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'The tender instinct is the hope of the world': human feeling and social change before empathy.

Human feeling has long been part of the discourse of civil society and futures thinking. It can be seen in the language of social hope that has characterised Barak Obama's political rhetoric on the one hand, and in the 'compassionate conservatism' of the right, on the other. (1) Its reverse is mirrored in the recurring expressions of concern for the failure of citizens to act in the common interest in social commentary. In the UK this has been articulated in the Conservative Party's rhetoric of 'broken Britain' and mirrored in the coalition government's expressed aim to establish a 'big' society, (2) but it is also evident in public debate concerning the integrity of the representatives, structures and practices of public institutions, business and government. The perceived failures of social feeling identified in commentary on street crime and riot at one end of the social scale, and financial corruption, bankers' bonuses and politicians colluding with media moguls at the other are no longer painted onto an epic canvas of evil and pathology but one scaled down to petty human failures: greed, arrogance, selfishness. Just as riot has become disembedded from the repertoires of purposeful collective political dissent, the concerted pursuit of systemic privilege through public roles and institutions is conceived in terms of individual anomaly. To fail to act in the common interest is a failure of ordinary emotion, then: a lack of the emotional connectivity through which an individual subdues personal motivation and self-interest in favour of the public good. Harnessed to an emotional register, sociality becomes a matter not just of recognising common cause--an act of thought predicated on mutually shared interests or purpose--but of being bound to an imaginary relating to a commonality of predicament, experience and affective response. It is that 'social feeling' which appears to harness individuals' actions to a common future.

In the present day, this commonality of feeling is usually expressed in the concept of empathy. Despite the notorious variability of the term (3) the ability to share the emotional experiences of others, to feel 'at one' with their affective responses, is in many countries part of a common curriculum: in Canada, the US, Australia and the UK, for example children are taught empathy as part of emotional literacy in schools. (4) The Roots of Empathy programme originating in Canada in 1996, which aims to increase pro-social feeling by teaching children to understand others' emotion, was introduced in England and Wales in February 2013. (5) And empathy training is also embedded in the curriculum as part of an experiential form of relationship education. (6) Research in zoology has suggested that empathy is not a purely human trait but the necessary emotional basis of cooperation between all 'social' animals. (7) For some, empathy goes beyond feelings borne in the relation of individual humans (and animals whose behaviour can be explained in ways which relate to the topography of 'human' emotion as the origin of action) and is extended to a compassionate relation to a global human community and even feeling part of an animate world, based on a continuity between human existence and the fate of the biosphere. (8) These are linked to a range of ethical platforms concerning animal rights, cosmopolitanism and environmental care. (9)

The key conception in all these inquiries and ethical arguments, is the ability to not only imagine and consider, but to feel for what lies beyond the personal and known: oneself and one's own. The movements and qualities of feeling they may involve are varied. The encounter with a world outside the familiar, the discovery that moves one to action, may involve what Philip Fisher calls the 'vehement passions'--as the experience of anger, grief or shame discloses a newly intelligible world and fear 'announces to us the presence within ongoing life of the fact of mortality'. (10) The way social movements develop in the digital culture of the internet is still understood in terms of the transmission of positively charged heightened emotion, the 'networks of outrage and hope' as Manuel Castell conceives them. (11) The pathway between a confrontation of others' suffering, imagining their pain and being 'moved' to seek justice, features particularly strongly in discussions of the relation of empathy to altruism. But the way emotions function as 'interpretation of predicaments' means they may just as easily be intersected by those 'ugly feelings'--the negative emotions of envy, irritation, anxiety, paranoia and disgust--which function as a symptom of the dilemmas of social engagement: that obstructed agency or negation which allows ambivalent emotions to function as 'political allegories'. (12) And as Raymond Williams made clear, and Kathleen Stewart has more recently emphasised, we most commonly experience collective emotion as:
   ordinary affects ... the varied, surging capacities to affect and
   be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual
   motion of relations, scenes, contingencies and emergences. They're
   things that happen. They happen in impulses, sensations,
   expectations, daydreams, encounters, and habits of relating, in
   strategies and their failures, in forms of persuasion, contagion,
   and compulsion, in modes of attention, attachment, and agency, and
   in publics and social worlds of all kinds that catch people up in
   something that feels like something. (13)

This is the realm of the trans-individual, the feeling of being in touch with something beyond oneself, conceived as a kind of 'stress': a 'transpersonal bodily state that registers intensities', highlighting something that 'needs attending to', the surge to 'enter life'. (14) Social feeling, then is a kind of emotional extensiveness that cannot be entirely contained by the concept of empathy, bound up as that concept is with a passage between minds, the mental processes that allow us to imagine the states of others as the basis of a feeling which is neither properly ours, nor empirically theirs, but borne from that connectivity. What I am concerned with in this essay, is how this connectivity was imagined at a moment 'before empathy': after the term was introduced into Anglophone culture, but before its integration into psychology resituated concepts of social feeling in relation to individual processes of perception, 'inner imitation' and projection. I want to examine the idea of social feeling as it was conceived in the first two decades of the twentieth century, in a conversation between a distinctively British form of psychology and an emergent sociology, and their adaptation of nineteenth-century models of sympathy--a conversation that made the adoption of the concept of empathy to account for social understanding as opposed to aesthetic experience problematic, and which returned instead to a form of feeling based in the more fundamental commonalities of the precariousness of individual existence and the forces of 'life'. Social psychologists' re-reading of evolutionary biology through new concepts drawn from the natural sciences in this period brought them to focus on what they classified as the 'gregarious' and 'herd' instincts, used to invoke an innate capacity for association and 'fellowship', with altruism as the necessary expression of that transindividual formation, rather than the mechanistic processes of individual responsiveness and heightened sensibility towards the object. In this way, emotional extensiveness became tangled up with questions of creaturely sociability, the dynamics of collective feeling and social change, rather than the problem of 'other minds'. As part of a cultural politics of human affect and its role in the social, examining the historical antecedents to empathy may help us to define social feeling in more precise ways and help us modify the strained ambition of empathy's conceptual sprawl, providing us with a more variegated understanding of those impulses which bind us not just to others but 'life' at its most basic. It was within this horizontal geography that George Arthur Tansley--writing in the intersection of psychology, botany and ecology and hence attentive to the psycho-physics of biological adaptation and human 'flourishing'--could identify the modest emotion of 'tenderness' as the 'hope of the world'.


The cultivation of a repertoire of emotional extensiveness, the ability to imagine the perspectives, responses or experiences of those unknown to us, or from different social groups, cultures, geographies or species, as if they were our own--to attempt to enter into the inner lives of others and to thereby gain that insight that leads to compassion or forgiveness, for example--is not new. It was particularly critical to that shift in late eighteenth century Western feeling that Lynn Hunt argues allowed the discourse of human rights to emerge. Hunt demonstrates that modern social feeling was derived through a set of cultural practices that cultivated a shared sense of the corporeal inviolability of the human individual, the ability to imagine the inner states and physical pain of others, and its translation into the idea that all human beings share an entitlement to a set of rights that are natural, equal and universal. For Hunt, the epistolary novel taught its readers to share the emotions of individuals they did not know personally, including those from different classes, ranks, genders and ages, allowing a generalised notion of human sympathy and psychological identification to develop, this 'alteration of individual minds' laying the basis for significant social and political change. (15) The concept of 'sympathy' between individuals now imagined as equal has been a critical element in the development of civil society in the liberal tradition (16) and has historically been closely related to a judeo-Christian concept of selfless love, or caritas which, as Carolyn Steedman has shown, allowed a strand of dissenting Anglicanism to erode the hierarchies of everyday class relations in the eighteenth century, foregrounding the love of that which is small, or dependent, and the 'littleness' of human individuals equal in the sight of a powerful and benevolent God. This enabled a new psychological understanding of those--such as the female servant--who had hitherto been regarded as extraneous to such consideration, to develop alongside the psychological shaping of oneself as a project. (17) As Rodhri Hayward shows, many of our modern ways of understanding and describing emotional experience derive from theological models and practices of the self so that religious experience became an important way in which the emotional self was searched and elaborated, and explorations of the spiritual were critical to the identification of the unconscious as part of the founding of the discipline of psychology at the end of the nineteenth century. (18) The concept of sympathy and its association with mutuality are also threaded through the history of the related concept of 'altruism' as a moral, political and, by the early twentieth century, also a psychological capacity. (19)

