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The breath of life: a phenomenological investigation into the origins of cross-species empathy

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posted on 2024-01-22, 14:18 authored by Marcella Pierro

This thesis investigates the origins of cross-species empathy by rethinking the connection between humans and other animals as the ontological ground that sustains the possibility of empathy. Current philosophical debates give insight into human and animal empathy, and cognitive sciences provide evidence of a common neural basis. However, their area of interest is restricted to specific aspects of the phenomenon and they both fail to answer the question of the nature of empathy. This work seeks to address the foundational premises of empathy by starting with the phenomenon of cross-species empathy. Only by understanding the ontological ground that accounts for the connection between species can we understand the nature of empathy and all the multiple aspects of its occurrences. This research combines the archaic conceptions of the early Greeks with the modern reflections of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. The Homeric conception of the soul as a psychophysical force shared by humans and animals and Empedocles’ common origin of human and animal life show that the view of the early Greeks on humans and animals assumed equality based on a shared perceptual world; perception and communication were related to the activity of the soul. A common perceptual experience is also claimed by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty in their thoughts on empathy. Husserl lays the foundation of an animal ontology and introduces the role of corporeity within communication. Merleau-Ponty claims the intertwining of animality-humanity within the same perceived world and associates perception with communication. Both the ancients and the moderns relate the expression and recognition of emotions to perception and communication. This thesis argues that the connection between humans and animals can be traced back to a shared ontological dimension of perception that emerges through the bodily communication of emotions. Cross-species empathy is thus understood as a pre-reflective emotional communication that humans and animals share.



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