Empathy and knowledge: Husserl's introductions to phenomenology

Kevin Hermberg, Marquette University


Much has been written about Husserl and the famous problems of intersubjectivity and solipsism, and some work has been done regarding Husserl's notion of empathy and its role in the establishment of intersubjectivity. The vast majority of that work, however, focuses on one of Husserl's texts and on the establishment of the possibility of other subjects. What is lacking in the scholarship is an investigation of the role of empathy in Husserl's corpus which address the related issues: validity, the degrees of evidence with which something can be experienced, the different senses of "objective" in Husserl's texts, whether empathy contributes to knowledge or just to the validity of one's knowledge, where in the empathetic-communicative process something becomes objective. This dissertation begins to fill that gap by offering an investigation of the role of empathy in the attainment of objectively valid knowledge in each of Husserl's three introductions to phenomenology: Ideas: A General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (1913), Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology (1929), and The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy (1936). Despite accusations by commentators that Husserl's is a solipsistic philosophy, I show that empathy (i.e., one's experience of others as other subjects) is related to one's knowledge on the view offered in each of Husserl's introductions to phenomenology. Empathy is significantly related to knowledge in at least two ways and Husserl's epistemology might, consequently, be called a social epistemology: (1) empathy helps to offer evidence for validity and thus solidify one's knowledge and (2) it helps to broaden one's knowledge by affording the ability to gain access to what others have constituted and known. These roles of empathy are not at odds with one another; rather, both are at play in each of the introductions and, given his position in the earlier work, Husserl needed to expand the role of empathy as he did. Such a reliance on empathy, however, calls into question whether Husserl's is a transcendental philosopher in the sense Husserl claimed it is.

Recommended Citation

Hermberg, Kevin, "Empathy and knowledge: Husserl's introductions to phenomenology" (2003). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3093144.