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Feeling Like Stories: Empathy and Narrative Engagement

Baker, Al (2016) Feeling Like Stories: Empathy and Narrative Engagement. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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In this thesis I present and defend a theory of empathy, and then apply that theory of empathy to understanding how we engage with stories. I argue that empathy should be understood as a well-grounded demonstrative ascription of the form ‘[the target] feels like this’. I take the well-groundedness of such an ascription to consist in a series of ‘proto-empathic’ imaginings, which justify our ascription to a target by virtue of being congruent with one another. In laying out my conception of empathy I argue against several prominent theories of empathy, including those favoured by Preston and de Waal and Alvin Goldman. I argue in particular against the idea that empathy should be understood as aiming primarily at a matching of affect between an empathiser and their target. Moving on to narrative engagement, I argue that when audiences engage with stories they empathise with an implied narrator of that story. I make this case by showing how empathy can prima facie be employed to solve two outstanding philosophical problems about stories by virtue of its employment of perspective shifting. I sketch a conception of ‘perspectives’ and go on to argue that every story features what I call a ‘narrative perspective’, and by process of elimination conclude that the holder of the narrative perspective must be an implied narrating agency. I then show how an empathic theory of narrative engagement can help us understand how stories can help or hinder our moral education. Finally, I outline a theory of how audiences engage with interactive artworks such as videogames, drawing out the consequences of that view for how we might apply my theory of empathic engagement to furthering the understanding of interactive art.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Philosophy (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.696010
Depositing User: Dr Al Baker
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2016 11:34
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2018 09:29
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/14293

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