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EMPATHY AND THE EXTENDED MIND

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Abstract.

I draw upon the conceptual resources of the extended mind thesis (EM) to analyze empathy and interpersonal understanding. Against the dominant mentalistic paradigm, I argue that empathy is fundamentally an extended bodily activity and that much of our social understanding happens outside of the head. First, I look at how the two dominant models of interpersonal understanding, theory theory and simulation theory, portray the cognitive link between folk psychology and empathy. Next, I challenge their internalist orthodoxy and offer an alternative “extended” characterization of empathy. In support of this characterization, I analyze some narratives of individuals with Moebius syndrome, a kind of expressive deficit resulting from bilateral facial paralysis. I conclude by discussing how a Zen Buddhist ethics of responsiveness is helpful for articulating the practical significance of an extended, body-based account of empathy.
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Keywords: Moebius syndrome; Zen Buddhism; empathy; extended mind; intersubjectivity; phenomenology; simulation theory; social cognition; theory theory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Postdoctoral research fellow at the Danish National Research Foundation, Center for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen, Njalsgade 140-142, 5th Floor, DK-2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark;, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 September 2009

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