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Pigman, G.W. (1995). Freud And The History Of Empathy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 76:237-256.

(1995). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76:237-256

Freud And The History Of Empathy

George W. Pigman

Empathy (Einfühlung) has a long history in aesthetics, psychology and psychoanalysis, and plays a greater role in Freud’s thinking than readers of the Standard Edition realise. Coined by Robert Vischer in 1873, Einfühlung originally designates the projection of human feeling on to the natural world. For a quarter of a century the term remains at the centre of psychological aesthetics before Theodor Lipps, a philosopher admired by Freud for 40 years, transfers it to psychology in an attempt to explain how we discover that other people have selves. Freud’s conception of Einfühlung, first developed in ‘Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious’ (1905), remains heavily intellectual throughout his career; he views it as the process that allows us to understand others by putting ourselves in their place. Although the Standard Edition never translates Einfühlung as ‘empathy’ in a clinical context, Freud regards it as essential for establishing the rapport between patient and analyst that makes interpretation possible. This paper traces the history of Einfühlung from aesthetics and psychology to Freud and his contemporaries.

The concept of empathy in psychological discussion has come to mean so much that it is beginning to mean nothing. Although this remark might sound as if it were an outburst from someone overwhelmed by the ever-expanding literature on empathy, it was in fact made by Theodor Reik in 1935 (p.

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