• July 5-6, 2018
  • Jnanapravaha Institute, Queens Mansion, Third Floor, G. Talwatkar Marg, Fort, Mumbai

Sympathy was a “problem” for the ancient Greeks.  It receives its own chapter, for example, in the book of Problemata attributed to Aristotle, whose author wonders why bodily action of one kind prompts a similar action or gesture in another animal, human or non-human.  Why does one person yawn when they see someone else yawning?  Why does the experience of seeing someone tortured on the rack cause us to feel pain “in our mind”?  This last instance bears similarities to how we imagine sympathy today, as an interpersonal phenomenon.  But the Aristotelian discussion also points to the differences between ancient Greco-Roman and contemporary ideas about sympathy.  Do we feel the pain of the one tortured because of our “common nature?” the author asks.  Or are there emanations that travel from the person in pain to the one watching.  Sympathy in antiquity is a phenomenon not only physiological but physical, embedded in the relations between all kinds of being in the natural world—rocks, stars, plants, animals.  Ancient Greek sympathy is both strange and familiar; it can defamiliarize our sense of the concept and its possibilities through the navigation of sameness and difference.

While Aristotle and the ancient Greeks remain a point of departure for many, our workshop hopes to offer an in-depth exploration of sympathy from a historical and cross-cultural perspective.  Participants come from ancient Greco-Roman studies and from other backgrounds.  We refer to Aristotle but not only to Aristotle and not only to Greek culture but rather to a wide array of texts, ideas, and materials.  Drawing on practitioners from a variety of disciplines, we seek a discussion of sympathy that considers the concept in affective and non-affective terms; as a means of exploring relationships between animals, plants, inanimate objects, and human beings; and as a cultural, social, and political phenomenon.

The seminar will be held at Jnanapravaha-Mumbai and is co-sponsored by Princeton University (Postclassicisms) and University College London (with the help of Global Engagement Funds and funds provided by the A. G. Leventis Trust).

For more information, please contact Phiroze Vasunia at

Image credit: Stefania Strouza, “Anaximander’s Mind” (2017)


Thursday, July 5

Introductions and Welcome

Rohit Goel (Jnanapravaha Institute): “Sympathy, Narcissism, Anxiety, Love”
Response: Joshua Billings (Princeton)


Chiara Cappelletto (University of Milan): “On Sympathy; or, How to Escape Empathy”
Response: Merrick Anderson (Princeton)


Neha Choksi, Artist Talk
Chair: Phiroze Vasunia (UCL)

Friday, July 6

Aakash Singh Rathore (Jawaharlal Nehru University and Indian Institute of Advanced Study)
Response: Andrew Hui (Yale-NUS)


Ben Kafka (New York University): “Unsympathetic”
Response: Supriya Rai (K. J. Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies)


Kanchana Mahadevan (University of Mumbai), “Decolonizing Sympathy”
Response: Wintor Scott (Princeton)

Siby George (IIT Bombay): “Against Mentalism and Naturalism: Heidegger’s Ecstatic Notion of Sympathy/Empathy”
Response: Brooke Holmes (Princeton)


General Discussion