Hunt frames her compelling account the development of emotional extensivity and mutual recognition as components of a landscape of social change in eighteenth century Britain as a history of the development of a capacity for 'empathy'. (20) But it is also worth attending to the complex and fractured trajectories of emotional extensiveness across these different disciplinary, institutional and everyday domains, and the specificity of concepts developed and adopted in these diverse contexts of use. For empathy is a term of recent origin, appearing in English in the first decade of the twentieth century, a translation of the German term Einfuhlung--'feeling oneself into'--used in Robert Visher's aesthetic theory of perception from the 1860s to identify a kinaesthetic and emotional response to a work by a viewer, to form as much as to content, and the projection of that experience into the work in a way that enabled a merging of self and the object in the act of contemplation. (21) When the German philosopher and psychologist Theodor Lipps introduced the concept of Einfuhlung into psychology, he suggested that it constituted an instinct, arguing that aesthetic pleasure was derived from the drives directed towards imitation and expression. By adopting the term Einfuhlung and defining it as a projection of feelings into objects of contemplation in the natural world, everyday situations or the arts, Lipps maintained a separation between self and object prior to the experience of immersion in the act of contemplation. He thereby helped to define empathy in terms of a basic understanding of expressive others, and so preserved the distinction between Einfuhlung and the psychological law of sympathy--Mitfuhlen, 'feeling with'--which pointed to a form of mutuality understood in terms of 'fellow feeling', based on the principle of commonality. But he nevertheless laid the ground for the conflation of the two in his contrast between a harmonious balance of feeling and one based on conflict, suggesting that in its full realization Einfuhlung integrated sympathy: 'Positive is the experience of that harmony, negative the experience of discord. We can also describe that harmony as sympathy (Mitfuhlen). Indeed, sympathy is nothing else'. (22) This introduced 'care' into the conception of empathy, despite it being erroneous to the term Einfuhlung whose conceptual difference from sympathy its use was originally intended to signal. (23) It was Lipps' work that Anglophone psychologists used when they turned to the concept of Einfuhlung, his conflation of the two terms continuing in their own investigations--evident in the use of the term 'aesthetic sympathy' prior to the coining of the term empathy, for example. (24)

It was also Lipps, as a psychologist rather than an aesthetician, who laid the ground for the extension of the term Einfuhlung to the language of social feeling, as it became associated with responses to the expressions of others. (25) This was related to a process of 'inner imitation': an expressive act by the other invokes a feeling in the self, which is then projected 'into' the other by being attached to the perceived gesture: we are bound to project our own feelings into the process of perception as these are the only mental states to which we have experiential access. (26) The conflation of Einfuhlung and Mitfuhlen in Lipps' aesthetic model--the extent to which feelings are projected or introjected--is thereby imported into the use of empathy to signify social understanding, creating an ongoing tension which followed the integration of this term into Anglophone culture. For in nineteenth-century British social debate sympathy was frequently invoked to refer to an essential 'humanness' which could overcome contingent differences (hence its contribution to the emergence of a discourse of human rights), and in evolutionary biology even a commonality of predicament--the impulse to preserve 'life' or the tendency towards an equilibrium shared by natural organisms. (27) From its translation into Anglophone culture to describe intersubjective understanding and social connectivity, then, the integration of the term 'empathy' was hampered by a conceptual difficulty: the distance between its use as a means to describe the projection of individual feelings, and a shared experience of the processes of 'life'.

The migration of empathy from aesthetics into the language of everyday relations and social change was no more straightforward than the translation of Einfuhlung into English, then, and it was impeded by an encounter with a strong tradition of modelling human feeling--and its social role--through an organic model of sympathy as a 'social instinct'. The most prominent definitions of sympathy evident in debates over its nature and function in the nineteenth century were David Hume's use of the concept of sympathy to account for the transmission and communication of human emotion; (28) Adam Smith's association of sympathy with the moral sentiments; (29) Charles Darwin's identification of sympathy as an adaptive emotional capacity based on instinct, classifying it as one of the 'social instincts' that influenced social behaviour towards evolutionary beneficial outcomes through those forms of cooperative human and animal behaviour which ensured species survival; and Herbert Spenser's argument that sympathy was not only characteristic of the higher stages of evolutionary development--an evolved sentiment--but an essential component of 'sociality' among gregarious animals (and humans), situating it as the source of the 'altruistic' emotions. (30) While 'organic' forms of sympathy were discerned in emotional imitation from the early ages of life by naturalists like Darwin, 'derived' forms of sympathy had social implications based on what Spenser defined as 'imaginations of consequences'. (31) This influential Spenserian model allowed a concept of biological altruism--instinctive behaviour that favoured the survival of the group rather than that of the individual, as identified in insect communities for example--to become mapped on to moral altruism, as a form of action calculated to cater to the needs of others rather than the self.

As the term was conceived in the early twentieth century, empathy had little purchase on this terrain. The moral debates that circulated around the social outcome of sympathetic feeling in late nineteenth-century Britain had been oriented to the way in which it would manifest in altruistic actions by countering egotistical self-interest. (32) Some commentators allowed that other-regarding interests could be pursued alongside those of the self in altruistic behaviour, complicating the necessary removal of the self from the outcome of 'fellow feeling' that the polarisation of selfishness and selflessness assumed in concepts of moral altruism (SinM, p268). But there was plenty of doubt expressed about the link between sympathy and ethical action in nineteenth century idealism. Not only had Henry Sidgwick questioned Spencer's understanding of sympathy as congruent with a harmony between the interests of the individual and the group, arguing that what was pleasant could conflict with what preserved life, and what served individual well-being could conflict with the greater good, but in his Science of Ethics (1882) Leslie Stephen had connected moral development and an increase in sympathy with the development of intelligence: thinking about others was the source of ethical action (SinM, pp270-72). If the link between biological and moral altruism was questionable, sympathy as an instinct had no ethical value in itself. It was the influence of reason that converted sympathy into action and effected change.

The pathway between instinct and action was a key issue for a dialogue between psychology and sociology in the early years of the twentieth century, in the attempt to develop a scientific model that countered those idealist debates around ethics that had informed moral psychology, and utilitarian models of mutual interest. The nineteenth-century link between human action and social change was reshaped through an engagement with biological models of the social organism drawn from evolutionary theory, coming to focus on what could be seen as a more technical issue of social coordination: the role of sympathy as an element in what Spenser had termed 'sociality'. Darwin had not used the term altruism, aligning sympathy with love and cooperation, and so fusing evolutionary beneficial conduct with the satisfaction of individual instinct. (33) But as the new liberal social theorist L.T. Hobhouse indicated, in Morals in Evolution, neither biological nor ethical models were in themselves adequate to account for that social feeling which binds the individual to the social group:
   in dealing with social affairs, we cannot take the individual as an
   isolated unit, and the conception of competition is transferred
   accordingly from the individual human being to the social group of
   which he is a member ... It is not only that men have need of one
   another for mutual defense, or, at a higher stage, for cooperation
   in industry or in science; there is also the interest in another
   sense which we take in one another as human beings, and which is a
   wider thing than sympathy and a less purely moral thing than
   altruism or unselfishness. (34)

In the organic view, sympathy was the means by which individuals became part of the social group modelled not as an aggregate of individuals who compete for survival, but a complex and differentiated organism--whether configured as 'society', the nation or the species whose constituent parts contribute to its survival. Hobhouse's concern with the 'extension' of sympathy to the wider group led him to go on to curate an interdisciplinary and non-sectarian inquiry into the psychological factors underlying social processes in the early volumes of Sociological Review, during his editorship. (35) What drove this was a political purpose: to create the conditions through which sympathy could become active in social relations beyond the realm of personal affiliation. Hobhouse went on to argue in Development and Purpose that the extension of sympathy relied on a mental process, the
   extension of the imaginative realisation of the life of others. As
   this passes beyond the circle of the immediate objects of
   affection, sympathy begins to be dispassionate and supplies the
   humanitarian element in conduct. But as the history of human ethics
   shows, it is only by slow stages that it spreads from the circle of
   the kindred and the personal friends to that of the community, and
   from this again to the wider society, the human race and the
   sentient creation. (36)

As the historian of science Susan Lanzoni indicates, before 1900, Einfuhlung was routinely translated as 'sympathy' but by 1909, at which time the experimental psychologist E.B. Titchener, working in Cornell University, and the Cambridge philosopher and psychologist James Ward both independently proposed the term 'empathy', (37) translations had proliferated, reflecting 'the heated international debates regarding the role of association, imitation, motor movement, and the contribution of organic sensations and mental factors in aesthetic Einfuhlung'. (38) The burgeoning of different translations was an indication that this was not a matter of conceptual equivalents, particularly complicating the extension of the processes associated with 'aesthetic Einfuhlung' to a more generalized form of social understanding. Lanzoni indicates that Titchener's aim in turning to empathy was to highlight the difference between empathy as 'feeling into' objects through the imaginative projections of mind and its visualisations, from the historical interest in sympathy as 'feeling with', a shared or 'fellow' feeling. (39) In Britain, too, the emphasis on mental and kinaesthetic processes disembedded from the specificities of 'life' (what Hobhouse refers to as the 'imaginative realisation of the life of others', above) meant empathy was more amenable to the language of experimental rather than social psychology. Evolutionary biology had shaped a terrain of inquiry that, within emergent models of collective psychology and psychologically informed sociology, ensured that human feeling as a social attribute was viewed through the lens of sympathy, rather than empathy. The model of the social organism as a means of understanding social relations in Britain in this period made an early adoption of Einfuhlung as part of a wider framing of human experience problematic. (40)

