Matthew Ratcliffe: "Phenomenology as a form of empathy"

Lecture by Matthew Ratcliffe, Department of Philosophy, Durham University, UK.

This paper proposes that adopting a ‘phenomenological stance' enables a distinctive form of empathy, which is required in order to understand forms of experience that occur in psychiatric illness and elsewhere. For the most part, we interpret other people's experiences against the backdrop of a shared world. Hence our attempts to appreciate interpersonal differences do not call into question a deeper level of commonality. Adopting a phenomenological stance involves suspending our habitual acceptance of that world. It thus allows us to contemplate the possibility of structurally different ways of ‘finding oneself in the world'. Such a stance, I suggest, can be incorporated into an empathetic appreciation of others' experiences, amounting to what we might call ‘radical empathy'. I conclude that the possibility of radical empathy entails rejection of unexamined assumptions that frame discussion of intersubjectivity in naturalistic philosophy of mind.

Matthew Ratcliffe is Professor and Head of Philosophy at Durham University, UK. Most of his recent work addresses issues in phenomenology, philosophy of psychology and philosophy of psychiatry. He is author of Rethinking Commonsense Psychology: A Critique of Folk Psychology, Theory of Mind and Simulation (Palgrave, 2007) and Feelings of Being: Phenomenology, Psychiatry and the Sense of Reality (Oxford University Press, 2008).