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The empathic skill fiction can’t teach us

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Langkau Julia,
Project Learning from Literary Narratives
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Philosophical Psychology
Volume (Issue) 33(3)
Page(s) 313 - 331
Title of proceedings Philosophical Psychology
DOI 10.1080/09515089.2020.1731446


This paper argues that a crucial skill needed to empathize with others cannot be trained by reading fiction: the skill of reading the evidence for the other person’s state of mind and, thus, empathically getting their mental state right. While the evidence for a fictional character’s mental state is merely propositional, the evidence for a person’s mental state in a typical real-life situation is often experiential. Because the kind of evidence is different, the skill does not carry over. If reading fiction has a positive impact on our empathic skills in real life, as some empirical evidence suggests, it cannot be because we practice the relevant skill in the context of fiction.