Husserl on Recollection: A Brief Guide

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Husserl on recollection: a brief guide

If we are here to turn to Husserl’s account of recollection, then, in short, for Husserl, recollection presides as a re-presentative act; i.e. it involves presentification of a certain experience/ its object to consciousness that is nevertheless no longer directly given or present owing to the fact it has passed. Whilst the recollected experience was once, by definition, an original experience, in its re-presentation the character of originality or direct givenness is lost, retaining only an intuitive givenness, with the temporal stamp (or modification) of having passed. What this henceforth means, is that despite a recollected experiences re-presentation within the present, these recollected experiences are only lived towards in the mode of the as-if. They are lived towards as if they were occurring to me again, or as if I were there acting through them, but with a firm understanding that really, I am not, (since I am here, recollecting these experiences in the present instead). And thus: “Recollection is simply the activity in consciousness of experiencing an event with the modification that it has already passed. In other words, the activity of recollection is constituted as present, although its contents are experiences as being originally in the past” (Rodemeyer, 2006, p102).

What is so unique about recollection, however, is that not only the experienced object is reproduced, but also the experience(ing) itself. If I am, for example, to recall playing the piano yesterday, I do not merely recall the object, piano, but I recall myself playing; I recall my surroundings; I recall how I felt during that moment, etc. What this goes to show, therefore, is that not only is another object, different from those I am actually experiencing right now, reproduced within my consciousness, but another ego too, the ego to which these recollected experiences correspond and belong.

Whilst I do undoubtedly identify with this re-presented ego, as a former version of myself, it is evident, however, that this re-presented ego is not fully coincident with the ego I embody now, as lived, since if this were the case, I would find it increasingly difficult to distinguish my actual and current experiences from those as recollected. Were the recollected ego to mirror my own exactly, this would mean that our temporal orientations would have to be mirrored also, meaning that the re-collected experience’s temporal stamp would be converted from “past” to “presently occurring” and thus; “what is remembered would be given as Now, and memory would cease to be itself and collapse into perception” (Brough, 1975, p.42).

It therefore has to be the case that recollection, most properly “is a kind of doubling or pairing of two distinct nows” (Costello, 2012, p.124), two distinct nows that correspond to two ego’s, that, whilst sharing an identity (as both being “me”), must be regarded as distinct. This being articulated most fully by the point that; even as I apprehend the ego recalled to be “me”, it does not enjoy the kind of status, accessibility, and now-ness as my current self; it rather appears within my present I’s stream of awareness, as opposed to along side it. Thus, whilst I can identify with, and live as-if I were the recollected I, viewing the recollected experiences from the vantage point of my past self, I can only live as this past self because I am also (currently and now) a recollecting ego that is remembering and re-presenting these past experiences and their associated ego within my current stream of awareness. Or in other words, “I simultaneously live two different I’s that are mine directly, the one within the other, but not in the same way” (Costello, 2012, p.125). I can live directly only as one ego, despite my ability to (indirectly) live as another ego, but to do this, there must remain preserved a distinction between the ego as recollecting and the ego as recollected per se.[1]

ii) The Analogy – Appresentation, variation and modification: the core of recollective and empathetic acts

Since a brief background into Husserl’s account of recollection has now been provided, I would like to move onto a discussion of the analogy between the acts of recollection and empathy, as predominantly presented within Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Fifth Cartesian Meditation.

To Begin: Whilst initially, recollection and empathy may appear to be remarkably different acts (for, in the former, a set of my own past experiences is relayed to me, and in the latter, I am said to experience (empathetically as) the other, by virtue of an analogising apprehension that allows me to “feel into” the conscious life of the Other), upon closer inspection, it appears there seems little in the structure of these acts to distinguish them so starkly from one another (though of course there is variance in their content). Not only is it the case that within each a second and distinct ego is constituted as “within me” but both acts fundamentally depend upon my ability to appresent, or indeed, re-present a certain ego and an associated stream of experiences as present, that nevertheless transcends, completely, the bounds of my current and actual direct perceiving[2].

The crux of this analogy therefore appears firmly seated within the aforementioned point that strictly speaking recollection does not merely involve the replaying of certain already lived experiences within the minds eye (as may be naively anticipated), but requires too, such as to avoid a collapse into perception, the re-presentation of my former self as the ego to which these experiences properly correspond, as notably distinct from my current self as recollecting. The acts so highly resemble one another at this very level, therefore, owing to the fact that they both essentially involve an accomplishment wherein a distinct ego (and its associated stream of experiences), finds its constitution within the functioning (recollecting/ empathising) ego’s stream. Hence, no matter the recollected ego’s assumed affinity to the recollecting ego; owing to the temporal disparity between the recollecting vs. recollected ego, and their necessary distinction in kind (the recollected ego now standing as the object of the recollecting ego’s subjectivity), the re-presented recollected ego is quite necessarily other to the recollecting self, transcending it in terms of original first person access to it’s represented stream of experiences. Thus: whilst I may have lived as this ego in originality once[3], and my sense of personal identity flows ever forth from that moment to my present; this ego is not “me” in the present sense; it transcends me in a sense equal to the alter ego and its “inner” subjectivity. And thus, as Husserl concurs: “somewhat as my memorial past, as a modification of my living present, “transcends” my present, the appresented other being “transcends” my own being […]. In both cases the modification is inherent as a sense-component in the sense itself; it is a correlate of the intentionality constituting it” (CM p.115).

