Concurring Emotions, Affective Empathy, and Phenomenal Understanding


  • Christiana Werner University of Duisburg Essen, Justus-Liebig-University of Gießen



Emotions, Empathy, Affective Empathy, Interpersonal Understanding, Phenomenal Concepts


According to an optimistic view, affective empathy is a route to knowledge of what it is like to be in the target person’s state (“phenomenal knowledge”). Roughly, the idea is that the empathizer gains this knowledge by means of empathically experiencing the target’s emotional state. The literature on affective empathy, however, often draws a simplified picture according to which the target feels only a single emotion at a time. Co-occurring emotions (“concurrent emotions”) are rarely considered. This is problematic, because concurring emotions seem to support a sceptical view according to which we cannot gain phenomenal knowledge of the target person’s state by means of affective empathy. The sceptic concludes that attaining the epistemic goal of affective empathy is difficult, in practice often impossible. I accept the sceptic’s premises, but reject the conclusion, because of the argument’s unjustified, hidden premise: that the epistemic goal of affective empathy is phenomenal knowledge.  I argue that the epistemic goal of affective empathy is phenomenal understanding, not knowledge. Attention to the under-explored phenomenon of concurring emotions clarifies why this is important. I argue that this is the decisive epistemic progress in everyday cases of phenomenal understanding of another person.


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