Academic Empathy

Talk of empathy is everywhere: in science, the humanities, business and politics. Yet do we, as academics, think enough about how it applies to us in our academic and intellectual lives?  This paper introduces the concept of Academic Empathy in order to clarify how empathy might apply specifically to our lives in a university. The recent essay by the cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker, to ‘neglected novelists and embattled [humanities] professors’ was an attempt to offer an olive branch across the Two Cultures divide yet only succeeded in enraging many of its intended beneficiaries.

It appears that many thinkers are unable to ‘feel in’ to the worlds and outlooks of their academic colleagues – as an empathetic approach would ask them to do. We will examine briefly this empathy deficit in academia and ask why it exists and what we might do about it. We consider the implications for the university as a community of scholars, teachers and learners and ask whether our lives would be improved by aspiring to more academic empathy. We conclude by asking what implications our discussion might have for the way we educate our undergraduates.