Ferrarello: Husserl, Intersubjectivity, and Lifeworld

Sep 19th, 2012 | By | Category: Merleau-Ponty

Intersubjectivity can be described as a relationship between me and an other. The peculiarity of this relationship lies in the fact that the other is not alien to me, but is “within me” in a way that his or her “otherness” can be investigated beginning with the way in which that “otherness” is imminent in my ego. The other’s otherness is present to me “in person,” in Husserl’s terms.

For philosophy the problem is this: how can I give an account of something if it is completely outside of and transcends my own nature? A phenomenological theory of intersubjectivity, founded upon the recognition of the imminence of “otherness” offers a solution to the problematic of the transcendence of objectivity. How can the other be present in my lived-world? How can the world be an objective world though we are different living subjects? How can we live in a society of shared values?

These questions can be answered through the use of the phenomenological method. Husserl framed these questions as belonging to a “’sociological’ transcendental philosophy” (Husserl, 1968, p. 539) or a “transcendental sociology” (Husserl, 1966, p. 220). Husserl’s phenomenological investigations of the lived-experience of a subject frame the subject as a transcendental intersubjective unit. In contrast to the word transcendence, transcendental refers to the essential nature of the subject.

We can inquire into this nature beginning with world as it is imminent in a subject’s experience. For example if I want to look into my lived experience of thinking about something, I can first take a specific lived experience of mine in which I am thinking about my friend Anna; then I can analyze this lived experience phenomenologically in order to explain its essential structure (philosophically). This kind of phenomenological method will be particularly attentive to the presence of the other in my lived experience—in other words, to reflect carefully on the way in which the other is present to me. In fact, when I think about Anna, my thinking can be affected by multiple contexts—for example, the judgments of the others about Anna or myself, or the education I received, which shapes my way of perceiving and thinking about others. My lived experience will be not only mine, meaning it is never a purely solitary experience, it always implicitly participates in intersubjectivity because it will be the outcome of an embodied, social and “en-worlded “experience. In that sense phenomenological method has an access to the other’s “otherness” from inside; it digs into the lived-experience of the subject in order to describe how the transcendent world appears to us.

The volumes of Husserliana which we can read to gain a detailed idea of Husserl’s views on this issue are: the Fifth Cartesian Meditation (Husserl, 1982), which sends us to Volume 8 (First Philosophy, Second Part & other important additions) and the Volumes from 13-15 of the Husserliana (Husserl, 1973a-c), which are especially dedicated to intersubjectivity.

The sources Husserl borrowed to develop his theory of intersubjectivity are especially indebted to Brentano (1973), Stein (1989) and Fink (1995). From Brentano he took the theory of intentionality to explain the subject-object relationship and from Stein the notion of empathy to clarify the manner in which we perceive otherness.

In what follows, I will focus firstly on the notion of intentionality, secondly on the constitution of otherness and its objectivity, thirdly on the idea of ego and its life-world.

Intentionality or Living the Outside World

Franz Brentano

Generally speaking, intentionality is a term that dates back to the scholasticism of St. Anselm. For Anselm (c. 1033-1109), intentionality denotes the difference between the objects that exist in human understanding, and those that actually exist in the physical world. From an etymological point of view, intentionality comes from Latin intendere, in English ‘to point to’ or ‘aim at’. Brentano (1838 –1917) took this term and adapted it for his psychology to describe the relationship between mental phenomena and physical objects. In fact for Brentano intentionality was considered the hallmark of psychological phenomena. What is remarkable to notice here is the continuity and the break between Husserl and Brentano’s theories of intentionality. Both philosophers used this theory to explain the structure of mental phenomena and pure consciousness, but they construed it differently.

As mentioned, for Brentano intentionality indicates the central property of every mental phenomenon in reference to its content: conscious acts “intend” extra-mental objects. In Brentano’s Psychology from Empirical Standpoint the author explains his viewpoint with the following words:

Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction toward an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not do so in the same way. In presentation, something is presented, in judgment something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on. (1973, p. 101)

The overall aim of Brentano’s book was to establish the philosophical foundations of psychology as a science. Psychology represents a science whose data come from experience and introspection – hence Brentano envisions psychology from an empirical standpoint. Brentano thought that if psychology was to be established as a science, there had to be a criterion that distinguishes its subject matter from the subject matter of physical (or natural) science. The intentional relationship was the main feature of any psychological experience and it clarifies how an object is intended by a psychological subject. Though Brentano did not address the issue of intersubjective intentional experience, his theory is also useful in explaining that class of lived experiences.

