LITTLE CLARENCE--"Pa!" HIS FATHER--"Well, my son?" LITTLE CLARENCE--"I took a walk through the cemetery to-day and read the inscriptions on the tombstones." HIS FATHER--"And what were your thoughts after you had done so?" LITTLE CLA... Read more of EPITAPHS at Free Jokes.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Empathy








THE mountain rises. What do we mean when we employ this
form of words? Some mountains, we are told, have originated in an
upheaval. But even if this particular mountain did, we never saw
it and geologists are still disputing about HOW and WHETHER. So
the rising we are talking about is evidently not that probable or
improbable upheaval. On the other hand all geologists tell us that
every mountain is undergoing a steady lowering through its
particles being weathered away and washed down; and our
knowledge of landslips and avalanches shows us that the mountain,
so far from rising, is descending. Of course we all know that,
objects the Reader, and of course nobody imagines that the rock and
the earth of the mountain is rising, or that the mountain is getting up
or growing taller! All we mean is that the mountain looks as if it
were rising.

The mountain looks! Surely here is a case of putting the cart
before the horse. No; we cannot explain the mountain rising by
the mountain looking, for the only looking in the business is
our looking at the mountain. And if the Reader objects again
that these are all figures of speech, I shall answer that Empathy
is what explains why we employ figures of speech at all, and
occasionally employ them, as in the case of this rising mountain,
when we know perfectly well that the figure we have chosen
expresses the exact reverse of the objective truth. Very well; then,
(says the Reader) we will avoid all figures of speech and say merely:
when we look at the mountain we somehow or other think of the
action of rising. Is that sufficiently literal and indisputable?

So literal and indisputable a statement of the case, I answer, that it
explains, when we come to examine it, why we have said that the
mountain rises. For if the Reader remembers my chapter on
shape-perception, he will have no difficulty in answering why we should
have a thought of rising when we look at the mountain, since we
cannot look at the mountain, nor at a tree, a tower or anything of
which we similarly say that it rises, without lifting our glance,
raising our eye and probably raising our head and neck, all of which
raising and lifting unites into a general awareness of something
rising. The rising of which we are aware is going on in us. But, as
the Reader will remember also, when we are engrossed by
something outside ourselves, as we are engrossed in looking at the
shape (for we can look at only the shape, not the substance) of
that mountain we cease thinking about ourselves, and cease thinking
about ourselves exactly in proportion as we are thinking of the
mountain's shape. What becomes therefore of our awareness of
raising or lifting or rising? What can become of it (so long as it
continues to be there!) except that it coalesces with the shape we are
looking at; in short that the rising continuing to be thought, but no
longer to be thought of with reference to ourselves (since we aren't
thinking of ourselves), is thought of in reference to what we are
thinking about, namely the mountain, or rather the mountain's shape,
which is, so to speak, responsible for any thought of rising, since it
obliges us to lift, raise or rise ourselves in order to take stock of
it. It is a case exactly analogous to our transferring the measuring done
by our eye to the line of which we say that it extends from A to B,
when in reality the only extending has been the extending of our
glance. It is a case of what I have called the tendency to merge the
activities of the perceiving subject with the qualities of the
perceived object. Indeed if I insisted so much upon this tendency of
our mind, I did so largely because of its being at the bottom of the
phenomenon of Empathy, as we have just seen it exemplified in
the mountain which rises.

If this is Empathy, says the Reader (relieved and reassured), am I to
understand that Empathy is nothing beyond attributing what goes
on in us when we look at a shape to the shape itself?

