Philosophy and neuroscience: relation between mirror neurons and empathy

Santiago Arteaga


Ever since the discovery of mirror neurons in the ventral premotor cortex (area F5) of the macaque brain, in the late 1980s, by Rizzolatti and his University of Parma colleagues, the question was put forward whether the same type of neurons could be found in the human brain. Could it be possible that these same neurons that activate not only when the monkey reaches for or takes a bite out of some sort of food -like a nut or a raisin- but also when someone picks it up to hand it to the monkey, be found in our brains? This essay does not have the scope to consider all concepts of empathy nor to include all relevant studies on mirror neurons concerning its relation to empathy. That being so, I shall take the following path: 1) introduce mirror neurons, what they are, where they are and their implications; 2) consider some aspects of empathy from different areas of research and present Edith Stein and Theodor Lipps's ideas; 3) relate the philosophers' ideas with the discussion put forward by Iacoboni, Gallese, Rizzolatti and Ramachandran concerning mirror neurons and empathy.


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