while stressing our shared imaginative and emotional capacities: which strikes precisely the balance sought today between personal or cultural difference and some sort of universally shared humanity. Affinities are drawn between Smith’s empathetic and perspectival picture of humanity and the conception of humanity expressed in the modern novel: also an invention of the eighteenth century.

Keywords:   David Hume, Adam Smith, imagination, perspective, novels, empathy

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