CFS Workshop: The we and its phenomenology

Workshop: The we and its phenomenology


14.15-14.30 Introduction
14.30-15.30 Thomas Szanto: "Stein on Shared Experiences and Collective Empathy"
15.30-15.45 Coffee Break
15.45-16.45 Emanuele Caminada: "Background and Horizon of Collective Intentionality: Gerda Walther’s Embedment Analysis of We-Intentionality"
16.45-17.00 Concluding remarks

The workshop is open, no registration is needed.


Stein on Shared Experiences and Collective Empathy
Thomas Szanto, University of Vienna

Recent years have witnessed a growing interest in Edith Stein’s theory of empathy (Stein 1917), not only within, but also outside traditional phenomenological circles, and in particular, within debates on social cognition. What is less known, even to most phenomenologists, however, is Stein’s later, arguably more sophisticated and also more controversial, work on the phenomenology of sociality as expounded, above all, in her Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities (Stein 1922; cf. also Stein 1925).

In this paper I shall reassess, against the background of the contemporary collective intentionality and shared emotions debate, Stein’s hitherto rather neglected later social ontology. Here, I will focus specifically on her account of shared or communal experiences. Moreover, I shall explicate how Stein’s concept of empathy can indeed not only be accommodated within her social ontology, which thus leaves room for ‘collective empathy’, but, moreover, might provide a solution for the most imminent problems Stein’s theory of shared experiences faces. The argument of the paper has three strands:

         (1) I will start mapping the terrain by outlining what I take to be three central requirements for any account of shared experiences: the ‘Plurality Requirement’, the ‘Non-Summative or Integrity Requirement’ and the ‘Anti-Collectivism Requirement’.

         (2) Next, I will address the question of where to tie in, as it were, collectivity in collective experiences (i.e., in their subject, mode, content or object) and then discuss their intentional structure and types as well as the ‘mechanisms of integrating’ experiences into what Stein calls a ‘communal stream of experiences’.

         (3) Finally, I will raise a number of prima facie problems for Stein’s and, more generally, any theory of shared experiences, viz., a.) the problem of the (communal) subject of shared experiences (as opposed to shared experiential contents), b.) the well-known problem in social ontology of membership misidentification, c.) the problem of shared experiences in ‘empty set’ groups, and finally d.) the problem of normativity of shared experiences. By way of a solution, I shall point to Stein’s own conceptual resources for accounting for (most of) these challenges and, in particular, her theory of empathy.       

Ultimately, I aim to show that Stein offers an original, two-dimensional account of sharing minds, which, not least, significantly advances contemporary accounts. According to Stein’s two-dimensional account, robustly integrated communities not only have a rationally integrated point of view, upon which they deliberate and in the light of which they reason, form intentions and act (Rovane 1998; Pettit 2003; List & Pettit 2011), but, moreover, have an own phenomenologically integrated center, constituted precisely by shared experiences, their phenomenal contents and qualities. Conversely, I shall show how contemporary accounts help clarifying what is (and what is not) entailed by Stein’s phenomenology of shared experiences.

Background and Horizon of Collective Intentionality: Gerda Walther’s Embedment Analysis of We-Intentionality
Emanuele Caminada, University of Cologne

Aim of this talk is to present Gerda Walther’s theory of social community (1923) and to develop further her phenomenological understanding of we-intentionality.

According to Walther, the basic phenomenon of communal life is given in community bonding and emotional ties that shape the intentional life of the community members. She conceptualizes her intuition through the notions of ‘habitual joining’ [habituelle Einigung] and ‘intentional embedment’ [intentionale Einbettung]. Walther develops Pfänder’s idea of joining (1913; 1916) by relating it to the process of habitualization, while the notion of ‘intentional embedment’ comes from the implementation of Husserl’s (1913) background analysis in a noetic way.

Walther’s aim is to clarify how sentiments shape the background beyond our awareness. The results of her phenomenological description are summarized in these ontological terms: a community is essentially grounded in the concrete background that arises through habitual joining. A social community is a community that is capable of we-intentionality. If a reflexive and thematic We is necessary to give institutional form to the community, a thematic We is achievable only against the pre-thematic We embedded in the background. Walther shows how both personal I-intentionality and We-intentionality emerge from joint background and basic levels of concrete background. We-Intentionality does not exclude subjective perspectives, but it occurs through common joint frames and against a common background. I-Intentionality is always a matter of a socialized self, since I reinforce myself in relation to my counterparts.

Walther stresses the fact that if the object of joining is another subject, habitualization takes the form of an (intentional) “other in me” through and with whom I can experience the world (Walther 1923: 71). Beyond our self-awareness we carry in the background “others in me” that are intentional embedded on our mental life.  

What does it mean to live with others in the background? And how do they structure (or de-structure) the horizon of our experience? Applying Husserl’s mature genetic phenomenology to Walther’s intuitions and referring to the concepts of ‘affect attunement’ and ‘regulator of the self’ (Stern 1985), ‘others in mind’ and ‘evaluators of the self’ (Rochat 2009), as well as Honneth’s (1992) remarks on ‘recognition’, I will provide possible answers to these questions.

My interpretation of Walther’s concept of we-intentionality touches on issues related to phenomena such as: hallucinations (i.e. hearing voices, invisible friends, etc.), the constitutive role of phantasies in normal as well as pathological social life, and forms of first person perspectives within different structures of common intentionality.