The Third

Afternoon workshop on the social role of the third with contributions by Joachim Fischer (TU Dresden) and Thomas Bedorf (FernUni Hagen).


14.15-15.30: Joachim Fischer - "The Other and the Third: An Innovation in Social Ontology"

15.45-17.00: Thomas Bedorf - "The Conflict between Ethics and Politics: The Third in Alterity Theory


Joachim Fischer:

All humanities and social sciences (insofar as they appear as a specific group of academic disciplines) require a social theory (or theory of transsubjectivity or a theory of intersubjectivity) as a key foundation, both epistemologically as well as ontologically. Sociology as a key discipline of this group of sciences offers such a social theory. The relevance of “otherness” (“alterity”, “ego-alter ego”, “double contingency”: Hegel, Buber, Husserl, Sartre, Lévinas, Luhmann etc.) distinguishes humanities and social sciences from other disciplines, be it the natural sciences (approaching its “object” (nature) in a subject-object-relationship), psychology and philosophy (transcendental approach within self-relationship of subjectivity) or theology (approach within the revelation of the extramundane Third).

The well elaborated social ontology of the “Other” (“Verstehen”, “Dialog”, “Anerkennung”; “Communication”) see Theunissen, Der Andere: Studien zur Sozialontologie 1965) is now meanwhile accompanied by the turn to the “Third” (Simmel; Freud) - the mundane “Third” - within different disciplines of the humanities and social sciences (especially linguistics, psychology, ethnology, sociology). My talk will focus on distinguishing and systematizing four different arguments, which motivate this “Turn to the Third” as a methodological and ontological innovation at the basis of social theory:

  1. The argument of formal communication in language: A merely dyadic theory of intersubjectivity could not make the entire system of personal pronouns (as a core of communication roles of every language) accessible – the “third person” is needed (N. Elias)
  2. The material argument of family or triangulation: Human socialisation is only possible and completed by “triangulation” (internalization of the third perspective) (Freud, Lacan etc.)
  3. The argument of transition from interaction to institution: The social theory needs the figure of the personal Third in order to reconstruct the phenomenon of “institution” or “system” or “discourse”. (Berger/Luckmann)
  4. The argument concerning the richness of the Third: Literature tells us that every socio-cultural world already configurates itself in a lot of triadic structures (translator, messenger, rival, trickster, mediator, judge, scapegoat, coalition, “the real winner”, agent, divide et impera, parasite, majority/minority). These structures cannot be explained by merely dyadic interaction nor do they need a fourth (party/person) (G. Simmel).

If these four arguments, which cannot be reduced to each other, are able to establish the figure of the mundane Third or “tertiarity” (“Tertiarität”) beyond the Other (“alterity”) in social ontology, then one can draw a number of consequences for the methodical and ontological innovation of the humanities and the social sciences.

Thomas Bedorf:

In a phenomenological perspective the figure of the Third is a figure of transition. It bridges or rather symbolises the break between the ethical and the political. This presupposes a theory of intersubjectivity that conceives of the Other from a position of radical alterity. The mere fact that there is more than one Other forces us to choose between ethical claims. This in turn does not result in another ethical question, but rather engages us in agonistic politics.

You will need to register for this workshopThe deadline for registration is 1 March 2021.

The workshop will be online. After the registration deadline, a Zoom link will be sent to all participants along with background reading material for the workshop.