Concrete Interpersonal Encounters or Sharing a Common World: Which is More Fundamental in Phenomenological Approaches to Sociality?

In Thomas Szanto & Dermot Moran (eds.), The Phenomenology of Sociality: Discovering the ‘We’. Routledge Publishing. pp. 93-106 (2015)
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A central question along which phenomenological approaches to sociality or intersubjectivity have diverged concerns whether concrete interpersonal encounters or sharing a common world is more fundamental in working out an adequate phenomenology of human sociality. On one side we have philosophers such as the early Sartre, Martin Buber, Michael Theunissen, and Emmanuel Levinas, all of whom emphasize, each in his own way, the priority of some mode of interpersonal encounters (broadly construed) in determining the basic character of human coexistence. On the other side, we have philosophers such as the early Heidegger and the early Merleau-Ponty (and here I would also include Gadamer and the later Wittgenstein), who argue that an adequate account of human sociality must begin, in the proper order of understanding and hence explanation, with how we always already exist in a shared or common world. Which side is right in this debate? I argue that once we correctly understand the precise sense (or way) in which the common world is more fundamental than concrete interpersonal encounters, this enables us to understand how there is no real opposition between the phenomenological conception of the common world and the experience of the other, even in its radical otherness.

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Jo-Jo Koo
Duke University


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