The Givenness of Other People: On Singularity and Empathy in Husserl

Human Studies 2021 (3):1-18 (2021)
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Other people figure in our experience of the world; they strike us as unique and gen- uinely other. This paper explores whether a Husserlian account of empathy as the way in which we constitute an intersubjective world can account for the uniqueness and otherness of other people in our experience. I contend that it can’t. I begin by explicating Husserl’s theory of empathy, paying particular attention to the reduction to a purely egoic sphere and the steps that ostensibly permit a subject to re-inhabit a world of others from out of this sphere. In querying Husserl’s theory, I consider a series of problems, raised by Zhida Luo, concerning the apparent centrality of bod- ily similarity in empathy. I sketch Luo’s solution, which involves a shift to tactile similarity. While it makes for a better theory of empathy, this solution isn’t sufficient to make room for the givenness of another person not originally predicated on simi- larity. To clarify what’s at issue here, I turn to the Husserlian pictures of empathy presented by Heinz Kohut and Edith Stein. I conclude with a remark about what might be required, given the inability of Husserlian empathy to make room for the experience of others as singular and other, for a picture of our phenomenal life to have a shape that accounts for the coexistence of empathy to others who are like oneself and hospitality to others as genuine others.
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Archival date: 2021-05-25
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