Cognitive Science Lunchtime Talk
“Simulation and Representation of Phenomenal Properties”
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith argues that the only way we can mentally represent how another person feels is to simulate feeling that way ourselves:
"As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case.” (I.i.1.2)
According to Smith’s view, understanding what other people feel involves empathizing with them. In this talk, I provide both philosophical and empirical considerations in favor of Smith's view. On the philosophical side, I review general motivations for the view and argue that standard objections to the view fail. On the empirical side, I argue that Smith’s view provides the best explanation of a wide variety of data in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology.