Development of Intersubjectivity

Adams, W. A. (2011). The Development of Intersubjectivity. Presented at Psychology & the Other Conference, 2011, October 1-3, Cambridge, MA.

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How is it possible that we are aware of each other’s experience? Each of us is a subjectivity, a fact that cannot be directly perceived or scientifically supported. We just know it because of intersubjectivity, the capacity to apprehend another person’s meaning, intentions and emotions.

Intersubjectivity is not merely a guess about the other’s state of mind, or a deduction from behavior and circumstance. Rather, it’s the human ability to participate in the subjective state of another person.

Philosophers who accept such a definition, such as Husserl, Levinas, Sartre, and Buber, describe the phenomenon, but provide little or no accounting of how it arises. They simply take intersubjectivity as a phenomenological given. Some psychologists, such as Freud, Piaget, and Kohlberg, acknowledge developmental processes for intersubjectivity, but are biased to a nativist view. This paper suggests that intersubjectivity requires intense, lifelong socialization, and where that process fails, the adult is psychologically deficient.

Awareness of the role of socialization in intersubjectivity illuminates the wide range of intersubjective sensitivity in adults and children.

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