The Fifth Cartesian Meditation – Empathy, Others and Intersubjectivity

HusserlLecture Three


The Fifth Cartesian Meditation – Empathy, Others and Intersubjectivity

I  CM 5 often seen as Husserl’s response to the ‘problem of other minds’.

Influential on Heidegger’s and Sartre’s accounts of the Other.

We’ll concentrate on this part of the Meditation: Husserl’s famous theory of ‘empathy’.

But nb title to CM 5: ‘Uncovering of the Sphere of Transcendental Being as Monadological Intersubjectivity’. Ie experience of others part of a wider objective, to situate intersubjectivity.

Connection made by Husserl between intersubjectivity and objectivity. (Point laboured by Heidegger in BT).

Thus the problem is stated at first as a special one.. as the theme of a transcendental theory of experiencing someone else, a transcendental theory of so-called ‘empathy’. But it soon becomes evident that the range of such a theory is much greater than at first it seems, that it contributes to the founding of a transcendental theory of the Objective world.. The existence-sense of the world and of Nature in particular, as Objective Nature, includes after all.. thereness-for-everyone. (CM p. 92)

As with CM 1, important not to attribute to Husserl the intention to overcome skeptical doubt (usually associated with ‘problem’ of other minds).

Concern is rather to phenomenologically explicate our experience of others.

False trail of rhetorical questions:

When I, as meditating subject, reduce myself by means of the phenomenological epoche to my absolute transcendental ego, do I not thereby become solus ipse; and do I not remain that, as long as I carry on a consistent self-explication under the name phenomenology? Should not a phenomenology that proposed to solve the problems of Objective being, and to present itself actually as philosophy, be branded therefore as transcendental solipsism? (CM, p. 89)

Husserl’s real thought:

But perhaps there is some mistake in thoughts like these. Before one decides in favour of them.. it might indeed be more fitting to undertake the task of phenomenological explication indicated in this connexion by the ‘alter ego’ and carry it through in concrete work. We must.. obtain.. insight into the explicit and implicit intentionality wherein the alter ego becomes evinced and verified in the realm of the transcendental ego.. These experiences.. are facts belonging to my phenomenological sphere (CM, p. 90)

II  Procedural constraint: the ‘reduction to the sphere of ownness’ (§44):

We disregard all constitutive achievements of intentionality relating either immediately or mediately to other subjectivity. (CM, p. 93).

Abstracts from both (a) the objectivity normally attributed to objects of any kind, as well as from (b) other minds directly and, within the sphere of objects, cultural items and artefacts, eg, books, chairs, etc, (all of which make implicit reference to other minds as authors, consumers, etc). 

Problems with this new epoche: (a) confusion in presenting it; (b) is the further ‘abstraction’ even possible (Bell)?

III  Husserl’s findings. Difference between my relation to my body and to all others: Leib vs Körper. I am:

the sole Object.. to which.. I ascribe fields of sensation.., the only Object ‘in’ which I ‘rule and govern’ immediately.. Touching kinesthetically, I perceive ‘with’ my hands..  Meanwhile the kinesthesias pertaining to the organs flow in the mode ‘I am doing’, and are subject to my ‘I can’.. (CM, p. 97)

Two points of view on my own body.Apperceptive transposition’ of my body reveals Other’s body as organic. Nb Husserl’s insistence that no inference is involved:

There [is].. accordingly, a certain assimilative apperception; but it by no means follows that there would be an inference from analogy. Apperception is not inference, not a thinking act. (CM, p. 111)

I come to see the Other as an alter ego: Husserl emphasizes that the intentionality here is mediate:

What makes this organism another’s, rather than a second organism of my own? Obviously.. none of the appropriated sense specific to an animate organism can become actualized originally in my primordial sphere. (CM, p. 113).

‘Verification’: always defeasible, rests upon ‘concordance’ of presentations. (§52)

IV  Possible objections to Husserl’s account:

(i)                  Plausibility? (Infant awareness, etc)

(ii)                Unduly Cartesian? Does Husserl presuppose self-consciousness is possible without awareness of another.

(iii)               Does Husserl’s account require more ‘similarity’ among bodies than obtains?

Possible replies:

(i)                  Other avenues to ‘pairing’ may be available, eg mother’s voice, bodily movement, etc

(ii)                It does look that way, but A. D. Smith suggests charitable interpretation that emphasizes the standpoint from which the enquiry operates: that of ‘a meditating subject who also recognizes.. herself as a transcendental subject’.

(iii)               The limits of the ‘assimilative apperception’ aren’t specified. Elliston’s point: perhaps the complaint could be seen as pointing out a virtue of Husserl’s account, ie there may indeed be limits to what sorts of creatures we can recognize as ‘other selves’.


Sarah Richmond, UCL, 2008

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