The interesting point, following the final line of this quote, is that Husserl describes both my past ego and the ego of the other as finding their constitution only as a result of standing as the correlate (i.e. object) of my current intentionality; their presence is the pure result of my intending, and ap/re-presenting. Hence, whilst it may have been easier to naively assume that my past is simply a given, we now see that it, too, is product only of an active constitutive effort upon my part wherein an ego that is not and cannot be directly given to me is re-presented as nonetheless “there” within my present.

Indeed, the active constitutive effort on my part becomes increasingly more evident when we retroactively realise that this recollected ego which now finds its presence within me as the apprehendible ego of my past experiences was not an actual and objective part of those recollected experiences in their original occurring to me; just as my current self is not thematically given to me (as an object) right now – the ego of my past experiences would not have featured as an objective moment of these experiences. This ego therefore only becomes presented to me now, in the manner that it does, by my current self constituting a variational mode of itself, in the present, in the mode of having passed, by a reflective transformative re-presentative act[4]. Thus, in a manner akin to the way in which the alter ego finds its constitution via my current ego constituting it as a variational mode, or doubling, of its own subjectivity (via an analogical transfer of sense), my past self finds its initial constitution as a variational mode of my current subjectivity: both receiving their sense/ meaning via their intentional reference and relation to me, presiding meanwhile, as re-presentations that inherently transcend my own subjectivity. Or as Husserl states:

[within empathy] the always singular “I” in the original constituting life […] performs a constitutive accomplishment through which an intentional modification of itself and its primordiality achieved ontic validity under the title of “alien-perception”, perception of others, of another “I” which is for himself an “I” as I am. This becomes understandable by analogy if we already understand, through the transcendental exposition of recollection, that to what is recollected, what is past (which has the ontic meaning of a present having passed) there belonged also a past “I” of that present, whereas the actual, original “I” is that of immediate presence. […] thus the immediate “I” performs an accomplishment through which it constitutes a variational mode if itself as existing (in the mode of having passed). Starting from this we can trace how in the immediate “I”, flowing statically-present, constitutes itself in self-temporalisation as enduring through “its” pasts. In the same way, the immediate “I”, already enduring in the enduring primordial sphere, constitutes in itself another as other (CR p.185)

Whilst the majority of this passage should ring clear, one point does deserve more discussion; this being the reason behind Husserl’s precise decision to describe the other constituted ego’s as “variational modes”, or “intentional modifications” of oneself, as opposed to choosing terms that could only assert a loose semblance to oneself. The major gain from its enforcement appears to be (other than the fact it indicates an apperceptive transfer of sense has taken place from my being to the other’s, which resulted in their sense), is that it implicitly refers back to our earlier discussions regarding the exchangeability of the “here” and “there” and the associated points of view. By recognising the re-presented egos as variational modes, or intentional modifications of oneself, we tacitly assume that this ego’s intentional systems of experiencing/ behaving are (largely) equal to one’s own; meaning these egos stand to embody the stream of experiences/ appearances I would have were I there, where they are (as their stream of experience are but possible variations of my own).[5]

What this thereby, quite fundamentally, sets the foundation for, is Husserl’s emphasis upon the fact that both empathy and recollection are experiences wherein I am said to be able to, “live toward the world”, in a modified way, from the perspective of which transcends my current now. Each demand that I have within me the capacity to “displace” myself from, or otherwise transcend, my primal present, as to take up/ live toward a stream of re-presented experiences I would have, were I to occupy the alternate presents represented by the recollected/ empathised ego’s.Whilst there is an important difference, in that empathetic experiences involve my living towards a present at a remove from my own in terms of its placement in space, and recollective experiences involve my living towards a present distinct from my own owing to its location in time, the structure remain the same: since, as “whilst remembering something I so to speak live in the past [as if I were there], and while empathising with someone else, I so to speak live in the other [as if I were there where they are]” (Taipale, 2016, p.331). Thus, in each case, I live towards, or from the perspective of, a present distinct from my own: in both acts, I “displace” myself from my true present, to “uptake life” within the merely presentiated present of the re-presented ego, to “live”, so to speak, as if I were in their shoes (with of course the awareness that these presents are not my true present, as to avoid any collapse into misguided acts of perception). Or as Husserl summarises:

