Table of Contents, Thinking Tools Resources Page Previous Section, Thinking Tools Next Section, Thinking Tools

Intellectual Empathy: Entertaining Opposing Views

Next let's consider intellectual empathy, another trait of mind necessary to fair-mindedness:

Intellectual empathy is an awareness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others so as to genuinely understand them. To have intellectual empathy is to be able to accurately reconstruct the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than one's own. This trait also correlates with the willingness to remember occasions when one was wrong in the past despite an intense conviction of being right, and with the ability to imagine being similarly deceived in a case at hand.

The opposite of intellectual empathy is intellectual self-centeredness. It is thinking centered on self. When we think from a self-centered perspective, we are unable to understand others' thoughts, feelings, and emotions. From this natural perspective, we are the recipients of most of our attention. Our pain, our desires, and our hopes are most pressing. The needs of others pale into insignificance before the domination of our own needs and desires. We are unable to consider issues, problems, and questions from a viewpoint that differs from our own and that, when considered, would force us to change our perspective.

How can we be fair to the thinking of others if we have not learned to put ourselves in their intellectual shoes? Fair-minded judgment requires a good-faith effort to acquire accurate knowledge. Human thinking emerges from the conditions of human life, from very different contexts and situations. If we do not learn how to take on the perspectives of others and to accurately think as they think, we will not be able to fairly judge their ideas and beliefs. Actually trying to think within the viewpoint of others is not easy, though. It is one of the most difficult skills to acquire.The extent to which you have intellectual empathy has direct implications for the quality of your life. If you cannot think within the viewpoint of your supervisor, for example, you will have difficulty functioning successfully in your job and you may often feel frustrated. If you cannot think within the viewpoints of your subordinates, you will have difficulty understanding why they behave as they do. If you cannot think within the viewpoint of your spouse, the quality of your marriage will be adversely affected. If you cannot think within the viewpoints of your children, they will feel misunderstood and alienated from you.

Test the Idea
Intellectual Empathy I

Try to reconstruct the last argument you had with someone (a supervisor, colleague, friend, or intimate other). Reconstruct the argument from your perspective and that of the other person. Complete the statements below. As you do, watch that you do not distort the other's viewpoint. Try to enter it in good faith, even if it means you have to admit you were wrong. (Remember that critical thinkers want to see the truth in the situation.) After you have completed this activity, show it to the person you argued with to see if you have accurately represented that person's view.

  1. My perspective was as follows (state and elaborate your view):

  2. The other person's view was as follows (state and elaborate the other person's view):

    Table of Contents, Thinking Tools Resources Page Previous Section, Thinking Tools Next Section, Thinking Tools