Edmund Husserl

Husserl borrowed Brentano’s notion of intentionality and interpreted it from a subject-directed perspective. For Husserl intentionality is not the intentional in-existence of the object within the consciousness; instead, it describes the relationship of  a subject to the objects of consciousness. Despite the similarities between Husserl and Brentano concerning the role played by the intentional essence as a key to explain the general structure of subjective lived experience, Husserl partly moves away from the definition of intentionality provided by his master. While Brentano considers intentionality as a hallmark of psychological objects, Husserl defines it as a characteristic of the manner in which subjects intend objectivities. For this reason Husserl calls intentional acts “objectifying acts,” because they are able to objectify or present objects to the subject within consciousness (Husserl, 1970, 314).  In the case of a melody, for example, to intend it means the melody must be present to me. For Husserl every intentional act is objectifying because it makes an object present for consciousness. Intersubjective intentionality is a kind of intentionality in which another person is made present to me within my lived experience thanks to a specific kind intentional essence that I am going to address next.

Generally speaking, Husserl claims that the “intentional essence is made up of the two aspects of matter and quality” (1970, p. 251). Quality is the way in which a content is given to consciousness, and matter corresponds to the content of the act. “Quality (…) has guided us since we formed the Idea of matter – while the same object remains differently present to consciousness. One may think, e.g., of equivalent positing presentations, which point by way of differing matters to the same object” (Husserl, 1970, p. 52). Indeed we might evaluate, love or just perceive the same matter once it is given us, in consciousness, by a presentation. Within intersubjective intentionality the other is perceived in the form of empathy. The quality by which I can form in my mind the idea of otherness is that of feeling myself ‘in the shoes’ of the other (en-paschein – “to feel in”). In the next paragraph I will describe the process of empathizing, phenomenologically.

Empathy and the Experience of the Otherness

While intentionality describes the conscious relatedness of the subject and the world, empathy helps us to understand – in everyday language – how I can put myself “in the shoes” of someone else. In particular, I want to focus on a key term in Stein’s doctoral thesis on empathy supervised by Husserl (Stein, 1989): iterated empathy. This term concept enables us to give an account of the sense of the other’s experience as somehow my own. In phenomenological terms, how is it possible for me to ascribe the intentional acts of another person to myself—as if I were living the other’s intentional acts?

According to Husserl, the steps describing my contact with the lived-experience of the other are the following: I live the world, for the most part, within a natural attitude. In this attitude I do not experience myself as a solipsistic, self-contained unit, but rather as a part of a community where others are continually in touch with and affecting my lived-experience and shaping the way I am aware not only of others but of myself. For this reason I undergo a process that Husserl calls communarization (Vergemeinschaftung) whereby the second ego—the ego of another person—appears to my first primordial ego as similar to mine. In the process of communarization I realize that I am a community of persons though I am just me along with my own lived-experience (Erlebnisse). To put in act this process I engage in what Husserl calls analogical apprehension whereby the other, who is present (Paarung) to me as a fellow human being is mirrored in my experience, meaning that I can perceive the other because he is similar and dissimilar to me. Moreover, I recognize the truthfulness of my perceptions of the other person thanks to their changes and possibilities. In fact, Husserl speaks of a harmonious synthesis (Einstimmigkeitssynthese), a synthesis by which I can confirm or deny the always changing presentations I can have of the other. Now, let us explain all these steps in more detail.

Husserl writes: “the other man is constitutionally the intrinsically first man” (Husserl 1982 § 55, p. 124). In fact when I perceive another person, the other is genetically constituted in the midst of my own, flowing experience within the natural attitude, which means that my perception of the other is not posited “before” or “after” my self-presence, but it blossoms as a natural experience alongside my self-presence. In my own simple  living and perceiving, the other appears as natural part of my being-in-the world: one could almost say, as a companion. Perhaps for this reason Husserl describes the relation using the term “pairing” (Paarung), which I will address below. This very first experience is called by Husserl “communarization (Vergemeinschaftung)” to indicate this originary mode of living in which no ego (not even myself) remains absolutely singular.

In this monadological intersubjectivity “the second ego [the other] is not simply there, and strictly given to himself; rather is he constituted as ‘alter ego’ – the ego indicated as one moment by this expression being I myself in my owness” (Husserl 1982 § 44, p. 94). The other appears via a pairing (Paarung), that is via its external presence as an animate organism (Leib) that is similar to mine. When I perceive this organism analogous to me, I live an analogical apprehension that enables me to recognize myself as a human being partaking in a humanity that is shared with others. “The analogy is not in full force and effect (voll); it is an indication, not an anticipation (Vorgriff) that could become a seizure of the self (Selbstgriff)” (Husserl 1972, p. 87).