When the British psychologist William McDougall adapted nineteenth-century accounts of sympathy into his highly influential Introduction to Social Psychology, first published in 1908, his address to the field of debate made no mention of an alternative concept, and nor did he acknowledge empathy as a rival term in the substantial revisions he made to subsequent editions over the next two decades, or in his most comprehensive volume on collective psychology, The Group Mind, dedicated to Leonard Hobhouse, which appeared in 1920. (41) Yet, as Gustav Jahoda points out, by 1932 it could be noted of Anglophone psychology that 'the term Einfuhlung ('empathy') has in fact come into general ... use'. (42) In the two decades between the translation of Einfuhlung into English as empathy and its adoption as a term to account for social understanding, a vigorous debate was waged about the relation between emotion, human association and social change. In these years, the same processes of imitation and suggestion that Titchener was examining at the level of individual minds through a concept of empathy were part of a more broadly defined debate concerning the forms of response which might lead to conformity and stasis rather than 'difference, variation and invention'. (43) This was the terrain in which sympathy and empathy met. What becomes evident when we examine models of human gregariousness which immediately preceded the introduction of the concept of empathy into Anglophone culture--and which retained their influence until the period in which Jahoda suggests empathy was seen as a viable concept for discussing human relations--is that the language of social feeling and intersubjective understanding was already being transformed by a distinctively British psychology of human association and its influence on sociological thinking. What is clear in Hobhouse's concern with the extension of sympathy, for example, is that the interest in the pathway between inner states and conduct was bound up with a political address to social feeling that saw the realisation of human potential as means to social progress and thereby integrated questions of social change. How was the pathway between human feeling and social change configured in these years 'before empathy'?


In early twentieth-century Britain, the turn to the ordinary manifestations of human gregariousness allowed the formulation of a complex account of social feeling as an inherent capacity of individuals, as a psychological understanding of 'human nature' came to be seen as the means of devising a more viable politics of change attuned to human motivations. The questions of conduct and human association that occupied psychologist in this period, and which allowed the concepts they developed to be adapted to form the basis of the new discipline of sociology, emerged in the context of the reconstruction of Edwardian liberalism and Fabian socialism rather than an elite recoil from the spectre of the massed urban working class, or a continuation of social Darwinist models, as is often supposed. (44) As Gal Gerson has shown, progressive liberal thought in this period sought to adjust its models of human agency, motivation and aspiration to reflect the 'cultural heterogeneity', complex social dynamics and expanded polity of modern, industrial, urban society. (45) It is in this context that psychological thinking became directed to those 'social and economic, political and ethical issues that rested on assumptions about human nature'. (46) In their formulation of a psychology of social connectivity and interaction that looked beyond the intimate realms of familial and personal relations, social psychologists pointed to 'gregariousness' as an innate capacity, and the extent to which harnessing its affective correlation, 'sympathy', could turn it into a force for human happiness and public good. (47) The idea that humans were naturally gregarious animals was not new: what was, was the idea that it was not cultivating the capacity for reason that would ensure this would be used to create social harmony, but the effective direction of the instincts, the creative force of the unconscious, and the cultivation of the emotions, or 'sentiments'.48 For the political theorist Graham Wallas, for example, this implied a rejection of the hedonist doctrine that 'the only effective human motive is the desire for Pleasure and the avoidance of Pain. and that the state of consciousness called Happiness is the same as that called Pleasure', as it did the connected proposition that individual action was directed according to a rational calculation of its likelihood to bring about individual pleasure or collective happiness. (49)

In early twentieth-century social thinking, then, before empathy had become integrated into the language of social relations, explorations of collective feeling as the basis of social futures commonly had conduct at their centre. The investigation of how individuals were, or could be, moved to act within social collectivities was part of an interdisciplinary address to the dynamics of large-scale modern societies--evident not just in the interest in crowds but also in the more mundane, enduring and everyday forms of association and, particularly, the dynamics of suggestion. The most prominent psychological model of suggestion in this period was that of William McDougall. (50) McDougall refuted the accepted idea (proposed by William James) that the dynamics of suggestion could be related to an instinct of imitation. To be regarded as instinctive, an action must be related to a specific impulse seeking satisfaction and, McDougall argued, imitative action is too variable for this to be the case (ItoSP, p88). Instead, he proposed that imitative behaviour was grounded in a gregarious instinct, similar to that which motivated herd animals, but in humans influenced by 'higher qualities of mind (such as) sympathy (or) capacity for mutual aid'. McDougall here drew on Herbert Spencer's concept of 'primitive sympathy' in his argument that the mechanisms of social behaviour imitation and suggestion--should be understood in terms of the 'sympathetic induction of emotion'. (51) But against the view that sympathy should be seen as an instinct, he argued that it constituted a 'special adaptation of the receptive side of each of the principle dispositions, an adaptation that renders each instinct capable of being excited on the perception of the bodily expressions of the excitement of the same instinct in other persons' (ItoSP, p81). He also departed from Spenser's 'widely accepted' definition of instinctive action as a reflex (which gives rise only to movement), arguing against mechanistic psychology to propose that instinctive action was a 'psycho-physical' process: 'every instance of instinctive behaviour involves a knowing of some thing or object, a feeling in regard to it, and a striving towards or away from that object' (ItoSP, p23). The 'purposive' or 'conative' psychology promoted by McDougall therefore linked cognition, affect and--critically--conduct. Also critically, McDougall's model expanded the motives directing human action by promoting the 'social instincts', alongside the 'selfish instincts'. As a result, McDougall's concept of the gregarious instinct served as the springboard for an exploration of a range of social instincts linked to derived affective states, such as the link between the parental instinct and patriotism, both of which involve a sacrifice of self-interest for the benefit of another. The process of suggestion needed to be understood as a mental process arising from the 'sympathetic induction of emotion' between naturally gregarious individuals and so it became possible to form a psychological model of social feeling that infused thinking about social life with questions of emotion, physical being and attachment in a dynamic model of psychological interactions (ItoSP, pp71-4, 78).

William McDougall based his model of the relation between suggestion, sympathy and imitation in social life on Gabriel Tarde's Les Lois de limitation (1890) and the diffusion of McDougall's psychology was central to the adoption of Tardian models within British social psychology and its integration into sociological thinking. (52) Tarde had argued for imitation to be understood not as the pathological basis of mob behaviour, but as the 'very essence of social life', and McDougall adopted this as a platform for his group psychology:

Imitation is the prime condition of all collective life ... when men think, feel, and act as members of a group of any kind--whether a mere mob, a committee, a political or religious association, a city, a nation, or any other social aggregate--their collective actions show that the mental processes of each man have been profoundly modified in virtue of the fact that he thought, felt, and acted as one of a group and in reciprocal mental action with the other members of the group and with the group as a whole (ItoSP, p281, my emphasis).

This statement is indicative of the significant distance between group psychology as it develops in early twentieth-century Britain, in which feeling is inseparable from mental life and conduct, and those European models which held group behaviour (and mass culture) in lower regard and used the motif of the crowd as a symptom of an impulsivity and irrationality which they attributed to specific social groups--the urban working class conceived as the 'mass'. (53) This divergence--which has frequently been overlooked--led McDougall to read suggestion and imitation as part of the mechanism of the social (though in their excessive form, 'suggestibility', they may be deemed pathological and antipathetic to individual equilibrium) and is largely due to McDougall's integration of Tarde's claim that social change occurs at the level of individual psychological interactions. But Tarde held imitation and innovation as dual components of this process, and it is notable that McDougall omits the second from his discussion, reverting to a model of social change that relies on the imitation of ideas and practices generated by exceptionally gifted individuals, or a model of diffusion from one culture to another. It was the surgeon Wilfred Trotter's contribution to the question of gregariousness as a mechanism of ordinary human association which included variation and innovation as essential dimensions of the process of imitation. This led Trotter to develop his notion of the 'herd instinct' in a different direction, foregrounding its role not in social reproduction, but the contingency, eventfulness and unpredictability of social change. (54)

Trotter's account was first published as an article in the inaugural issue of Sociological Review in 1908, the same year as McDougall's book appeared, and elaborated over the course of the next decade, to be published in its final form, as Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, in 1919. (55) Trotter drew on evolutionary biology to argue that gregariousness (in animals and humans) was the expression of a 'herd instinct', an a priori drive towards companionship, manifested in an inherent fear of loneliness and comfort in the presence of others. The herd instinct gave rise to a 'sensitiveness' to the presence and interests of others that in its highest expression, was manifested in altruism, actions in the interest of the group. Trotter argued that to be attentive to 'herd suggestion', then, was not a sign of unthinking automaticity, as those who linked suggestion to hypnosis argued: human intelligence, and its attentiveness to 'experience', allowed suggestions to be engaged with creatively rather than followed slavishly. Rather than its moral meaning, then, Trotter's redescription of altruism situated it in relation to the outcome of this interaction: innovation. (56)

Trotter's emphasis on innovation was developed through a significant critique of Freudian psychology, based on its inattentiveness to change. Whereas Trotter accepted Freud's 'embryology' of the mind, in his account of the way egoistic instincts seek gratification, he criticised Freud for failing to explore the environmental influences which bear upon such impulses and so effect change. For Trotter, the identification of a fourth--social--instinct, which acted upon and modified the primary egoistic instincts of self-preservation, nutrition and sex, accounted for what Freud had attributed to the influence of external forces of social repression in terms of the conflict between different motivations in a way whose outcome pointed towards change. Failing to situate the individual mind in relation to those external forces to which the organism adapted, and to recognise the conflict that resulted in variation, Trotter argued, Freud's model upheld convention: 'human standards of discipline, taste, and morality'. As a result, not only was Freudian psychology retrospective rather than predictive, but it was oriented by the presentism of contemporary values, and confined by its 'complete acceptance of what one may call the human point of view ... oppressed by the odour of humanity ?with which it is pervaded ... a tendency to the acceptance of human standards and sometimes even human pretentions'. (57) If the modification of the primary instincts by the herd instinct introduced variation, that sensitiveness which was the distinctive capacity of gregariousness therefore became a platform for human progress, and projected human purposes beyond individual survival towards a collective future, introducing a new temporality--of social change--to associational life. This was the outcome of Trotter's alignment of evolutionary biology, instinctual psychology and a future-oriented sociology of human association.

