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  • Relational Empathy as an Instrument of Democratic Hope in Action
abstract

Historically, philosophers have understood hope in relation to an individual's character and have questioned whether or not hope is rational. American pragmatists, however, have tended to characterize hope as fundamentally social and have been concerned with the problems that arise when different hopes for a better future conflict with one another. Pragmatism's philosophy of social hope is often referred to as meliorism, the idea that the world can be made better with human effort. But in a democratic, open society, what makes the world "better" is debatable given the fact that sometimes the attainment of what is hoped for disallows others to flourish. In this article, I reconstruct the radically democratic and inclusive ideal of social hope first by making a distinction between expectant hope and hope in action. I then introduce a historically informed and pluralistic idea of empathy, what I call relational empathy, and suggest that the practice of relational empathy can serve as a vehicle for hope in action and affords us the opportunity to widen the windows of our perception, challenge our biases, and practice democracy as a way of life.

keywords

empathy, relational empathy, social hope, pragmatism, democracy as a way of life

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I am not going to offer arguments against the vocabulary I want to replace. Instead I am going to try to make the vocabulary I favor look attractive by showing how it may be used to describe a variety of topics.

richard rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice.

t. s. eliot, "Little Gidding"

As an expectation of something desired, hope is an imprecise feeling regarding the possibility of a future outcome. Our concrete experiences of hope, however, do not share such uniformity, for as manifestations of individual or collective will they are qualitatively different from one another as experiences. In addition to thinking of hope as an expectation of something desired, then, it is helpful to conceive of it also as a movement of the will that serves common or disparate interests. Adopting this way of perceiving, hope is not simply a desire for and expectation of future outcomes, for it also directs desires, demarcates expectations, and shapes experiences. In certain circumstances, it seems that hope is experienced as a fanciful or wishful desire for a future state of existence without consideration of how one's actions might help to bring about the desired end. It seems also true that certain experiences of hope are sometimes indistinguishable from one's general feeling of optimism, that is, a positive, perhaps naive, outlook regarding the likelihood a particular outcome will arise in the future. In other dimensions of experience, hope appears to be an expression of one's confidence in the emergence of some future possible event. While in other portions of experience, hope functions as a source of motivation to bring about what an individual or group desires. In a few of the above experiences, hope also sometimes operates as a form of therapy in which our sensations of hope dispel feelings of fear, despair, or unease. How many other ways should I divide the experience of hope? How shall we continue to divide, we dividers?

In this work, I will make a distinction between two types of hope, what I will call expectant hope and hope in action. I do this for the purpose of reimagining and reconstructing the radically democratic, inclusive, and pragmatic ideal of social hope. Toward this general end, I will also introduce a new way of thinking about empathy and explain how it can both serve as a vehicle for manifesting social hope and help us to take seriously [End Page 201] the ethical problems we face when hopes conflict or when opposing melioristic ideals clash. Hope and empathy are social constructs, and as such they are ripe for pragmatic reconstruction. Similar to hope, empathy has also been defined in different, often conflicting ways, a truth that creates confusion but also opportunity. Empathy, for instance, has been and currently is often thought to be a number of different things or activities.1 For the purpose of recalibrating the pragmatic notion of social hope I think that it is helpful to think of empathy as relational rather than a particular thing or activity. A relational and historically informed understanding of empathy dissolves mere verbal debates about the meaning of empathy and focuses our attention on how different experiences of what is called empathy function in different contexts as practices of hope in action. Toward this end, I define empathy as a set of three distinct, though experientially overlapping, relations: the relations of (1) feeling-into, (2) feeling-with, and (3) feeling-for. I will call the convergence of these three relations relational empathy—a symbolic title or class name for explaining how these relations are experienced together. This relational conceptualization of empathy, I will argue, works in experience as a vehicle for manifesting democratic hope in action.

Expectant Hope Versus Hope in Action

Expectant hope signifies an internalized, sometimes verbalized, desire for certain outcomes to arise in the future, while hope in action signifies this internalized desire as well as the actions one enacts for the purpose of engendering an individual's or group's desires. Expectant hope may be considered to be a type of "action" as well—after all, it is a movement of one's will manifested in the desire and expectation for something to arise in the future—but this is not what I mean by saying hope in action is an action. Hope in action is fundamentally social; it is a socially recognizable act arising from internalized desires and in relation to and in consideration of the desires and expectations of others. It is, I contend, a version of what pragmatists call social hope. Though it is unclear to say how our experiences of hope serve either the individual's personal goals or a community's collective goals, expectant hope often lies dormant within the internalized psychology of an individual. And although this expression of hope sometimes contributes to one's motivation or confidence to act, hope in action is the hope for and the act of engaging and communicating with others, listening to their desires, and working together with them to [End Page 202] engendered particular outcomes. This requires a willingness to change our desires, reshape our perceptions, and recognize our biases for the purpose of planning and working together with others democratically.

