In the opening lines of the excellently compiled essay collection by Luís Aguiar de Sousa and Ana Falcato titled Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity and the Values (originally published August 2019), it becomes clear that the innovative aspect of this work is not the tried and true cognitive discussion of the role the complex phenomenon of intersubjectivity plays in our lives, although most of section I is dedicated to this “classical” discussion. It is rather the volume’s focus on the axiological parts of our existence that is of particular interest. In this review, I will present a short summary of the articles and essays presented in the volume, as well as offer commentary and critique of their central themes. I have selected only a few due to length constraints. I also present some further discussions in order to contextualize for the wider debates in phenomenology.
We can begin with the introduction, for there it is stated that the approach the collection intends to take, is axiological. According to the editors, it is the case that “what makes this volume special and distinct from other collective works on the phenomenology of intersubjectivity is its insistence on the axiological—that is, the ethical and existential—dimension of phenomenology’s account of intersubjectivity.” (2) However, further explication or discussion dedicated to accounting for what exactly the field of “axiology” denotes is not pursued.
“Within continental philosophy, phenomenology is more widely understood and engaged with than axiology. As such, it would have been prudent to dedicate more time to accounting for what exactly axiology is. Especially since “there has been a renewed interest in phenomenology in recent Anglo-American philosophy” (1).
This seems to imply the equal familiarity between the two on behalf of the readers though; phenomenology on the one hand, and axiology on the other, where it can be claimed that between the two, phenomenology is arguably the more known. This is not necessarily the case, however. That said, it is indeed true, as the editors also claim, that the essays in the collection quickly move from the more classical debates about how to account for the presence of the other, (the realm that is often most interested in the cognition-focused Anglo-American philosophy) and into the realm of ethics and even theology. This fact, is most welcome. This is especially the case given the explicitness with which this fact is confirmed. It is the case, for instance, that the ethical dimension of the phenomenological quest of investigating our social natures as intersubjectively constituted creatures, often looms in the background of the contemporary phenomenological writing, and this is the case for almost all the writing on intersubjectivity both classic and more recent. Yet surprisingly, this very fact does not seem to be explicitly focused on, as the ethical dimension of the phenomenological project, often approached at the end of a given text, trails off or is relegated to “another occasion”. This is where “values” comes in, and as such, this collection can be seen as a form of bridge between the two now less estranged banks of intersubjectivity and the values, crossing the river of phenomenology that gives rise to both.
The book is divided into three parts, each with their own focus. The essays in part I. are dedicated to “The Cognitive and Epistemological Dimension of the Problem of the Other” consisting of 5 essays. Although thorough, this section is perhaps the least original, as it is dedicated to the classical discussion from within the writings of some major phenomenologists, such as Merleau-Ponty and Husserl. Yet, the interesting thing is how the essays in the section, despite what can be claimed is the generally unoriginal approach of their points of departure—exegesis of the classical texts (which Zahavi, in several places, claims is the tendentious trap of much contemporary phenomenology)—all have original streaks in several of their main points. For instance, the text by Jorge Goncalves on Intersubjectivity in Psychiatry brings phenomenology to bear on some background assumptions in psychiatry concerning the status of the self. He shows how longstanding debates in phenomenology can greatly help the psychiatrist get a grip on his or her patient, and the latter’s fundamental needs. He concludes that although some of the prevailing theories in psychology concerning our access to the other’s mind, namely Theory-Theory and Simulation Theory, can provide relevant and helpful explanations for psychiatry, the fundamental problem remains the same: how to truly open oneself up to the other person, when the other person resides on the outside of “normality”. The conclusion is that phenomenology, with its traditional methodological operation manifested in the attempt to “suspend judgment and perceive things themselves as they are” (109) may prove to be more successful in this perennial and forever pertinent endeavor. Goncalves fails however, to note that a recent formulation of this “phenomenological approach” is termed “interaction theory” by Gallagher, as the latter opposes them explicitly to Theory-Theory and Simulation Theory as on equal footing.
A more classical exegetical discussion is found in another paper, the paper presented as chapter 1 by Paul F. Zipfel which is a thoroughgoing and careful analysis of Husserl’s notion of inaccessibility.
From the get-go, it becomes clear that, although well written, the essay is best read by someone already initiated into the core ideas of Husserl’s phenomenology. Introductory remarks are not made, and we jump right into the middle of the action, which is subtended by the paradoxical question of how the other appears to the subject, because of, not in spite of, his or her inaccessibility. The main thesis defended by Zipfel is that inaccessibility is a “function of the originality of the conscious act” and as such, is quite a fundamental part of our encounters with the other. A preparatory section is dedicated to the important, if somewhat exasperated discussion of direct versus indirect experience, before Zipfel moves into “the originality of experience” as he accounts for how that which is most original in the other subject’s experience, is not directly given to the experiencer of the other, but rather in the form of a “consciousness of a consciousness that is not my own.” This is quite subtle, and Zipfel presents some good examples in order to clarify this complex point. He draws on several contemporary commentators, as well as meticulous readings of Husserl’s own reflections as recounted on Cartesian Meditations and Husserliana in order to develop his discussion. The main conclusion in the essay is that the other is accessible exactly in his/her inaccessibility. The other person’s mind is in many ways directly perceived, but not fully or completely. There is always some mystery that eludes us, always something left to explore, yet this is what opens the door to ethics, and what we might call “the mystery of the other.”
The perhaps most original essay in part 1 is chapter 4, by Roberta Guccinelli, in which she discusses the notion of “the ecological self”. Interesting though it is, the author can be said to perhaps assume too much, as she jumps straight into it with the question of whether an “ecological self really exists” which is presumptuous due to its assumption that the reader has dedicated some time pondering this question, and it also perhaps assumes an already parallel standpoint taken on the very notion of the self, on the readers’ part. That said, Guccinelli’s approach to Scheler, attempting to use his phenomenology to (re)construct a self that is not just intersubjectively constituted, but ecologically constituted (what we might call “eco-subjective”) is most welcome. Although there has been literature that have drawn the background conceptual links between phenomenology and ecology out into the explicitly ethical open (like David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous), Guccinelli’s focus on the Self, along with Guccinelli’s usage of Scheler’s phenomenology in that regard, is highly interesting and original.