Trotter had, in effect, accused Freud of promoting stasis: his psychology worked against the fulfilment of human potential by substituting a description of the 'statistically normal' mind for the 'healthy mind ... that is the mind in which the full capacities are available for use'. (58) The nature of the herd instinct in Trotter's treatment of it, on the other hand, allowed a critical capacity of the healthy mind to come into view: the sensitiveness to environmental influences which the gregarious animal must develop to survive, emphasising the pervasiveness and creativity of processes of imitation and suggestion across the whole landscape of everyday life (Instincts, p87). Only the dependence on 'herd tradition'--a form of intellectual stasis--would reduce individual action to unthinking imitation and a form of automaticity that negated the capacity for innovation. In this, it displayed, paradoxically, the failure of herd sensitiveness, an inability to engage creatively with suggestion as a dynamic reciprocal process borne from the ability to feel bound to others.

The force of Trotter's work on the herd instinct as the origin of human association, then, was based not only on its futures-oriented argument for progressive social change, but on his situating of the force of convention as an obstacle to that innovation which derived from human gregariousness as expressed in altruistic action. This took him to address not the particularity of individual psyches, but the way psychological processes influenced individuals as part of a social organism; the mental types that were derived from this relation of the psychological to the social; and the forms of 'statecraft' that would work to overcome stasis and the suppression of human potential and provide the conditions of collectivity, innovation and human fulfilment.


As part of his critique of cultural stasis, Trotter turned to the mental types which act as the obstacles to human potential and social progress. (59) Defining psychological health as the mind in which the full capacities would be available for use, Trotter's narrative of human potential therefore becomes reversed back onto the shortcomings of the conditions of its flourishing, in a 'civilization (which) has not yet provided a medium in which the average human mind can grow undeformed and to its full stature' (Instincts, p60). Noting that the 'normal mind' was a statistical category, and that it was a mistake to conflate it with psychological health, Trotter presented the case that it was 'stable-mindedness' that functioned as a drag on innovation, attributing this to the mentality of the governing elites. Overdependent on 'herd tradition', convention and authority, the elite mind failed to develop a creative relation to experience and suggestion, and became 'resistive', indifferent and insensitive. Embodying a negative attitude towards experience and marginalising reason, it achieved mental comfort at the cost of 'a limitation of outlook, a relative intolerance of the new in thought and a consequent narrowing of the range of facts over which satisfactory intellectual activity is possible'. Hard and inelastic, its dependence on herd convention thus resulted in an unreasoning conformity:

characteristic of the great class of normal, sensible, reliable middle age, with its definite views, its resiliency to the depressing influence of facts, and its gift for forming the backbone of the State. In them herd suggestion shows its capacity to triumph over experience, to delay the evolution of altruism, and to obscure the existence and falsify the results of the contest between personal and social desires. That it is able to do so has the advantage of establishing existing society with great firmness, but it has also the consequence of entrusting the conduct of the State and the attitude of it towards life to a class which their very stability shows to possess a certain relative incapacity to take experience seriously, a certain relative insensibility to the value of feeling and to suffering, and a decided preference for herd tradition over all other sources of conduct (Instincts, pp53-4, my emphasis).

If altruism stood as the most valuable outcome of herd sensitiveness, in the responsiveness to change that was part of an attentiveness to others, then, this type's insensitiveness to experience and feeling, and its overdependence on herd suggestion worked in the opposite direction.

Trotter's valuation of this attitude to experience is evident in his appraisal of the other main type which fell 'below the possibilities of the human personality', the mentally unstable. He proposed that the mentally unstable shared with the stable-minded an inability to effectively resolve the conflict between herd suggestion and individual experience, but in contrast to the normal type's disregard of experience in favour of herd tradition (valuing suggestions from the herd over those deriving from experience), the mentally unstable type's inability was created by their over-responsiveness to experience, which could be neither assimilated into a 'harmonious unitary personality', nor rejected, and so continued to create conflict. From this point of view their characteristic weakness of energy--and especially persistence in energy - defects of will power, and so on, resulted from the thwarting of the primary impulses, and so created a psychological type which was low in motivation ('motive energy'), resulting in a scepticism which was the opposite of an engagement of reason with instinct. This type, then, also failed to maximise the potential held by the associative impulse, but its strength was its flexibility and ability to adapt to new conditions, an openness to change (Instincts, p59).

Rather than seeing either type in terms of individual pathology, though, Trotter argued for them to be seen in terms of the human animal's incomplete adaptation to gregariousness, a stage in man's 'biological history' of evolution (Instincts, p57, my emphasis). What prevented the realisation of human potential, was the inability of society to develop a herd tradition which was not 'constantly at war with feeling and with experience', an opposition which drove individuals to reconcile conflict in ways that resulted in either resistiveness or mental instability. The failure to create a social setting conducive to the harnessing of the human animal's attentiveness to the suggestions deriving from feeling and experience as well as those deriving from herd tradition, as would be the case in a culture of innovation, created a loss--consigning the individual to that loneliness which resulted from the individual's dislocation from its fellows. And it was this loss that was continually reproduced by the directing force of the resistive type, fleeing the call to adapt and change according to the vicissitudes of human presence and feeling in collective life, taking refuge in the brittle security of an individual boundedness grounded only by the superficial authority of convention. In this respect, resistiveness constituted a 'fatal inheritance' of mind and temperament that permeated the governing class, and worked to distract human civilization from the urgent task of developing new knowledge designed to secure human survival:

We see man to-day, instead of the frank and courageous recognition of his status, the docile attention to his biological history, the determination to let nothing stand in the way of the security and permanence of his future, which alone can establish the happiness and security of the race, substituting blind confidence in his destiny, unclouded faith in the essentially respectful attitude of the universe to his moral code, and a belief no less firm that his traditions and laws and institutions necessarily contain permanent qualities of reality. Living as he does in a world where outside his race no allowances are made for infirmity, and where figments however beautiful never become facts, it needs but little imagination to see how great are the probabilities that after all man will prove but one more of Nature's failures, ignominiously to be swept from her work-table to make way for another venture of her tireless curiosity and patience (Instincts, p65).

If the stable-minded, as the directing class, maintained the circle of failure that created that loss, though, the mentally unstable type's sensitiveness to feeling and experience--a necessary condition for the productivity of that 'true mental conflict' (Instincts, p83) which was the condition for change--offered the possibility of escape. If a disorderly environment ruined the promise held by the sensitive mind, the solution was to adjust the mental environment. For if 'intercommunication' became the enabler of a 'communion' deriving from a disposition of feeling that allowed individuals to see others as coterminous with the self, it created the essential support for human sympathy to develop, part of the 'congruent environment' necessary for sensitiveness to develop into altruism (Instincts, p64). (60)

In his final two essays published in the 1915 and 1919, Trotter elaborated the role of gregariousness in human sociality to argue that the sensitiveness to others which emerged from the herd instinct led naturally to pacifism and internationalism and that an understanding of human association and the possibility of evolutionary social change pointed to a scientific model of statecraft designed to adjust the environment in order to unleash the creative potential inherent in sensitiveness and overcome a rigid class structure. In this context the sensitive mind was able to develop--in a way which the resistive mind never could--an 'expansive egoism' most fully realised in international sympathy: 'a sense of international justice, a vague feeling of being responsibly concerned in all human affairs' (Instincts, p125).


