Date of Award
Open Access Thesis
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Language, Literature and Writing
Professor Christine Perrin
Dr. Richard Schaeffer
What is empathy? Why is it so important for our human condition? How does it promote human flourishing? Is there a neuroscientific background for empathy? Our common understanding of empathy is summarized by the following Merriam-Webster dictionary definition: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” We prize the ability to understand each other because of both its pragmatic and intrinsic nature. Pragmatically, empathy improves our ability to communicate and sense each other’s needs. However, empathy is also important in and of itself as it allows us to know and be known by our fellow humans. To know and be known by someone else is the basis for our human desire for relationship and connection. Ultimately, empathy allows for us to form these key connections and meaningful relationships, especially with people from diverse backgrounds whose lives and cultures we have never experienced. But how do we cultivate it? And how do we not only cultivate empathy but enable it to be long-term and/or permanent? One method of empathetic cultivation has existed in human society for centuries and yet we may not even realize it—that method is literature.
Smith, Courtney, "The Balm of Gilead: Neuroaesthetics of Empathy in Fiction" (2022). Honors Projects and Presentations: Undergraduate. 412.