I stand by the contemporary Husserl scholar Dan Zahavi’s general comment mentioned in the bracket above, that there is a widespread tendency among current phenomenologists to dabble in egregious over-exegesis of the original source material. This is done with the best educational intentions, but it often only serves, ironically, to render it tiresome to the pragmatically oriented reader, who in many cases simply wants to see its immediate relevance to the discipline (nursing-studies, psychiatry, biology etc.) i.e. their own field. I have to present a lengthy quote which can help to moderate this view a little, which with its helpful and thorough discussion of the difference between (and similarities of) Husserl and Merleau-Ponty’s views on intersubjectivity, makes us see how the underlying and “classical” discussion is as alive and relevant as ever. Here are the concluding sentences from the final part of chapter 3, by one of the editors, de Sousa himself, as he compares Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.
Merleau-Ponty’s view has the great merit of making a very strong connection between subjectivity and intersubjectivity—of showing, in other words, that it is only possible for us to form the idea of other subjects because our self is radically different from the Cartesian self, and vice versa. As a result, Merleau-Ponty manages to turn Husserl’s account of intersubjectivity on its head, undermining the foundations of Husserlian phenomenology (even if this remains polemical from a Husserlian point of view). (79)
Now, it might be argued that there is an overabundance in the literature when it comes to the exegetical accounts of what the phenomenological forefathers actually meant to say, and that there should be a stricter separation between “scholarly work” and “contemporary application” in the literature than what is currently fashionable, but that belies the way phenomenology is actually working. The early founding phenomenologists themselves, as de Sousa more than hints at above, argued intensely amongst themselves, and any usage of phenomenology today will have to take a stand on the premises in the debate in order to present their positive views on the applicability of the discipline to other fields. Especially when phenomenology meets contemporary empirical research. And these roots go way back to Husserl’s concern with The Crises of the European Sciences. More immediately engaged was Merleau-Ponty for instance, who was very much up to date with the empirical sciences of his day. Indeed, he was informed by the empirical sciences to such a degree that the neurological and psychological case studies buttressed central aspects of his phenomenology. Those studies are indispensable to his magnum opus, Phenomenology of Perception, and the approach developed therein. When the psychologist J.J. Gibson read Merleau-Ponty, he was directly inspired by the philosopher’s concept of motor-intentionality to develop his interactionist view of perception as directly action-guiding in The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.
Today, links are drawn between Heidegger’s Being and Time and recent developments in the cognitive sciences. These links were first drawn by Hubert Dreyfus in his (in)famous reading of Heidegger’s existential analytic and phenomenology and used as a direct attack on the program of early research into artificial intelligence in the early 70s. From the get-go, the writings of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (as well as Gabriel Marcel, as we see below) were greatly influencing literature and literary criticism in a sensitive and highly creative time in French writing. This could not have been done without the direct and indirect influence of Husserl, and his early investigations (that Raymond Aron, Sartre and de Beauvoir were exposed to and inspired by) of intentionality. In other words, exegetical or not, phenomenological and existentialist ideas have always, in one way or another, been in mutual engagement with the broader cultural streams, and in turn been affected and changed by them. As such, it can be claimed that “the problem of exegesis” is not a problem at all, but part and parcel of what good phenomenology is all about. So much for part I. of the collection.
In part II. “The Ethical and Existential Approach to the Problem of the Other” the essays become more general, as the consequences of the phenomenological analyses discussed are pursued with a more general look at their ethical and theological import. Part II consists, then, of five essays, ranging from Scheler’s phenomenology of otherness, through discussions on Being-With and Being-Alone in the young Heidegger, Sartre and intersubjectivity, Gabriel Marcel’s thesis of availability on the importance of solicitude for our understanding of fundamental philosophical enquiry.
The perhaps most interesting and informative essay in part II is written by Elodie Malbois, and sets out to account for Gabriel Marcel’s oft neglected contribution to the phenomenological literature. Malbois’ twenty-six page essay can in many ways be described as an homage to Marcel’s thinking, as well as an analysis of his central focus on the notion of “Availability”, which he considered as not just an essential part of how we relate to others, but as an indispensable mode of authentically connecting with them. It actually turns out that for Marcel, intersubjectivity as a phenomenon can only strictly speaking be said to occur when you are available to the other person. Physical proximity, embodied encounters and basic perceptual openness to other people are perhaps necessary preconditions, yet they are hardly sufficient for genuine familiarity with the otherness of the other. The otherness of the other can only appear in the intersubjective mode once the fundamental phenomenon of availability is in play; indeed, intersubjectivity proper for Marcel is not fully understood without reference to availability. But in what, then, does availability consist?
As most phenomena that are closest to us, it is hard to describe. A central role is ascribed to attention; for the available person is according to Marcel hetero-centered, that is, focused on the other. A problem that can arise even within this positive account of the necessity of attention for understanding the phenomenon in question, is that one often runs the risk of simply paying attention to oneself through the other. Malbois uses a Marcelian example of a young man who goes to a party and finding himself quite unable to feel that the others are looking at him, judging him with their gazes. Now, the point here is that while the other man is indeed directed at the other minds, and take their otherness in many ways, seriously, this is not to get to know them better, but rather, involves a return to the self, as he only cares about their minds insofar as they care about him. He is encombré soi, “cluttered up in himself” (187). So being truly available is not just about having your mind directed at another’s mind, and the other person’s object of attention (for that object might just be you) but actively engaging in the other person’s perspective, the other person’s position. This is where Marcel, according to Malbois, allows himself concepts such as agape to slip in, while, according to the latter, arguing further about the necessity of using them (ibid.) But the important roots with Christian theology and mysticism are evident, as being concerned with the otherness of the other for his/her own sake finds its parallel in the language of the believer. Love and charity are central concepts, and they of course imply this fundamental mode of (basic) self-sacrifice through a forgetting of the self for the sake of the other. This is where the original analysis of intersubjectivity turns axiological. Other aspects endemic to classical existential and phenomenological problematics come up, such as authenticity, which for Marcel is tied to availability, a concept that itself turns increasingly complex as Malbois exposition strides forth. Malbois is throughout careful in her discussion, as she never presumes the question of exactly how best to define “availability” to be a settled one. The essay is a well written and critical homage in its entirety, and ends on the thoroughly axiological account of availability as a reciprocal act happening between minds.
