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Apr 30 2019 - 11:10 AM
Phenomenological Empathy and the Constitution of Self and World

Defining Empathy in Phenomenology

Common Ground

Rejection of Lipp: empathy=projection of self into other

Converging definition

Empathy is directly experiencing someone else as having an intentional experience.

What empathy is NOT:

  • mind-reading
  • affective: "I know exactly how you feel"
  • primordial
  • having beliefs about the other

What empathy IS:

  • other-directed perceiving
  • direct and immediate perception: other appears before me in-person
  • cognitive
  • involves appreciation of similarity (pairing) and irreducible differentiation

What empathy INVOLVES:

  • direct perceptual experience of other's body and activity
  • apperceptive recognition of the other as center of his conscious experience
  • apprehension of the other as "subject-object" and "co-subject"

What empathy NEVER INVOLVES:

  • the apperceived consciousness of the other being brought to direct perception
  • this makes empathy only analogous to object-perception

Heidegger: Being and Time

Primacy of "We:"

  • Basic, primordial “we,”being-with-others=das Man, das Sein 
  •  We never have a subject without a world 
  • We get to experience of others from our experience of being thrown into the world 
  • Others appear to us as different from objective presence. We meet others ‘at work,’ in their being-in-the-world, focused together on a theme (not primarily focused on other)-learning  
  • Empathy doesn’t constitute being-with, but rather, being-with makes empathy possible (shared engagement with the world more basic than understanding of other as other) 
  • Contemporary: Hans Bernhardt Schmid 





Primacy of "I"

Husserl, Stein, Sartre, Scheler



Husserl: Cartesian Meditations

Driving Concern: how can the first-person perspective of phenomenology account for the constitution of the objective world?

Reduction to Sphere of Ownness:

I disregard all constitutional effects of intentionality that relate to others.

What is left?

  • first-personal flow of experience
  • objects constituted as unities
  • I rule and govern my field of experience (albiet in a reduced way)

Primacy of "We"

Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty?


Primacy of individual

Constitution of the personality


What does "constitution" mean for Husserl?

Constitution occurs when, by functioning of certain experiential resources, a kind of stable unity is produced in experience. There is typically an aspect of experience that undergoes a kind of interpretation, another that interprets it, and, thirdly, the constituted item, distinct from the constituting resources.


But first, what exactly is constitution? To make a very concise suggestion, constitution must be understood as a process that allows for manifestation and signification, i.e., it must be understood as a process that permits that which is constituted to appear, unfold, articulate, and show itself as what it is (cf. Hua XV 434). Contrary to another widespread misunderstanding, however, this process does not take place out of the blue, as if it was deliberately and impulsively initiated and dominated ex nihilo by the transcendental ego. As HusserI points out in a manuscript from 1931, constitution has two primal sources: the primal ego and the primal non-ego. Both are inseparably one, and thus abstract if regarded on their own.

...I think one is entitled to conclude that he conceives of constitution as a process involving several intertwined transcendental constituents: both subjectivity and world (and ultimately also intersubjectivity, cf. below). Obviously, this should not be taken as a new form of dualism. On the contrary, the idea is exactly that subjectivity and world cannot be understood in separation from each other. Thus, Husserl' s position seems very close to the one adopted by Merleau-Ponty in the following passage:

"The world is inseparable from the subject, but from a subject which is nothing but a project of the world, and the subject is inseparable from the world, but from a world which the subject itself projects. The subject is a being-in-the-world and the world remains "subjective" since its texture and articulations are traced out by the subject's movement of transcendence." (PhP 491-2/430) 

...As he points out in some of his later writings, the constitutive performance is characterized by a kind of reciprocity insofar as the constituting agent is itself constituted in the process of constitution. Thus, Husserl claims that the constitution of the world as such implies a mundanization of the constituting subject CHua I 130/CM 99), and he occasionally speaks about the reciprocal co-dependency existing between the constitution of space and spatial objects on the one hand and the self-constitution of the ego and the body on the other. (Ideas III)


Roman Ingarden on Stein's work with Husserl


constitution of self as intersubjective. Reciprocal constituting/constituted relationship.

See Zahavi

Posted in: Rhizr|By: Iyob Gebremariam|101 Reads