Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

The Other within Myself. Schutz, Husserl, and Nishida on Intersubjectivity

Jan Straßheim

Thursday 2 December 2021

09:40 - 10:20

Zoom 1-1

Alfred Schutz’s lifelong aim was to clarify intersubjectivity as a fundamental condition for the social world. In 1929, he learned that Husserl had a similar objective and started working with phenomenology. When he published the results in a 1932 book, Husserl was impressed and offered him to become his assistant. However, Schutz was critical of the transcendental approach to intersubjectivity as later developed in more detail in Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. In Schutz’s view, an access to an Alter Ego presupposes an experience of alterity present within the Ego from the outset. To capture intersubjectivity, he argued, we need to specify a worldly application of the transcendental framework, termed by Husserl a “phenomenology of the natural attitude.”

The central element in Schutz’s approach was the concept of “types,” which he later refined with the help of Husserl’s concept of the same name. When shared and handed down within a culture, types shape experience across a plurality of subjects. Types are dynamic in a way that strict rules or ideal essences are not. A type can be created, changed, or abandoned; where applied, it is open to individual modifications and exceptions. Without this variability, types would render us unable to understand a person from another culture, recognize an “atypical” individual, or even get to know people beyond their typically expected traits. But if types shape our experience, the problem of the Ego’s access to an Alter Ego returns in a different guise: What motivates me to question the types I have relied upon so far, to modify them, or to deviate from them? Schutz points to “problems,” which cause our typical expectations to fail and force us to reconsider our types. But such cases do not reflect the spontaneity, with which we can (in principle) experience the alterity of others.

Schutz died without finding a solution. Had his friendship with the philosopher of law Otaka Tomoo not been cut short by Otaka’s return to Japan and his own emigration to the USA, Schutz might have benefitted from the ideas of his friend’s former teacher, Nishida Kitarō, the founder of modern Japanese philosophy. In a 1932 essay, Nishida, too, treated the problem of intersubjectivity in terms of the encounter between an Ego and an “other.” But unlike Husserl and Schutz, he stressed that this encounter involves a radical “discontinuity” within experience, which, according to him, escapes many “Western” thinkers with their traditional bias towards “continuity.” Only this discontinuity, which Nishida compares to my “death” within my own experience, allows me to find an “other within myself,” and thus to open myself to the other before me. In the light of Husserl and Schutz, Nishida’s often religiously influenced terminology can be understood as a potential solution to a phenomenological problem. Conversely, this solution brings to the fore comparable ideas in both Husserl’s and Schutz’s unpublished manuscripts of the period.