Contemporary societies are marked by deep inequalities grounded in collective failures to recognize the histories, needs, and experiences of marginalized social groups. What are the strategies that can help individuals become more responsive to social realities and perspectives that differ significantly from their own?
In Reimagining Sympathy,Recognizing Difference: Insights from Adam Smith, Millicent Churcher attends to recent debates over the imagination as a resource for social and political reform, and highlights the central relevance of Adam Smith’s voice to these debates. Smith, best known for his work on economics, may seem an unlikely figure to draw upon in this context. However, his nuanced account of ‘sympathy’—conceived as an imaginative and reflective capacity that develops within and through social experience—greatly enriches the role of imagination in fostering mutual understanding and solidarity among a diverse citizenry.
Churcher critically explores and extends Smith’s view that if sympathy is to bind people together across their differences rather than divide them, it requires work at the level of individual practice, as well as the support of wider social structures. By drawing Smith into conversation with contemporary debates in social and political theory, this monograph addresses the pressing question of what is required from individuals and institutions to remedy abject failures to recognize and respond ethically to difference.
Introduction / 1. Transformative Imaginings: (Mis)Recognition and the Social
Imaginary / 2. ‘The Secret Chain’: Adam Smith on Sympathy / 3. Failures of the Sympathetic Imagination / 4. Sympathy Reclaimed? Overcoming the Limits of the Sympathetic Imagination / 5. ‘A Happy Commerce of the Passions’: Sympathy, Sociability, and Institutions
Millicent Churcher is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney. Millicent’s research interests include the early modern sentimentalist philosophy of David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as contemporary studies on empathy, emotions, social imaginaries, epistemic injustice, and the (mis)recognition of difference. She has published work on these topics in Social Epistemology and Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review. Millicent’s latest research focuses on how institutions may constructively engage the imaginations and affects of social agents to facilitate ethical and political transformation.