College of Arts and Sciences

Germanic Studies

Fritz Breithaupt

Fritz Breithaupt

Professor, Germanic Studies

Curriculum Vitae

Fritz's lab

Fritz in the news:



Ph.D. 1997, German literature, Johns Hopkins University

Fields of Interest

Literature and cognitive science; empathy; narrative; German & European literature, philosophy, and culture since 1700; aesthetics; intellectual history of money, Goethe

About Fritz Breithaupt

Fritz Breithaupt is professor of Germanic Studies, adjunct professor in Comparative Literature, and affiliated professor of Cognitive Science at Indiana University. He has published six books, co-edited four volumes, and has published about 50 full-length articles. His latest books provide humanities responses to work in cognitive science, addressing issues of empathy, narrative thinking, and moral reasoning. For example, he suggests that human empathy typically involves three (and not two) people. By training, he is a comparatist. His work on Goethe and the romantics, as well as on European literature and philosophy since 1740 is ongoing. He also runs a lab, the Experimental Humanities Lab, in which he uses methods of story retelling to develop a corpus of basic narratives. At Indiana University, he has served as chair of the department, was the director of the West European Studies Institute, was a co-founder of an official EU-Center of Excellence, interim dean of the Hutton Honors College, and served as acting director of several other institutes, such as the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies. He has received many honors and distinctions for his work, including an Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellowship and was the first Distinguished Remak Scholar at Indiana University. He writes frequently for the German press, especially Die Zeit and Zeit Campus. When he is not writing or teaching, he spends time with his family or catches up to his fellow cyclists.


Die Dunklen Seiten der Empathie (The Dark Sides of Empathy)

Die Dunklen Seiten der Empathie (The Dark Sides of Empathy), Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2017

Empathy is considered the basis of moral action. But if we examine this more carefully, the ability to »empathize with other people« proves itself to be a prerequisite for deliberate humiliation and cruelty. Additionally, even well-meaning compassion has many unintended consequences. It is for these reasons that we must investigate especially the dark, hitherto repressed aspects of empathy in order to achieve a better society. The book invites his readers to consider these facets and in doing so leads us from narcissism and Nietzsche to helicopter parents and Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. After Cultures of Empathy, his successful first book on empathy, a topic that has been neglected in ethical discourse, Fritz Breithaupt now presents another study on this most important philosophical subject.

Kultur der Ausrede

Kultur der Ausrede. Eine Erzähltehorie (2012) (Culture of the Excuse. A Theory of Narrative)

The latest book, Kultur der Ausrede [Culture of Excuse], Suhrkamp Verlag, March 2012, proposes a theory of narrative that places narrative in structural proximity to excuse making. The making of excuses, it is proposed, may have been the evolutionary origin of narrating: to get off the hook and avoid punishment. Chapters of the book present aspects of this narrative theory, examine how early legal history and narrative may be intertwined, and provides a chapter on the relationship of literature and narrative. The book provides some starting ideas for the new proposed book, a book that nevertheless takes a different starting point with its "experimental humanities" approach. Some English language articles preceded the book, including an article for Poetics Today. Suhrkamp Verlag selected the book for the Book of the Month award.

Kulturen der Empathie/ Culturas de la Empatía (2009/2011)

Kulturen der Empathie

Fritz' third book, Kulturen der Empathie [Cultures of Empathy], Suhrkamp Verlag, May 2009 (2nd printing October 2009), improved Spanish version Cultura de la Empatia, Katz: 2011, provides a humanities response to findings in neuroscience concerning empathy. Most theories of empathy assume that the primary scene of empathy involves two people: one who has empathy with another. The book's hypothesis, however, is that human empathy derives from a scene of three individuals: One individual observes a conflict between two others and takes a side. Empathy is now possible, partly to justify one's choice. The book has been intensively reviewed by academic journals in the humanities and in psychology, and also the German print media. Die ZEIT lauds "the combination of scientific precision and highest clarity." The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung devoted a half page article (page 6 of main section) to the debate between a recent book by Giacomo Rizzolatti, the discoverer of mirror neurons, and my book. The review does not fail to note that some of the arguments are "speculative," compared to the work of an empirical scientist, but takes it seriously as a humanities response. The work is ongoing, (see, for example, recent texts for Emotion Review.

Der Ich-Effekt des Geldes

Der Ich-Effekt des Geldes (The Ego-Effect of Money) (2008)

The second book, Der Ich-Effekt des Geldes: Zur Geschichte einer Legitimationsfigur [The Ego-Effect of Money], appeared at Fischer Verlag in August 2008 in paperback. Fritz' assumption is that certain concepts, such as "the self," only exist by exerting pressure on people to conform and to prove these concepts. The self, he suggests, became at some point in the eighteenth century such an ego-compulsion, a compulsion to prove the self. In particular, the book examines the connection between the concepts of money and the self from the mid eighteenth century to the present. It is during this period that concepts of both money and self are propelled into the center of many discourses and practices, and it is the assumption of his study that their rapid development can best be understood if they are seen in light of each other. In short, the hypothesis is that both concepts help each other surpass their particular limitations: "money" enables the self to justify itself both formally and materially, and "the self" provides a site and the structure for accumulation. The book is organized by moments of crisis within the concepts of self and money. In fact, evidence for the hypothesis of a co-history can be adduced from the fact that these crises and re-articulations occur simultaneously and in a related manner in the years around the 1770s, 1797, 1848, 1871, 1900, 1919, 1955, and 1979.

Jenseits der Bilder

Jenseits der Bilder: Goethes Politik der Wahrnehmung (2000) (Beyond Images: Goethe's Politics of Perception)

His first book, Jenseits der Bilder: Goethes Politik der Wahrnehmung [Beyond Images: Goethe's Politics of Perception] appeared in 2000 (Rombach Verlag) in a series edited by Gerhard Neumann. The book attempts to determine the political dimensions of Goethe's varying theories of perception in both his literary and scientific writings. Goethe is perhaps the first author who considered "viewing" to be a culturally coded act. While most readers consider(ed) Goethe's changing theories of perception simply as inconsistent, the hypothesis is that his constant revisions are part of his program to prevent the totalization of one single theory of perception and the reduction of possible realities to the one reality. For Goethe, the corrective power of the aesthetic is the political. In his review of the book, Géza von Molnár generously writes that my "presentation of the Elective Affinities . . . will hold a place of equal importance with Walter Benjamin's."

Germanic Studies
Global and International Studies Building 3103
355 North Jordan Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405-1105
Phone: 812-855-1553
Fax: 812-855-8927