The centenary of Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology was recognised
in 2013 with the publication of a volume of essays dedicated to his work
(edited by Stanghellini and Fuchs). Leading phenomenological-psychopathologists
and philosophers of psychiatry examined Jaspers notion of empathic understanding
and his declaration that certain schizophrenic phenomena are ‘un-understandable’.
The consensus reached by the authors was that Jaspers operated with a narrow
conception of phenomenology and empathy and that schizophrenic phenomena can
be understood through what they variously called second-order and radical empathy.
This article offers a critical examination of the second-order empathic stance
along phenomenological and ethical lines. It asks: (1) Is second-order empathy
(phenomenologically) possible? (2) Is the second-order empathic stance an ethically
acceptable attitude towards persons diagnosed with schizophrenia? I argue that
second-order empathy is an incoherent method that cannot be realised. Further, the
attitude promoted by this method is ethically problematic insofar as the emphasis
placed on radical otherness disinvests persons diagnosed with schizophrenia from a
fair chance to participate in the public construction of their identity and, hence, to
redress traditional symbolic injustices.