Throughout the history of philosophy, hope has been defined primarily as expectant hope. For the Greeks, expectant hope was largely perceived as either negative or positive experience according to the manner in which it contributed to one's personal character. For example, Aristotle finds hope, viewed through his doctrine of the mean, to be negative when it leads us to miss the mark of, say, courage and positive when it provides us the confidence necessary for courageous behavior understood in a particular context. According to the Stoic worldview, expectant hope is not desirable. For example, Seneca viewed expectant hope as a psychological experience very similar to the experience of fear, and fear and hope certainly were not experiences that contributed to the goal of apatheia or a disposition of ataraxia, for these experiences were not believed to be in concord with the rationality of the divine logos. Among premodern religious philosophers, expectant hope was understood most commonly in relation to other psychological states, such as belief, confidence, and courage, but also in connection to the possibility of the afterlife. When they were not rethinking the philosophical positions of the ancients or reworking the theories of premodern philosophers, modern philosophers generally contended that an understanding of experiences of expectant hope was crucial for grasping our moral psychology as well as for determining what motivates us to act both rationally and irrationally. This focus on the rationality of hope led to Immanuel Kant's famous question: For what may I hope? Kant's answer to this question was multifaceted and expressed in many different ways depending upon whether the question was directed at moral progress, the hope for the afterlife, the hope for divine assistance, or the hope for happiness. According to Kant, hope for a better future in which one expects something desired lies within the Grenze or border of reason and is rational when directed at our moral progress and the benefit of the common good. And although Kant considered the relation between expectant hope and larger communal or global concerns, he largely ignored the social problems that arise when hopes conflict and when desires for different moral goods clash.

In the twentieth century, there arose the American philosophy of pragmatic pluralism, and it is this philosophical tradition that stands most prominently against Kant's articulation and, in general, the Enlightenment conceptualization of expectant hope. In the writings of Dewey and Rorty, we find two well-articulated understandings of social hope. For Dewey, [End Page 203] social hope is meliorism—an optimistic stance toward the world suggesting that we may be able to contribute to human progress but there is no guarantee that our actions and efforts will result in the ends we desire. The object of meliorism is democracy, which Dewey defines as a simple idea "that political and ethical progress hinges on nothing more than persons, their values, and their actions" (MW 9:107). Rorty operationalizes social hope in light of liberalism and the need for ongoing conversation. In the act of engaging others in political conversation, hope, says Rorty, operates as a "hope for agreement, or at least, exciting and fruitful disagreement" (1979, 318) as well as "an attempt to create solidarity out of shared experiences and interests" (1999, 87). I take my cue from each of these thinker's articulations of social hope by suggesting that hope in action refers to a social action perpetuated by the spirit of meliorism and reconstructed through the process of conversation, movements of inclusivity, and actions aimed to change undemocratic cultural conditions. Conceived in this way, hope in action as a mode of social hope is also a pragmatic fashioning of reality, which, John Stuhr notes, "is always an ongoing refashioning and always a hope for a better understanding, a different understanding" (2016, 149; emphasis added; see also Fishman and McCarthy 2007; Green 1999; Westbrook 2005). Hope in action involves open and sincere acts of reconsidering our hopes for a better world as well as a reevaluation of values that sustains these; it requires perpetual acts of reconstruction and refashioning, which are always experimental. Instances of hope in action are present-oriented social actions rather than simply future-minded anticipations of something desired and expected, and experiences of relational empathy have the potential to both fuel and nurture these pragmatically minded social actions.

