Fuori di sé. L'empatia nell'orizzonte umano e oltre

N. 8
Fuori di sé. L'empatia nell'orizzonte umano e oltre, a cura di Silvia Caianiello
Roma, CNR Edizioni, 2015
ISBN 978 88 8080 189 4


L’empatia è tornata alla ribalta grazie agli sviluppi delle neuroscienze affettive e sociali, come un processo emozionale costitutivo non solo dell’intimità personale, ma dell’alterità in generale e del mondo sociale condiviso. Dalle trattazioni filosofiche alle ricerche neurobiologiche, l’empatia illumina la primarietà della dimensione corporea nella comunicazione intersoggettiva, che, inscritta dall’evoluzione nella struttura psicofisica di molte specie animali, offre nuove chiavi di lettura dei fenomeni dell’altruismo. Allo stesso tempo, la capacità umana di espandere indefinitamente l’esperienza empatica all’altro da sé rivela caratteristiche uniche della nostra specie, che hanno aperto nuove prospettive nella filosofia della mente e più in generale nel dibattito sulla natura umana. La pluralità di approcci che il volume ricopre propone una riflessione ad ampio raggio su quanto e in che modo la modificazione prospettica in corso nella scienza, della quale l’empatia è indicatore privilegiato, possa contribuire a influenzare i processi, culturalmente e soggettivamente condizionati, di generazione del valore, e a prospettare un orizzonte motivazionale più ampio e un’immaginazione etica crescentemente inclusiva; ampio, forse, abbastanza da poter far da guida ad un atteggiamento di cura verso l’ambiente.


autori ed abstract

Silvia Caianiello Istituto per la storia del pensiero filosofico e scientifico moderno
Introduction: Empathy and relationality. From bodies talking to bodies to the nonhuman scene
The current popularity of empathy matches a paradigmatic shift in the public discourse on human nature, as well as of organisms in general, as intrinsically relational. The paper contrasts this view with former styles of naturalization, such as the one entailed in “biological altruism”, and discusses its societal implications as well as its possible bearings on the current environmental issues, pulling together the major threads of the volume.

Luisa Simonutti  Istituto per la storia del pensiero filosofico e scientifico moderno
From tolerance to empathy: The search for a cognitive paradigm
The current global and multicultural society ought to review the conceptual and the practical tools available to handle toleration. Our society needs to overcome yet “toleration” as an arbitrary and temporary concession of privileges, derived from the political tradition of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries.
The Modern Age and the Enlightenment defined a theory and an ethics of toleration well grounded on the recognition of inalienable rights, both by nature and by law. Tolerance was not conceived just by the western culture, as highlighted by the philosophers of the eighteenth-century, as it was shared also by the cultures of the Middle and the Far East: the mutual hybrids induced across history will be analyzed in order to define the archetypes of the current issues as derived from the paradigms of cultural emancipation and cosmopolitism. "Empathy" is the result of an analysis and it derives from a proper understanding of what the ”others” do, what they feel, what they want, what they think. My contribution focuses on philosophers such as David Hume, Adam Smith and Edith Stein  and on the concepts of toleration, sympathy and empathy based upon the international right and the defence of the individual rights, as it takes into account real life experience and relationships.

Anna Donise Università di Napoli Federico II
The Dark Side of Empathy. Max Scheler as a Phenomenologist of Feeling
The essay discusses some contemporary interpretations of the concept of "empathy" using the theoretical tools put in place in the early twentieth century by the phenomenological tradition. In particular: 1. I investigate the nature of empathy referring to the debate going on at the time, which shows the opposition between those who think it possible, through the act of empathy, to grasp the experience of the other as such, and those who believe that every act of empathy is always a projection of one's own experience; 2. Secondly I propose a phenomenological theory of empathy, with particular reference to the stratification theorized by Max Scheler, to whom we owe the broadest and most comprehensive reflection on the topic so far; 3. In conclusion, I question the relationship between empathy and ethics, highlighting problematic and "dark" elements.

Graziano Fiorito Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn
Plasticity and diversity: the case of Octopus. A short excursus throughout the “flexible minds” of Cephalopods, invertebrate animals
Cephalopods provide a case of study in many important fields of the modern biology. From the discovery of the giant axon, to their sophisticated learning capability, including social learning, up to the study of the emergence of cognitive abilities, cuttlefish, squid and octopus are among the most debated and challenging invertebrate animals that scientific community used for answering important questions relevant to fundamental biology. The 700 living species of cephalopods are the sole invertebrate representatives included in the Directive 2010/63/EU that regulates the use of animals for experimental purposes in the EU Member States. Nevertheless, cephalopods are individuals, revealing complexity and diversity of forms and responses to stimuli and situations and extreme flexibility, suggesting interesting questions on how biological and behavioral plasticity evolved at sea.

