The Validation of Empathy in Psychoanalysis

The argument of this blog post is that empathy can adequately be validated by formulating one’s empathic receptivity in an interpretation, which, in turn, is subject to confirming or refuting experiences, responses, reactions, replies. The unpacking of the term “empathy” into receptive and interpretive phases of a hermeneutic circle contains the key to answering the question of how to validate empathy. Note that this approach to validation involves a flanking movement through which the possibilities of understanding and misunderstanding emerge simultaneously. 

The issue of the validation of empathy goes to the heart of what it means for an intellectual discipline to be a science. At the same time that Heinz Kohut was preparing his definitive paper (Kohut 1959) defining the scope and limits of psychoanalysis as a science based on empathy and introspection, Heinz Hartmann and Ernest Nagel (Hartmann 1959; Nagel 1959) were squaring off for a separate debate about the scientific status of psychoanalysis.[1] While some of the ideals of science as rigorous mathematical discipline to which all others should aspire have faded since then, the aura of respectability – and its contrary – lack of scientific respectability – continue to haunt psychoanalysis. In many ways, this debate was the original “trauma,” to which Kohut was a witness but in relation to which he was just a “voice crying in the wilderness.” His contribution was overlooked at least until his 1977 Restoration of the Self, on which a detailed drill down of the scientific position of psychoanalysis was performed in the context of empathy and introspection.[2] Consideration of the perspective of empathic data gathering would have made a difference in specific ways that can only and best be appreciated by laying out the terms of the debate as well as the response that occurred as Paul Ricoeur entered the fray in 1970.[3]  Please see the attachment for further discussion, argument, quotations, and details – CHEmpathyValidation


[1] H. Kohut. (1959). “Introspection, empathy, and psychoanalysis.” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 7, No. 3: 459-83. Heinz Hartmann. (1959). “Psychoanalysis as a scientific theory.” Psychoanalysis, Scientific Method and Philosophy: A Symposium, ed. S. Hook. New York: New York University Press, 1963: 3-37; E. Nagel. (1959). Methodological issues in psychoanalytic theory. Psychoanalysis, Scientific Method and Philosophy: A Symposium, ed. S. Hook. New York: New York University Press, 1963: 38-56.

[2] See Chapter ___ on Empathy and Introspection. See also Heinz Kohut. (1971). The Analysis of the Self. New York: International Universities Press. When I say “the contribution was overlooked,” I mean “overlooked” as a contribution to the scientific foundation of psychoanalysis; obviously the appreciation of two new kinds of transference and related issues about the self were immediately appreciated if no less controversial for all that. Also Heinz Kohut. (1977). The Restoration of the Self. International Universities Press, 1977.

[3] P. Ricoeur. (1965). Freud and Philosophy, tr. D. Savage. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970.

Categories: Empathy, Hermeneutics, Psychoanalysis, Validation

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