McDougall's and Trotter's models were sufficiently influential for Freud to give them extended consideration, in his own attempt to develop a collective psychology, Group Psychology and the Ego (1922). (61) Freud rejected the claim that gregariousness was an instinct, situating it as a further manifestation of libido, flowing from a variation of the desire for the mother, which was expressed through group feeling rather than rivalry. This suggested group feeling was not constituted as real and distinctive in its own right, but was a projection, a distortion. Social feeling, Freud proposed instead, was 'based upon the reversal of what was first a hostile feeling into a positively-toned tie of the nature of an identification' with a leader, restating his view of an originary aggression as the basis of human association. Countering the view that communal feeling is evidence of an attachment based on the desire for association with one's fellows, Freud argued that Trotter's claim that a leader should be 'in' and 'of' the herd, leading as a shepherd, one step ahead of the flock, overlooked the role of rivalry in group psychology: 'man ... is rather a horde animal, an individual creature in a horde led by a chief'. (62) Freud's psychology of the group, therefore, displaced 'common feeling' (and McDougall's common 'interest') with a group feeling based on an original identification with the primal father as an ego ideal based in authority. Substituting for the collectivity of the herd the 'ungovernable horde'--whose individual drives become subdued only by the influence of a leader who rules by absolute authority underpinned by the threat of dissolution--Freud therefore turned his group psychology back onto his original model of individual drives, resituating the individual within a structure of rivalry, aggression and authority, devaluing the role of the 'tender emotion' as a sublimation of sexual aims, and as such no different to hostile tendencies. (63)

But the tender emotion was precisely what gave a significant contemporary take-up of Trotter's 'herd instinct' its utopian force. In his 'bestseller' The New Psychology and Its Relation to Life, published in 1920 the botanist George Arthur Tansley took up the argument that the herd instinct was a primary factor in human association and associated it with the tender instinct, as 'the hope of humanity'. (64) In fact, Trotter never referred to the tender instinct. Tansley drew this from William McDougall's account of the 'great psychical bond which binds the mates to one another and to their children ... an essential element in the complex emotion of love' (TNP, p32). (65) Considering Bain's proposal that sympathy prompts us 'to take on the pains and pleasures of another being, and to endeavour to abolish that other's pain and to prolong his pleasure', McDougall argued that the mechanism of sympathetic induction made the pain or pleasure we experience our own. But this was not adequate to account for the pathway between the sympathetic induction of emotion and action. In the case of a spectacle of an individual in pain, the most effective route to abolishing our pain would be to turn away from the sight or thought of the suffering. To bring us to act in the interests of that other, another factor needed to become active, the tender instinct, with its protective impulse:

Our susceptibility to sympathetically induced pain or pleasures, operating alone, simply inclines us ... to avoid the neighbourhood of the distressed and seek the company of the cheerful; but tender emotion draws us near to the suffering and the sad, seeking to alleviate their distress ... The element of pain in pity is sympathetically induced pain, and the element of sweetness is the pleasure that attends the satisfaction of the impulse of the tender emotion ... in the case of pity evoked by some terrible suffering that we are powerless to relieve ... the pain of the obstructed tender impulse is added to the sympathetic pain, and our pity is wholly painful (ItoSP, pp67,79).

McDougall identified the tender instinct, then, as the critical element in the transition from 'primitive sympathy', which is simply a 'suffering with' or the 'experiencing of any feeling or emotion when and because we observe in other persons or creatures the expression of that feeling or emotion', to that complex form of sympathy which implies 'a tender regard' for the person with whom we sympathise': 'In no other way than that proposed is it possible to account for disinterested beneficence and moral indignation' (ItoSP, pp67, 79). (66) Gregariousness as an instinct, the drive to exist in the company of one's fellows is not necessarily associated with care for the other, or even sociability, though it is their precondition, providing the base for that sympathetic response to others' pains or pleasures that is embodied in Trotter's 'sensitiveness' to the interests of the group, the influence of the herd instinct in modifying the self-directed instincts (ItoSP, p74). It is a different relation to the other--based on the emotion of tenderness--that creates a disposition to act purposively towards others' ends even when they conflict with one's own. McDougall therefore revises the concepts of sympathy which confuse it with the tender emotion, (67) identifying tenderness as a primary emotion associated with the parental instinct: 'the response is as direct and instantaneous as the mother's emotion at the cry of her child or her impulse to fly to its defence; and it is essentially the same process' (ItoSP, p79).

Laura Cameron and John Forrester have meticulously assembled the revolution in Tansley's thinking, and the (temporary) crisis this created for his commitment to botany, brought about by reading Freud's work and his influence on a 'cultural' interest in Freudian psychoanalysis within a set of intersecting networks of philosophers, mathematicians and scientists in Cambridge from the 1920s onwards. (68) But Tansley's most significant period of immersion in Freudian psychoanalysis followed his analysis with Freud in Vienna in the years after The New Psychology and Its Relation to Life had been published. (69) At the point at which he wrote this book, Tansley drew on Freudian concepts alongside those deriving from an eclectic mode of a distinctive British dynamic psychology based on instinct theory. Tansley not only adopted McDougall's model of instinct as the foundation for his model, which allowed him to incorporate a range of social emotions rather than restricting himself to Freud's concentration on the sexual instinct but, contrary to Freud's displacement of fellowship in group psychology in favour of the individual's relation to a leader, he endorsed the argument McDougall made that 'the development of the ego-complex in the mind of the individual is shown to be conditioned in all its phases by the individual's relation to his fellow man'. This divergence from Freudian thinking brought him to adopt McDougall's definition of the tender emotion to account for the transition from simple gregariousness to group feeling and its translation into what he referred to as the 'universal complexes':
   We may probably safely follow McDougall further and regard the
   extension of the instinct of tenderness, with its conation of
   protection, to other members of the herd as the foundation of
   charity and benevolence, and, when it is thwarted, of moral
   indignation by the intrusion of anger: thus of the sense of justice
   and of the desire that "right" should prevail between all the
   members of the herd, and ultimately between all the members of the
   human race. This sense is quite distinct from herd instinct, which
   may readily acquiesce in the grossest inequalities and cruelties
   between different members of the herd, provided the herd suggestion
   is that such inequalities and cruelties are a necessary part of the
   social order. In fact, the painful conflict in the minds of many
   moderns in contemplating the cruelties of the existing social order
   is precisely a conflict between the tender instinct and the still
   potent herd suggestion that these things are inevitable. (70)

In Tansley's reading of Trotter's and McDougall's models of gregariousness and association, the forces of convention--and a resistive adherence to herd suggestion--created an environment that allowed the acceptance of inequality and the erasure of the interests of others (or 'cruelty'), and so conflicted with the imaginative responsiveness to experience that derived from the herd instinct. If the tender instinct, on the other hand, conflicted with herd suggestion at the point at which it was oriented to effacing the interests of others, it was because it was tied to a play of feeling that was uniquely based in an openness to interaction with others--the 'feeling with' that derives from 'experience'--that the tender instinct brought to associated life. This allowed it to work against rigidity and stasis and impact on the herd instinct in ways which led it to become a force for social change. Rather than remaining with Trotter's evolutionary analysis between a hierarchical class structure and the principle of death, then, Tansley proposed that it was the transfer of power to the 'great partial herd' of the proletariat that could overturn existing power relations, as 'common suffering and common action lead to the development of common feeling', and interaction with the group overcame rigidity and the stasis of herd suggestion and created the conditions for the tender instinct to develop. It was in this context that Tansley could claim in the conclusion to his book: 'the instinct of human tenderness is the hope of the world, that and herd instinct in its most universal form' (p267).


In these revisions to nineteenth-century concepts of sympathy, interest in social feeling was oriented to understanding the basis of the affective relations of collective life, and the emotional investment in the good of the community. It was therefore driven by a utopian aim: the cultivation of social feeling would enable individuals to develop an expansive emotional landscape that took them beyond those sympathies oriented by the personal and familiar--such as familial and nationalist sentiments--towards 'human sympathies', feelings of 'fellowship' and universal 'brotherhood' (Instincts). In this way, psychological models which promoted a gregarious instinct as the basis of associational life became linked to arguments regarding the way statecraft could be fashioned towards not just social ends, but those which also cultivated individual potential, identifying human 'fulfilment' as congruent with 'innovation' conceived not on a social Darwinist model of progress, but one measured by the contingent relations between individuals in association. Similarly, feelings of care were seen to have a transformative potential in the political arena: pacifism, for example, represented the 'indestructible inheritance' of gregariousness, extended to unknown others (Instincts, pp125-6). The difference between the early twentieth form of sympathy and that of empathy was that it moved beyond a relation of individual minds and was based on imagining the inner states of others in their social embeddedness, in a dynamic model of feeling, thinking and action.

