Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Virginia Held

Committee Members

Iakovos Vasiliou

Carol Gould

Linda Alcoff

Jesse Prinz

Subject Categories

Ethics and Political Philosophy | Feminist Philosophy


empathy, virtue, character, relationality, care


This dissertation focuses on two questions. First, is empathy a virtue? Second, if it is, then why is it neglected, even ostracized, in contemporary discourses on virtue? In response to the first question, this dissertation develops and defends a distinction between empathic practices and moral excellence in those practices, which is termed ‘empathic attunement’. This excellence is a virtue not because of its connection to standard altruistic behavior, but because it is a unique way of caring for, respecting, and understanding others’ emotional experiences in response to the need to be emotionally understood and the good of being emotionally understood. This conceptualization of empathic attunement leads to the second question of why empathy is largely absent from virtue ethics. The fault lies partly with the standard dispositionalist framework for virtue, which takes the virtues to be psychological states of agents, rather than relationships agents hold with relevant persons and social structures. Empathic attunement is dependent on reliable empathic connections with others and, therefore, better suited to a conceptualization of virtue that more deeply incorporates these relational ties. Accordingly, a new account of character traits as embodied relational dispositions is explicated and its potential for expansion to other virtues is explored.