A Delicacy of Empathy: Hume’s Many Meanings of Sympathy

Lou Agosta


The argument of this article is that Hume uses multiple definitions of “sympathy” and that they map closely to the multidimensional meaning of empathy, which distinguishes empathic receptivity, empathic understanding, empathic interpretation, and empathic responsiveness. The section on how Hume is relevant today uses “humanity” as a bridge between sympathy and empathy. A review of the literature on the debate about sympathy in the Hume literature is provided to establish what has been overlooked in the many meanings of sympathy, namely, receptivity, interpretation, and optimal responsiveness. These are then engaged in the sections on sympathy as receptivity to affects, interpretation, and optimal responsiveness, each correlated with the parallel aspects of empathy.


Sympathy; empathy; receptivity; understanding; taste

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   Revista Psicologia em Pesquisa

   Vinculada ao Programa de Pós-graduação em Psicologia

   Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora
   Departamento de Psicologia – ICH
   Campus Universitário – Bairro Martelos
   Juiz de Fora – MG - CEP: 36036-330

   E-mail: revista.psicologiaempesquisa@ufjf.edu.br

   e-ISSN 1982-1247

   DOI: 10.24879