The Case of Empathy: Understanding Why Sherlock Holmes is an Empathy Expert

Bhoomika Mhatre
Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts
Symbiosis International (Deemed University)


Empathy is conventionally defined as the ability to understand the feelings and emotions of another person. However, there are two types of empathy and this definition is restricted to the emotional type (affective empathy). This paper sheds light on the lesser known type of empathy, which  is known as cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy allows an individual to understand the perspectives of other people. It has various applications, which this paper demonstrates by emphasising its irreplaceable role in detective fiction. By doing so, the paper also illustrates the relationship between cognitive empathy and rationality. In order to better understand how the detective      uses empathy, the character of Sherlock Holmes is studied by analysing the literary works of Arthur Conan Doyle. Separate sections are dedicated to determining Holmes’ humanity, examining Dr. John Watson’s role as the companion-narrator, and understanding the effect achieved by the narrative structure. Two novels were selected for analysis – A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles. On finding several instances that support my argument, I conclude that Sherlock Holmes is a highly empathetic detective, who uses empathy to his advantage at all times. 

Keywords: empathy, Sherlock Holmes, cognitive, detective.