[in recollection] we can trace how the immediate “I”, flowing-statically present, constituted itself in self-temporalisation as enduring through “its” pasts. In the same way, the immediate “I”, already enduring in the enduring primordial sphere, constituted in itself another as other. Self-temporalisation through de-presentation, so to speak (through recollection), has its analogue in my self-alienation (empathy as a depresentation of a higher level- depresentation of my primal presence into a merely presentified primal presence). (CR p.185)

What this notion of displacement/ depresentation thus seemingly signifies, more than anything, however, is the way in which a fundamental gap must always preside between the constituted ego, and the constituting ego; since one must displace itself to live as the “other” there can be no overlap or connecting bridge between them; there must always be a divide. Indeed, on closer inspection, it is precisely this divide which underscores the pure possibility of my apprehending them as other subjectivities, distinct in this moment from my own (and secondarily place myself in their shows)– since were this division between my own subjectivity and the re-presented ones not to persist, each would merely be an experience of me. Hence, were it not for this structuring, i.e. this labelling of the re-presented set of experiences with the stamp “as if I were there, though really I am not” (because I have had to displace myself to get there and have a firm awareness of my own identity and singularity in distinction to them), both acts would indistinguishably collapse into acts of perception, since, were they not to transcend me, they would be me[6].

The remaining point of the comparison finally rests in what Husserl has to say regarding the kind of verification that may be entertained, when considering acts of recollection. Since we have now revealed any recollective experience to also be an experience of original inaccessibility owing to the transcendental nature of the recalled ego and its associated past experiences it is evident that any original (testifying) experience of my past within the present is not possible (since that would simply be an act of direct (self-)perception). It should therefore be self-evident that recollection stands test only to the kind of verification empathetic acts also assume. The only kind of verification is non-original in kind. Since no fulfilling presentations can be acquired, the validity of my recalling is premised only upon the continuance of a harmonious synthesis of events/ behaviours that do not collapse into incoherence or display any kind of abnormality that would further lead me to doubt the correctness of my re-presenting. Or as Husserl states:

my past is given only by memory and is characterised in memory as  my past, a past present – that is: an intentional modification. The experiential verification of it, as a modification, then goes on necessarily in harmonious syntheses of recollection; only thus does a past as such become verified. […] just as, in my living present, in the domain of “internal perception”, my past becomes constituted by virtue of the harmonious memories occurring in this present, so in my primordial sphere, by means of appresentations occurring in it and motivated by its contents, an ego other than mine can become constituted – accordingly, in non-originary presentations of a new type (CM p.115)

The perhaps most surprising conclusion we can draw from this, is therefore that the verification of my own past, and my presiding as a self that has enduring for a stretch of time that extends beyond this present moment, even momentarily, resides quite necessarily, and completely, in the same kind of verification (and presentification/appresentation) that testified to the validity of the other existing for me as another human being. Whilst for many, it is this method of verification (i.e. never a fulfilling presentation) that has been that which prevents one from ever reaching an adequate account of the other, since one can never know this other is other, and not a mere imposter, the fact I cannot even “know” myself to be extended beyond this moment, or having existed in times past, without “verifying” (and re-presenting) my past selves existence, in the exact same manner, should hopefully cast doubt upon this criticism of a phenomenological account of the other as insufficient as such.  If we cannot and do not have any possible fulfilling presentation that can testify to the fact we were present/ living/ existing even one second ago, and can only denote my own past existence by re-presenting a now non-originally present/ accessible ego, as within me, why should we raise the stakes so high when suggesting what should be required when “proving” the existence of the other? Especially when the kind of constitution and associated verification of my past self and the self of the other, seem the same, structure-wise.

What I would therefore now like to discuss is the way in which empathetic experiences are not the only experiences that relate directly to the constitution of the sense “human being”. What I would like to disclose is the way in which our own notion of ourselves as human beings, that existed beyond this moment, and have certain characteristics and material determinations, has its origin and pure possibility in our ability to reflect, objectify ourselves, and hence re-present ourselves as a unified wholes that transcend our pure transcendental subjectivity by standing instead as a constituted/ objectivated complex of sense within it. And hence, that it is not only the personhood of the other person that is constituted upon the basis of an appresentative/ re-presentative experience of an ego “within me”, but actually, my own personhood, as an empirical self, too.

iiv) I am (as originally inaccessible) as the other: recollection’s role in the constitution of my own personhood and subjectivity

To outline the point I am trying to make; at a common-sensical level, it should be self-evident that I could not have any notion of myself as a persisting self with a certain identity throughout time, if I were not also aware of myself as also persisting throughout alternate moments of time to the present. If I could only have a bare awareness of myself as existing precisely now, with no relation to any previous moment in time, I would be trapped in the present quite indefinitely; living life through a series of unconnected nows, that, after their passing, become forever lost. Were we not able to recollect our past experiences and re-present them in an identifying synthesis in relation to my current self, it seems that we could barely have a notion of ourselves that extends beyond this present, since, put simply: “without memory we would have no access to what has been the length and breadth of our lives. That times flow does not imprison the self in a present without windows to the past, we owe to memory” (Brough, 1975, p.61)

