Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Adam Cureton

Committee Members

Jon Garthoff, Kristina Gehrman


This thesis falls in the long discussion in philosophy and psychology on the study of empathy. The aim of the thesis is to advance our understanding of the complicated relationship between empathy and the moral life. Discussion of empathy appears within numerous contexts, such as pop culture and media, political views, clinical psychology, studies on psychopathy, moral development, bioethics and more. In most of those contexts, empathy is commonly linked to the ability to gain an understanding of other people’s minds. In discussions of the moral life, empathy is usually associated with motivation for prosocial moral behavior and the development of moral judgment. The problem is that the term ‘empathy’ is being used to refer to different psychological components or mental states, which makes it difficult to keep track of which components or states are being referred to. Thus, I propose a new concept of empathy, empathy as a skill, which characterizes empathy as a complex process consisting of a specific skill set that allows one to acquire a firsthand grasp of another person’s mental state in a given situation. I explain that the skills required for empathy are self-oriented perspective-shifting and otheroriented affective matching. Although conceptualizing empathy is important, the major goal of this thesis is to propose a novel role for empathy that focuses on the practical application of empathy. Thus, I argue that empathy is a skill set, not an affective response, which allows rational agents to acquire information needed for practical deliberation in certain situations, primarily those involving advice-giving on final ends or ultimate goals.

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