Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Swordfish to Tanning >> Sympathy


pain, feeling, self, human, love, pleasure, ones, motive and rational

SYMPATHY, is in itself feeling felt, and became possible only after human reason began its operations. As feeling, its discussion be longs to psychology; as a sociogenetic power, its consideration is sociological; as a "motive principle of (Hoffding), it is the concern of the moralist. In any article such as this, it is almost unavoidable to discuss the subject, without at one and the same time in volving all three approaches to the considera tion of the meaning of sympathy; and here no attempt will be made to avoid such a union. As feeling, sympathy is a secondary, it is a repre sentative pain. It is an echo in one's self of the pains of others. Hedonism of all forms misconceives the relation that obtains between pleasure and pain as being analogous with that which obtains between heat and cold; and in deed in some respects pain and pleasure are counter-parts. But they are not like heat and cold in so far as the one is not the same as the other, differing only in degree. There obtains here a difference which is one of a kind, not merely of degree.

That sympathetic pain depends for its pos sibility upon the human rational powers admits of no doubt. For the syllogism of sympathy is this: (a) A given influence produces pain or pleasure in me. (b) You are like me. (c) Therefore, the same influence will produce pain or pleasure in you. True, this reasoning in and of itself, is feelingless. But to constitute a motive to activity, such as sympathy developed into altruism may exhibit, there must be first developed a reflex responsiveness, such that previously experienced sensations of pain or of pleasure caused by one influence shall be re membered and revived, shall be repeated as part of a series of sensations that are caused by the influence itself.

It might be an idle speculation to attempt to ascertain the very earliest form of sympathy. However, one may feel certain that it is the reverse of Herbert Spencer's idea which is that sympathy grew out of "love of the helpless.* It is, however, quite probable that "love of the helpless* was one of the earliest manifestations of sympathy, just as light sometimes is evidence of electricity. Perhaps sympathy was first felt in the heart of woman as mother with her strong motive love for her offspring, which natural love, though in itself an entirely differ ent faculty, early enough blended with or helped to create a derivative reason-born sym pathy. Altruism differs from sympathy in another way. Sympathy is not necessarily a desire. It is simply a feeling, even though a feeling depending on the rational process, for its existence. True: it naturally enough sug gests action. But being a pain, like other pains that are not desires, it naturally but not neces sarily gives rise to a desire to act in such a way as to cause relief from pain. As such it is the concern of the sociologist. And as said before, it involves an intellectual operation, a knowl edge of how one should act to attain an end.

Altruism is complex, it is sympathy to which is added desire for activity. It is not only painful feeling, it is also motive. David Hume treated the passions as an essential part of ((human nature,* making much of sympathy, as was likewise done both by Ferguson and Adam Smith, later by Bentham, and in more recent times by Professor Hoffding, each from his own special point of view. Not a few ethical students wnceive of sympathy as the parent of most all the moral sentiments; and sympathy is then in turn derived from love of kindred. Sympathy has it seems its seat in the general emotional tracts, in the great sympathetic plexuses, of which there are so many, and of such very wide distribution in the human sys tem. It is, however, as yet impossible to locate these plexuses, and assign to them particular sentiments — a localization which of course assumes the hypothesis that the system has attained a sufficient degree of specialization to localize sentiment at all. Altruism, in so far as it is not purely biological, is without doubt rooted in sympathy. This latter, as has often been noted, is not seldom conceived in its turn as the bases of all morality excepting race morality. One may well believe that with out sympathy all moral reform would be im possible. Just as of the can only be experienced by a highly rational being, so its root (not its blossom), which is sympathy, is a product of a high rational power of intel lectual activity capable not only of representing to self the painful states of others, but also of experiencing the reflex of such representations in one's self as a form of pain. For it requires a power of putting one's self in the situation of another, to represent to one's self the pains of others. When once such power is acquired, it causes a reflex of the represented pain to self and this reflected pain felt by one representing it becomes more and more sharp and unendur able as the representation becomes more vivid, and as the general organization of a human being becomes more delicate and more refined. Such high degree of differentiation was, one may be sure, far from being attained at an early stage of human development, a fact, which, it may be mentioned, explains such vicious and abnormal institutions as the savage subjection of women. Civilization has been, and may indeed be, measured by the capacity of men for suffering representative pain or sympathy and by their efforts to relieve it. For in the merely animal kingdom it may be suspected that there is scarcely any, if there is any, sympathy with suffering at all. And yet as the fine painting by Landseer of a ((Sick Monkey* illustrates, one may well hesitate to pronounce that feel ings of sympathy are entirely alien to the animal world.