In reference to Husserl’s theory of time (which unfortunately I do not have the space to disclose here); whilst retention plays the most primal role in my ability to apprehend a continual flow of experiences as connected, and belonging to me, recollection has a more primordial role to play in the constitution of my own identity, since, as claimed, “only in repeated recollection does the I first show itself as the same” (Waldenfels, 1990, p.28). Whilst retention can, and does, account or the flow of my experiences as unified in time, since retention itself is not re-presentative (but merely alters the time stamp of my just-elapsed experiences) it does not account for the identity of me, as a person; since no previous, now re-presented, “I” as the bearer of these experiences can show itself as “the same” as the “I” that I now conceive of myself to be. Indeed, when Husserl himself questioned whether our identity/ subjectivity could be constituted upon the basis of retention alone, we quickly see:

Husserl answers in the negative; subjectivity, he insists, can only be constituted in its repetition. We could indeed live, but only the process of recollection allows us to speak of a unity and identifiable being for-itself of this “monadic life”. Husserl even goes so far as to say that recollection is necessary not only for me to know who, when and where I was, but also for me to know “that I was” in the first place. Hence what is in question here is nothing less than the unity of subjective life and being as such: since the primordial temporalisation of consciousness in the living present and the process of retentional modification are still not identifying and reproductive, it is only with recollection that we can say that a life history is constituted for an I in these memories – namely, for the I that carries out these acts of remembering  (Lotz, 2007, pp.118-9)

What we hence find within this quote is the important notion that my personal identity is not derivable only from the temporal unification of my experiences; rather, my identity is derivable only from my ability to recognise a commonality, and identity, persisting between the re-presented past ego’sbelonging to these experiences, which we find as a feature only of re-productive recollective experiences, as opposed to non-reproductive retentive ones. Hence, I, as a human being, find my sense as an enduring extended human being who has a past only upon the repeated re-presentations and identifying syntheses of my past with my present in recollection. It is thus not only the currently re-presented past ego that derives its sense (as past) via its re-presentation within the present, but my self as present, also receives its sense, as an enduring self with a history, via its ability to represent itself as past within the present, and identify with this ego as its own.

What we can therefore conclude, is that: were it not for my ability to recollect in such a way that an identity between the recollected self and my current self is achieved, I would not strictly be able to know myself as anything other than an (incessantly changing, and discontinuous in nature) person of this now. My conception of my own human identity (as an extended egoic life) is thus a notion that simply does not make sense were I not able to be my own (now originally inaccessible) other: I simply cannot have any meaningful conception of myself as a being that extends beyond this current punctual now point unless I can re-present and further identify with my past self within my present consciousness, living in a community with it, just as I re-present and live in a community[7] with the other; “without memory the elapsed experiences would be irretrievably lost […] and I would be trapped forever in the immediate present. The essence of self and of objectivity would never fully develop” (Brough, 1975, pp.55-6).

iv) From transcendental to human subjectivity

Whilst to the present none of this may be too surprising; of course I could not know I existed at an earlier time if I could not remember having done so, on a much deeper level, once we recall Husserl’s theory of the transcendental self, and its distinction from the empirical, we immediately see the surprisingly paramount importance of recollection/ reflection for any notion at all of ourselves as physically embodied human beings, with certain determinable qualities, characteristics, traits, habits, instincts, physical features etc.

Whilst it may appear, when seated within the natural attitude, more than natural to assume our human embodiment, personality, characterises and physical determinations to be ineliminable and fundamental component parts of our being/ subjectivity, one’s certainty in one’s own human nature becomes as radically shaken as one’s previous certainty in the existence of the world following Husserl’s reduction. Whilst Husserl’s performance of the epochē is famously cited for revealing the “absolute realm of transcendentally pure subjectivity”, that stands as the primordial realm of being, it is not long before the disparity between this kind of ineliminable subjectivity and our general notion of ourselves as existing becomes clear, as all wordly predications and determinations, as attached to our specially human mode of being become bracketed, and suspended; subject to the same treatment as all other existence senses of the world: In Husserl’s words, following the epochē:

I as a human being would be no more […] were something still remaining that would allow the experience to be taken as “conditions” of a personal ego, and identical personal properties gave notice of themselves in the alteration among these conditions, then we would also dissolve these construal’s, do away with the intentional forms constituting them, and reduce them to the pure experience” (Ideas I, p.101)

