Beyond cartesianism

body-perception and the immediacy of empathy

Joona Taipale

pp. 161-178

The current debates dealing with empathy, social cognition, and the problem of other minds widely accept the assumption that, whereas we can directly perceive the other's body, certain additional mental operations are needed in order to access the contents of the other's mind. Body-perception has, in other words, been understood as something that merely mediates our experience of other minds and requires no philosophical analysis in itself. The available accounts have accordingly seen their main task as pinpointing the operations and mechanisms that enable us to move beyond body-perception—and here acts such as inference, simulation, and projection have usually been the main candidates. This whole setting, however, seems to rely on a somewhat Cartesian assumption, according to which body-perception fundamentally amounts to the perception of a material thing, res extensa, starting from which we then strive to grasp the other as a res cogitans. Insofar as one begins with the question of how we can discover and understand mindedness in things that cannot be directly perceived as minded, the Cartesian setting is already taken for granted—and this is, in fact, exactly what most of the available proposals seem to be doing. From a phenomenological point of view, the Cartesian setting is untenable and seriously misleads the whole debate. The present article reassesses the role and status of body-perception in empathy. Making use of the Husserlian theory of expressivity in particular, the article engages a phenomenological framework of analysis, challenges the above-mentioned assumption concerning the nature of body-perception, and argues for the immediate nature of empathy.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-015-9327-3

Full citation:

Taipale, J. (2015). Beyond cartesianism: body-perception and the immediacy of empathy. Continental Philosophy Review 48 (2), pp. 161-178.

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