The other essays in part II. share the trend of arriving at what we might call “the deeper level” of intersubjective analysis, as the thorough analysis of the phenomenon is pulled in the direction of viewing it as constitutive of our very being-in-the-world, and the fundamental and indispensable parts of this structure. Such as Scheler’s notion of love (chapter 6), which turns theological, or Heidegger’s differentiation between Being-With and Being-Alone (chapter 7) and Sartre’s ambivalent account of intersubjectivity, the chapter (chapter 8) in which André Barata brings in the outspoken atheist Sartre’s more theological reflections on Nothingness, God and, (the classical) question of what love is.
Then, finally, there is part III in which we move into the more esoteric parts of the phenomenological problematics concerning intersubjectivity. Chapter 11 is dedicated to a discussion on the development and connection between Merleau-Ponty’s thinking and Foucault’s by Gianfranco Ferraro, and in it he draws the lines towards what he dubs “a contemporary ontology of immanence” (241). The essay is a difficult read, not just due to the inherently difficult source material discussed, but also due to the lines drawn. Although the original quest set out on from part 1 of the essay, namely that of accounting for the “possible influences and relations between the two authors” and their varied import for the new ontology of the subject emerging after World War 2, I fear that too much is already at stake from the get-go, and that Ferraro fails to bring everything together in a fruitful way. There simply seems to be too many thinkers involved, as Levinas, Heidegger and then Deleuze are brought to bear on the debate. One not well versed in the continental development over the last 100-50 years will have a great difficulty following the many stranded argumentations. That said, for the initiated, the lines drawn are interesting (though at times confused) and merit further investigation.
A refreshing essay is presented by Grace Whistler, constituting chapter 13 in which she discusses the interesting links between form and content in Albert Camus’ L’Etranger. She argues that Camus indeed intended to communicate his very philosophy in the simple style of L’Etranger, which best comes out in the French wordings, which she does her best to convey in an English manner. The essay is nothing short of an analysis of what Whistler takes to be the essential relation between literary style and the content of the philosophy in question. She claims that Camus can be said to attempt a direct showing (show don’t tell) of Merseault’s world through his prose, allowing us to experience it directly as intersubjective. The essay is well written and highly original.
Chapter 14 with its essay entitled “The Poetry and the Pity” is easiest the odd one out in the collection. This is something the editors themselves note in the introduction It is a poetic post-ludium depicting the echoes of the voices crying out from our not-so-distant past; the voices of pain from World War 1. The essay highlights in an effective yet indirect way the running theme throughout the collection; namely the ethical consequences of phenomenology. It is poetically fitting that an essay that does not explicitly engage with phenomenology and intersubjectivity, all the same points us towards the redeeming powers of narrative, which we, now more than ever, are in dire need of.
Empathy, Sociality and Personhood is a collection of essays about Edith Stein’s thought and its surrounding theoretical context edited by Elisa Magrì and Dermot Moran. Both of the editors have worked on several books about Husserl, the phenomenological tradition, and, in particular, on Edith Stein.
In the Introduction the editors carefully reconstruct the interdisciplinary debates motivated by Stein’s theoretical concepts, which are discussed at length and relevant to many different philosophical and scientific fields. The Introduction points out that there are at least 43 different definitions of the term ‘empathy’ and this circumstance strongly motivates the phenomenological research which investigates empathy as a philosophical issue. Edith Stein’s interest in the topic constitutes a key aspect of her work which has attracted much attention and study. The debate concerning an emotive account of empathy and the extent to which it is present in both humans and animals, has a long history and can be traced in the Darwinian conception of animal sociality, and within the Theodor Lipps’ thesis from the psychological side. The Introduction also makes reference to Vittorio Gallese’s conception of the emphatic process, which leads us into the realm of contemporary neuroscience and cognitive debates. It is part of contemporary common practice to compare scientific definitions of empathy with those from the philosophical tradition, however, the empirical approach of the natural sciences is largely missing from Stein’s phenomenological descriptions.
In contrast to the prominent empirical status of the contemporary approach, this text instead refers to the phenomenological approach. As it becomes clear within the text: only with Husserl’s epistemological turn in the investigations of conscious life are we really able to describe experience structures. The essays in the collection acknowledge Edith Stein’s assimilation of the phenomenological method in order to develop new intentional investigations. Stein’s interest in empathy as a topic stems from her recognition of the importance of this theme in Husserl’s dissertations, for Stein he did not adequately treat or fully elaborate on empathy as a specific intentional act. Stein’s investigations of empathetic psychological acts is therefore profoundly intertwined with Husserl’s account and empathy is defined as an intentional act near to perception and imagination, but different from both.
The book is divided into four parts: the first part contains several essays which treat the concept of ‘Person’. This notion shouldn’t be defined as a single unit, but integrated within a whole series of psychological acts including relational spatiality. The second part integrates this topic with the affective theme of the human experience; regarding the peculiarities of intentionality in relation to the emotional style of the subject. Related to these discussion, themes such as ‘empathy’ or ‘imagination’ are carefully introduced. In the third part, different essays discuss the topic of communal experience which is very important for integrating the description of the human experience. In the fourth part, the essays discuss the thought of some lesser known phenomenologists which nonetheless, supply us with very important descriptions of the communal experience.
The first contribution in the collection is entitled ‘Edith Stein’s Encounter with Edmund Husserl and Her Phenomenology of the Person’ and is by Dermot Moran. The essay begins with a brief introduction which covers the career of Edith Stein, Moran then explores the context in which Husserl’s first book of Ideas was received by his students. The transcendental turn in this book proved difficult to accept for those who were bound to the strong realism of Husserl’s Logical investigations. However, in contrast to his other students, Edith Stein found it easy to grasp, understand and appreciate Husserl’s turn in relation to e.g. both eidetic analysis and the embodied state of consciousness. Moran communicates how Stein conceptualizes the differences between ‘originary and non-originary experience’ which is an essential aspect of the phenomenological analysis of consciousness. Within these theoretical features Stein conducted careful examination of the description of the empathetic act essence, and used this to develop her own conception of the subjective and inter-subjective ‘living body’. Moran then describes the way in which she worked on the affective account of subjectivity beginning with psycho-physical conditionality and moving towards the spiritual peculiarities of the emotional life. He then goes on to explain the peculiarity of Stein’s studies on the essence of the ‘individual person’; he adequately communicates the complex relation between the metaphysical influences on her thought and the phenomenological method. In spite of the complex relation between the two, Moran concludes that Stein proposes a very deep phenomenological description of the person that is strongly philosophical with theological influences.