The conclusion of these findings is therefore that a specifically human mode of being, or any property or determination as related to one’s wordly manner of being, is not an essential part of the newly revealed absolute core of transcendental subjectivity. Just as all other objects and existence senses within the world, any predicates as referent of my “human being” (whether physical or psychical) find their constitution only via their standing as the correlate of this transcendental selves constitution/ experiencing[8]. This being the necessary case owing to the revelation that – being the primordial realm from whence all others derive their sense, the transcendental self cannot possibly be describable in the kind of (human) determinations it brings forth. In its purity, it is “nothing that could be taken for itself and made its own object of investigation. Apart from its “manners of relating” and “manners of behaving”” (Ideas I, p.154). It stands, to the contrary, as the functioning centre from which all acts find their origin and root; “it is the centre whence all conscious life emits rays and receives them; it is the centre of all affects and actions of all attention, grasping, relating, and connecting” (Ideas II, P.112). And hence, all human determinations as relating to my “human” subjectivity, must stand other to its very functioning, as the correlates of its outwardly directed conscious rays[9].

The question we are hence firmly seated with, is how do we thus come to thematically regard ourselves, or “know” ourselves to be human beings, who display physical and mental qualities and dispositions, when at our absolute core we are seemingly transcendental subjectivity that cannot be described, grasped, or determined at all? How can I become constituted as a human being, a person amongst many, if I cannot even grasp myself as the now functioning subjectivity that “I am”?

As anticipated by the very theme of this thesis, what I would like to argue most prominently is that Husserl’s account of human/ empirical subjectivity requires a series of constitutive acts that share the same form as empathy and recollection. What I would like to state is that any thematic awareness of oneself, as a human ego/ human being, as grasped, requires one reflexively constitute oneself as an embodied personal ego within the transcendental ego’s stream, thus entailing it stand transcendent to my own transcendental subjectivity, as an objectified re-presentation of its prior functioning via its embodiment “within the world”. And hence, we may say, my human being, enjoys the same status as that of the other; a constituted complex of sense within my anonymous flux of being that derives its sense only via standing in relation to me, the transcendental self, as an “other” embodiment/ objectivity to it.

If we are thus to turn to how Husserl himself depicts this transcendental selves “self-mundanisation”, or objectification, such as to constitute itself as a human empirical subject within the world, I would like to present the following passage, wherein we find quoted (by Zahavi) how Husserl details this process comes about:

The [transcendental] subjectivity exists as constituting, and this constitution entails at the same time the self-constitution of the constituting subject; “the constituted consciousness constitutes itself, the objectivating consciousness objectivates itself – and indeed, in such a way that it brings […] my own lived body; and, psychophysically one with the latter (and thereby localised in natural spatiotemporality […]), the entire constituting life, the entire ego, with its stream of consciousness, its ego-pole and habitualities” (Hua 15/546 In; Zahavi, 2003, p.75)

What we find here, then, is the unique notion that the transcendental self constitutes, or objectifies, itself as an embodiment within the world, via the very constitution of its own body and psyche, and its connected qualities, determinations and habitualities, that have the added sense reference; the me. Or in other words – since no human predicates can attach themselves essentially to the being of my transcendental subjectivity I must constitute myself as so persisting in a quite particular relation with the human body I find so prevalent within in my general perceiving –the body of which I come to find myself ruling and governing, and by virtue of its innate sense capacities; perceive myself, the world, and fellow human beings (from which all such gain their relevant sense).

It is hence quite fundamentally not only my recollected self, as elapsed, and the self of the other, that becomes constituted via my own re-presenting and constituting of a distinct concretised ego with a connected body within me, but actually any (naïve) view of myself as an embodied human subjectivity that extends beyond a viewpoint of myself as an anonymous, pre-thematic centre of all my acts. Meaning as such – I can only truly know myself, as a human being,via standing as the constituted object of my constituting subjectivity – wherein the very sense of my “being” human becomes evinced in relation to my process of continual self-objectification and thematisation via identification[10].

What becomes ever more obvious, therefore, is that there is seemingly a large divide between any conception of oneself as a human, embodied subjectivity, and as a transcendental subjectivity, meaning henceforth, that just as we must distinguish the recollecting ego, from the recollected ego, and the empathising ego and the empathised ego, as distinct, so too:

we have to distinguish [quite clearly] between the “I that I am” on the subject side and the “I that I am” as Object for myself, an Object which is, in the existing “I am”, represented, constituted, and perhaps intended in the specific sense, the me. What is intended here is “the person” constituted for me, the Ego which has consciousness as a self (Ideas II, pp.264-5)

Or as put differently:

it is necessary to distinguish between the functioning subjectivity and the objective subjectivity (the objectified, thematically experiences, presented, thought, predicated subjectivity) […] [as] whenever I take myself or something else as an object, I am always necessarily unthematically cogiven as a functioning I, accessible to myself through reflection, which, on its part, is a new unthematic activity of the functioning I (Hua 14/431 In; Zahavi, 2005, p.52)

