CFP: Empathy, Democracy & Justice: Reassessing the Political Roles of Empathy

Submission deadline: May 24, 2022

Conference date(s):
September 7, 2022 - September 9, 2022

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

Manchester, United Kingdom


Empathy—understood broadly as the capacity to recreate another person’s perspective in imagination—has seemed to some political theorists to hold considerable political promise. In democratic theory, scholars have argued that democracy is epistemically valuable because it promotes empathetic understanding (Hannon 2020), that empathy is integral to well-functioning democratic deliberation (Morrell 2010), and that empathy can counter polarization (Read 2021). Philosophers have also argued that empathy is important in the construction of adequate principles of justice (Okin 1989) and that empathy with the oppressed can help us understand and address injustices (Bailey 2018).

Yet, empathy’s political value is also subject to formidable critiques. Philosophers emphasize that there are a variety of ways in which our capacities for empathy are limited. We are vulnerable to in-group bias, and so can struggle to empathize with those different from ourselves (Prinz 2011). Empathy can be distorting, as we sometimes erroneously project our own views onto others (Young 1997). These worries have led some to argue that we should avoid relying on our capacities for empathy in democratic politics (Scudder 2020).

Determining what role (if any) empathy ought to play in political life requires attending carefully to the nature and limits of our empathetic capacities. Empathy plausibly comes in different forms. These are sometimes not carefully distinguished in discussions of empathy in political theory that are sometimes detached from recent debates about empathy in philosophy of mind and moral psychology. This workshop aims to bring together scholars working on empathy from different perspectives to explore the promise and perils of empathy in democratic politics. We invite scholars to submit abstracts of 500 words to [email protected] by May 24th on any topic related to this theme, but are particular interested in contributions on the following topics:

1. Varieties of Empathy: How should theorists of justice and democracy understand empathy? What sorts of empathy are politically important?

2. Empathy’s Limits: How are our empathetic capacities limited, in particular in contexts of oppression and political difference? How (if at all) might these limits be overcome?

3. Empathy and Democracy: Does empathy have a role to play in deliberative democracy? Can empathy help counteract polarization? When and under what circumstances should we strive to empathize with our political opponents?

4. Empathy and Justice: How and why is empathetic concern unequally distributed within contemporary societies? Can empathy play a role in understanding and overcoming oppression? Can empathy play a foundational role in theories of justice?

This event will take place in a hybrid format, with a mix of in-person and online participation.  Registration for the conference opens in May. Please note that the fees for this year’s MANCEPT workshops are as follows:  

Online attendance

Academics: £ 45.00

Postgraduate: £ 20.00

Non-speaker: £ 15.00

In Person

Academics: £ 230.00

PG: £ 135.00

Dinner: £ 30

MANCEPT offers a small number of fee waiver bursaries. The deadline for bursary applications (available to current graduate students only) will be the 27th June. We will inform applicants of their acceptance to the workshop well in advance of this deadline.

Bailey, O. “Empathy and Testimonial Trust,” Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84 (2018): 139-160.

Hannon, M. "Empathetic Understanding and Deliberative Democracy," Philosophy & Phenomenological Research 101 (2020): 591-611.

Morrell, M.E. Empathy and Democracy. Penn State UP. 2010.

Scudder, M.F. Beyond Empathy and Inclusion: The Challenge of Listening in Democratic Deliberation. OUP 2020.

Prinz, J. “Against Empathy,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 49.1 (2011): 214-233.

Read, H. “Empathy and Common,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (2021): 459-473.

Young, I.M. “Asymmetrical Reciprocity: On Moral Respect, Wonder, and Enlarged Thought,” Constellations 3.3 (1997): 340-363.

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