The second essay is by Hans Rainer Sepp and it explores ‘Edith Stein’s Conception of the Person within the Context of the Phenomenological Movement’.Sepp discusses the concept of personhood in Stein’s phenomenological investigations, in which the structural conception of individuality emerges. He explores the way in which personhood is analyzed by Stein with a focus on descriptions of the intentional structures of conscience life. In the same way in which consciousness organizes our own experience of the world, for Stein personhood is constructed through a multi-stratum ontology, where the deeper found the higher ones. Fort example: we must define the sensorial psychological dimensions as an integrating part of the more complex spiritual values. Sepp explains this important definition with reference to Stein’s distinction between soul and spirit; soul relates to contemporary psychological themes, spirit concerns the values sphere, where social values emerge as the ‘responsibility’.
Sepp then compares Stein’s concept of ‘person’ with that of Max Scheler. Scheler had similar notions about personhood as Stein, but he also presents differences concerning the relation between the person and their own acts; the person is defined by Scheler as not comparable with their own acts, however, these acts continuously modify their personality. The last part of the text returns to Stein’s concept of personhood, this time focusing on Husserl’s notions of ‘ego’. Stein points out that the Greek notion of oikos, with which she spoke about an oikological conceptuality, in relation to the human spatiality. This interesting topic is well presented by Sepp as, by revealing Stein’s interest in the phenomenological spatiality among peoples the concept is not only defined by her as functional, but as essential in order to define personhood. The topic concerning the spatiality of the own experience is an important prerogative for understanding the concept of ‘person’. The environment is an integral feature for understanding our relational habits, and this concept shouldn’t be avoided in the psychological understanding of the human life.
The second part of the book is entitled ‘Empathy, Subjectivity, and Affectivity’. The first contribution is by Ingrid Vendrell Ferran and is entitled ‘Intentionality, Value Disclosure, and Constitution: Stein’s Model’. Ferran retraces the debate on the relation among values and emotion from Brentano to the phenomenological context. Her brief but efficient introduction is useful for understanding the distinctness of Stein’s model of affectivity and she presents Stein’s account of the ‘ontology of person’ which is explained with care in its peculiarity. The various elements of affectivity are explained with an accurate relation to the intentional aspect of them. In this way, the author discloses these essential notions to explain the role of emotionality in the perception of values. In contrast to perception and other theoretical acts, the role of the emotional act in the constitution of values is explained coherently. Values are defined not only in the sense of ‘material objects’ but also as formal and it becomes clear how emotions have their own intentionality. In the last part of the essay Ferran uses the drafted instruments for connecting to the discussion of axiology in Stein’s thought. The topic of intentionality in relation to the affective style is an important prerogative for understanding the contrast with Scheler’s realism. Relating to the latter peculiarity, Ferran describes an affinity between Stein and Husserl’s thesis. Even though the theme of the ‘discovery’ of values seems to speak about a realism, she conceives support for the thesis of a ‘constitution’ of values in both in Husserl and in Stein. The constitution of intentional structures allows us to avoid a strong realism about values, paying greater attention to the relation between the consciousness and the world.
The contribution by Michela Summa concerns two main topics: the multiple-level structure of intentionality in Stein’s work and the presentation of various proposals in relation to the complex theme of ‘simulation’ in the emphatic intentional act. Hereafter, the essay contemplates the thought of Peter Goldie, a lesser known philosopher who makes an interesting contribution to how Stein’s work relates to these areas. Summa carefully explains the relation among understanding and imagination in Goldie’s thought overall in relation to the empathetic grasping of individual narration. Goldie shows the role of the imagination in the understanding of the other’s lived events. So, Summa shows how, in Goldie’s thought it is not only the single mental act that is to be grasped, but an entire event of the other’s individual narration. Goldie’s phenomenological description of empathy is classified with several steps, from the more cognitive level toward the most affective attitude of sympathy. The importance of the intentional directivity toward the other’s narration is described with different levels of complexity; from the essential pre-cognitive backgrounds, with which important aspects of the personality are grasped, towards the cultural features or higher motivational states.
‘Stein’s understanding of Mental Health and Mental Illness’ is the contribution by Mette Lebech, in which the topics concerning Stein’s treatment of the empirical psychological tradition are discussed. Lebech describes an interesting difference between the natural stance of the illness and the individual story. Nature intervenes in the individual story, but it doesn’t coincide with individual motivations. In Lebech’s reconstruction, the spirit is presented as the most important dimension of the person which is not only influenced by natural causes. Lebech uses a metaphor of the battery to speak about the psychological process to show how the spiritual attitude of the person lies outside of mechanical dynamics. As with Stein’s reference to God, the latter activity motivates consciousness without a strong requirement of the psychological energetic dimension. Lebech also writes about the group dynamics of the psychological affection and even in the latter case, the passive processes, like imitation, are defined differently to the higher ones – such as the sharing of common values in the community – as mere natural processes.
The third part of the book is entitled ‘Empathy, Sociality, and Medical Ethics’. The first article of this section is ‘From I to you to We: Empathy and Community in Edith Stein’s Phenomenology’. The first contribution in this part is written by Timothy A. Burns and he begins by speaking about Stein’s dissertation in which the intentional act of empathy is deeply analyzed. Burns shows the necessity of distinguishing between ‘primordial’ and ‘non primordial’ acts. The primordial part of the empathetic act belongs to the perception of the other’s physical body, while the other’s experience is defined as the ‘non-primordial’ content. Empathy, as distinct from memory, fantasy or expectation, is defined as an act that transcends the ego. Empathy doesn’t regard the ‘I’ as a subject of its acts, but instead allows us to represent the other’s experience. For this reason, Burns notices, that in empathy an ‘apperception’ is not established, because I don’t apperceive myself as subject of the act. Burns reveals two different levels of empathy: the first is defined as ‘sensual’ and concerns the bodily experience of others, the second is reiterated empathy with which we may grasp the acts by which the other experiences us. Burns uses Stein’s account of empathy in relation to the topic of the community; despite the inalienable aloneness of each individual subject, we can join each other in one community through empathetic acts. Burns explains that, through the possibility of a communal experience, the ego remains ontologically separated from the others because our own experience relates first of all to the subject to whom it belongs. So, the communal intentional structure is not independent of the subjectivities, but is a product of them, and this peculiarity is coherently treated by the author as an essential ‘noetic’ sense of communal experience, belonging to a multiplicity of subjects.