What follows from this, however, is a very obscure consequence – i.e. that owing to this divide between myself as (pre-thematically) constituting, and self as (thematically) constituted – there will always remain an aspect of my “subjectivity” that shall evade my objective grasping and apprehending at any time. Since I can only thematically apprehend or grasp myself as the human subjectivity of a body with a psyche whilst also functioning pre-thematically as the grasping/ apprehending subjectivity of this act – I cannot ever really know myself objectively as the subjectivity I am, but only the objectivity I have “made”. Indeed, as is here stated, since so long as my self-objectification via

reflection is characterised by a kind of self-fragmentation, there will always remain an unthematic and anonymous spot in the life of the subject. Even a universal reflection will contain a moment of naïveté since it is necessarily prevented from grasping itself. Reflection will forever miss something important, namely itself qua anonymously functioning subject-pole. As Husserl wrote, I cannot grasp my own functioning subjectivity because I am it; what which I am cannot be my Gegenstand, cannot stand opposed to me. Experiential life can thematise and expose itself, but it can never do so exhaustively and completely (Zahavi, 2005, p.92).

There hence, quite paradoxically, always seemingly remains a certain dimension of my subjectivity that must re-main un-thematically known, un-thought, un-grasped at every moment of my functioning; as that subjectivity of which grasps, constitution, or thematically objectified, cannot, in its pure functioning, be grasped, constituted or objectified and hence “known” (without requiring a further unthematic, pre-reflective grasping act, to grasp it, and so forth, in the style of an infinite regress). It is thus not just the other’s functioning subjectivity that evades my objectivating grasp completely, but in a remarkable way, also my own. No matter how I look at myself and grasp myself concretely, there will always remain a “dark core of the ego […] which is never brought to [thematic] self-awareness” (Lotz, 2007, p.64) in the sense that “the streaming present is always alienated from its, distanced from itself in the sense that it can never take up its streaming present as a streaming present but can only take it up as past” (Lotz, 2007, p.64).

Thus, whilst I identify with this ego of my re-presentation as me, the human subjectivity, in reality, my genuine subjectivity evades me (objectively) in a manner like the other’s subjectivity, and as such, just as I cannot grasp the “primordium” that the other is; i.e. a human subjectivity, so too, I “can never objectively apprehend the primordium that […] [I am] […] [as] Grasping myself through my retained experience, I, […] apprehend myself not as the self that I am, but rather as the self that I was. The self that I am must, therefore, remain objectively anonymous” (Mensch, 2010, p.159).[11]

v) I am as the other, since I am for myself as them

Since we have now come to illustrate the most interesting ways in which our identity over time and our identity as a human beings are secured so highly by either a recollective act (identity over time) or a reflective objectifying/ re-presentative act (my human being), and indeed how, quite paradoxically, my own functioning subjectivity evades my direct objective grasping like the other’s, it is time to review whether the analogy, by illustrating the parallels between empathy and recollection (and hence my constitution of the other and the constitution of myself), may perhaps convince us to reassess the standards set when determining what may be sufficient as to “prove” the existence of the other subjectivity. Especially as it now seems that any notion of ourselves as a specifically human subjectivities that govern a body and also has a history, is also product only of a process akin to that of the other’s constitution for me, i.e. product of my transcendental functioning and constitution, where my own extended human being comes to light via its re-presentation or objectification within my transcendental stream, that, as an object, transcends my direct “subjectivity”.

Indeed, following the explications of the preceding chapters, it seems when evaluating the constitution of ourselves, we become placed before the exact issue we become faced with when trying to account for the subjective nature of the other human being – i.e. since I can only either apprehend myself as a pre-thematic subjectivity, of which admits of no wordly determination, and hence of no inherent link to a body/ history, or only constitute myself as an objectively determinable human being that is a unification of body and psyche, which, as a bundle of sense does not include my subjectivity as a real part of it, but stands rather, within in; how can we prove[12] the existence of my own human being beyond the present, and of my subjective unification with the body, if all such finds its sense derivation only upon the basis of my transcendental selves re-presentation and constitution of it,  as transcendent (in immanency) to it?

To get to the root of this issue, what I thereby suggest is that we reformulate this question such as to ask why am I so generally certain of my human being, and its temporal extension, if such stands product of a process of constitution akin to the constitution of the other human beings for me? And hence what gives rise to the authority of my belief in my own human subjectivity when seemingly it can be no more proved as presiding in a unity with a body than the other’s over there, which I doubt to a much higher degree?

What I think this most specifically relates to, is the manner in which my own transcendence to myself, as a human embodied/ pastly occurring subjectivity is of a different order to the transcendence of the other – which has fundamental consequences when it comes to the verification of both. Indeed if we look very closely, what we will soon see is that whilst the other’s ego, and stream of experiences, as constituted, transcends my current now completely (and all other conceivable past, or future nows), the same is not said of my own self as constituted/ represented within me. Indeed, what will become evident, is that whilst my own extended human being, becomes constituted only via a process wherein a distinct ego/ body becomes constituted within me as transcendent to my transcendental subjectivity, this process, unlike the process underpinning the constitution of the other subjectivity, is premised firmly upon an actual subjectivity, that becomes later modified or reflexively transformed to thematically contain a concretised subjectivity, as attached to it.

