Against compassion: in defence of a "hybrid" concept of empathy

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In this article, I argue that the recent emphasis on compassion in healthcare practice lacks conceptual richness and clarity. In particular, I argue that it would be helpful to focus on a larger concept of empathy rather than compassion alone and that compassion should be thought of as a component of this larger concept of empathy. The first part of the article outlines a critique of the current discourse of compassion on three grounds.
This discourse naturalizes, individualizes, and reifies compassion leading to a decontextualized and simplified understanding of failures in healthcare practice. The second part uses resources from phenomenology and contemporary moral philosophy to construct a
“hybrid” concept of empathy that includes both pre-reflective/
intuitive and cognitive/imaginative components. This “hybrid” concept of empathy leads to a more complex understanding of the multiple responses to others’ distress. I conclude that there are no
straightforward normative naturalistic responses to others’ distress. Rather than conceptualizing compassion as a naturalistic impulse or a character-based
trait, we need to consider the complexity of our empathic recognition of vulnerable others      
      
           
Original languageEnglish
JournalNursing Philosophy
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • compassion, empathy, expressive understanding, hybrid empathy, phenomenology, vulnerability


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