The Levels of Empathy. A Phenomenological Contribution to Psychopathology

Anna Donise


The first aim of this paper is to outline some peculiar characteristics of Husserl’s concept of «empathy», that is developed over the years through critical confrontation with Theodor Lipps. Husserl will always be opposed to interpretations of empathy that give too much space to the instinctive and immediate level of the relationship, which seems to him to be a prelude to a failed recognition of otherness. Rather, he will think of empathy as an encounter between people within a shared world. What in some cases is presented as a dichotomy (naturalistic and immediate empathy versus personalistic empathy) can be actually read as a stratification. The second objective of this work will therefore be to outline a stratified theory of empathy, not only in comparison with Husserl, but also with Max Scheler. Surprisingly, however, we already find a first form of stratification, starting in 1912, in the writings of the young doctor Karl Jaspers on phenomenological psychopathology. In the final part of the paper, I will highlight the therapeutic potential present in a similar stratified conception of empathic experiences, by using the Jaspersian theme of “incomprehensible phenomena”.


Empathy; Husserl; Stratification; Phenomenology; Psychopathology

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