Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Heidegger on Social Cognition

Nicolai Krejberg Knudsen

Thursday 2 December 2021

16:20 - 17:00

Zoom 1-1

This paper aims to clarify, contextualize, and reassess Heidegger’s ambiguous and polemical account of social cognition. First, I consider Heidegger’s rejection of the idea of empathy. Commentators often assume that this rejection is pretty straightforward, but a closer look reveals that Heidegger makes several seemingly incoherent claims about the nature of empathy. Therefore, it is no way clear, which type of empathy or social cognition Heidegger actually opposes. To clarify this, I identify six different arguments that Heidegger puts forth against empathy and then reassess who (among both historical and contemporary contenders) are, in fact, targeted by these arguments. My analysis shows a surprising degree of continuity with the phenomenological empathy theories put forth by for instance Husserl, Scheler, Stein, and, more recently, Zahavi and Gallagher, which Heidegger is often taken to oppose. What they have in common is that they take social cognition to (i) be immediate or quasi-perceptual, (ii) require a robust self-other distinction, and (iii) explain our basic experiential distinction between minded and non-minded creatures.

Second, I draw on the conception of “transposedness” from Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics to spell out Heidegger’s own positive account of social cognition. This account possesses the mentioned similarities with the phenomenological empathy theories, but differs insofar as it understands the other as exhibiting a practical comportment that constitutively depends on a shared environment, which the traditional phenomenologies of empathy take to be a higher-order phenomenon enabled by empathy. What emerges from Heidegger’s reflections on social cognition is, I conclude, a quasi-perceptual, practically oriented, and triadic approach to interpersonal encounters.