Relational Empathy and the Contexts of Experience

Based on my exploration of the various historical, cultural, and scholarly meanings and usages of empathy, I find it to be pragmatic to think of empathy as the intersection of three general relations within an experience. These three relations of experience as relations of feeling are distinct in thought but not in experience. In experience, these relations overlap, mingle, and blend together depending upon the context of a given experience, and only upon our reflection upon them as they appear in contextualized [End Page 204] situations do they become separate and distinct. Often throughout history, empathy has been conceived as only one or two of these relations of feeling, but what I am calling "relational empathy" arises when all three of these general relations converge in one's relationship with an object, albeit in radically different ways.2 By "feeling" here, I mean the general and broad meaning of the Greek word pathos (the root word of empathy)—signifying, broadly, anything experienced (see Cayuela 2016; Munteanu 2012, 50).3 My employment of the word feeling is very similar to the plural and multiple meanings of the Latin term sensus, which in different contexts has referred to a sensation, faculty, perception, impression, judgment, and understanding.4 Sensus is very similar to the Greek word pathos, for each of these words has been understood according to a variety of different meanings and used for a variety of purposes to describe our bodily experiences and capacities.5

The first general relation is recognized as a mode or manner in which we feel-into or "feel our way into" an object of perception or reflection. The object can be anything, including both animate (e.g., a person's experience) and inanimate objects (e.g., a sculpture). This relation is often experienced as intentional and willful acts that aim to produce, a feeling or sense of a given object. But this is not always the case in view of the fact that this relation is experienced in disparate ways, for example, as experiences of direct perception, vigilant observation, and intuitive sensation, as well as mindfulness—the sensation of lucid awareness of one's surroundings. Sometimes these experiences provoke an instantaneous feeling of the object, while other times they involve a process of feeling or sensing the object over an indefinite period of time. Here is an example of the former: imagine you are walking through a forest, and gazing upward you feel yourself into the golden and dancing lights adorning the very tops of the trees and experience an immediate perception of nature's ephemeral beauty. As an example of the latter, think of the relationship between friends: during the course of these intimate relationships, the relation of feeling-into as acts are experienced over a period of time. A friendship begins, in part, with mutual acts of feeling-into the personality and character of the other. But as long as the friendship lasts, these acts are recurrent acts of feeling-into the friend's experiences as well as the friendship relation itself. The relation of feeling-into can also be experienced as a habit of behavior in which we feel our way into anything; let us call this habit empathic projection. [End Page 205]

During the late eighteenth century, a number of philosophers, romanticists, and Counter-Enlightenment thinkers believed that practicing the habit of empathetic projection can help us to call into question our presuppositions about our relationship to the natural world as well as the experiences of others in different cultural and historical traditions. Feeling-into certain objects, such as the different ideals, goals, and beliefs expressed within cultures and histories other than one's own, enhances our ability to feel-with both similar and dissimilar lived experiences of other people. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the act of feeling-into was seen both as an object of scientific inquiry and as a technique for perceiving and understanding aesthetic objects. Toward the end of the century, Robert Vischer (1847–1933) coined the term Einfühlung to signify this relation of feeling-into, which he described as a process in which the body and soul are unconsciously projected into the form of an object, especially those objects we call works of art.6 Based on changes in scientific disciplines, Vischer noted that the act of feeling-into objects gives rise to a number of internal bodily processes, including but not limited to the muscular movement of the eyes, the reflexive sensations as responses to an observed object, a mental tracing of the object, a sense of resemblance between the object and the observer's mental states, a responsive and immediate feeling toward the object, and an association of ideas within the observer's mind.

The second general relation is the mode or manner in which we feel-with other persons or things by experiencing a sense of connection, unity, or concord with them. Depending upon the context, this might involve a feeling of understanding or grasping the thoughts of another, a sense of being united with another's aims, a feeling of agreement (or disagreement) with another's sentiments or bodily expressions, or a deeply felt emotional connection with some person or thing (e.g., a friend or spouse, a political movement, a painting). For pragmatic purposes, a number of conflicting definitions of empathy in scholarship today, I contend, should be conceived as modes of this general relation rather than as competing ideas, for example, as empathic unity, empathic perspective-taking, empathic accuracy, empathic contagion, and empathic mimicry. As it is with our experiences of the relation of feeling-into, this second relation is actualized as either an instantaneous or processional feeling. Moreover, experiences of one of these two relations often engender experiences of the other, while [End Page 206] in other contexts, these two relations arise in experience simultaneously. However, and unlike the first relation, this second relation is experienced as either conscious or unconscious feelings of the body. For example, I can be aware of the fact that I grasp and feel-with the actions of another (empathic perspective-taking) but be unaware that I have adopted the body language of a close friend (empathic mimicry). In the first case, the act of feeling-with is confirmed by my cognitive awareness of it, while in the second case, I unknowingly copied my friend's body language and adopted it as my own. The relation of feeling-with can also be seen as a habit of behavior in which we feel-with other persons or things: let us call this habit empathic connection.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the meaning of Einfühlung began to change, especially after Edward Titchener (1867–1927) coined the word empathy as a translation of it in 1909. This change was stimulated primarily with the work of Karl Groos (1861–1946) and Theodor Lipps (1851–1914), who began to define the word Einfühlung in terms of what I am calling the second relation of my theory of empathy, namely, the experience in which we feel-with other persons or things. For Groos (1912), Lipps, and the majority of psychoanalysts throughout the twentieth century, the act of feeling-with another or taking the perspective of others was centrally how empathy was defined, though this often was conjoined with the first relation, that is, the act of projecting ourselves into or feeling-into the experiences of others. Though not in complete agreement with Groos and Lipps, Sigmund Freud (1960, 186) followed this trend, defining Einfühlung as an act in which we put ourselves into another person's psychical state in order to better understand it and be able to compare it with our own. For most of the twentieth century, understanding empathy as a skill for feeling-with or grasping the experiences of other human beings was most prominent. This truth was solidified in the discipline of psychology with the works of Carl Rogers (Rogers et al. 1967) and was also central to the approach of Heinz Kohut (1981), who interpreted empathy as a manifestation of the relation of feeling-with, which served as a method of therapy offered by the psychologist to the patient.