Since the period in which empathy was integrated into psychological thinking, it has largely taken over the terrain of sympathy as understood here--with some writers even defining empathy as 'feeling with' (71)--and the concept of sympathy is more generally understood as a disengaged third person form of 'concern' for another, feeling 'for' their suffering as opposed to feeling it oneself. Many of the questions being addressed in early twentieth century collective psychology are still current in contemporary discussions of empathy: how far human nature should be understood in terms of pro-social 'empathic' emotions as opposed to selfishness, competitiveness and aggression; whether 'self-oriented' empathy--imagining what we would feel like in another's situation--can become a pathway to 'other-oriented' empathy--the ability to imagine what situations feel like for others in their particularity and diversity; the extent to which 'personal distress' experienced in response to another's suffering can lead to egoistically motivated, pro-social behaviour; the possibility that empathic understanding can lead to negative outcomes, such as in 'empathic cruelty' or empathising with evil acts; (72) the predictive accuracy of internal simulations of the emotions of others, and the extent to which empathy may 'solve the problem of other minds'. (73) But as Amy Coplan indicates, the lack of specification of the processes encompassed by the concept of empathy has inhibited precise usage, and led to much conflation and slippage. (74)

If empathy is fundamentally based on a movement of feeling within the individual, a transformation based on the imagining of the inner states of others, it can only deliver a heightened understanding of their responses. One of the main concerns expressed in debates about both empathy and sympathy--the way imitation functioned--followed from this interactive model of social feeling: a concern that the imagining of the inner life of others may actually be based on the projection of the individual's own feelings into the object, rather than an authentic understanding that derived from an engagement with the particularity of the object. This was the risk of stasis that Trotter and Tansley were so concerned with. The limits of a concept of empathy for social understanding and the cultivation of pro-social behaviour, lie in its inability to address an embedded subject, its ambition to account for 'interpersonal understanding' in a way which situates it as a relation between pre-formed minds: as Dan Zahavi and Soren Overgaard argue 'if we wish to unearth why somebody is feeling the way he does or why he is acting the way he does, we might need to consider the larger social, cultural and historical context, and this understanding cannot be provided by empathy alone'. (75) As they also point out, Lipps' use of empathy as the basis of social understanding relied on a psychological isomorphism, other human beings as 'duplications of myself', (76) and hence bound it to an exchange that is confined to mutual confirmation and repetition, a model of stasis.

If, at the moment of its translation, empathy was understood as a heightened sensibility towards the object (or others') minds and an awareness of the link between the self and that which lies beyond it, it left alone that link between feeling and action--as the outcome of a change effected by feeling--which was endemic to notions of sympathy and altruism and their role in collective psychology formulated as the emotional condition of effective social change in Britain in the early twentieth century. It is perhaps for this reason that despite its undoubted value in supporting individual esteem, emotional connectedness and interpersonal understanding, empathy creates a weak pathway between emotion and social change, and a problematic basis for political intervention. (77) Given a heavy reliance on empathy as a platform for the delivery of social happiness, but a lack of precision in distinguishing between its different forms, we could do well to attend to those caveats expressed in early twentieth-century psychological and sociological debates concerning the extent to which an ability to understand the inner states of others has an automatic connection to pro-social behaviours and outcomes, and the conditions in which that ability may be harnessed to positive social change.

Hobhouse's attempt to extend Spenser's focus on the dynamics of 'sociality' by broadening the idea of sympathy to an extension of feeling to the wider group was taken up by McDougall in a way that allowed for the dynamics of group feeling, in a psycho-physical model of collective behaviour in which interpersonal tenderness created a movement of feeling. This depended on an individual being open to that change which resulted from psychological interaction with another in situ--with gregariousness and tenderness acting together to effect change at the level of the individual, and conduct as the outcome of that change expressed at the level of the social--the result of the adoption of Tarde's model of social change based on small-scale psychological interactions rather than particular states of mind, or models of ethical action tied to moral reasoning. It was Trotter who most emphatically took up Tarde's focus on innovation as the basis of a model of social change based on the dynamics of psychological interaction, but it was Tansley's attention to McDougall's focus on tenderness that enabled him to identify the conditions under which herd sensitiveness would be converted into action on behalf of the group, specifying the pathway between sympathy and altruism through the proletariat's experience of 'common feeling'.

The concern McDougall raised, that a sympathetic induction of emotion could lead to a prominence of the self-affects--the preservation of the self in the face of the other's distress, by turning away--a response which was only mitigated by the influence of another instinct, could be seen as an acceptance of the limits of the concept of sympathy for expressing the possibility of social feeling as the basis of action in favour of the collective within associational life. But I would argue that it was instead in the shift from a language of sympathy and altruism to one of empathy, as it became adopted into the language of everyday emotion rather than aesthetics, that the link between feeling and futures-oriented thinking that was so much part of an interdisciplinary address to the question of the social in early twentieth century Britain was broken.

If empathy is most precisely defined as a 'complex imaginative process in which an observer simulates another person's situated psychological states while maintaining clear self-other differentiation', we must consider not only the premise of isomorphism that beleaguers the imaginative and simulatory processes, but also the implications of the assumption of a self-other divide, based as it is on a psychological model of the bounded self that refers empathy back to a (nineteenth-century) problem of 'communication' rather than 'being'. (78) In contrast, what is notable about psychological models in early twentieth-century Britain is that they ground individual relations in qualities of intersubjective feeling rather than individual impulses. (79) In effect, through their adaptation of evolutionary models of mind, Trotter's 'herd sensitiveness' and McDougall's 'elasticity of the mature mind' assume a plastic conception of human consciousness formed through a mode of experience conceived as transindividual rather than simply interpersonal, thereby also recasting the social. (80) This is the key to McDougall's foregrounding of tenderness as a key component in translating the ability to share the feelings of others into action in their interests, a movement of feeling that cannot be contained by a dichotomy of self- and other -regarding interests. The problem of tenderness therefore points up a critical element missing from the contemporary 'empathy-altruism hypothesis', which conflates a 'disposition to feel for others' (or 'with' them as some would have it) (81) with a disposition to act on behalf of others--a conflation which then becomes folded back into the more widely adopted definition of empathy as 'the natural capacity to share, understand, and respond with care to the affective states of others'. (82) As 'understanding' becomes the outcome of empathy as emotional simulation, so 'care' becomes the basis of individual response, highlighting the language of emotional labour evident in the dual meaning of care. But this fails to capture the emotional delight in the presence of others that Trotter stressed as a natural outcome of the herd instinct, the 'sweetness' of that satisfaction of the tender impulse that McDougall suggests follows from being able to act in the interests of another, and the hopeful character of a tender emotion directed against the 'cruelties' of a social order which fails to cultivate human potential and towards the development of an extensive and futures-oriented human feeling for Tansley. All these assume a simple mutuality as the precondition of tenderness--a mutuality that is also the precondition for the notion of 'kindness' that Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor demonstrate was the defining feature of emotional extensiveness in the age of sympathy. (83) It is this which the absence of an account of tenderness in contemporary accounts of the civic role of human feeling, and discourses of citizenship, social belonging and care points up: the lack of a sense of the potential that the capacity to 'affect and be affected' allows, and the inability of recognising the experience of the self as unfolding in the eventfulness of an encounter with the world that is assumed by an embedded understanding of social feeling. In the process of infusing empathy with a social value that it does not have, we may have lost a language that speaks directly not just to our capacity to respond to 'distant suffering', (84) but to the satisfactions and the consolations of association, the 'ordinary affects' of human presence and 'being'.



(1.) See Amy Coplan 'Understanding Empathy: Its Features and Effects', Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie (eds), Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, p3-4 for a summary of the integration of the concept of empathy into a wide range of contexts, including Obama's rhetoric. For the appropriation of compassion for conservative politics, see Kathleen Woodward 'Calculating Compassion' in Lauren Berlant (ed), Compassion: the Culture and Politics of an Emotion, New York and London, 2004, pp59-60.

(2.) The policy's aim, as it is rolled out in England, is to unleash 'social energy' and self-reliance through citizen action, encouraging social entrepreneurship and voluntary activity. See http://www.con, and It has been criticized as an attempt to dignify the withdrawal of state services and welfare support, ignoring the existence of widespread community-based volunteerism and lacking a programme directed to skills-development or employment stimulation, especially in areas of social deprivation.

(3.) See Coplan, op. cit., 2011, pp3-5.

(4.) The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) initiative is integrated across the UK primary and secondary national curriculum and includes a Theme on Getting On and Falling Out which focuses on empathy, managing feelings (especially anger) and social skills,

(5.) In 1996, Mary Gordon created Roots of Empathy in Toronto, which became a charitable not-for-profit organization in 2000. See Mary Gordon, Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, Thomas Allen, 2005. The UK Roots of Empathy programme is part of a 25m [pounds sterling] Big Lottery Fund Realising Ambition programme delivered through the charity Action for Children, see

(6.) For example the San Francisco based Insight Labs has partnered with Ashoka to promote empathy in the classroom through an experiential approach to relationships (the 'fourth r') 'in which one's future character is "educed" through a series of relationships'. However they stress the instrumental value of empathy education also: 'empathy is a key skill for the future economy, in which workers will need to rapidly form teams that collaborate successfully despite differences in background and culture' see:

(7.) See Franz de Waal, 'Empathy in Primates and other Mammals', in Jean Decety (ed), Empathy: From Bench to Bedside, Cambridge Mass, The MIT Press, 2012. Amongst others, Marc Bekoff uses research into animal behaviour to argue that human empathy is more 'animalistic' than is recognized and that animals as diverse as mice, monkeys and dogs demonstrate emotional and moral intelligence, and to promote compassion towards animals, Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter, New World Library, 2008. The continuity between human and animal emotions would not be a surprise to the psychologists discussed below. The idea that the human unconscious is shaped by a need for association has recently been adopted by David Brooks, in The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens, New York, Random House, 2011.

(8.) Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, London, Polity Press, 2009.

(9.) Although they may not adopt the term empathy, an emphasis on emotional extensiveness and recognition of commonality is significant in the work of Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, London, Penguin 2006; Richard Sennett, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2012. For an ethic of care in environmental politics, see Gay Hawkins, The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005.

