• Lammert Holger
  • John T. Giordano


Empathy; Sympathy; Compassion; Attachment; phenomenology


This paper will explore how the concept of compassion
is understood by the Western phenomenological tradition
of Max Scheler, in contrast to how it is understood
by Theravāda Buddhism. In the Western tradition
the distinctions and connections between ‘empathy,’
‘sympathy’ and ‘compassion’ involve considerations about
morality and ethical theory. Max Scheler combines his
phenomenology with psychological approaches to consider
how one individual can relate to the mental states of another
other individuals. Scheler, distinguishes between empathy
and sympathy to avoid the need to experience another’s
suffering directly. This distinction is made in Theravāda
Buddhism, where emotional contagion is understood as
a form of attachment. But Scheler unlike Buddhism, still
emphasizes the autonomous subject of phenomenology
which is central to ethical action. Central to Theravāda
Buddhism is the recognition of suffering and dealing
with the feelings that arise. The individual sheds their
attachments and this leads to a wholesome kamma, as stated
in the first of the Four Noble Truths. So the Theravada
Buddhist tradition focuses on the alleviation of suffering
not only in the mind of the individual but of humanity in
general. Since Theravāda Buddhism stresses non-self, this
moves it beyond Scheler’s approach. This approach to compassion is not one of ‘feeling with’ or ‘suffering with’
another specific individual, but one that actively addresses
human suffering in general.

Author Biography

John T. Giordano

Assumption University


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