The third general relation is any mode or manner in which we feel-for other persons/things by displaying concern for them and acting primarily for their benefit and general well-being. By "concern" here I mean something different from how others have employed this word in relation [End Page 207] to empathy. For example, the contemporary social psychologist C. Daniel Batson operationalizes empathy primarily as empathic concern, a mode of this general relation, which he defines quite succinctly as "an other-oriented emotional response elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of a person in need" (2011, 11). I deviate from this cogent understanding by adopting a more general and pluralistic definition of empathic concern as a socially recognizable act of displaying interest in the experiences, circumstances, and general well-being of another or something. This broad understanding of concern includes Batson's conceptualization of it as well as the positive experiences of others, for example, showing interest in the triumphs of others, and even incorporates our experiences of displaying concern for things such as a political movement or social cause. When our social acts of empathic concern as well as our internalized feelings of concern are sufficiently strong within us, they sometimes motivate us to feel-for persons and things through acts of empathic care. These socially recognizable acts of care, as another mode of the relation of feeling-for, move beyond social displays of interest in that they are acts aimed primarily to benefit someone or something rather than oneself. We exercise empathic care in a variety of disparate contexts of experience, for example, through acts of helping someone in need, celebrating someone's good fortune, promoting a cause, and so on. The relation of feeling-for can also be seen as a habit of behavior in which we feel for others; let us call this habit empathic care.

Turning to historical discourses about the nature of empathy, we find that this third relation has been used to define empathy in the disciplines of both social psychology and neuroscience. Batson facilitated this historical transition from the relation of feeling-with (what he calls "feeling as") to the relation of feeling-for by employing the term empathic concern for the purpose of analyzing both egoism and altruism. Empathic concern, he argues, often produces the motivation to act for the benefit of others rather than ourselves. Empathic concern for another, according to Batson's (1991, 2011; Batson and Oleson 1991) empathy-altruism hypothesis, produces altruistic motivation (but does not cause acts or altruism itself). In addition to Batson's contributions, a significant number of neuroscientists of the early twenty-first century have defined empathy as an experience of care or concern we have for others. For example, the neuroscientist Jean Decety defines empathy as "the natural capacity to share, understand, and respond with care to the affective states of others" (2012); this signifies that [End Page 208] one is capable of feeling-with (i.e., sharing and understanding) another's state and able to feel-for (i.e., responding with care) the affective states of others. And to do these things well requires that one correctly observes and identifies these states or, in other words, that one feels-into them with perceptual acuity so that one's sharing and understanding another's states informs the manner in which one responds with care. In addition to Decety's insights, Jean Knox's (2013) investigation provides an accurate assessment of how the use of the word empathy to signify the relation of feeling-for is growing among psychologists and neuroscientists. In this highly perspicacious article, Knox draws from the insights of Singer and Lamm (2009), who note that within neuroscientific discourses two forms (i.e., relations) of empathy are recognized in the therapeutic relationship, namely, the forms of feeling-with and feeling-for.