I am sorry that the matter is by no means so simple! If what we
attributed to each single shape was only the precise action which we
happen to be accomplishing in the process of looking at it, Empathy
would indeed be a simple business, but it would also be a
comparatively poor one. No. The rising of the mountain is an idea
started by the awareness of our own lifting or raising of our eyes,
head or neck, and it is an idea containing the awareness of that
lifting or raising. But it is far more than the idea merely of that
lifting or raising which we are doing at this particular present
moment and in connexion with this particular mountain. That
present and particular raising and lifting is merely the nucleus to
which gravitates our remembrance of all similar acts of raising, or
rising. which we have ever accomplished or seen accomplished,
raising or rising not only of our eyes and head, but of every
other part of our body, and of every part of every other body which
we ever perceived to be rising. And not merely the thought of past
rising but the thought also of future rising. All these risings, done
by ourselves or watched in others, actually experienced or merely
imagined, have long since united together in our mind, constituting a
sort of composite photograph whence all differences are eliminated
and wherein all similarities are fused and intensified: the general
idea of rising, not "I rise, rose, will rise, it rises, has risen or will
rise" but merely rising as such, rising as it is expressed not in
any particular tense or person of the verb to rise, but in that verb's
infinitive. It is this universally applicable notion of rising, which is
started in our mind by the awareness of the particular present acts of
raising or rising involved in our looking at that mountain, and it is
this general idea of rising, i.e. of upward movement, which gets
transferred to the mountain along with our own particular present
activity of raising some part of us, and which thickens and enriches
and marks that poor little thought of a definite raising with the
interest, the emotional fullness gathered and stored up in its long
manifold existence. In other words: what we are transferring (owing
to that tendency to merge the activities of the perceiving subject
with the qualities of the perceived object) from ourselves to the
looked at shape of the mountain, is not merely the thought of the
rising which is really being done by us at that moment, but the
thought and emotion, the idea of rising as such which had been
accumulating in our mind long before we ever came into the
presence of that particular mountain. And it is this complex mental
process, by which we (all unsuspectingly) invest that inert mountain,
that bodiless shape, with the stored up and averaged and essential
modes of our activity--it is this process whereby we make the
mountain raise itself, which constitutes what, accepting Prof.
Titchener's translation[*] of the German word Einfuehlung, I have
called Empathy.

[*] From en and pascho, epathon.

The German word Einfuehlung "feeling into"--derived from a
verb to feel oneself into something ("sich in Etwas ein fuehlen")
was in current use even before Lotze and Viscber applied it to
aesthetics, and some years before Lipps (1897) and Wundt (1903)
adopted it into psychological terminology; and as it is now
consecrated, and no better occurs to me, I have had to adopt it,
although the literal connotations of the German word have
surrounded its central meaning (as I have just defined it) with
several mischievous misinterpretations. Against two of these I think
it worth while to warn the Reader, especially as, while so doing, I
can, in showing what it is not, make it even clearer what Empathy
really is. The first of these two main misinterpretations is based
upon the reflexive form of the German verb "sich einfuehlen" (to
feel oneself into) and it defines, or rather does not define,
Empathy as a metaphysical and quasi-mythological projection of the
ego into the object or shape under observation; a notion
incompatible with the fact that Empathy, being only another of those
various mergings of the activities of the perceiving subject with the
qualities of the perceived object wherewith we have already dealt,
depends upon a comparative or momentary abeyance of all thought
of an ego; if we became aware that it is we who are thinking the
rising, we who are feeling the rising, we should not think or feel
that the mountain did the rising. The other (and as we shall later see)
more justifiable misinterpretation of the word Empathy is based on
its analogy with sympathy, and turns it into a kind of sympathetic,
or as it has been called, inner, i.e. merely felt, mimicry of, for
instance, the mountain's rising. Such mimicry, not only inner
and felt, but outwardly manifold, does undoubtedly often result
from very lively empathic imagination. But as it is the mimicking,
inner or outer, of movements and actions which, like the rising of
the mountain, take place only in our imagination, it presupposes
such previous animation of the inanimate, and cannot therefore be
taken either as constituting or explaining Empathy itself.

Such as I have defined and exemplified it in our Rising Mountain,
Empathy is, together with mere Sensation, probably the chief factor
of preference, that is of an alternative of satisfaction and
dissatisfaction, in aesthetic contemplation, the muscular adjustments
and the measuring, comparing and coordinating activities by which
Empathy is started, being indeed occasionally difficult and
distressing, but giving in themselves little more than a negative
satisfaction, at the most that of difficulty overcome and suspense
relieved. But although nowhere so fostered as in the contemplation
of shapes, Empathy exists or tends to exist throughout our mental
life. It is, indeed, one of our simpler, though far from absolutely
elementary, psychological processes, entering into what is called
imagination, sympathy, and also into that inference from our own
inner experience which has shaped all our conceptions of an outer
world, and given to the intermittent and heterogeneous sensations
received from without the framework of our constant and highly
unified inner experience, that is to say, of our own activities and
aims. Empathy can be traced in all of modes of speech and thought,
particularly in the universal attribution of doing and having and
tending where all we can really assert is successive and varied
being. Science has indeed explained away the anthropomorphic
implications of Force and Energy, Attraction and Repulsion;
and philosophy has reduced Cause and Effect from implying
intention and effort to meaning mere constant succession. But
Empathy still helps us to many valuable analogies; and it is possible
that without its constantly checked but constantly renewed action,
human thought would be without logical cogency, as it certainly
would be without poetical charm. Indeed if Empathy is so recent a
discovery, this may be due to its being part and parcel of our
thinking; so that we are surprised to learn its existence, as Moliere's
good man was to hear that be talked prose.





Next: The Movement Of Lines

Previous: Subject And Object



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