Phenomenological Reviews

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Primary intersubjectivity

affective reversibility, empathy and the primordial "we"

Anya Daly

pp. 223-248


Interrogations of intersubjectivity tend to focus primarily on the issue of access—how is it possible that from one subject's seemingly self-enclosed interiority, a subject may come to know that an-Other is minded in the same way as he or she is. That is, that this Other enjoys all the mental states that the subject enjoys—beliefs, desires, intentions, imaginations and emotion—and that these may constitute reasons for action. For the most part, such interrogations have been pursued in a mentalistic manner, through philosophical frameworks which valorise representation, inference and cognition as being the only legitimate modes of reliable intersubjective access. In contrast, I have proposed in the previous chapter that through phenomenological analysis allied with neuroscientific research, in addition to synthesizing the insights of Colwyn Trevarthen's three-tiered account of subjectivity/intersubjectivity (Trevarthen 1998a) along with Shaun Gallagher's interaction theory of social cognition (Gallagher 2005, 2009, 2012), it is possible to give an account of embodied intersubjective access that is compelling for its explanatory power, its coherence and its comprehensiveness. Gallagher's account of interaction theory of social cognition, which he establishes on the basis of both Merleau-Ponty's accounts of embodiment and pre-reflective percipience and also current neuroscience, is entirely convincing. The primary level of intersubjectivity, the core around which the secondary and the tertiary can develop, establishes intersubjective access on the basis of direct perception without recourse to representation. Trevarthen's three-tiered account of subjectivity and Gallagher's interaction theory of social cognition will also serve to structure and underwrite the account of responsive primary intersubjectivity that I am advancing in this chapter.

Publication details

Published in:

Daly Anya (2016) Merleau-Ponty and the ethics of intersubjectivity. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Pages: 223-248

DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-52744-8_7

Full citation:

Daly Anya (2016) Primary intersubjectivity: affective reversibility, empathy and the primordial "we", In: Merleau-Ponty and the ethics of intersubjectivity, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 223–248.