Live from the Humanistic Psychology Conference (Div 32)! A Heideggerian Approach to Empathy

This is the presentation in PowerPoint (PPT) format on Heidegger’s Special Hermeneutic of Empathy here: SHPAgostaEmpathy20101214 [click to download] as delivered at the Conference on Humanistic Psychology (Chicago) sponsored by the Chicago School of Professional psychology…

According to Heidegger (Being and Time) [the following are quotes unless otherwise noted]:

•But the fact that “empathy” is not a primordial existential phenomenon . . . does not mean that there is nothing problematic about it.
•The special hermeneutic of empathy will have to show how being-with-one-another [Miteinandersein] and human being’s knowing of himself are led astray and obstructed by the various possibilities of being which human being himself possesses, so that genuine “understanding” gets suppressed, and human being takes refuge in substitutes; the possibility of understanding the other correctly presupposes such a hermeneutic… (Heidegger/Macquarrie 1927: H125)
In short:

•Dasein is individualized out of its distractedness of the conformity to the crowd behavior by death [explicit in Heidegger]
• Dasein is humanized by its encounter with the other, who gives Dasein its humanness [Agosta’s reading of Heidegger]
•Without the other – and the other’s empathy – Dasein dies a kind of affective, spiritual death similar to being an emotional zombie to whom nothing matters [Agosta’s reading of Heidegger]

Since this is a blog post, I end on a personal note. As I write this, I do so as someone who has been on both sides of the therapist/patient interface as well as the therapist/client one. It is going to sound a tad like bragging here at the backend but people might really be wondering …  In addition to long work on Heidegger, the phenomenologists, and existentialists, qualifications for commenting on what to look for is that my works on empathy are footnotes in the self psychologists Goldberg, Wolf, and Basch (see bibliography below).  This list of what factors are on the critical path is not complete nor is my knowledge and experience; all the usual disclaimers apply; so your feedback, criticism, experiences, impertinent remarks, and comments are hereby requested. Please let me hear from you.


Agosta, Lou. (2010). Empathy in the Context of Philosophy.London: Palgrave/ Macmillan.

__________. (1984). “Empathy and intersubjectivity,” Empathy I, ed. J. Lichtenberg et al.Hillsdale,NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Press.

__________. (1980). “The recovery of feelings in a folktale,” Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter 1980: 287-97.

__________. (1976). “Intersecting language in psychoanalysis and philosophy,” International Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Vol. 5, 1976: 507-34.

Basch, Michael F. (1983). “Empathic understanding: a review of the concept and some theoretical considerations,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 31, No. 1: 101-126. (See p. 114.) .

Gehrie, Mark (2011). “From archaic narcissism to empathy for the self: the evolution of new capacities in psychoanalysis,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 59, No. 2: 313-333.

Goldberg, Arnold. (2011). “The enduring presence of Heinz Kohut: empathy and its vicissitudes,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 59, No. 2: 289-311. (See  pp. 296, 309.) .

Kohut, Heinz. (1984). How Does Analysis Cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wolf, Ernest S. (1988). Treating the Self. New York: The Guilford Press. (See pp. 17, 171.)

This post and all contents of this site (c) Lou Agosta, Ph.D. and the Chicago Empathy Project

Categories: Empathy, Hermeneutics, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, Self, talk therapy

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1 reply

  1. Please keep blogging. I am only a self-learning in philosophy and am designing workshops for empathy training utilising performing arts techniques. My aim is to use the workshops to help groups explore the separations between their cliques either intra-group or between groups. Ultimately I believe such work will help resolve political arguments eg between industrialists and environmentalists, or within local communities. So understanding the expression of the emotional states within group hermeneutic processes seems invaluable the conceptual basis of these workshops.

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