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Title:Feeling good: rescuing a living tradition of interpersonal, affective ethics from empathy clichés
Author(s):Friedman, Roman
Director of Research:Burbules, Nicholas
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Higgins, Chris; Burbules, Nicholas
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Dhillon, Pradeep; Mann, Jay
Department / Program:Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Discipline:Educational Policy Studies
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
moral education
Charles Taylor
Hans-Georg Gadamer
education abroad
study abroad
social studies
Abstract:In this dissertation, I examine the discourse surrounding “empathy” and what it reveals about our moral beliefs, our pedagogy, and the relationship between self and other. I will argue that the language of empathy has devolved into a series of moral platitudes that skirt ethical risk and deny deep engagement with our moral traditions. Education, particularly higher education, “proceduralizes” the self, treating the student as an evolving set of competencies often for the sake of employability. Empathy, as an already rationalized concept, is easily subsumed in this procedural logic. In empathy’s basic form, one first abstracts from the historical self, free from prejudice, to engage with the “other” from a neutral position (often by feeling as them). One then returns in an egoistic fashion, constructing a self-congratulatory identity narrative. The affective act is a type of defining knowledge of both other and self. I draw largely on the philosophical work of Charles Taylor and Hans-Georg Gadamer, as well as the empathy discourses in History Education and Study Abroad, to examine these interrelated dynamics between self, other, and moral pedagogy. I then turn to Gadamer’s hermeneutics to suggest how we might participate in a richer ethical education. Hermeneutics begins with the self as a conditioned being existing in a world with others, with prejudices that ought to be foregrounded. As we encounter others and the world we are “pulled up short.” This, like empathy, is an affective state (confusion, disorientation, fear) but one that demands reconstitution of the self, a change in horizons. To conceive of learning and educational experience as a fundamentally interpretive activity can help reinvigorate an approach to ethics that the conceptualization of empathy has reduced to cliché.
Issue Date:2021-03-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2021 Roman Friedman
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-09-17
Date Deposited:2021-05

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