Subjectivity and Selfhood (book review) Dan Zahavi

Investigating the First-Person Perspective


100617 first review: this is sort of 'phenomenology for analytic philosophers'. as such it might be too introductory for those always already convinced of the continuing relevance of this particular 'continental' philosophical research program. i am one such thinker, i have never had to convince myself of the value of investigations of subjectivity and selfhood...


this is easy to read, with some sense of history of 'classic' phenomenonologists (155), merleau-ponty, husserl, sartre, heidegger, de beauvoir etc., and then names of the analytics (17) i am not familiar with, but rather than try to sum up all the arguments leading to some investigation of schizophrenia and autism, i will focus on one chapter: 'self and others'. this is where phenomenonologists are sometimes accused of tending to solipsism...


1) this is 'intersubjectivity'. in fact an ongoing concern for husserl, sartre, merleau-ponty, heidegger, that they search for original intuitions before a child discovers language, the way it necessarily precedes any 'theory of mind', which might be said to only prove its own assumptions. as much does the 'argument by analogy' that evades transparency, immediacy, subjective aspect of 'self awareness'. i work with the idea that intersubjectivity is an original human condition from birth on. it is only later that it is even questioned. there are several arguments against the ‘theory of mind’ idea: that we do not 'infer' from gestures etc. but see the other through, in thought, emotions, intentions, by 'how' these gestures 'express' themselves. we humans have a shared bodily situation, thus possibilities, so by immediate 'empathy' we can sense the intersubjectivity without thought...


2) this is followed by our nature as 'embodied subjectivity' and how we discover ourselves as both subject and object, the image from m-p of one hand touching the other, which requires that there is no absolute coincidence but only one then the other alternating sense, the 'reversibility', through which our 'ipseity' (self) and 'alterity' (other) indicates how we know others in emotions, thoughts, intentions. sartre will interpret this in his own way somewhat more conflicting, heidegger in the way 'being-with' includes all the human world 'afforded' us, but the point is without being 'embodied' to begin with we would have no basis to be 'intersubjective'... this would be neither possible nor comprehensible...


3) next we must go 'beyond empathy', not discounting it, but extending to heidegger's argument that it is not simply the natural world but the human world we first encounter and to which we give primacy- the world of chairs, doors, tables etc. as created by others for their and our human use, so implies that we are not solipsistic, not alone, not needing any other indications, that is if we use empathy to create intersubjectivity we make the error of thinking a problem where there is not one: simply, we interact, interpret, live in shared world with others, interpret 'alterity', generally successfully... thus it is only when this 'breaks down', when our intuitions are off, when the other acts contrary to expectations, that we even think about 'other minds' as a problem...


4) then we have to deal with the 'transcendence of the other', that is, if we recognize we are always already 'with others' in our embodied being, that the other is with us not merely socially but technologically in everything that 'affords' human interaction with the world, with 'alterity', and to be truly self transcendent we must recognize that we exist 'for others', as shown in sartre's notion of 'shame'. we need others to be ourselves...


5) this is an attempt to suggest how each of 1) through 4) build on each other, and how they can be used all together rather than just one or the other, despite how some so obviously contradict each other. the idea here works for me. that they contradict simply suggests they each have contexts. this seems very 'jaina' for me: 1) empathy 2) embodied 3) alterity 4) transcendence... all add something, all are understood phenomenonologists' ideas which seem to me much more convincing than analytics' models of 'mind theory' in which we are like little scientists who only develop into selves when we are old enough to tell our self-stories...


as said, this is only one chapter. i do not think i have fully captured how interesting is this book. perhaps too simple for thinkers always already using phenomenonology, but fun. if you like to read philosophy... there are so many books to read and so little time...

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