(10.) Philip Fisher, The Vehement Passions, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 2002, pp3-4.

(11.) Manuel Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age, London, Polity Press, 2012.

(12.) Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 2005, pp1-15.

(13.) Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2007, p2.

(14.) Ibid., pp5, 21.

(15.) Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History, New York and London, WW Norton & Co Ltd, 2007, pp1-40

(16.) As evident in Carole Pateman's analysis of the 'fraternal contract', this is a limited conception of equality, see The Sexual Contract, Stanford University Press, 1988.

(17.) Caroline Steedman, Master and Servant: Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987, p187. Thomas Dixon points out that Darwin's moral language, contrasting love and sympathy with insubstantial passions and desires, was derived from eighteenth-century dissenting Anglican thought, see Thomas Dixon, The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, p132.

(18.) Rodhri Hayward, Resisting History: Religious Transcendence and the Invention of the Unconscious, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2007,

(19.) Comte argued in the 1850s that humans possessed an innate capacity for altruism in order to counter both the theological view of humans as innately sinful and selfish, and the idea of a God-given morality. It only later became closely tied to evolutionary biology, largely through the work of Herbert Spenser. See Dixon, op. cit., pp4-8.

(20.) Hunt, 2007, op. cit., p32.

(21.) Gustav Jahoda 'Theodor Lipps and the Shift from "Sympathy" to "Empathy"', Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 41, 2, (Spring 2005): 153-4; see Susan Lanzoni, 'Introduction: Emotion and the Sciences: Varieties of Empathy in Science, Art, and History', Science in Context, 25, 3, (2012): 289-302. See also Coplan and Goldie, 2011, op. cit.

(22.) Theodor Lipps, 1906, cited in Gustav Jahoda, 2005, op. cit., pp158-9.

(23.) Max Scheler, 1954, cited in Dan Sahavi and S0ren Overgaard, 'Empathy Without Isomorphism: A Phenomenological Account', Jean Decety (ed), Empathy: From Bench to Bedside, Cambridge, Mass and London, The MIT Press, p6.

(24.) Susan Lanzoni, 'Empathy in Translation: Movement and Image in the Psychological Laboratory', Science in Context, 25, 3, (2012): 306.

(25.) Jahoda, 2005, op. cit., pp155-59.

(26.) Sahavi and Overgaard, op. cit., p5. As Sahavi and Overgaard indicate, this definition of empathy is more congruent with motor mimicry and emotional contagion--neither of which are dependent on the recognition of distinct individuals or even a relation to the object--than with a definition of empathy that preserves the singularity of the other's experience, and both are clearly distinguished from the 'emotional sharing' that is indicated by sympathy. They point out that despite the objections to the dependence on 'inner imitation' in Lipps' account by early twentieth-century phenomenologists, many contemporary accounts, particularly those drive by neuroscience support his view of the role of mimicry and simulation.

(27.) Peder Anker, Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895-1945, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, p31.

(28.) Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie, 'Introduction', in Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, op. cit., 2011, px.

(29.) In Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759), an investigation of the 'sympathetic part of human nature' compared to the 'selfish part' outlined in the Wealth of Nations (1776), according to one mid-nineteenth-century commentator, H.T. Buckle, cited in Stefan Collini, 'The Culture of Altruism: Selfishness and the Decay of Motive', in Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850-1930, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991, p67.

(30.) Spencer characterised sympathy as a higher elaboration of the 'primitive' form of altruism exhibited between family members, and saw this as an emotion specifically directed towards those in the social group as a whole, i.e. as an undifferentiated set of individual beneficiaries of altruistic action, as a result of the evolution of higher forms of social emotion: 'the altruistic sentiments, which find their satisfaction in conduct that is regardful of others and so conduces to harmonious co-operation, are becoming stronger', Principles of Psychology: Vol II, New York and London, D. Appleton and Company, 1880/920: 619.

(31.) Susan Lanzoni 'Sympathy in Mind 1876-1900', Journal oof the History of Ideas, 70, 2, (2009): 270, henceforth SinM in the essay.

(32.) See Collini for Victorian moralists' antipathy to selfishness and a polarised view of feeling which saw it as either leading to socially desirable actions, or to 'a kind of emotional entropy assumed to be the consequence of absorption in purely selfish aims', and his caveat that this lasts well into the twentieth century, Collini, op. cit., pp66-67.

(33.) Dixon, 2008, op. cit., p276.

(34.) Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution, London, 1906, pp25 and 127, my emphasis.

(35.) The prevalence of models for drawing on altruistic motives was indicative of its still widespread currency to denote the highest expression of sympathy, see Trotter op. cit., but also Collini op. cit.

(36.) Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse, Development and Purpose: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Evolution, London, Macmillan and Co Ltd, 1913, p178, my emphasis.

(37.) Lanzoni, 'Sympathy in Mind'. As Lanzoni indicates, Titchener and Ward used empathy for different ends: 'If Ward understood empathy to be a form of personification, Titchener's scientific aim was to discover the elementary mental units of empathy', Susan Lanzoni, 'Empathy in Translation', 2012, op. cit.

(38.) Lanzoni, 'Empathy in Translation', op. cit., pp307-8.

(39.) It was also a deliberate move to distinguish his attempt to describe the functioning of the kinaesthetic imagination within an expanded field of situations objects and stimuli from a narrower aesthetic purpose. As Lanzoni states, 'According to Titchener's structural psychology, all higher thought could be reduced to more elemental aspects of mind, and experimental introspection showed empathy to be constituted of kinaesthetic images ... The new term "empathy" in early American academic psychology therefore delineated a kinaesthetic imaginative projection that took place on the basis of ontological difference between minds and things', ibid., p301, see also pp309-10.

(40.) When Thomas Dixon outlines the challenge to the Victorian culture of moral altruism that emerged at the turn of the century, he uses two exemplars: Nietzsche's diatribe against sympathy and altruism in general, and Herbert Spencer's biology in particular, as the enemy of individual freedom, and Moore's rejection of the 'naturalistic fallacy' of devising moral judgements about the value of actions by reference to non-ethical categories or through analogies to natural processes Dixon op. cit. 321ff, 355-69. To the extent that this 'turn' against the language of moral altruism was an objection to action being seen as a necessary moral pathway--as justification and grounding--for sympathetic emotions, one could see this as a preparation of the ground for a concept of empathy, which though it accounted for human experience, had no necessary relation to human conduct. But as Collini shows, the language of altruism in the analysis of social relations endured well into the twentieth century, particularly in the context of new liberalism and gradualist socialism, Collini op. cit., p83.

(41.) Jahoda, op. cit., p155. William McDougall, The Group Mind: A Sketch of the Principles of Collective Psychology With Some Attempt to Apply Them to the Interpretation of National Life and Character, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1920.

(42.) Gardner Murphy, Historical introduction to modern psychology 1929/1949, cited in Jahoda op. cit. Lanzoni indicates it was only integrated into wider circulation after World War Two, 'Empathy in Translation', op. cit., p322.

(43.) 'As sympathy was the mechanism through which one was subject to the influence of other minds, it could lead to conservative trends, a squelching of innovation and a tendency to overlook one's real, inner feelings. Bain claimed that mutual sympathy between members of a school class could serve as an impetus to learning, although there remained the danger that it could merely result in mediocrity. Helen Bosanquet noted in Mind that she was relieved that the interest in imitation was not prominent in England, where, "intelligent co-operation and organized response are far more operative than in either France or America". Her husband, Bernard Bosanquet, concurred, arguing that the emphasis on imitation and the propagation of ideas through suggestion did not account for difference, variation, and invention', Lanzoni 'Sympathy in Mind', op. cit., p276-7.

(44.) See Gillian Swanson, 'The Herd Instinct' and the 'Force of Life': Evolution, Collectivity and Human Fulfilment in Early Twentieth-Century Britain', forthcoming.

(45.) Gal Gerson, Margins of Disorder: New Liberalism and the Crisis of European Consciousness, New York, State University of New York Press, 2004, pp2-3.

(46.) Mathew Thomson, Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture and Health in Twentieth-Century Britain, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, p1.

(47.) This was a dialogue cultivated by the sociologist L.T. Hobhouse, and is evident in the early volumes of The Sociological Review, of which he was editor.

(48.) William McDougall, An Introduction to Social Psychology, London, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1908/1928, henceforth ItoSP in the essay,

(49.) Graham Wallas, The Great Society: A Psychological Analysis, London, Macmillan and Co. Ltd., 1914, p101.

(50.) A founder of the British Psychological Society and Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy, McDougall developed his model in lectures from 1906, see Carl Murchison (ed), A History of Psychology in Autobiography, Vol I, Worcester Mass, Clark University Press, 1930, p208. He lectured widely, moving across psychological, sociological and anthropological networks.

(51.) In his later work he argues against Spencer's morphological division of the social into 'constituent parts', promoting the importance of an interactive model, with the social understood as an 'organic whole', McDougall, The Group Mind, op. cit., p7.

