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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.