Instinct and the Presence of the Other

  • H. Peter Steeves
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 143)


Husserl was well aware of the tendency to found the infant’s ability to begin pairing on an instinct—an instinct, in some sense, “for the Other.” As early as 1909, Theodor Lipps had claimed that the only possible foundation for social ontology was instinct. He was led to this conclusion through a line of reasoning which should be very familiar.


Unity Formation Social Ontology Primal Impression Phenomenological Reflection Innate Structure 
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    The examples are numerous, though one might confer Meltzoff (1985): “human beings have innate capacities allowing them…to recognize certain isomorphisms between themselves and other humans” (p. 3).Google Scholar
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    And not just more stories of feral children. To name just two other possible sources of evidence, consider (1) the power to raise dog-consciousness to a nearly human level which will be dealt with—if only briefly—in Chapter 6; and (2) the lack of full subjectivity in those who are not attended to by humans as possessing full subjectivity. The latter is a theme in my “The Possibility of a Feminist Phenomenology” (1993). Here I consider the question: what if the significant Other cannot (or, perhaps, even will not) attend to the infant with this gracious act? What if the female child tries desperately to pair with those of her surrounding world, but they are male and the pairing never quite takes place? Even the women she pairs with can never offer her a full and complete subjectivity-as-Other since they themselves went through the same process and are living out their existence as “less-than-complete” subjectivities in a male Ego world. The result probably would be very much like what we have today. Women would be treated as objects—a certain type of object which proves, to men, quite useful, often “trouble-making,” and more or less pleasureful, but an object nevertheless. Female objectification might become institutionalized, for the female Ego would not be able to resist the move to be objectified by half of the “fully subjective” population. Other modes of defining women—modes that are not based on subjectivity—would abound. The fashion-beauty complex, for instance, of which Sandra Lee Bartky writes, would help provide women with a sense of themselves. The female body, unlike a male body which houses subjectivity, might be seen as an end in itself. Women could be instructed to make their bodies over in different ways in order to achieve meaning: to “oil it, pumice it, powder it, shave it, pluck it, depilate it, deodorize it, ooze it into just the right foundation, reduce it overall through spartan dieting or else plump it up with silicon.” (Bartky. 1990. Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression. NY: Routledge, p. 40). Females, as less-than-persons, would experience oppression. Of course this analysis fails to explain how male subjectivity first became the paradigm, but this is beyond our present topic.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Peter Steeves
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCalifornia State UniversityFresnoUSA

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