Experience shows us that sometimes only one or two of these relations function during our interactions with other persons or things. Here is an example to illustrate this. Imagine that you and a friend are walking on the boardwalk of a California beach, when suddenly, a man blindsides you and steals one of your belongings. As a consequence, you and your friend are knocked down. Both of you are in a state of shock lying on the wooden pathway, but you manage to watch the person run away from the ground. He is running quite quickly, and as you consider whether or not it is a good idea to chase after him, you notice that the man steps on a nail protruding from the boardwalk and, as a consequence, is screaming in agony. At this moment, you would probably experience the first and second relations but not the third. That is, you observed the man stepping on the nail and "felt your way" into his experience as he was expressing his pain. With this conscious act you experienced a contextualized version of the relation of feeling-into. By "feeling your way" into the man's agony, you then experienced the second relation as you immediately grasped that he was in pain and were able to imaginatively simulate what it might be like to feel his pain. But you probably did not experience the third relation of feeling-for. Now consider another version of the story. You and your friend are walking on the same boardwalk, but in this case, your friend steps on a nail. In this circumstance, you would most likely experience all three relations of empathy. You would feel your way into the experience of your friend, grasp and imagine her or his experience, and act to help. In the first story, you likely did not experience relational empathy, but in the second, chances are you did. [End Page 209]

Relational empathy is an expression of hope in action in which all three relations or habits I have explicated are present in an experience. But by calling experiences in which we find a convergence of all three relations "relational empathy" I do not mean to state that these habits or the experiences by which we experience them are morally superior or more practical than those in which one experiences one, two, or none of these relations. Rather, I mean to state that they resemble the plurality of meanings given to the words Einfühlung and empathy throughout their history. The generality of the relations I have outlined may seem to be too abstract to accentuate the contexts and situatedness of unique, specific experiences, but just the opposite is true. Depending upon the context and circumstance of a given experience, these three general relations can be representative of a variety of contextualized experiences. For example, in one context, relational empathy might include an observation of nature, a feeling of being united with it, and the social act of displaying interest in and caring for the natural environment. While in another context it could function as a perception of someone's pain, an imagined simulation of her or his pain, and a demonstration of concern for such a person through a social act of helping behavior aimed to alleviate that pain.

Another way to demonstrate how a broad and pluralistic conceptualization of empathy is useful for interpreting contextualized circumstances is to examine pluralistic conceptualizations other than my own that serve this function. Take, for instance, Preston and de Waal's definition of empathy as "any process where the attended perception of the object's state generates a state in the subject that is more applicable to the object's state or situation than to the subject's own prior state or situation" (2002, 4; italics added). Looking closely at this definition of empathy and at the abstract terms Preston and de Waal use, such as process, object, subject, situation, and state, we find that these nonspecific terms can refer to a wide variety of contextualized experiences. Rather than bringing added confusion and ambiguity to the meaning of empathy, the abstract terms they endorse function pluralistically—that is, they serve as linguistic placeholders, each of which can refer to a number of nuanced and contextualized empathic experiences. For example, the term subject could refer not only to humans but also to other animals, who experience a number of modes of empathic sensing commonly ascribed only to humans. This definition also invites one to consider the importance of the historically common meaning of empathy [End Page 210] mentioned earlier, in which the object of empathizing has referred to inanimate objects, for example, works of art, nature, and the cultural dynamics that inform us of the experiences of others, rather than simply the experiences of and interactions between living beings. Likewise, a variety of contextualized activities within experience can be subsumed under the general terms process, state, and situation without limiting the meaning of empathy to only a few, selected experiences. For instance, the term process can refer to a number of descriptions of empathy as processes. Following broad conceptualizations, other commonly experienced states such as exhibiting a strong will, feeling bored, or even experiencing the sentiments of rational thought can be subsumed under the general term state. Finally, the useful and broad term situation can signify a number of unique circumstances in which empathic experiences occur. With these general terms, then, we are able to locate and evaluate a variety of interpersonal, interspecies, and social phenomena that are often ignored when we narrow our conceptualizations and definitions of empathy. These examples illustrate that the significance of any experience of relational empathy is contingent upon the context of the given situation, but how might relational empathy, in particular, serve as a vehicle for encouraging and manifesting hope in action?

