A Locked Room: The Significance of Empathy and Being Seen, Particularly for Older Adults

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Joachim Duyndam aims to understand the situation of older adults by exploring the human condition of being fundamentally “isolated” in one’s self-experience and the supportive and liberating effect of empathy in breaking this self-isolation. Based on contemporary theories of emotions, he develops an understanding of empathy related to the inner experiential side of emotions. According to his reception of these theories, emotions have a “rational” publicly perceptible “outer side” and an intra-subjective “inner side”, whereby the latter makes people isolated in their self-experience. Using Michel Tournier’s philosophical recounting of the classical story of Robinson Crusoe, Duyndam argues that empathy directed at the inner side of someone’s experiences provides some form of recognition, that is, completion of one’s unique self, which is a prerequisite for experiencing meaning in life. Duyndam reveals an underlying structure of social isolation and loneliness and the vital role of empathy for all dimensions of meaning in life. This is particularly relevant since existential loneliness and social isolation are significant later-life risks.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMeaning and Aging
Subtitle of host publicationHumanist Perspectives
EditorsJoachim Duyndam, Anja Machielse
PublisherPalgrave MacMillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-55806-1
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-55805-4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2024

Publication series

NameStudies in Humanism and Atheism
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISSN (Print)2634-6656
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6664

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