The biggest difference presiding between the origination of my constitution, and the constitution of the other, therefore, is that whilst I can “re-present” the once directly lived through inner functioning of my subjectivity, as newly objectified, and in the form of an experience of my own human subjectivity, after its pre-thematic passing, it is evident that there is no way that I can turn a pre-thematic experience of the other’s subjectivity into an apprehension of their true subjective unification with the body I can perceive. Thus – unlike my past/ now thematised experiences, which only transcend any original access to them again after the fact of their original happening, the experiences of the other transcend me/ any original access to them completely[13].

In is indeed henceforth that leads to the disparity of their verification for me. Whilst my continued regard of my own human, temporally extended, subjectivity does continue to find its verification only in the mode of inaccessibility, since no fulfilling presentation of my elapsed experiences may be had, meaning its validity is assessed by virtue of its harmonious fitting within my continuing stream of experiences – there is a difference in the fact that these experiences were once originally given to me within this stream of experiences, which still remains characterised by a form of original accessibility in my present (even if a modification had to take place such as to thematically re-write these experiences as / containing belonging to a concrete ego, I apprehend to be myself). The experience of the other, however, does not bear within its such a luxury of belonging to my unified stream of experiences as moments of my own subjectivity (and never can do), and are hence not verified by the manner in which they fit within the unity of my own subjective life, but how new experiences may continue to motivate my continued appresenting of these features, based on the other’s outward behaviour – being falsified only if a new experience teaches me my past appresentations were false.

Hence, whilst I am exactly as the other in terms of my sense constitution as a human being, with my “human” way of life finding its value and resonance for me, via my own constitution of my now re-presented to me ego as presiding in a relation with my body I can perceive, the fact that any apprehension of myself as a human subjectivity is premised upon a once accessible pre-thematic subjectivity that was subsequently modified to become referent of an my (acting as an) embodied human subjectivity, stands as that which gives rise to the fact I believe myself to be an extended embodied subjectivity to a much higher degree than I believe the other to be: even if my human subjectivity stands only as a constituted (other) object for me, my real subjectivity.

4) Conclusion

What I therefore hope to have achieved within this thesis, through a comparison of empathetic and recollective acts, is to illuminate the way in which our own constitution (as temporally extended human beings as opposed to transcendental selves) also seems to depend upon the re-presentation of an ego, and stream of experiences, as persisting, despite their current original inaccessibility in the mode of subjectivity to me. Since I can only apprehend myself as a human being with properties, a history, and characteristics (i.e. anything more than a bare awareness of oneself as a subjective point of view), upon the basis of my ability to view myself as an object, or otherwise reflect/ recollect, and re-present, in an objectifying manner, past instantiations of myself as existing, and undergoing an identifying synthesis such as to establish their relation, it seems our own personhood depends upon an “empathetic act” just as much as the constitution of the other does[14]. Indeed, any view of myself as anything determinate thus seemingly requires that I look toward myself as another; i.e. from an outside perspective that transforms my general sense of pre-thematic subjective being into one that can be apprehended as lasting and somewhat determinate and fixed. I am thus, in terms of my sense constitution, as the other; a constituted unity of determinate sense within my anonymously functioning transcendental core of absolute subjectivity.

Following the results of this exposition, it was hence then my ambition to assess whether the stakes set for a real “proof” of the other’s subjective existence were set too high; as if my notion of my own subjectivity is only premised upon my re-presentation of (myself as) a distinct ego, at a remove from what is directly accessible to me, it appeared, common-sensically, we could no better prove our own human being, as also extending beyond this present, than we could prove the other’s per se. Indeed, whilst this initially may have seemed the case, unfortunately our late discussions seem to hint this is not quite so. Whilst my extended human subjectivity as represented does have a certain original inaccessibility in the mode of subjectivity as an objectivity within my transcendental subjectivity; the fact that every notion I may have of myself as temporally extended/ embodied is premised upon a certain originally given, pre-thematically lived through subjectivity which becomes later modified to thematically and re-presentatively disclose my temporally extended embodiment within this world, means there is hence a higher degree of accuracy and certainty with respects to the constitution of my own human subjectivity. Since there can be no original experience of the other’s subjectivity, in any case, that could subsequently be transformed to stand as an objective unity within me, it seems the other’s subjectivity remains forever beyond my grasp – but of course, this is precisely what asserts the other’s radical independence and alterity to me.


