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Philosophy of Empathy Essay

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Updated: May 7th, 2020


Empathy is a virtue that is associated with human beings. It can be said to be one of the virtues that separate caring and uncaring people. This article examines the meaning of empathy in general. It shows what it means to have empathy as a human being. Empathy is also examined from the context of the book Do androids dream of electric sheep. The context of the story in this book reveals, in a special way, how empathy can be and cannot be expressed. The effects of expressing and not expressing empathy are also looked at. Over expression is specifically pointed out as being unhealthy.

The meaning of Empathy

Empathy has been defined as the ability to identify with a situation that another person is going through. It has also been defined as the ability to experience another person’s feelings (Empathy 1). When a person identifies with another person’s situation and tries to alleviate or mitigate the stressing factor in the situation, then one can say that he or she is expressing empathy. Acts of empathy may therefore include such actions as giving food to the needy in the society or providing shelter to those who are homeless. Generally, empathy has much to do with acts of kindness directed to people faced with situations which are hostile. It is kindness directed to people who need it based on how the donor or the person giving has perceived the situation at hand (Vincent 10).

The feeling of empathy comes up when there is a clear difference between the person being empathetic and the one who is the subject of empathy. Generally, two persons in the same unfortunate situation may not manifest empathy feelings towards each other. This is because of undergoing the same situation and neither of them may be in a position to help the other. But if two people are experiencing different unfortunate circumstances at the same time, they may be able console each other thus they may show empathy to each other. For instance, a bereaved person may show empathy to another person who has lost his or her house to fire.

What it takes for one to express empathy

Empathy can be examined as a feeling that pushes a person to do something good for another person particularly when the other person is in a bad situation. Basically, for one to express empathy therefore one needs to have feelings. One has to feel and be touched by what others are going through. Because empathy is just but a feeling, it does not really cost much, at least financially, to feel empathetic. However, acts of empathy may cost some resources depending on individual acts in question (Thagard 15).

What it takes to express empathy is therefore the ability to have the feeling first such that there is identification with the situation at hand and then being in a position to offer the help required in whole or in part. Empathy has to do with feelings and in cases where a person’s feelings have been hardened; empathy may not be manifested easily. A good illustration is those that propagate violence especially the leaders (Thagard 15).

Empathy in the Society

Empathy can only be expressed between two person or more. For empathy to be expressed, one party (one person or persons) has to be in a disadvantaged or hostile position in order for the other to offer some assistance. It is worth noting that acts of empathy or helping others who are a hostile situation or in a position that need assistance should be on a voluntary basis. If one is coerced to help another person then such an action may not pass as an act of empathy. Empathy therefore has significantly to do with the willingness to help out of one’s own volition or free will.

There are many ways in which empathy can be expressed in the society. More often than not, people in the society are not endowed equally and therefore there are some who are less privileged. One way on expressing empathy therefore is by lending a hand to those who are less privileged. One way in which this can be done perfectly is through visiting children homes. Most of the children in these homes are orphans. By spending time with them, playing and talking with them, they get the feeling of being cared for. This is important as it enables them to develop self confidence. Apart from spending time with them one can gift them with items such as clothes.

One may also express empathy to the sick especially those admitted in hospitals. Patients admitted in hospital are more likely to undergo psychological distress especially because of being away from family members. Expressing empathy in this case can be done through a word of encouragement. Words of encouragement as gestures of empathy will also work well in a family setting especially when one of the members has been faced with an unfortunate situation, for instance, falling sick.

Empathy in the Study Book

The study book Do androids dream of electric sheep depicts in a clear manner the meaning of empathy and how it is applied. The book starts by setting the conditions right for the empathy to be exercised. The whole world is destroyed and only a handful of living things survive. Human beings as well as animals are left vulnerable and in a state where they need each other. Empathy in this book is shown as a biological trait which no android, even the most intelligent, can imitate. This is because emotions cannot be programmed into a computer (Dick 1).

I am of the view that it is the human beings who are the subject of empathy in this book. This may sound reversal but taking into consideration the joy and satisfaction that humans get from keeping animals, it turns out to be true. To keep an animal is prestigious and those who cannot afford animals are forced to find pleasure in keeping electric animals. This act of keeping electric animals as seen in the book can only point out to the fact that humans have some desire within themselves to offer care that if not satisfied disturbs them. Animals come in to satisfy that need by accepting to be cared for by the humans.

Technically, as the animals are being shown empathy by being cared for they are also playing a major role of showing empathy to humans by allowing themselves to be cared for. Indeed in the book, empathy is viewed as a two way traffic action whereby one party is willing to show empathy to another party and the other party is willing to accept the actions of empathy advanced by the first party.

How important is Empathy

Empathy is a vital virtue to human beings. It can be said to be among the virtues that help to make the society better. As was noted in the book, empathy differentiates us from machines. It gives us the kindness that makes human beings different from animals. Empathy also helps to unite people as they identify with one another in various struggles that they undergo (Waal 1).

Although it has been generally agreed that empathy is important, there is a caution that it should be expressed carefully in some cases. Caregivers need to express empathy when attending to patients. However, it has been noted that expression of empathy too much may make the patients vulnerable to be hurt (Hojat 12). Too much expression of empathy in such a scenario may also make the patients feel that their situations are dire. Such a feeling will obviously do more harm than any good (Eisenberg 1).


Empathy has been viewed as the ability to identify with a situation that another person is undergoing. Empathy significantly has to do with feelings. Empathy is shown when a person is in an unfortunate situation that may need consoling. In most cases, empathy propels a person to do something about the situation in question. The feeling of empathy will therefore push one into action, however in some cases there are no actions which might be done. Therefore, empathy does not change because one has not responded to the prompt to act.

It has also been discussed that it only takes feeling to have empathy. Since one does not need to act in order to show empathy, it can be argued that almost every person can express empathy. Those who may not display empathy are those who have hardened their emotions. Showing empathy has a positive effect on those who receive it.

Empathy consoles them and psychologically strengthens them to keep on fighting. This is especially the case for patients. However, it has also been cautioned against too much expression of empathy as it may create the impression that a person is in such a desperate situation that he or she might not recover. This will psychologically affect the person in a very negative manner.

Works Cited

Dick, Philip. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. New York: Orion, 2010. Print.

Eisenberg, Nancy. Empathy and Its Development. New York: CUP Archive, 1990. Print.

Empathy. . DIFFEN, 2013.

Hojat, Mohammad. Empathy in Patient Care: Antecedents, Development, Measurement, and Outcomes. New York: Springer, 2007. Print.

Thagard, Paul. The Brain and the Meaning of Life. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010. Print.

Vincent, Steve. Being Empathic: A Companion for Counselors and Therapists. New York: Radcliffe Publishing, 2005. Print.

Waal, Franz. The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. New Jersey: Crown Publishing Group, 2010. Print.

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