Antonio Calcagno’s contribution is entitled: ‘The Role of Identification in Experiencing Community: Edith Stein, Empathy, and Max Scheler’. Calcagno contemplates the topic of ‘shared experience’ by debating the ideas of Edith Stein and Max Scheler together. Although they use different terms, Scheler and Stein both speak about a ‘we’ experience, or GemeineschaftErlebnisse to use Stein’s terms. In Stein’s first work we find the tension between ‘individuation’ and ‘identification’ and, in contrast to Scheler, Stein ascribes greater importance to personal individuation and argues that it shouldn’t become lost when the person lives within one community. The community itself is described as an intentional structure, stratified like the other form of intentional objects. Calcagno explains how the community is constituted by categorical acts other than by the psychological process of imitation. Indeed, the logical-linguistic dimension is an important aspect which defines a spiritual community and is different from one guided by a ‘psychical infection’. On the other hand, the author reconstructs Scheler’s discussion about values in strict opposition with skeptic theories of morality. Scheler claims the possibility of discovering an eidetic structure of values that characterizes his strong realism about this theme. The author correctly shows the propensity of Scheler concerning a more communal ethical thought in comparison to Stein. Scheler, indeed, speaks about the importance of the spiritual values, with which we can become a ‘collective person’, rather than a community of single individuals organized by each other.
In ‘Edith Stein’s Phenomenology of Empathy and Medical Ethics’ Fredrik Svenaeus speaks about the relation between the concepts of ‘person’ and ‘patient’. In the first part of the text, Svenaeus explains the multi-level status of the empathetic act. The most elementary phase depends on the perception of the other’s body; the second step concerns the role of the imagination, with which the other’s experience can be simulated. At the last step, the cognitive elaboration returns to the first person perspective, with an enriched intentionality. Stein speaks about the lack of this capacity for the most part in medics who work on the ‘medical body’ rather than on the ‘lived’ one. Empathy must not necessarily become ‘sympathy’, but it is an essential step we must take to grasp the other’s world, through meaningful events relating to their existence.
In the fourth part of the book is discussed the topic of ‘Edith Stein and her Contemporaries’. The first essay is entitled ‘Kurt Stavenhangen on the Phenomenology of the We’ and is written by Alessandro Salice. Salice examines the thought of Kurt Stavenhangen; a less famous phenomenologist whose work is interesting nonetheless. Stavenhangen worked on the thesis of shared intentionality, and, in line with his thinking, Salice observes that the plural pronoun ‘we’ is not merely a simple function of grammar; it is a change in the intentional structure of experience. The shared experience is characterized by the phenomenologist as a reference to the selfsame intentional object, like a general ‘we like G’. This abstract sentence is shown to explain the structural property of the communal experience. We are not describing a specific cultural expression, but the universal structure of the shared experience. So, being aware of the selfsame object, whatever it was, is not only a theoretical act, but, as Salice explains, it concerns the establishment of shared preferences within the community. What follows is a debate concerning the intentional classification of the ‘we experience’ as examined by Stavenhangen with two peculiar, different intentional forms.
‘A Philosophical Resonance: Hedwig Conrad-Martius versus Edith Stein’ is the final essay in the book and it is written by Ronny Miron. The essay focuses on the relationship between the two phenomenologists quoted in the title and how they have influenced one another. Hedwig Conrad-Martius had strong relationship with Edith Stein, and in such a way there are conspicuous theoretical resonances between them. Hedwig Conrad-Martius based her thought on several critics of Husserl, since she claimed that his thought was flawed by a lack of reality. Indeed, she did not appreciate Husserl’s turn to the transcendental ego and judged that this theoretical move concerned only a ‘pure’ investigation. She remained, for this reason, strongly bound to Husserl’s Logical investigations. Even Hedwig Conrad-Martius, as Edith Stein, spoke about theology as an essential philosophical theme, in which can be applied the phenomenological method. Indeed, the description of the eidetic structure of intentionality could be applied to ‘faith’. For both phenomenologists faith is an essential step for the construction of our own world of meaning, and for this reason it concerns an intentional act considered important for philosophical conceptualization.
In summary, this book makes an important contribution to discussions regarding the definition of empathy not only in respect to traditional philosophical approaches which concern ethical peculiarities on the topic, but also in respect to other theoretical features. The latter characteristic is important, not only to obtain a theoretical understanding of the topic, but also in respect to the experimental practice of modern psychology. ‘Empathy’ is a complex concept which warrants philosophical investigation if we are to better understand an essential feature of human beings.
[i] Husserl, E., Logische Untersuchungen (1900); Husserl, E., Logical Investigations, 2 vols, Trans, J.N. Findlay, New York, Humanities Press, 1970.
[ii] Husserl, E., Ideen zu einer reinen phänomenologie und phänomenologischen philosophie (1912-1928); Husserl, E., Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book, Dodrecht, Kluwer, 1989.
[iii] Husserl, E., Ideen zu einer reinen phänomenologie und phänomenologischen philosophie (1912-1928); Husserl, E., Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy, Second Book, Dodrecht, Kluwer, 1989.
[iv] Husserl, E., Erfarhung und Urteil: Untersuchungen zur Genealogie der Logik; Husserl, E., Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic. Northwestern University Press, 1973.
