Chapter 2 In Search of Empathy in Prehistoric Times: Evolution and Revolution

In: Empathy: Emotional, Ethical and Epistemological Narratives
Josefa Ros Velasco
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Empathy is normally defined as the psychological identification with the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another. Stated differently, empathy is the ability to understand what another person is experiencing and put oneself in someone else’s position. This contribution attempts to be a reflection on the evolutionary and ‘revolutionary’ role of empathy in human evolution by paying attention to the conditions of possibility and the presence of empathic behaviours in pre-sapiens’ prehistory. On the basis of the knowledge provided by specialists in multiple disciplines such as neuropaleontology, prehistoric ethnology, psychology and philosophical anthropology, we will first establish how different levels of empathy were possible in our ancestors as cognitive and social complexity was gradually developed over time and which factors were responsible for and made possible our current ability to empathise. Following from the above, we will address the understanding of the biological and sociological evolutionary function of empathy, that is to say, what was – or/and is – the role of empathy in the evolution towards the species Homo sapiens. The aim of this exercise is not only to get to know more about the nature of empathy and its anthropogenesis but to show that the role of empathy in our global time remains the same in evolutionary terms, i.e., to promote both the mutual understanding and cooperation necessary for the prosperity of peoples and the realisation of private interests.

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