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Stern, D.B. (1994). Empathy Is Interpretation (And Who Ever Said It Wasn't?): Commentary on Papers by Hayes, Kiersky and Beebe, and Feiner and Kiersky. Psychoanal. Dial., 4(3):441-471.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 4(3):441-471

Empathy Is Interpretation (And Who Ever Said It Wasn't?): Commentary on Papers by Hayes, Kiersky and Beebe, and Feiner and Kiersky Related Papers

Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D.

Whenever the subject is explicitly addressed, all analysts agree that empathic perception is an attitude one takes toward making observations, not a privileged means of perception. Furthermore, analysts seem to agree that observations made with an empathic intention are interpretations like any other observations. Empathy is not a conduit to the patient's inner life. But despite these points of consensus, it often seems to be implied in the psychoanalytic literature, usually unintentionally, that empathy is a privileged means of knowing another person. This undercurrent is sometimes present even in the work of theorists who simultaneously state their opposition to this very point of view. In this paper, after presenting an example from the literature of this kind of contradiction, I, basing my argument in hermeneutics, offer the view that all observation, inside and outside psychoanalysis, is interpretation. Then, turning to the three papers of the symposium individually, I take the perspective that in one way or another they all portray empathic perception as a privileged means of observation. These portrayals are examples of the unconscious politics of theory.

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