“Empathy” is an extremely elusive term that is relatively new in the west. The phenomenon of empathy delimits much more than shared emotional responses between sentient beings; it opens up critical questions concerning the very nature of the self and others. But, before one can even begin the task of deconstructing the self-other relationship, theories of empathy must find resonance with a theory of language wherein empathy-as-translation is initially possible. By thinking through Maurice Merleau-Ponty's gestural theory of language and its application to Edith Stein's famous writings about the religious/phenomenological interpretations of empathy, an ontological foundation of shared experience becomes translatable. Contemporary neuroscientific discourses about “mirror neurons” may be able to locate “where” empathy takes place (in the pre-frontal cortex), but it is through a re-thinking of empathy via phenomenological and religious frameworks that adequate definitions of “what” empathy is, or entails, become possible.
|Keywords:||Empathy, Language, Gesture, Merleau-ponty, Edith Stein, Mirror Neurons, Co-ontology, Phenomenology, Religion, Cognitive Science|
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Religious Studies, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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