Intercorporeity and the first-person plural in Merleau-Ponty

Continental Philosophy Review 53 (1):21-47 (2020)
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A theory of the first-person plural occupies a unique place in philosophical investigations into intersubjectivity and social cognition. In order for the referent of the first-person plural—“the We”—to come into existence, it seems there must be a shared ground of communicative possibility, but this requires a non-circular explanation of how this ground could be shared in the absence of a pre-existing context of communicative conventions. Margaret Gilbert’s and John Searle’s theories of collective intentionality capture important aspects of the We, but fail to fully account for this shared ground of communicative possibility. This paper argues that Merleau-Ponty’s concept of intercorporeity helps reconcile the positive aspects of these accounts while also explaining how the genesis of the social world is continuous with perceptual life in general. This enables an account of the first-person plural as dependent on reciprocal communicative interaction without the need to posit a primitive or primordial “we-mode” of consciousness. “Intercorporeity” designates a bodily openness to others that is not fundamentally different in kind from the general style of bodily comportment found in Merleau-Ponty’s rich analyses of perceptual life.
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