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Sympathy

Sympathy

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sympathy is an emotional response that involves both understanding and being moved by the suffering or joy of another. Perhaps the most famous illustration of this response occurs in the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, where a certain Samaritan stops to help a man left half dead by thieves on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Sympathy, then, as this parable suggests, is a kind of positive response to anothers suffering and is distinct from other negative responses, such as schadenfreude, a kind of joy or pleasure at anothers misfortune. Further, sympathy, as we commonly understand it, is also distinct from empathyalthough this distinction is not always observed. Empathy involves the sharing of anothers feelings or the processes by which we come to feel as another feels. Sympathy, in contrast, involves, first, an awareness of anothers suffering as theirs and not ours and, second, being moved to relieve that persons suffering.

To talk of positive and negative responses to the suffering of others indicates yet another widely attributed (though contestable) feature of sympathy: that it is a kind of moral emotion or response. Sympathy, or equivalently now compassion, understood as a kind of moral response to the suffering of another, has had a significant influence on moral thought and practice, specifically in the moral theories of several modern philosophers, including in the eighteenth-century David Hume and Adam Smith, in the nineteenth-century Arthur Schopenhauer, and in the twentieth-century Max Scheler. Such figures, however, do not necessarily understand sympathy quite as we would. Hume, for instance, sees sympathy as a kind of mechanism through which the feelings of others are transferred to us (the two analogies he uses are the reverberation of sound and the reflection of light in a mirror), which seems closer to empathy as described earlier.

The idea that sympathy is an attribute important to morality extends, however, beyond the modern world. One obvious earlier reference to sympathy as a morally significant attribute comes to us from Buddhism, though this is hardly the only one. One explanation of why sympathy should feature in the moral thought and practice of different cultures is perhaps that human suffering is such a basic evil that its relief (except in certain highly specific circumstances, such as those related to criminal punishment) is thought across cultures to be an unqualified moral good. Even in societies where sympathy does not figure prominently in moral thought and practice (as was plausibly the case in various ancient societies, including ancient Greece and Rome), it would generally still be recognized as an important human quality in some sense. A person completely devoid of sympathy would in almost any human society be viewed as lacking a critical human attributeindeed in terms of modern psychological categories, we would describe such a person as a sociopath, a person devoid of any moral sense or conscience.

Sympathy, then, seems to be a fundamental human psychological attribute or state. Indeed its presence seems central to normal human psychological development. Even infants, for example, become distressed at witnessing the distress of others. While this response may simply be an early form of empathy, it seems plausible to suggest, as some psychologists have done, that sympathy as a more cognitively complex emotional state develops from this simpler emotional response. Thinking of the development of sympathy as a part of normal human psychological development may then be thought to provide support for a kind of naturalistic explanation of morality. It is our natural capacity for sympathy (a capacity that we develop from infancy to adulthood) that makes certain moral cultural practicesincluding, for example, our recognition of claims on us derived from others needspossible. But while a number of moral philosophers (including Hume and Smith) have advanced moral theories in which sympathy plays something like this naturalistic explanatory role, other moral theorists, most notably those influenced by Immanuel Kant, would deny that sympathy has this sort of moral foundational role. According to the Kantian view, morality is founded not on our emotional capacities but on our capacity for reason alone.

SEE ALSO Buddhism; Developmental Psychology; Emotion; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Moral Sentiments; Smith, Adam; Stages of Development

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hume, David. [17391740] 1978. A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge, 2nd ed., rev. and variant readings by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kant, Immanuel. [1785] 1964. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Trans. H. J. Paton. New York: Harper and Row.

Scheler, Max. [1913] 1954. The Nature of Sympathy. Trans. Peter Heath. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. [1839] 1995. On the Basis of Morality. Trans. E. F. J. Payne. Providence, RI: Berghahn Books.

Smith, Adam. [1759] 1976. The Theory of Moral Sentiments, eds. D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press.

Craig Taylor

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sympathy

sym·pa·thy / ˈsimpə[unvoicedth]ē/ • n. (pl. -thies) 1. feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune: they had great sympathy for the flood victims. ∎  (one's sympathies) formal expression of such feelings; condolences: all Tony's friends joined in sending their sympathies to his widow Jean. 2. understanding between people; common feeling: the special sympathy between the two boys was obvious to all. ∎  (sympathies) support in the form of shared feelings or opinions: his sympathies lay with his constituents. ∎  agreement with or approval of an opinion or aim; a favorable attitude: I have some sympathy for this view. ∎  (in sympathy) relating harmoniously to something else; in keeping: repairs had to be in sympathy with the original structure. ∎  the state or fact of responding in a way similar or corresponding to an action elsewhere: the magnetic field oscillates in sympathy. ORIGIN: late 16th cent. (sense 2): via Latin from Greek sumpatheia, from sumpathēs, from sun- ‘with’ + pathos ‘feeling.’

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Sympathy

Sympathy

A mutual attraction or identity of feeling between individuals and also animals, the opposite of the reaction of antipathy. The term "sympathy" has a special significance in mesmerism or animal magnetism, where it is used to indicate the rapport between operator and subject, by means of which the operator could influence and control the perceptions of the subject. It has also been suggested that a condition of sympathy might exist between agent and percipient in telepathy, particularly in the transmission of emotions.

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sympathy

sympathy affinity; agreement; conformity of feelings or temperament. XVI. — L. sympathía — Gr. sumpátheia, f. sumpathḗs having a fellow-feeling. f. SYM- + *path- base of páthos feeling, PATHOS; see -Y3.
So sympathetic XVII. — Gr. sumpathētikós. sympathize be affected like another XVI; have a fellow-feeling XVII. — F. sympathiser.

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sympathy

sympathy (sim-pă-thi) n. (in physiology) a reciprocal influence exercised by different parts of the body on one another.

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sympathy

sympathy •Cathy •Iolanthe, Xanthe •McCarthy • breathy •healthy, stealthy, wealthy •lengthy •heathy, Lethe •pithy • filthy •bothy, frothy, mothy, wrathy •toothy •polymathy, timothy •apathy • telepathy • empathy •antipathy • sympathy •encephalopathy, homeopathy, osteopathy •Dorothy • earthy

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