Looking Awry at the Philosophical Essay

This course is offered as a small, experimental reading and writing seminar to students who would like to reflect carefully on the nature of the human faculty called ‘empathy’ and the conflict of opinions that surrounds it. Is empathy part of cognition? Does it increase our knowledge? Or is it a pure feeling? Are depictions of people in art that stir the emotions proof of the artist’s own power of empathy or the predictable effect of applying well-honed technique? Is the fact that we are often moved by hearing of somebody else’s misfortune a sign of empathy or a signal of habitual conformity to convention? How does empathy affect perception, memory and imagination? And last but not least we will ask if reliance on empathy modifies the individual’s sense of autonomy and promotes the ability to communicate well.

Readings will range from ancient philosophy to modern commentary: Emphasis will be placed on Plato’s essays THEAETETUS, GORGIAS and SYMPOSIUM and on Simone Weil’s luminous commentaries on select pieces from the works of Homer, Aeschylus, Plato and Sophocles. Studying and analyzing these writings will permit us to see the ongoing role of empathy within the stressful dynamic of human life.

To find out more about Simone Weil and this course, consult the Student Forum's entries by clicking on this link:
Looking Awry at the Philosophical Essay 2001 Student Forum