Empathy refers to the capacity to put ourselves in the place of others and thereby vicariously experience and understand their emotions, experiences, and values. In this sense, it describes an activity of communication and knowledge. The term often carries the connotation of feeling another’s suffering and wanting to respond to that suffering. Empathy, like guilt or pride, is a social emotion that depends on the subject constructing a mental model of another’s thoughts and feelings, as distinguished from basic emotions like happiness or sadness, which do not require awareness of other people’s feelings.

The term empathy is relatively recent. In the late 19th century, the German aesthetic philosophers Robert Vischer and Theodor Lipps used the word Einfühlung (“to feel one’s way into”) to help explain ...

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