In his Philosophical Introduction to Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Imagination: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, published in 2004, Jonathan Webber observes that despite the centrality of the imagination to numerous philosophical debates, scant attention has been given to questions such as “What is imagination? What are we actually doing when we imagine? What are we aware of, and what kind of awareness do we have of it?” (2004: xii). The situation has changed dramatically since 2004. Today, questions concerning the character, function, potential, and limits of the imagination are the focus of many exciting debates not only within phenomenology and the philosophy of mind, but also in the fields of psychology, social and political theory, and aesthetics. In short, the imagination is now flourishing as a subject of interdisciplinary scholarship.
Imagination and Social Perspectives: Approaches from Phenomenology and Psychopathology takes on the vital task connecting new insights about the nature of the imagination to questions concerning “the meaning and formation of social perspectives” (1). Although it would be incorrect to claim that research into the imagination has hitherto ignored questions about human sociality (see, for example, Castoriadis 1987 ; Lennon 2015; Robinson and Rundell 1994), this edited volume strives to fill some notable gaps in the available research on imaginary dimension of sociality. Specifically, the editors state that their aim is to offer new investigations into the nature of the “interplay between imaginative and social experience” (1), a topic that has been relatively under-researched.
As the subtitle suggests, the volume emphasizes insights from phenomenology and phenomenologically informed research in psychopathology. However, an increased appreciation for centrality of the imagination to human life – along with the recognition that phenomenological methods provide the most satisfactory means to investigate it – means that this emphasis has the potential to furnish a rich interdisciplinary exchange. This potential is realized in this volume, which brings together contributions from leading and emerging scholars working not only in phenomenology and psychopathology, but also in philosophy of mind, epistemology, psychology, social and political philosophy, philosophy of language, and anthropology. What’s more, Imagination and Social Perspectives: Approaches from Phenomenology and Psychopathology does some work towards bridging the so-called divide between continental and analytic philosophy by combining insights from thinkers from both traditions.
The volume’s eighteen chapters are divided into five sections: Imagining Oneself; Imagination and Intersubjectivity in Psychopathology; Imagination and the Experience of Others; The Sociality of Imagination; and Aesthetic, Ethical and Social-Political Grounds of Perspective-Taking. These section titles provide an accurate indication of the diversity – in terms of both focus and approach – of the volume’s contents. Although it is impossible to do full justice to all eighteen contributions in the context of a review such as this, in what follows, I shall try to provide a general sense of the achievements of the collection as a whole by discussing it in terms of what I take to be three of its key themes.
Unsurprisingly, empathy is an important theme. What is perhaps more surprising though is that the chapters that offer theorizations and analyses of empathy in are not confined to the third section on Imagination and the Experience of Other but, rather, peppered throughout the volume. Indeed, the idea that our common conception of empathy – as an imaginative action through which one simulates the experience of another in order to feel what s/he feels – is impoverished is continually reinforced throughout the book.
Matthew Ratcliffe’s chapter, titled “Empathy Without Simulation”, is the chapter that most obviously calls our preconceptions about what empathy is into question. Drawing on instances of empathy in clinical practice, Ratcliffe contends that empathy has a “wider applicability” than is generally supposed (199). He criticizes theories of empathy that define it as the (implicit or explicit) simulation of another’s experience for mistaking a characteristic particular to quite sophisticated kinds of empathy – and which is neither necessary nor sufficient for empathy – for the essential characteristic of empathy. Further, he maintains that while phenomenological accounts – such as those defended by Edith Stein and, more recently, Dan Zahavi – correctly underline the centrality of the second-person to empathic experience, they tend to overstate its perceptual (or quasi-perceptual) quality, with the consequence that they render the other’s feelings as visible but vague; they seem incapable of explaining how one subject would be able to “‘see’ why” another feels the way she does (212). Sight is, therefore, gained at the cost of empathetic insight in Ratcliffe’s view. In order to preserve both “the second-person orientation” of empathy and grant its subject insight into another’s perspective, Ratcliffe argues that empathy ought to be characterized as an “openness to potential phenomenological difference between self and other” (205), with more sophisticated forms of it also involving “exploratory” processes, including simulation (202).
Anita Avramides examines simulation and perception accounts of empathy in chapter 11, so as to contrast their respective views on the role of the imagination in “knowing others”, which she takes to be a means not only for predicting others’ behaviour but also for calibrating one’s mental life with regard to theirs (194). She contends that simulation accounts assign a central role to the imagination and perceptual accounts, none at all. This sets the stage for the introduction of Avramides’s own alternative account, which grants the imagination a key role in the process of knowing others, but turns out to be in accordance with perceptual accounts due to its insistence that “the role of the imagination in our coming to know the minds of others is the role it plays in the perception of others, not the simulation of others” (192). Building primarily upon the work of P.F. Strawson, Avramides’s chapter may be of particular interest to readers from continental and phenomenological backgrounds, since it employs an “analytic” frame to defend a perceptual account of perception, which makes an interesting contrast to the phenomenological (quasi-)perceptual accounts of empathy discussed elsewhere in the volume.
Matthias Flatscher and Sergej Seitz’s chapter on “The Ethico-Political Turn of Phenomenology” makes another important contribution to the overarching idea that empathy may function in ways that extend far beyond our conscious efforts to understand others. The authors hold that Husserl’s key insight that “the other is ultimately not a phenomenon in the phenomenological sense” (327) – since the other qua other conscious subject is given to conscious as inaccessible – when considered alongside the “riddle of how empathy becomes indeed possible”, gives us cause to challenge the “two basic assumptions that Husserlian phenomenology shares with the whole tradition of modern Western thought”; namely, the presumed “analytic priority of the subject over the other” and the idea that the “relation between self and other is first and foremost epistemological” (328). Then, through a careful discussion of Emmanuel Levinas’s view that subject’s being is one that “occupied by the other” from the beginning (332), Flatscher and Seitz suggest Levinasian phenomenology – which takes the ethico-political sphere as ontologically more primary than the epistemological – opens up the possibility of conceiving of empathy not as a riddle, but as a the principal ethical event triggered by perception of a face that “speaks” (330).