Relational Empathy and Democratic Hope in Action: No Guarantees, Buyer Beware

I think that there are at least three ways in which relational empathy may serve as a vehicle for encouraging and manifesting hope in action. First, putting into practice the habits of relational empathy helps us to widen the windows of our perception and to expand the parameters of inquiry. The habit of empathic projection in which we feel our way into things propels us out of ourselves and encourages us to move beyond the limits of what is hoped for in relation to the needs of other and outstanding social problems. This habit, when exercised as a daily activity, also impels us to encounter the multiplicity of difference within experience itself and puts us in a position to feel with other be in a position to feel with others. Whether this habit stimulates what Rorty called a hope for agreement, or at least, exciting and fruitful disagreement or, in Stuhr's words, a hope for a better understanding, a different understanding, the goal is transformation. Practicing [End Page 211] the habit of feeling-for, in which we show public concern and care for others or things, likewise assists us in widening the windows of our perception. For by expressing our concerns and cares socially, we display our interests and acts of care publicly; and consequently, we put ourselves in a position to engage with others, listen attentively to their viewpoints, and take seriously the actions they take to exhibit their ideas and perspectives socially.

Second, practicing the habits of relational empathy has the potential to encourage us to recognize and challenge our presuppositions, which provides the conceptual spaces to reflect upon and admit the shortsightedness of our humanistic visions and our moral hypotheses, as well as the biases that sustain these. Recognizing that our biases are part and parcel of our interpretations of the world is not usually considered an important goal to be attained when one thinks about one's social hopes. Admitting our biases is not a common activity, for it seems that biases are those aspects of ourselves we often ignore (or hide from the view of others?). Experiencing the habits of relational empathy, however, can provoke us to challenge our presuppositions, admit our biases, and even change our habits of behavior in light of the needs of others. This, in turn, affords us the opportunity to feel-with and feel-for others who have radically different senses than ours. This movement resembles dialogue or open and direct conversation, but without challenging the presuppositions that fuel our social hopes, aren't we simply regurgitating our presuppositions and biases?

Third, practicing the habits of relational empathy facilitates democratic action, specifically what pragmatists refer to as democracy as a way of life. Often democracy is believed to be, as John Dewey pointed out, simply a system of elections and conducting government. But it is more than this, for it also involves the refashioning of democracy in light of social changes and human needs that are intrinsically and inseparably linked to our lived experiences. Recognizing this, Dewey called for a more experimental ideal and practice of democracy that requires our participation in the construction of its meaning. He called this activity "creative democracy," a process in which we must continually reconstruct the very idea of democracy for the purpose of reconstructing institutions so that they may meet the ongoing, emerging needs of people.7 Thus, democracy is not separate from our lives, for as Dewey famously noted, "Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature . . . put in force in the attitudes which human beings display to one another in all the incidents and relations of [End Page 212] daily life" (MW 14:226; emphasis added). Democracy as a way of life is the compilation of the habits of our lives by which this faith is put into action and becomes incarnated in human relationships and in the social process of working together with others toward what are hoped to be socially beneficial ends.

I think that the habits of relational empathy are crucial for this creative activity, for they help us to reinvent, reconstruct, and refashion our hope for a better world in light of the problems that emerge from the changing circumstances of social life. Life is superabundant; it proceeds; and as new sensations, sentiments, perspectives, and thoughts arise, we become, in some way, something other than we once were. And by making our moral hypotheses public by practicing the habits of relational empathy, we allow the visions of our melioristic hopes for a better tomorrow to enter into public and democratic deliberation.

There are no guarantees that practicing the habits of relational empathy will, independent of our intent, affect the world in some morally satisfactory way. Life is uncertain; and thus, the nature of the (?) "good"—as well as the good we hope for a better tomorrow—is uncertain as well. Recognizing the uncertainty of our social hopes does not seem very inviting, but it is the reality of uncertainty that one must embrace if one is concerned with the problems that arise when social hopes clash or when moral goods conflict with one another. The claim that relational empathy can serve as a vehicle for manifesting social hope is a moral hypothesis, as is every goal of bringing about a better world, for these hinge on the uncertainties of limited perspectives. If one is disinclined to embrace this patent uncertainty, one can always find a secure sanctuary for one's mind by following the patterns of Western philosophy, for instance, by believing in eternal Forms, an overarching logos, an Unmoved Mover, the One, the unfolding of Geist, Monads, the categorical imperative, the transcendental ego, the thing-in-itself. Or perhaps, some other mythological construction from a non-European culture will suffice? Or maybe, we should simply begin another "quest for certainty" and finality and then feel the soft, warming, and delusional glow that feelings of certainty about the future bring.

