Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Teaching Phenomenology by Way of "Second-Person Perspectivity" (from My Thirty Years at the University of Dallas)

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Teaching Phenomenology by Way of "Second-Person Perspectivity" (from My Thirty Years at the University of Dallas)

Article excerpt


Phenomenology has remained a sheltering place for those who would seek to understand not only their own "first person" experiences but also the first person experiences of others. Recent publications by renowned scholars within the field have clarified and extended our possibilities of access to "first person" experience by means of perception (Lingis, 2007) and reflection (Zahavi, 2005). Teaching phenomenology remains a challenge, however, because one must find ways of communicating to the student how to embody it as a process rather than simply to learn about it as a content area. Another challenge issues from the fact that most writings on applied phenomenology emphasize individual subjectivity as the central focus, while offering only indirect access to the subjectivity of others (for example, by way of analyzing written descriptions provided by the individual under study). While one finds in the literature of psychotherapy plentiful elucidations of the "we-experience" within which therapists form impressions of their clients' experience, there is still need for a more thoughtful clarification of our rather special personal modes of access to the experience of others in everyday life. This paper will present "second person perspectivity" as a mode of resonating with the expressions of others and will describe class activities that can bring students closer to a lived understanding of what it means to be doing phenomenology in the face of the other

Among the challenges for phenomenology is the crucial question: how do we break from the "first person singular experience" in order to encounter other sentient beings in the world? I call this a challenge, because phenomenology is generally "done" in the first person singular, even if it always presupposes the first person plural, which is to say that we "find ourselves" living in a world with others. If today's phenomenologists are not yet at home dwelling reflectively in second person perspectivity, it is nonetheless the case that there is a necessary shiftfrom first person singular to second person awareness the moment we embark on the task of an ethics. Even before we engage in our ontological and ethical reflections, there is an ethos of the social world itself, which serves as backdrop for all our actions. Within this ethos, we encounter what Levinas (1961/1969) called "the face of the other". Even prior to Levinas, Husserl (1910-11/2006) pointed us in the direction of what has been called an "intersubjective reduction". It is precisely the possibility (and the positing) of this intersubjective dimension of the "transcendental reduction" that inspires us here in the move toward second person perspectivity.

Psychology seems to have begun as a discipline whose target was first person experience, but it quickly degenerated into what are, strictly speaking third person approaches1 to the individual. Eventually, Merleau-Ponty (1945/1964c, p. 52) would (ambiguously) offer the perspective of a "witness" of behaviour as a fruitful alternative to introspection as a mode of access to the meaning of lived experience. I say that he was "ambiguous" because he did not clarify for us the distinction I would like to make here between "second person" and "third person" modes of bearing witness. What I wish to do in this paper is to elaborate the meaning of taking up one's role as a "witness" of behaviour in the mode of second person perspectivity. The paper will proceed from a brief definition of this mode of witnessing, to a sketch of my history in teaching phenomenology, and then to a presentation of some exercises that I use to teach this very special mode of observing both human and non-human expression. Following this, I will revisit the philosophical literature and discuss further implications for pedagogy.

Second Person Perspectivity

One might say that the "second person perspective" itself emerges when we first engage the other person as a "you" - which usually occurs at the moment that we first address the other, whether as a speaking or a non-speaking subject. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.