The idea that intersubjective events play a fundamental role in shaping human experience motivates all the chapters in this collection, in one way or another. It is an idea of central philosophical importance because it prompts us to challenge our preconceptions about the autonomy of the individual, and many of the chapters within this volume attempt – in more or less direct ways – to respond to this challenge. Even Andrea Altobrando’s chapter, titled “Imagining Oneself”, eventually connects the capacity to abstractly conceive of oneself on one’s imagination to the capacity to be a social subject (39). The indispensability of the imagination to social experience is the subject of chapter 8, where Jens Bonnemann seeks to illuminate the fundamental role it plays in Sartre’s conception of intersubjectivity. The novelty of this chapter lies in the fact that rather than examining Sartre’s thought on the imagination in The Imaginary, it focuses on his discussion of “The Look” in Being and Nothingness, in order to highlight the role of the imagination in shaping social experience and, primarily, the experience of being looked at. Bonnemann’s analysis elaborates upon Sartrean insight that when one feels oneself as the object of a look, the “perceptible qualities of the objective Other become the basis for imagining his/her inaccessible view” (161). In the context of Sartre’s phenomenology, it contends that only our interactions with others can show us who we are. This implies that “[w]hen I think about myself, the imagination comes into play as well because I try to imaginarily see myself with the eyes of another” and so the other’s otherness, together with “the inescapability of the first-person perspective”, provide “the basis for the constitutive correlation of interaction and imagination” (165). And, what Sartre sees as being constituted by this correlation is, according to Bonnemann, precisely the subject’s sense of herself as an I.
Fittingly, the chapter that follows Bonnemann’s provides an elucidation of Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to move away from what he regards as overly individualist philosophical accounts of intersubjective experience – which he even finds preserved in Sartre’s phenomenology – by shifting the emphasis from the subjectivity of consciousness to “intercorporeality”. Here, Luca Vanzago explains that intercorporeality for later Merleau-Ponty designates something more than the “incarnated subjectivity” discussed in The Phenomenology of Perception. Although the nature of this “something more” is difficult to define, Vanzago’s suggestion is that it involves a revision of Merleau-Ponty’s earlier sharp distinction between the imagination and perception, as well as “a different articulation between the two” (167). This different articulation is described as being one that presupposes a “relationist” as opposed to a “substantialist” conception of life and nature. It, therefore, gives way to a new relational ontology. This gives us further insight into what the “something more” of Merleau-Ponty’s later notion of intercorporeality consists in, as the “ontologization of the interrelations between subjects” in his later work is described to take “the shape of intercorporeality”, which – rather than deriving from substance – appears to be “more fundamental than substance” (171). But what does this ontological claim have to do with sociality? What does this understanding of intercorporeality imply for intersubjectivity? In responding to these questions, Vanzago underlines the crucial point that if intercorporeality provides the basis for intersubjective experience, then “what a subject is can neither be equated with its own self-consciousness or with its own biological body”, since “Othernes” is “already present as a constitutive part of the subject’s sameness” (172). Why might this view be considered more radical than, for instance, Sartre’s idea that the imagined other is essential to the subject’s capacity to understand herself as an “I-subject”? The answer is because it refuses to posit even a weak sense of self-consciousness as existing prior to the encounter with otherness. The perspective from which the problem of intersubjectivity is considered is, therefore, reversed in Merleau-Ponty’s later work, according to Vanzago. The task for the philosopher approaching this problem is no longer that of accounting for the experience of another but, to the contrary, that of accounting for the experience of the self as an individuated subject.
Silvana Borutti, and Karl Mertens, in chapters 16 and 17 respectively, offer further illuminating changes of perspective in relation to the problem of intersubjectivity. The perspective put forward by Borutti is one that regards “an aesthetical-imaginative relationship with otherness” as “the foundation of meanings comprehension” (288), which is illustrated through an analysis of Kant’s concept of Gemeinsinn (common sense) alongside Wittgenstein’s notion of Übereinstimmung (literally: consonance of voices). Mertens’s chapter asserts that if the perspective that “agents are always already embedded in situations that are fundamentally social” is adopted, “there is no need to transcend the individualistic perspective of the involved agents” and the “problem of explaining how it is possible for individual agents to develop collective intentions that guide their social action no longer arises” (311). Mertens presents “collective social perspectivity” – whereby “the particular social perspectives of social groups and even whole societies are considered in the specificity” (306) – as real possibility, in order to support the adoption of this perspective in analyses of societal change and social progress.
Rudolf Bernet’s chapter, “Spinoza on the Role of Feelings, Imagination and Knowledge in Sex, Love and Social Life”, is an investigation into the possibilities that emerge from considering the metaphysics of intersubjectivity by following Spinoza, for whom “[t]he metaphysical interest in what it means to be a human among other humans and the ethical interest in what it means to lead a good life in relation to other persons are intimately related” (140). Bernet’s close study of Spinoza’s understanding of the passions provides a way of conceiving of “the imagination of others” as something that may be surpassed and transformed into “an intellectual insight into their intrinsic nature” (151).
A different question to that of how the imagination may function in our awareness of others’ experiences is the question of whether we can share imaginative experiences with others. The three chapters comprising section IV, The Sociality of Imagination, take up this question. In chapter 14, Julia Jansen uses a phenomenological approach to consider whether there is “even such a thing as shared imagining” (247). By situating the question concerning the possibility of shared imagining within a phenomenological framework that considers the imagination not merely as a cognitive function that generates private representations “inside” the subject’s mind, but as a dynamic mode of consciousness that can also be embedded in, extended into, and distributed throughout a social world, Jansen shows that the idea of shared imagining is not strange as it might initially seem. What is most illuminating about Jansen’s chapter, is its development of Husserl’s idea that imagined objects are not individual objects (as objects of perception are), but ideal objects that are, in Jansen’s terms, insusceptible to “individuation” (255). When imaginary objects are conceived of in this way, it becomes possible to see how different subjects can still be said to imagine the same thing even if the contents of each subject’s consciousness is not the same: “Despite the different psychological episodes the two [imaginers] may be undergoing, they can still share the content of their imagining because that content is ‘ideal’ insofar as it is irreducible to any real experiences in space and time or any processes underlying them . . . we can both imagine the same (snow white, ‘a just state’) in different ways”, and this “same” turns out to be “merely quasi same” because the imagined object necessarily lacks a distinct position in space and time (256). The possibility of having the quasi same imaginary object as another opens up the further possibility of bringing our imaginings closer together through communication. For instance, if we imagine Madame Bovary together and you tell me that she has brown eyes, so long my imagined Madame Bovary is neutral with regard to eye-colour, I can adjust my image of Madame Bovary to bring it closer to yours. However, Jansen suggests that Husserl’s key insight about sharp distinctions between perception and imagination being phenomenologically unviable is not pushed to its full conclusion in his work, which places too much emphasis on the “creative” aspects of imagination (261). More work must be done then, in Jansen’s view, in order to satisfactorily account for the imaginative aspects of less cerebral forms of collaboration at work in activities such as dancing together, playing music together, etc.
