Explaining Empathy

How do I know that I know what I know – about you? This is clearly a question about epistemology, about knowledge. But it’s a special kind of knowledge, about others.


The ability to understand what another human being is thinking or feeling is most commonly known as empathy. The word empathy comes from the German einfühlung, which literally translates as “feeling into.” For thousands of years, empathy has attracted the attention of great thinkers in many fields of study, but only recently has empathy experienced a serious comeback, signaled by the advent of social neuroscience. This field, a melding of social psychology and cognitive neuroscience, is startlingly young and the researchers in it are duly young, and maybe even hip (as David Brooks has pointed out). Empathy has found center stage in a large body of social neuroscience research.