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Developing Empathy to Understand the Middle East: The Use of Information Technology to Help Transcend Ethno-Centric Thinking
Unformatted Document Text:  Political theorists have debated the fact-value dichotomy for years, with the pendulum swinging back and forth between the normative concern for values and the empirical desire for facts. What’s been largely missing in this debate is the need to consider perceptions, a phenomenological approach to understanding political science, particularly international relations. If an Israeli decision maker really believes that Yasser Arafat controls Palestinian violence, that’s the information the analyst must evaluate, the situation to which the policy maker must respond. If a member of Islamic Jihad believes his "human sacrifice" or suicide bombing furthers the cause of justice and provides him a secure place in paradise, we must include these perceptions in our calculation. If a group of American policy makers believe an invasion of Iraq will bring democracy to the region, that’s what teachers and students must consider. Whether or not it is truth in fact or justice in value doesn't matter if it's in the mind of the actor. It’s the perception that we must consider, evaluate and understand. Without this kind of inter-subjective insight, the teacher, analyst or policy maker will never fully comprehend the existing condition and evolving dynamic of international relations. Despite the importance of this concept in analyzing international relations, there is little in the literature of political science about empathy. To understand the concept, we must explore the writing of psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Wilhelm Dilthey introduced the term empathy (einfühlunz) at the end of the nineteenth century, using it to explain the division between nature and humanity. While the scientific method was useful in explaining the natural world, empathy was a means to understand and experience the human spirit. Karl Jaspers further refined the concept in 1913, arguing that some conditions may be explained using the methods of science while others are understood by having the observer put him self in the place of the observed (Etchefoyen 1996, 270-273). Freud wrote in 1921 that empathy “plays the largest part in our understanding of what is inherently foreign…in other people”( Freud 1923, 108). For Greenson, it involves “the emotional knowledge of the feelings of another, a preconscious phenomena that helps us to understand the (other) in so far as it enables us to share his feelings.” This involves a delicate balance--the possibility of entering into the other's feelings without being over overwhelmed emotionally, playing the part of a participant observer (Greenson 1960, 418-424). Thus, empathic comprehension is a dynamic process. It invokes “one person's capacity to feel and understand what another feels”( Etchegoyen 1996, 271). More recently, political scientists have embraced a philosophical approach to social science that deals with human consciousness as an important factor in understanding international relations. Known as “constructivism,” the approach posits that human relationships are understood by ideational factors as well as material ones. The ideational factors most important in understanding international affairs are widely shared, inter-subjective beliefs held by members of nation-states, and empathy toward other nations helps the analyst ascertain and construct their interests and values, understanding them more fully (Finnemore and Sikkink 2001; Alder 1998; Barnett 1998; Checkel 1997; Wendt 1999).

Authors: Stover, William.
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background image
Political theorists have debated the fact-value dichotomy for years, with the pendulum
swinging back and forth between the normative concern for values and the empirical
desire for facts. What’s been largely missing in this debate is the need to consider
perceptions, a phenomenological approach to understanding political science, particularly
international relations. If an Israeli decision maker really believes that Yasser Arafat
controls Palestinian violence, that’s the information the analyst must evaluate, the
situation to which the policy maker must respond. If a member of Islamic Jihad believes
his "human sacrifice" or suicide bombing furthers the cause of justice and provides him a
secure place in paradise, we must include these perceptions in our calculation. If a group
of American policy makers believe an invasion of Iraq will bring democracy to the
region, that’s what teachers and students must consider. Whether or not it is truth in fact
or justice in value doesn't matter if it's in the mind of the actor. It’s the perception that we
must consider, evaluate and understand. Without this kind of inter-subjective insight, the
teacher, analyst or policy maker will never fully comprehend the existing condition and
evolving dynamic of international relations.
Despite the importance of this concept in analyzing international relations, there is little
in the literature of political science about empathy. To understand the concept, we must
explore the writing of psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Wilhelm Dilthey
introduced the term empathy (einfühlunz) at the end of the nineteenth century, using it to
explain the division between nature and humanity. While the scientific method was
useful in explaining the natural world, empathy was a means to understand and
experience the human spirit. Karl Jaspers further refined the concept in 1913, arguing
that some conditions may be explained using the methods of science while others are
understood by having the observer put him self in the place of the observed (Etchefoyen
1996, 270-273). Freud wrote in 1921 that empathy “plays the largest part in our
understanding of what is inherently foreign…in other people”( Freud 1923, 108). For
Greenson, it involves “the emotional knowledge of the feelings of another, a
preconscious phenomena that helps us to understand the (other) in so far as it enables us
to share his feelings.” This involves a delicate balance--the possibility of entering into the
other's feelings without being over overwhelmed emotionally, playing the part of a
participant observer (Greenson 1960, 418-424). Thus, empathic comprehension is a
dynamic process. It invokes “one person's capacity to feel and understand what another
feels”( Etchegoyen 1996, 271).

More recently, political scientists have embraced a philosophical approach to social
science that deals with human consciousness as an important factor in understanding
international relations. Known as “constructivism,” the approach posits that human
relationships are understood by ideational factors as well as material ones. The ideational
factors most important in understanding international affairs are widely shared, inter-
subjective beliefs held by members of nation-states, and empathy toward other nations
helps the analyst ascertain and construct their interests and values, understanding them
more fully (Finnemore and Sikkink 2001; Alder 1998; Barnett 1998; Checkel 1997;
Wendt 1999).


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