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Imagining being someone else

Type of publication Not peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Contribution to book (non peer-reviewed)
Author LangkauJulia,
Project Learning from Literary Narratives
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Contribution to book (non peer-reviewed)

Book Epistemic Uses of Imagination
Editor , Badura Christopher; , Kind Amy
Publisher Routledge, New York
Page(s) X
Title of proceedings Epistemic Uses of Imagination


In philosophical and psychological literature, it is common to distinguish two kinds of perspective taking, imagining oneself in another person’s situation and imagining being the other person in their situation. Peter Goldie (2011) has cast doubt on the distinction and in particular on the possibility of the second kind of perspective taking, i.e., the possibility of fully taking over the perspective of someone else. This paper argues that Goldie’s scepticism partly results from disregarding the fact that perspective taking usually takes place within a certain context and for a certain purpose. For instance, we aim to understand a person in need in order to help them in a particular situation, or we aim to understand what a person feels in order to predict their actions. I first present Goldie’s argument and address his claim that consciously taking into account a person’s psychological make-up has a distorting effect on empathy. In the second part, I argue that situation and purpose determine which aspects of the target’s psychological make-up are relevant and have to be taken into account in perspective taking. I moreover suggest that fiction can provide an opportunity to experience fully taking over a different perspective, even if doing so does not necessarily improve our ability to empathize in real life.