Intellectual Empathy

Nov 25 2012 @ 7:33pm

Matthew Lee Anderson calls for it:

[Intellectual empathy] is, in a sense, an imaginative exercise that goes beyond the “willing suspension of disbelief” toward the granting of principles and premises that we may very well like to reject in order to see how the whole framework holds together—if the whole framework holds together.  Intellectual empathy is a form of seeing how.  As in, “Oh, I see how you could think that.  It’s wrong, but I can see how it might make sense.”  It is an act that is aimed, first and foremost, toward the good of understanding, a good that persuasion may flow from but can never precede.

Like all virtues, intellectual empathy needs some sharp edges to be of much use.  For just as ‘compassion’ can become a sort of loose affection disconnected from a normative order of goods, so too the intellectual good of empathizing and understanding can be disconnected from pursuit of both people’s good of discovering and affirming what is true.  Still, when the gap between outlooks is so wide, it is easy to skip the empathizing and move straight into the work of objecting and persuading.