Leonardo Fogassi Università di Parma
Motor knowledge and the neurological basis of empathy
The concept of empathy, from its first description, evolved in its definition, covering aesthetical, motor and emotional domains. The aim of this chapter is to show that it is possible to speak of empathy for both actions and emotions, by describing their neuroscientific underpinnings. The nervous system can control both motor and visceral behavior, thanks to neurons coding somatomotor and visceromotor representations. Empathy occurs because of the presence of mirroring mechanisms, based on “mirror neurons” activity. Regarding empathy for actions, the activation of mirror neurons matches others’ actions with the corresponding motor representations of the same actions stored in the cerebral cortex, thus allowing the automatic understanding of others’ motor behavior. A similar mechanism, demonstrated in humans, allows empathic comprehension of others’ emotions/feelings, based on the fact that the activation elicited by the observation of emotional facial expressions anatomically overlaps with that elicited by the own generation of the same emotion.One section of the chapter will also describe the presence and the mechanisms of empathy for actions performed by non-conspecifics, in both monkeys and humans.

Gloria Galloni - Carmela Morabito Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”
Empathically extended: Cognitive neurosciences and the new philosophies of mind
Looking at cognition through the lens of empathy, in this essay we underline the epistemic value and the scientific and ethical implications of this complex cognitive function, connecting the theoretical, experimental and clinical dimension. Proceeding in an interdisciplinary way, we highlight the need to rethink the modular model of the mind, stemmed from the mechanistic and associationist psychology, in order to move to an open systemic model. Discussing the contemporary “theory of mind” and the “simulation theory”, we link this approach to the neurobiological revolution of the last decades, which opened the way to a new model of embodied, enactive and situated cognition – filling the gap between mind and body in the definition of the individual and the relationships with its environment.

Ugo Leone Università di Napoli Federico II - Parco nazionale del Vesuvio
What environment do you belong to? Natural and cultural biodiversity
The environment is what is around us and where livability depends on the quality of our lives; the beginning of the twenty-first century and, even more, in future projection what is around us is the city whose quality needs to be improved to enhance our quality of life; all what is part of the exterior of this "around" is a surface greatly wider than that urban, is, so to speak, the seat of natural biodiversity and its quality severely affecting the quality of urban environments and vice versa; accordingly to return the Earth to our posterity at least as they have it paid last action is needed now to bring it back to that level; but since yesterday have passed centuries and millennia, we must not forget that our creditors are accrued interest to be collected in terms of maintaining the natural biodiversity and cultural and maintaining the climate reached 12,000 years ago, it is their inalienable right .

Alessandro Minelli Università di Padova
We and the others: Evolutionary boundaries and cultural boundaries
To a large extent, the biological world with which we are confronted is a world of discrete objects: individuals and species. To maintain the boundaries between them seems to be a necessity of nature, around which many cultural patterns are modeled. A challenge to this order, however, is provided by processes that cause loss of autonomy of individual or species through the exchange of cells (grafts, transplants) or genes (sexual reproduction, genetic engineering). These exchanges appear legitimate only if they respect the natural boundaries of individual and species, witnesses the concerns that arise in the face of GMOs. However, in nature there are phenomena such as maternal genes expressed in their children’s embryos, polyembryony, formation of chimeras through exchange of cells between brother embryos, and the permanent symbioses typical of the eukaryotic cell and lichens. A second challenge is the violation of individual boundaries through predation or parasitism. Here culture has built the strongest taboo, but in nature there are animals that regularly practice cannibalism. Where then is located the biological boundary between us and the others? Where shall we recognize the boundary between fellows deserving cooperation and altruism and adversaries competing with us for the limited resources of Earth?

Emanuele Serrelli University of Milano Bicocca
Is the Earth an organism? Gaia as a persuasive device and a scientific hypotheses-generator
In this essay, the history of the “Gaia hypothesis” is used as an example for dilemmas in science communication. James Lovelock invented and developed the idea of Gaia, while Lynn Margulis defended it and worked out a “metatheory” according to which scientific data are exaggerated into the image of the Earth as an organism. Heated reactions to Gaia produced different metatheories, arguing that Gaia was a product of ethical and unscientific choices, superimposed on scientific data. The essay defends the metatheoretical definition of Gaia as a “scientific narrative”, a hypotheses-generator which is part of science but works in an inspirational way. The accessibility of a scientific narrative is, at once, the source of its generative power, the hook to involve lay people in science, and the worrying factor for movements of scientists defending science against pseudoscience and other threats.


  • Prefazione
  • Introduzione: empatia e relazionalità. Dalla comunicazione dei corpi all’orizzonte del nonumano
  • Dalla tolleranza all'empatia. Alla ricerca di un paradigma cognitivo
  • Il lato oscuro dell’empatia. Max Scheler fenomenologo del sentire
  • Noi e gli altri: confini evolutivi e confini culturali
  • Il “sapere” motorio e le basi neurobiologiche dell’empatia
  • Empaticamente estesi. Neuroscienze cognitive e nuove filosofie della mente
  • Plasticità e diversità: il caso del polpo
  • La Terra è un organismo? Gaia come espediente persuasivo e come generatore di ipotesi scientifiche
  • Tu di che ambiente sei? Biodiversità naturale e biodiversità culturale
  • Indice dei nomi
  • Abstracts