In as much as "empathy" has replaced "sympathy" in the U.S. in nearly every context in which the later was formerly used, especially in educated speech, if usage detirmines meaning, then "empathy" means "sympathy" (note: contrary to what it's users may insist, even vehemently). So, I propose meaning three: 3. sympathy. I fear a sh-t storm if I were to actually do it, although, it is entirely justified. "empathy" (now) = "sympathy". I am 66, so that I am old enough to have seen the meanings of many words change in my lifetime e.g. empathy, gay, minority, gender (imagine Lady McBeth; "ungender me"). —This comment was unsigned.
What is empathy?
I did my empathy work about five years ago, when the major link to empathy was to a play about seducing psych patients. Since then, I hear empathy described verbally exactly as I describe it, but not in books--or here.
It is pretty-well accepted that empathy, which includes "recognition of other," is a distinct neurological function that creates a connection to the "other's" neurology in way that is unique to certain higher mammals that evolved along independent paths: Humans, Apes, Whales, Elephants, and possibly others. Lower levels of empathy, or natural affection according to Darwin, are found not only in mammals but birds, such as doves that symbolize love, that (or who) are said to be direct links to the dinosaurs.
This is said to happen through w:mirror neurons and w:spindle neurons are also said to be involved. As it happens, mirror neurons may just be specialized pyramid neurons, or may even be an abstraction of much higher functioning that we cannot describe.
The existing "classical" definitions need to go in the trash. Altruism, for instance, is defined in terms of "jumping on a hand-grenade to save your fellows" which reminds me of the format of the DSM-IV: a military repair manual. Full mental functioning is necessary to describe mental functioning, but I don't think that the present academic model requires it--or even leverages it, as I am experiencing in my master's psych counseling work.
--John Bessa 20:14, 17 October 2011 (UTC)
I was so enthused by this comment that my original reply raged outta control and became something I need to edit down! I'm now working on that over on my discussion page. :D Charlie Sanders (talk) 08:04, 16 May 2018 (UTC)
Capacity or identification/understanding?
Usage Note Seems Wrong
The current definitions for "empathy" seem pretty good, and they match other dictionaries I use, as well as my own understanding. However, the usage note seems to suggest the opposite of correct usage. "Sympathy" is not weaker -- "I care for you" is much more emotional than "I understand your feelings." Empathy = understanding of feelings of others. Sympathy = sharing of feelings of others. Would someone like to fix the usage note here? --22.214.171.124 23:22, 30 December 2018 (UTC)