University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar > Follow the measures: conceptualization, measurement and interdisciplinarity in the science of empathy

Follow the measures: conceptualization, measurement and interdisciplinarity in the science of empathy

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Questions about how empathy should be conceptualized have long been a preoccupation of the field of empathy research. There are several definitions of empathy currently in circulation, as well as significant overlap between empathy and related concepts, such as sympathy, compassion, perspective-taking and mind-reading. This conceptual diversity is widely acknowledged and generally taken to be a problem that needs to be solved. In this paper, I argue that although there is vast and seemingly intractable disagreement about the meaning of ‘empathy’ in the psychological and cognitive neuroscience literature on it – as evidenced by stated definitions and conceptualizations – researchers working in the field seldom rely on those stated definitions and instead work within certain experimental ‘paradigms’ characterized by the use of established measures. Continuity and stability comes from the use of those established measures while progress comes from expansion upon those measures. Stated concepts respond flexibly and not always in step with the evolution of research methodologies. By following the measures rather than the stated definitions, we can get clearer on the target(s) of empirical empathy research. Towards the end of the talk, I consider how this ‘follow the measures’ approach fares when considering interdisciplinary research and the special problems interdisciplinarity might pose.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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