In this analogical apprehension the other lives within my lived-experience as a ‘mirroring’ (Spiegelung) of my own self and yet not a mirroring proper, an analogue of my own self and yet again not an analogue in the usual sense” (Husserl 1982 § 44, p. 94). Therefore the ego and the alter ego are always – and necessarily – given in a primal “pairing”, as the (transcendental) condition of any analogical apprehension and any later mirroring of the other. Thus the mirroring we speak of is not the static re-presentation of my own solitary self, duplicated or projected, so to speak, on the passive screen of the other: rather, this mirroring is a simultaneous opening to similarity and difference in the midst of interrelatedness and commonality. Intersubjectivity is no mere opening to a discrete other or a recognition of myself in isolation; rather, as Khosrokhavar (2001) has written, intersubjectivity is the ego’s opening to the world of others, as such.

“The experienced animate organism (Leib) of another continues to prove itself as actually (wirklich) an animate organism, solely in its changing but incessantly harmonious “behavior” (Gebaren). Such harmonious behavior (as having a physical side that indicates something psychic appresentatively) must present (auftreten) itself fulfillingly in original experience, and do so throughout the continuous change in behavior from phase to phase”. (Husserl 1982 § 52, p. 114 sq.)

Another key word to describe the intersubjective community is “harmonious synthesis” (Einstimmigkeitssynthese). This concept, borrowed from Brentano’s inner perception, describes the intersubjective constitution of otherness, which is accompanied by a feeling of consistency. Via this kind of synthesis I can be sure that what I perceive in the world genuinely corresponds to what is there. In fact, this synthesis is the foundation of my ability to recognize whether or not there is consistency within my perceptions, in the midst of the dynamic flow of my conscious acts and other’s movements in everyday experience. For example, if I see a dog crossing the street and suddenly I hear the dog meowing, there is an immediate disjuncture among my perceptions that conveys to me that I misperceived the identity of the animal! There is something in my synthesis that does not match my earlier apprehension—exemplifying the way in which perception is always engaged in self-correction.

“Everything [is] alien (as long as it remains within the apprehended horizon of concreteness that necessarily goes with it). [It] centers in an apprehended Ego who is not I myself but, relative to me, a modificatum: another Ego” (Husserl 1982§ 52, pp. 115-6). I perceive the otherness only when I appresent it to my ego, that is when I intend it by an epistemological intentional act. “The identity-sense of ‘my’ primordial Nature and the presentiated other primordial Nature is necessarily produced by the appresentation and the unity that it, as appresentation, necessarily has with the presentation cofunctioning for it this appresentation by virtue of which an Other and, consequently, his concrete ego are there for me in the first place. Quite rightly, therefore, we speak of perceiving someone else arid then of perceiving the Objective world, perceiving that the other Ego and I are looking at the same world, and so forth though this perceiving goes on exclusively within the sphere of my ownness” (Husserl 1982 § 55, pp. 123-4).

Therefore the objective world and mutual existence of the others can be attained by virtue of this harmonious confirmation of apperceptive constitution. I intend the other within a specific horizon of functionings and peculiarities but these presentations have to be continuously confirmed or corrected in the flow of my new, intersubjective experiences of it. In this way, apperception is in a continuous, open-ended process of adjustment and correction. Harmoniousness is also preserved by virtue of “a recasting of apperceptions through distinguishing between normality and abnormalities (as modifications thereof), or by virtue of the constitution of new unities throughout the changes involved in abnormalities” (Husserl 1982 § 55, 125 sq.) The mutual relations characterizing each member of the monadological community involve an “objectivating equalization” (Gleichstellung) (Husserliana 1982 § 56, p. 129) of the existence of the ego and the others “I, the ego, have the world starting from a performance (Leistung), in which […] constitute myself, as well as my horizon of others and, at the same time (in eins damit), the homogeneous community of ‘us’ (Wir-Gemeinschaft) ; this constitution is not a constitution of the world, but an actualization which could be designated as “monadization of the ‘ego’ – as actualization of personal monadization, of monadical pluralization” (Husserliana VI, 417).

