«There are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination», declares Elizabeth Costello, the lecturing novelist who is the protagonist of J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals (1999). In that novel, Costello/Coetzee grapple with a number of challenging issues in the contemporary philosophy of mind, notably the possibility of empathy and access to the qualia of others, particularly non-human animals. A long section of the book is devoted to critiquing a famous, pioneering article by Thomas Nagel (1974). The present essay retraces the controversy and aims at showing that Coetzee, while knowingly distorting Nagel’s work to some extent, is nonetheless capable of bringing to light some of the shortcomings of standard subjectivist philosophical approaches to empathy. Later experiences of participant observation with animals seem to open up possibilities that Nagel’s phenomenology did not foresee. Animal subjectivity is now at the centre of once unexpected lines of research, which put Costello’s bold statement in a new light.

Roberto Brigati (2023). Coetzee, Nagel and Trans-Specific Empathy. SYMBOLON, 17(14 N.S.), 27-41.

Coetzee, Nagel and Trans-Specific Empathy

Roberto Brigati
2023

Abstract

«There are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination», declares Elizabeth Costello, the lecturing novelist who is the protagonist of J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals (1999). In that novel, Costello/Coetzee grapple with a number of challenging issues in the contemporary philosophy of mind, notably the possibility of empathy and access to the qualia of others, particularly non-human animals. A long section of the book is devoted to critiquing a famous, pioneering article by Thomas Nagel (1974). The present essay retraces the controversy and aims at showing that Coetzee, while knowingly distorting Nagel’s work to some extent, is nonetheless capable of bringing to light some of the shortcomings of standard subjectivist philosophical approaches to empathy. Later experiences of participant observation with animals seem to open up possibilities that Nagel’s phenomenology did not foresee. Animal subjectivity is now at the centre of once unexpected lines of research, which put Costello’s bold statement in a new light.
2023
Roberto Brigati (2023). Coetzee, Nagel and Trans-Specific Empathy. SYMBOLON, 17(14 N.S.), 27-41.
Roberto Brigati
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11585/968689
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