Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 455–474 | Cite as

Developing open intersubjectivity: On the interpersonal shaping of experience

  • Matt Bower


The aim of this paper is to motivate the need for and then present the outline of an alternative explanation of what Dan Zahavi has dubbed “open intersubjectivity,” which captures the basic interpersonal character of perceptual experience as such. This is a notion whose roots lay in Husserl’s phenomenology. Accordingly, the paper begins by situating the notion of open intersubjectivity – as well as the broader idea of constituting intersubjectivity to which it belongs – within Husserl’s phenomenology as an approach distinct from his more well-known account of empathy (Einfühlung) in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation. I then recapitulate and criticize Zahavi’s phenomenological explanation of open intersubjectivity, arguing that his account hinges on a flawed phenomenology of perceptual experience. In the wake of that criticism, I supply an alternative phenomenological framework for explaining open intersubjectivity, appealing to the methodological principles of Husserl’s genetic phenomenology and his theory of developmentally primitive affect. Those principles are put to work using the resources of recent studies of cognitive developmental and social cognition. From that literature, I discuss how infants learn about the world from others in secondary intersubjectivity through natural pedagogy. Lastly, the paper closes by showing how the discussion of infant development explains the phenomenon of open intersubjectivity and by highlighting the relatively moderate nature of this account compared to Zahavi’s.


Intersubjectivity Intentionality Genetic phenomenology Edmund Husserl Affect Social cognition Natural pedagogy Secondary intersubjectivity 



I would like to thank Dan Zahavi and Shaun Gallagher for their comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper. I am also grateful to László Tengelyi and Maren Wehrle for their constructive criticism of ideas contained in this paper as I presented them at the “Soziale Erfahrung” conference of the Deutsche Gesellshaft für phänomenologische Forschung in Cologne, September 2013. In addition, I thank the two anonymous referees whose reports importantly helped me clarify the arguments and ideas of the paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies Beloit CollegeBeloitUSA

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