I think an alternative to these options is what James called the strenuous mood, which avoids quests of certainty and finality and, as I see it, facilitates relational empathy as a vehicle of hope in action. By adopting the strenuous mood, the question of the legitimization of one's social hope is displaced by an honest recognition of the smallness, fragility, and shortsightedness of [End Page 213] every melioristic hope for a better future. Certain idealists, rationalists, and other absolutists were for James "dispellers of uncertainty," and the philosophies they endorsed were not live options, for they were not radically empirical. They were generally absolutistic and idealistic visions donning the cloak of transcendence and merely radiating an aura of certainty. Faith in absolutes was for James (1979, 226) similar to taking a permanent moral holiday from our feelings of moral uncertainty and incompleteness. Instead of taking a moral holiday, an adoption of the strenuous mood calls us to turn and re-turn to experience and fall back "on a certain ultimate hardihood, a certain willingness to live without assurances or guarantees" (James 1979, 229). James contrasts this mood with the "easygoing" mood, in which shrinking from present ill is our ruling consideration. This difference between these two moods, says James, is the deepest practical difference in the moral life of people.

An adoption of the strenuous mood provokes one to recognize the existence of conflicting ideals and hopes as well as the fact that while some hopes are fulfilled, others are dashed. These facts of experience, rather than being interpreted as problematic, instead ought to be recognized as opportunities to practice relational empathy as a means to strive toward a greater ideal—inclusivity. An ethical philosophy based on inclusivity as well as all other ethical philosophies, as James notes, do not engender a "final truth" until the last person has had her or his experience and said her or his say (1977b, 610–11). This is a gentle way of stating that since life is always in transition, there can never be a final truth in ethics. And it follows from this that the exercise of relational empathy, as a vehicle for democratic engagement with others toward inclusive ends, is an ongoing, perpetual act that never reaches a final terminus. Adopting the terminology of James and being playful with his perspective, relational empathy functions as a habit of hope in action that aims "to satisfy at all times as many demands as we can" while "awakening the least sum of dissatisfactions" for the purpose of producing the best whole, that is, the most inclusive whole (1977b, 623). Relational empathy as a tool for satisfying demands and engendering the most inclusive whole requires the "cooperation of many independent persons," which arises as a "consequence of the precursive faith in one another of those immediately concerned" (James 1977b, 731). Without faith in and cooperation with others, acts of satisfying demands will never give rise to or allow us to question the meaning and attainment of the most inclusive whole. [End Page 214]

Kant once asked: What may I hope? The answer: Mu (無), re-ask! What should we hope for? What should we hope for in consideration of the fact that every unity of the "we" necessary excludes others? What shall we hope for in light of the truth that sometimes the attainment of what is hoped for disallows others to flourish? Whose hopes are included, and whose are not considered? Who is invited to the banquet of pragmatic social reconstruction aimed to produce a more inclusive whole or any other collective outcomes? Putting relational empathy to work as a vehicle of social hope in action operates as a tool for perpetually re-asking and reconsidering these questions concerning democratic social hope and blurs the fragile (perhaps unreal?) division between the present and the future. For hope in action as individual and collective acts within this ephemeral present echo into the future, which when carried by memory or effect will become part of the future. Relational empathy as an instrument of social hope in action beckons us to this moment and affords the opportunity to refashion our social hopes by communicating with others and recognizing their needs. It generates a will within us to become transformed, to adopt a different understanding, and to operate under the banner of perpetual inclusivity. It awakens us to a stark realization that the fulfillment of "our" hopes through the attainment of desired outcomes often benefits some while disadvantaging others. It helps us to stimulate an openness to different perspectives and to expand our intellectual curiosity so that we might avoid the fate of which William Blake once spoke: "The [person] who never alters [her or] his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind" ([1790] 2017, 20). [End Page 215]

Mark Fagiano
University of Central Florida

notes

1. For instance, as a thing empathy has been defined as a condition of possible knowledge of the outside world (Stein 1964), a natural capacity (Decety 2012, vii), an acquired capacity (Favre 2011, 205), an ability to identify and to respond (Baron-Cohen 2012, 16), a shared affective state (de Vignemont and Singer 2006, 435), a vicarious emotion (Prinz 2011), and a complex form of psychological inference (Danziger, Prkachin, and Willer 2006; Ickes 1997), just to name a few. As an activity, empathy has been defined as an act of perceiving the internal frame of reference within another (Rogers 1957); recognizing what another may be feeling or thinking (Baron-Cohen 2005, 2012), imagining the narrative of another (Goldie 2000, 195), using our imaginations to adopt a different perspective (Matravers 2017, 1–2), a complex imaginative process through which an observer simulates another person's situated psychological states while maintaining clear self-other differentiation (Coplan 2011, 44), and responding to another with affect or emotion (Batson and Oleson 1991, 63; Eisenberg and Fabes 1998, 702; Hoffman 2000, 4).