Intersubjective Reduction and Lifeworld

At the end of the fourth text in  Husserliana XV Husserl writes “starting from intersubjectivity, it is possible to establish the intersubjective reduction by placing between brackets the world in itself and thus achieving the reduction to the universe of the intersubjective that includes in itself all that is individually subjective” (1973c, 69; Husserl 1972, 188 sq., p. 272). The very first beginning of a phenomenological intersubjective analysis is given by reduction. The reduction designates the inquirer’s passage from a natural attitude, in which the subject naively participates in the world, to a phenomenological attitude, in which the subject reflects upon what he already lived and is living in order to discern the essence of a lived-experience (Erlebnisse).

In § 44 of the Fifth Cartesian Meditation, Husserl explains reduction as a ‘primordial’ act of putting out of play any constitutive function of intentionality not as reported by another subjectivity but in reference to the “primordial sphere” of the inquirer’s ego, in its irreducible immanence, that is, to the intentional sphere – actual and potential – in which the inquirer’s ego is constituted in its “peculiar ownness” (eigen). This reduction is different from the classical phenomenological reduction. While the latter brings us back to the constitutive transcendental subjectivity, the former (that implies the latter) should be understood as a “dismantling reduction” (Abbaureduktion) that aims at revealing the original sense of the inquirer’s ego as such—that is, to witness the phenomenon of I-ness.

In fact, the ego that stands out to the inquirer by means of this reduction is an Ur-ich, a primordial ego (Husserliana VI, p. 188). “In my spiritual ownness, I am nevertheless the identical Ego-pole of my manifold ‘pure’ subjective processes, those of my passive and active intentionality, and the pole of all the habitualities instituted or to be instituted by those processes” (Husserl 1982 § 44, p. 98).

According to Husserl’s phenomenological theory every ego seems to live many lives at once; or put differently, to exemplify multiple modes of being-an-I simultaneously. The ego can be said to live at least three lives at the same time: an immanent, transcendental and intersubjective life. In the first one the ego lives according to the natural attitude thanks to which it acquires sense data. Through employing the reduction, it puts in bracket all that does not belong to its own intentional life to recover habitualities and sedimentations constituted as “abiding convictions” (bleibende Überzeugungen), which determine the Self as a concrete egoic pole and the “transcendent objects” (given either actually or potentially). Finally the intersubjective ego is the ego given after the reduction. In this life the ego discovers itself not as a solipsistic unit or a monad but as an intersubjective unit. All that belongs to its lived-experience is mingled with and inextricable from the lived-experiences of others. Thus, the second transcendental ego is only a limited aspect—one might almost say a profile—of the third, transcendental intersubjective ego, but at the same time the former grounds (fundiert) the latter.

The relation between the transcendental ego and other egos is also strengthened by  the apperception of the world (Weltapperzeption). In fact the transcendental ego constitutes the world as a phenomenon thanks to its intentional activity. Since the transcendental ego is fundamentally one with the intersubjective and immanent ego, the constitution of the world is an intersubjective constitution in which the world is always intrinsically a lifeworld shared by an intersubjective community. It itself is a part of the explication of the intentional components (Bestände) implicit in the fact of the experiential world that exists for us. (Husserl 1982 § 49, p. 108).

In the first volume of Ideas Husserl had already introduced this concept under the heading of Umwelt to mean a surrounding natural world, and it is only after writing the Cartesian Meditation and most of all in the Crisis that Husserl elaborates a proper “Umweltanalyse” to explicate the idea of an objective world shared within the intersubjective life of a living community. (Husserliana, vol. IV, p. 222; Husserl 1989, p. 234). To explain the layers of this lifeworld (Lebenswelt), Husserl gives the following example:

“I see coal as heating material; I recognize it and recognize it as useful and as used for heating, as appropriate for and as destined to produce warmth. […] I can use [a combustible object] as fuel; it has value for me as a possible source of heat. That is, it has value for me with respect to the fact that with it I can produce the heating of a room and thereby pleasant sensations of warmth for myself and others. […] Others also apprehend it in the same way, and it acquires an intersubjective use-value and in a social context is appreciated and is valuable as serving such and such a purpose, as useful to man, etc.” (Husserl, 1976, pp. 186f.).

Our world is a “subjective-relative lifeworld”. We cannot even conceive something that transcends us in a strict sense—because that “something,” if it could not be shared with a real or potential “we,” could not be grasped by consciousness in the first place. In other words, we would not be capable of intending it—in the simplest terms, we would not be able to speak about it. Our intended world is the “grounding soil” within which a more objective (or better, intersubjective) world of community and science is co-constituted (Husserl, 1976, p. 134). This is the only soil within which we simultaneously discover and shape our multi-tiered, intersubjective life.



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