Detmers, Ines


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Empathy and its Limits

2016, Assmann, Aleida, Detmers, Ines

Empathy has been rediscovered and reshaped since the year 2000 as a concept with great interdisciplinary potential in neuroscience, socio-biology, psychology and the humanities. It is generally acknowledged as a vital emotional and social resource in a world faced with the challenges of globalization and the limitations of an endangered ecosystem. Empathy might be a unique human endowment, but we still know very little about the circumstances under which it is aroused or blocked. With its focus on the 'limits of empathy', this book therefore analyzes not only the cultural contexts that account for the generating and fostering of empathy, but also focuses on its limits and the mechanisms that lead to its blocking. Complementary to the current research in the natural sciences that celebrates the quintessential human capacity for empathy, this study will look more closely into the precarious status of empathy, its unreliability and intentional withdrawal.

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Introduction [zu: Empathy and its Limits]

2016, Assmann, Aleida, Detmers, Ines

Empathy is a new topic. It spans and connects different disciplines that — so far — have had little to say to each other. One of the main problems currently discussed in sociobiology, for instance, is to explain why we have pro-social emotions (Gintis et al. 2003). Such pro-social emotions have been identified not only as the basis for altruism and human cooperation but also as the central motor for cognitive and social evolution. We have learned in the last few years that it was because human actors were able to understand their mutual aims and goals so perfectly that they were able to coordinate complex activities. This led to leaps in evolution that were withheld from other species. Recent research in biological evolution has therefore repeatedly emphasized empathy as the central factor in the process of evolution from primates to humans (Tomasello 2009). Empathy was discovered to be the key emotion that fostered the cognitive evolution of the human brain. It consists of the capability to ‘think in the mind of another’, to anticipate the reactions of another human being, and to interact with his or her projects. Without empathy, scientists tell us, humans would not be able to enlarge their brain volume, to enter into common projects, or to use their cultural heritage. These new insights have given rise to a new body of research, including new applications in practical and cultural domains for creating a better future.