2. Decety defines empathy as "the natural capacity to share, understand, and respond with care to the affective states of others" in relational terms (2012, vii). Eisenberg and Fabes's understanding of empathy as "an affective response that stems from the apprehension or comprehension of another's emotional state or condition" (1998, 702) includes both the relations of feeling-into and feeling-with, for to apprehend one's emotional state or condition one must first recognize it by feeling-into it, and to comprehend it one must, in some way or another, co-experience, share, understand, feel unified, and in general feel-with another person's emotional state or condition. But since the nature of the response is somewhat ambiguous here, the relation of feeling-for seems to be excluded, at least in this particular definition. Daniel Favre also understands empathy as a capacity, not as something natural but as something that is "acquired over the course of psychogenesis to imagine what others are feeling or thinking while distinguishing it from one's own feelings and thought" (2011, 205). As a thing that has also been described as an ability, for instance, de Vignemont and Singer state that "there is empathy if (i) one is in an affective state, (ii) this state is isomorphic to another person's affective state, (iii) this state is elicited by the observation or imagination of another person's affective state, (iv) one knows that the other person is the source of one's own affective state" (2006, 435). Others operationalize the meaning of empathy as an activity, for instance, in the words of Derek Matravers: "Empathy involves using our imaginations as a tool so as to adopt a different perspective in order to grasp how things appear (or feel) from there" (2017, 1-2). Goldie writes: "Empathy is a process or procedure by which a person centrally imagines the narrative (the thoughts, feelings, and emotions) of another person" (2000, 195).

3. By this understanding, one could substitute feeling with experience, describing the relations as experiencing-into, experiencing-with, and experiencing-for. And if the reader feels uncomfortable with the way in which I am employing the word feeling here, she or he may substitute the word experience.

See also the Oxford English Dictionary definition of pathos: "2a. To have experience of; to meet with; to feel or undergo." Margaret Graver describes this general and neutral sense of pathos among the ancients as "a broad and colorless term, roughly equivalent to 'experience' in English" (2002, 79). In Plato's Gorgias (481c), we find one such example of pathos as a general experience: "Well, Callicles, if human beings didn't share common experiences [pathos], some sharing one, others sharing another, but one of us had some unique experience [pathos] not shared by others, it wouldn't be easy for him to communicate what he experienced [pathema] to the other" (in Cooper 1997, 826).

4. The plural, multiple, and historical meanings of sensus/sense include but are not limited to a sensation; the capacity to perceive by the senses; any one of the five faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch; an impression based on sense perception; a mental faculty of perception; an impression on the mind; an experience; self-awareness; consciousness; judgment; understanding; sensibility; the ability to feel affects/emotions; an affect itself; our character; and thought, an intention, or a specific meaning of a word.

5. My broad understanding and employment of the word feeling resembles the way in which James used it as an overall term for cognition: "Cognition is a function of consciousness. The first factor it implies is therefore a state of consciousness wherein the cognition shall take place. Having elsewhere used the word 'feeling' to designate generically all states of consciousness considered subjectively, or without respect to their possible function, I shall then say that, whatever elements an act of cognition may imply besides, it at least implies the existence of a feeling. [If the reader share the current antipathy to the word 'feeling,' he may substitute for it, wherever I use it, the word 'idea,' taken in the old broad Lockian sense, or he may use the clumsy phrase 'state of consciousness,' or finally he may say 'thought' instead]" (1977a, 137).

6. Vischer states, "Particularly valuable in an aesthetic sense is the section on 'Die Symbolische Grundformation für die Leibreize.' Here it was shown how the body, in responding to certain stimuli in dreams, objectifies itself in spatial forms. Thus it unconsciously projects its own bodily form—and with this also the soul—into the form of the object. From this I derived the notion of what I call Einfühlung" ([1873] 1994, 92; emphasis added).

7. "The very idea of democracy, the meaning of democracy, must be continually explored afresh; it has to be constantly discovered, and rediscovered, remade and reorganized; while the political and economic and social institutions in which it is embodied have to be remade and reorganized to meet the changes that are going on in the development of new needs on the parts of human beings and new resources for satisfying these needs" (LW 11:182).

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9383
Print ISSN
0891-625X
Pages
200-219
Launched on MUSE
2019-07-25
Open Access
No
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