Book chapter

"We-Subjectivity": Husserl on community and communal constitution

In Cartesian Meditations Husserl famously offers an account of how an individual subject can experience others as being centers of consciousness radically independent of its own and, subsequently, how the individual subject then constitutes the experienced world as objectively there for everyone. But Husserl’s account of intersubjectivity includes many further dimensions. A sense of others is a necessary component of almost all of our experiences. Even my experience of myself, whether as a psychophysical natural organism or as a full-fledged person functioning in society, depends on my having a sense of others and on my entering into actual relationships with them. Furthermore, I experience the world as including, not just other individuals like me, but communities of individuals and I experience myself as a member of various of these communities. As a member of a community, I conceive of myself and others as having a mutual or com-munal “take” on the world and on ourselves. Communities function, not merely as multiple subjects with similar experiences and common interests, but as a “we” that – together – has a common experience and understanding of how things are or ought to be. Even the natural world is intersubjective, not merely because it is experienced by a plurality of individual subjects whose experiences happen to have a common object, but because the experience that constitutes it is itself intersubjective or communal. The subjectivity that constitutes the world is, Husserl says, “we-subjectivity”.1 In this essay, I shall explore some of these communal dimensions of intersubjectivity.