(52.) Ibid., pp87 and 280-297. See Lisa Blackman, 'Affect, Relationality and the "Problem of Personality"', Theory Culture and Society, 25, 1: 32. See also 'Reinventing psychological matters: the importance of the suggestive realm of Tarde's ontology', Economy and Society, 36, 4, (2007): 574-596 for an examination of Tarde's translation of the concept of suggestion from a paradigm of contagion to one that acknowledged a diverse field of social influence and response, and its use in the early social psychological writings of William McDougall and Edward Ross. By fusing McDougall's model of instinct with 'habit', however, Blackman interprets his understanding of suggestion as a 'physiological automatism', under-representing the variable ways in which instincts can become expressed in conduct as a result of the way the different emotions associated with an instinct become attached to objects, in his model. This means the role of cognition, under the influence of acquired sentiment, is underplayed in her discussion of McDougall's model of suggestion, leading to her characterizing it in terms that he defines as a pathological form of 'suggestibility'.

(53.) Gustav Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Filiquarian Publishing, 1895; Yaap van Ginneken, Mass Movements in Darwinist, Freudian and Marxist Perspective: Trotter, Freud and Reich on War, Revolution and Reaction, 1900-1933, Amsterdam, Rodolphi, 2007; Blackman op. cit., p578. William Mazarella is particularly guilty of misreading McDougall, in his 'The Myth of the Multitude, or, Who's Afraid of the Crowd', Critical Inquiry, 36, (2010). He does this as a result of focusing on McDougall's fairly unexceptional comments on the 'brutality' and 'reckless spirit' of the crowd at the expense of his discussion of this as one side of the 'paradox' of group life, 'which may, and generally does in large measure, counteract these degrading tendencies, (with) the better kinds of group organisation (rendering) group life the great ennobling influence by aid of which alone man rises a little above the animals and may even aspire to fellowship with the angels' McDougall, The Group Mind, op. cit., p20.

(54.) For Tarde's emphasis on contingency and unpredictability see Blackman, 'Reinventing Psychological Matters', op. cit., p579.

(55.) McDougall and Trotter develop their models in ways that reflect their different orientation, with McDougall drawing on psychological models of Janet, William James and Alexander Shand, while Trotter draws on evolutionary biology including those of Karl Pearson and R.A. Fisher. But they were both members of the Sociological Society and influenced by L.T. Hobhouse.

(56.) In other words, if innovation was the mechanism of culture, suggestion was its necessary condition.

(57.) Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1919, pp77-8. This he attributes to Freud's rigidity of intellect (a type of mentality that Trotter identifies as the greatest obstacle to human progress), henceforth Instincts in the essay.

(58.) Ibid., p79. Chertok and Stengers' argument that the rise of the Freudian model meant that (the more socially founded process of) suggestion was supplanted by an ego-related model of 'transference' closer to the projection of feeling associated with empathy at this time is instructive here, see Lisa Blackman 'Reinventing psychological matters', op. cit., p580.

(59.) In his second essay, published in 1909, 'Sociological Applications of the Psychology of the Herd Instinct', op. cit., 1919.

(60.) As access to travel and education has increased the general mass of intercommunication, Trotter argues, alongside this 'altruism has come more and more into recognition as a supreme moral law ... with consideration for others ... a test of virtue. Nature has been hinting to (man during his existence as a social animal) ... altruism must become the ultimate sanction of (man's) moral code', ibid., pp123-4.

(61.) Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, London and Vienna, The International Psych-Analytical Press, 1922. See Daniel Pick, 'Freud's "Group Psychology" and the History of the Crowd', History Workshop Journal, 40, 1, 1995. As James Strachey points out in his translator's note, Freud used the more comprehensive German word 'Masse', to refer to his own object of analysis, but also to refer to McDougall's 'group' and Le Bon's 'foule', which would normally be translated as 'crowd, and Strachey uses 'group' to translate all these terms, so the distinctions between crowd psychology and group psychology are only evident in his detailed discussion of their accounts. The lack of exact translations for these terms in the three languages may have been responsible for some of the later conflations of crowd and group psychology, and the assumption of a link to (and the derogation of) the 'mass mind',

(62.) Trotter, op. cit., 1909, p29; Freud, ibid., pp83-89.

(63.) Freud, ibid., pp116-18.

(64.) Arthur George Tansley, The New Psychology and Its Relation to Life, London, George Allen and Unwin, 1920, p137, henceforth TNP in the essay, see Laura Cameron and John Forrester, 'Tansley's Psychoanalytic Network: An Episode Out of the Early History of Psychoanalysis in England', Psychoanalysis and History, 2, 2, (2000): 235-37.

(65.) McDougall saw instincts as the origin of all emotional responses--or, as he argued in Introduction to Social Psychology, 'emotional excitement' was attendant on 'instinctual behaviour'. His definition of instinct, widely adopted in this period, was cited by Tansley, McDougall, 1908/1928, op. cit., p25.

(66.) McDougall goes on to indicate that 'this truth has been clearly expressed by Herbert Spencer'. Spenser also follows Bain in his identification of the tender emotion, and the contexts in which it is excited, stressing its association with the love of the helpless, see Spenser op. cit., pp563 and 625.

(67.) In Introduction to Social Psychology McDougall defines tenderness as a primary emotion associated with the parental instinct: 'Some of the authors who have paid most attention to the psychology of the emotions, notably Mr A.F. Shand, do not recognise tender emotion as primary; others, especially Mr Alex Sutherland and M. Ribot, recognize it as a true primary and see in its impulse the root of all altruism; Mr Sutherland, however, like Adam Smith and many other writers, has confused tender emotion with sympathy, a serious error of incomplete analysis, which Ribot has avoided', McDougall, ibid., pp56-7.

(68.) Cameron and Forrester, op. cit., 2000.

(69.) This first took place in 1922 and again in 1923-24, ibid., pp66, 71 and 79.

(70.) Tansley, op. cit., p251.

(71.) Abigail A. Marsh, 'Empathy and Compassion: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective', Jean Decety (ed), Empathy: From Bench to Bedside, Cambridge, Mass, The MIT Press, 2012, p191.

(72.) Adam Morton, 'Empathy for the Devil', in Coplan and Goldie (eds), op. cit., p321.

(73.) Coplan and Goldie, op. cit., xxiv-xlviii.

(74.) Amy Coplan 'Understanding Empathy: Its Features and Effects', in Coplan and Goldie (eds), op. cit., p5. Coplan's definition is perhaps the most useful, designed to accommodate the insights of recent psychological and neuro-scientific research 'a complex [affective and cognitive] imaginative process in which an observer simulates another person's situated psychological states', based on processes of 'affective matching, other-oriented perspective-taking, and self-other differentiation', ibid., pp5-6. This would be amenable to those psycho-social inquiries outlined above, given its distinction from self-oriented perspective taking (McDougall's 'turning away') and the emphasis on moving us beyond our own experiences as is Coplan's distinction of empathy from emotional contagion as an automatic and involuntary physiological process, ibid., pp8-9. Coplan also emphasises that empathy is 'a representation of experiences' and so offers the possibility of 'experiential understanding', ibid., pp17-18.

(75.) Zahavi and Overgaard, op. cit., p10.

(76.) Lipps, 1900, cited in Zahavi and Overgaard, ibid., p9.

(77.) The Roots of Empathy programme aims to deliver 'social change child by child', which in the UK is delivered through a programme nine-monthly classroom visits by volunteer mothers with young babies to encourage children and young people 'to understand the baby's needs and emotions and gain and understanding of how to care for a baby safely'.

(78.) See John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication, Chicago and London, Chicago University Press, 1999.

(79.) The force of the phenomenological critique by Husserl, Stein and Merleau-Ponty was that the limits of empathy are established by its distinction between self and other, which structures the model of experience it offers. But that distinction also leads them to dismiss the idea that emotional contagion, imitation or simulation are at the core of empathy and define it instead as a form of intentionality directed at other experiencing subject, Zahavi and Overgaard, op. cit., pp7-10.

(80.) McDougall, op. cit., p99. Although they both consider social change at the micro-political level of individual psychological interactions, we may find Simondon's 'more than one' model of transindividual relations--see Muriel Combes, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual, Cambridge, Mass, The MIT Press, 2013--has more purchase than the 'one and the many' of Tarde's model of social change, with a subject conceived as an actor conceived as a 'node' within a 'network of interlocking processes', see Blackman, op. cit., 575.

(81.) See Marsh, 2012, op. cit. p192.

(82.) This assumption has been challenged by C. Daniel Batson, though his aim is to show that 'empathic concern produces altruistic motivation' against arguments that actions on behalf of others must always relate to egoistic motivation, and to distinguish between empathy-induced altruism and altruism deriving from a moral motive. He has no explanation for the alliance of empathy with 'concern' rather than, for example, 'cruelty', however. See 'The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis: Issues and Implications', in Jean Decety (ed), op. cit., pp42-49 and Jean Decety, 'Introduction: Why is Empathy So Important', in Decety (ed), ibid.

(83.) Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor, On Kindness, London, Hamish Hamilton, 2009.

(84.) Luc Boltanski, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
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