I empathize with the potato. What cuts the potato cuts me. I don't believe the potato has a mind. Therefore empathy does not require that the empathic person has a theory of mind (or ToM, as some scientific types put it). The empathic person does not posit but simply feels. Were science to discover that minds do not exist and that everything currently attributed to mind represents some other phenomenon or set of phenomena, the problem of empathy would remain what it is: what does it mean that a person can intimately feel what happens to the body of another living entity? (The problem of the autistic person's purported lack of empathy might appear differently were science to disbelieve in minds, but that's another story.)
What does empathy for the potato mean? There's a russet potato with some other russet potatoes hanging in a basket in the kitchen. I'm going to peel off its skin, cut it into chunks, toss the chunks into a pan with some onion, pepper and garlic, rub oil on the lot of them, and put the pan into the oven. Once it's good and roasted I'm going to eat the potato. Should I feel nauseated? If I reflect upon it perhaps it is just a little bit nauseating.
I'm not going to liberate the potato. What would that mean? Growing more pototoes? Just throwing it away? Although I have thrown away food, some force within me rebels against throwing away food, and I can't help but think of the potato as food. It would be better to be just a little bit nauseated than to throw away food. Empathy with the potato is thus a delicate balance between throwing up and throwing away food.
Am I worthy of this potato? Is my life so wonderful that I can just assume that I'm worthy of any potato, including this potato? I suspect that living my life fully means that I must interrogate my eating of this very potato. How am I going to live that I should eat this potato?
Why this potato and not another? Is philosophy capable of talking about the accidentality of existence, or must it abolish or suppress the accidental? Adriana Cavarero says that the accidental needs care, and she says, "To tell the story that every existence leaves behind itself is perhaps the oldest act of such care" (Relating Narratives, p. 53). How would you like it if I roasted you for supper, told the story of how you came to end up on my plate, and called that caring? Let's be honest for a moment about the psychology of kitchen stories, about the nausea and the brutality they conceal.
Is it really proper for me to celebrate this potato? Would it be too poetic to call attention to its chthonic existence? What about the stickiness of its milky blood on the blade of the knife? In my dreams I'm drawing close to Proxima Centauri. Were I to tell you about the dreams of this potato, huddled up against the stars in the Idaho night, you would be right to suspect me of prevaricating, of covering over a great catastrophe of being. So I shouldn't live for my dreams?