Emanuele Caminada’s exploration of Scheler’s account of the social cognition, in chapter 15, and Thomas Szanto’s normative account of collective imagination, in chapter 13, compliment Jansen’s chapter by investigating the conditions for sharing mental states that are usually construed as “subjective”. First, Caminada’s chapter does a good job of underlining the value of following Scheler when considering different types of social understanding in connection to different forms of sociality, by showing how “paying attention to the role played by different forms of sociality permits to see how direct social perception is constitutively embedded in communities that share a good amount of expression forms” (278). Caminada draws upon Scheler’s famous example of shared grief to provide a typology of social emotions that illustrates how the difficulty in understanding how another feels may be reduced or increased depending on the social situations of both parties, as well as their relation to the object of the emotion in question. Second, Szanto’s chapter considers the phenomenon of “imaginative resistance” – where the subject finds that s/he is unable to engage in imagining a situation s/he finds morally abhorrent – in order to counter the common assumption that there are no limits to what can be imagined. Then, it proceeds to argue that the normative constraints that the imagination is subject to take on a stronger role in collective imaginings. Szanto maintains that an appreciation of the enhanced normative dimension in collective imaginings turns out to be crucial for grasping the ways in which collective imaginings differ from individual imaginings. Drawing on the work of Edith Stein, Szanto reinforces Jansen’s point that subjects can imagine the same object differently, and he helpfully outlines the normative criteria he believes must be satisfied in order for the imagining of an object to be considered collective by developing Kendall Walton’s classic account of collective imagination. A final result of Szanto’s chapter is that it provides a solid basis for more comprehensive accounts of the collective imagination.
The final key theme of this volume, as I see it, is that of the as-if function of the imagination. This function is shown to be essential not only to our theoretical understanding of the imagination, but also to our understanding of certain psychopathological conditions, since the awareness that imaginings merely constitute objects “as if” they were present is vital in distinguishing fiction from reality – as Michela Summa’s chapter “Experiencing Reality in Fiction: Discontinuity and Permeability” superbly illustrates – as well as for separating the real from the unreal within experience. Thus, in addition to revealing the imagination as an essential component of human experience, the volume also offers systematic analyses of its potential to be dangerous and alienating. In chapter 5, Thomas Fuchs provides a fascinating account of the ways in which the as-if function of imaginings may be reduced or altogether lost in schizophrenia by investigating some of its symptoms, including: concretism, defined as “the failure to adequately use an understand the metaphorical or figurative meaning of language”; transitivism, “the loss of self-other distinction or self-demarcation”; and delusion (87-94). Moreover, Fuchs also argues that the transition from the delusional mood – in which aspects of experience take on an unreal character – to full delusion – in which the unreal is mistaken for the real – involves not only a loss of the as-if function, but also a loss of intersubjectivity (92). The centrality of a sense of a shared reality to non-pathological imagining is further explored in the two chapters that follow: Tim Grohmann’s chapter 6, titled, “Intersubjective Expression in Autism and Schizophrenia”, and Zeno Van Duppen’s chapter 7, “The Phenomenology of Intersubjective Reality in Schizophrenia”.
If one expects to find some sustained engagement with Cornelius Castoriadis’s philosophical work on the imaginary institution of society in this volume, one will be disappointed. Castoriadis is mentioned in Szanto’s chapter (224) and briefly discussed in Jansen’s (249-50), but there is no sustained treatment of his work here. As the focus of this volume is on phenomenological analyses of the imagination and social perspectives, it would be unfair to regard the absence of a prolonged engagement with Castoriadis’s work as a flaw. But, it certainly would be a bonus, in my view, particularly as Kathleen Lennon has recently underlined its significance for philosophical investigations into the social imaginary (2015: 71-95). Further, even though Sartrean insights are developed throughout this volume outside of Bonnemann’s chapter in ways that will surely be of interest to Sartre scholars (see, especially, 84, 124-5, 223, 228), some may find it disappointing that there is only one chapter that concentrates on Sartre’s thought on the imagination. My only real issue with this volume, however, is that it has been let down by careless copy-editing in places. Notably, one finds “deem [instead of doom] to failure” on the first page, then “synonymous of [instead of with] ‘supposing’” (2), “how [instead of what] your experience would be like” (11), and “the most evident bias of these current debates consists in its naturalism” (265, emphasis added). Castoriadis’s name is also missing from the Index. Although minor, these errors can distract the reader from the content.
In conclusion, this collection of original articles – some of which were first presented at the 2015 conference “Imagination, Intersubjectivity, and Perspective-Taking”, held at Villa Vigoni, Loveno di Menaggio, Italy – offers a fresh and truly interdisciplinary perspective of on the significance of the imagination in our social lives. But it has much to recommend it beyond its novelty and interdisciplinary scope. First and foremost: it brings together vitally important research on the social features and functions of the imagination that have so far been under-researched. The editors’ helpful introductory chapter outlines the problems raised by the question of the imagination’s role in human life and gives readers a good sense of which chapters will be most relevant to their interests. The chapters themselves each yield new insights into the incredibly complex ways in which the imagination provides structural support for human sociality and indicate areas where further research is required. Altogether, this means that Imagination and Social Perspectives: Approaches from Phenomenology and Psychopathology represents an invaluable resource for scholars and advanced students working on the philosophy of the imagination and/or the psychological mechanisms involved in social interaction.
Castoriadis, C. 1987. The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. K. Blamey. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Lennon, K. 2015. Imagination and the Imaginary. New York and London: Routledge.
Robinson, G. and J. Rundell (eds). 1994. Rethinking Imagination: Culture and creativity. New York and London: Routledge.
Webber, J. Philosophical Introduction. In The Imaginary: A phenomenological psychology of the imagination, by J.-P. Sartre, trans. Routledge. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.