[1] Only if such a distinction is steadily maintained can the past self appear to me as a past and not a mere extension of myself. Indeed, this necessary distinction is shown by the fact that, despite, the fact: “in remembering I am drawn back into my own past experiences and I seek to relive them. […] I find that I cannot succeed in becoming identical with the subject of my former acts“ (Sawicki, 1997, p.102). I cannot transform the recollected experiences into actual ones again, and I certainly cannot, by “reliving them” alter the course of my past experiences in an authentic way (of course I can imagine alternative scenarios, but I cannot make them actual). Recollection thus seems to firmly depend on the fact that the ego of my past and ego of my present, despite their identity are distinct, and this difference is testified to most concretely by their discontinuity in time.

[2] Indeed, whilst there are many acts that involve an appresentation of a second ego, as dreaming, phantasy, hallucination, what distinguishes both empathy and recollection is the way in which both of these acts are positing re-presentations. Both posit, both prior, and posterior to the act, the real existence of these egos, despite their non originality, and the possibility of these acts seemingly depends upon this; just as I cannot have an experience of another person if I do not genuinely believe this to be another person (thereby not positing their real existence as a person) “I cannot “remember” something and simultaneously have the consciousness that it never took place the way I recollect it” (Lotz, 2007, p.116)

[3] Whilst I may have once lived through the recollected experiences I now replay, since each experience may be had originaliter only once, it is evident that their recalling does not involve the actual possibility of returning to that past moment in time in which the experience took place, such that I may relive the experience originally once again, and hence this stream of experiences now transcends me.

[4] This of course necessarily occurring, as to not jumble my current experience with my recollected experience, I must apprehend an ego as belonging to these experiences as their subject.

[5] The important of this seem to thus stem from the fact that were this not so, it seems there would be no manner in which we could intuitively live “as them”, as these acts direct, as we would have no reasonable standard as to assume what they would perceive from their positioning in relation to the world, and even less, judge/ verify the validity of my continued appresentation, upon the basis of a harmonious syntheses.

[6] What this leads some scholars to suggest, is that actually, owing to the insurmountable distance that must be maintain between the empathised/ recollected egos’, and the empathising/ recollecting ego, such that these acts do not collapse into perception, is that actually, recollection can equally be assumed a form of (weak) empathy. Since there always presides a difference that cannot be removed between I, as present, and the I of the recollected experienced that requires a certain kind of depresentation from my primal present, to another present, it may be said that we empathetically re-present the past I, and their experiences, such that an identity between the two egos may be assumed. Hence, as Hart argues; “in our memorial re-presencing of our past life we may be said to presence empathetically the I of former experiences. and if we understand empathy in a minimal sense of de-presencing re-presenting I-this-here-now we may regard retentions and protentions as feeble forms of empathy” (Hart, 1992, p.225)

[7] Husserl frequently describes the present and past ego living in a community, or community of consciousness with one another (making use of a term from the realm of intersubjectivity).As Hart delivers this point extremely well, we can say, following these remarks; “wakefulness, which admits of degrees, is coincident with the actualisation of a capacity for self-displacement from the pressing urgency of what primal presencing makes present. The elemental wakefulness of the ongoing retaining and protending is an identifying displacement of the I-this-here-now in and “other” which is oneself othered or profiled to oneself. At this level the “self” is always othered to a “self” which is othered to itself, etc. […] And yet these retained others find their sense only in being profiled (others) in the primal presencing. […] Primal presencing is always already othered and identifying” (Hart, 1992, pp.224). What we can therefore derive from this extract, is the way in which our primal presence (our lived I) is always in a community with itself, owing to the necessary structure of our temporally extending consciousness. The I of this present, is always othered to itself at every moment: living in a community with its momentarily elapsed, or presently recalled moments of being a self such as to secure the unity and identity of its temporally extended life. Or as otherwise put, such as to secure the unity of my life/ identity I must live in a community with myself; I must enter in relations with myself just as I enter relations with the other; i.e. by the re-presenting and identifying with (through displacement) a “foreign” ego “within me”, that I nevertheless transcends my original experiencing, but can reciprocally determine my own sense as a human being.

[8] Explaining the distinction between the two concepts of “selfhood”, Husserl writes: “”in itself the pure Ego is immutable. It is not the kind of identical something that would fits have to manifest and prove itself as identical by means of circumstances. Therefore it is not to be confused with the Ego as the real person, with the real subject of the real human being. It as not innate of acquired traits of character, no capacities, no dispositions, etc. it is not changeably related, in real properties and states, to changing real circumstances, and thus it is not given in appearances with reference to appearing circumstances” (Ideas II, p.110-111).

[9] It is owing to this, therefore, that Husserl fosters an account of our wakeful subjectivity/ general self-awareness that is pre-thematic in kind. Since this functioning self is nothing that can be determined, there is no possible way in which our general self-awareness, as a wakeful subjectivity, could be characterised or in any way permeated by this selves appearing as a component part therein: “As long as we simply live through the experience in question, as long as we stay absorbed in the perception of an event taking place before our eyes, or immersed in a daydream, or the reading of a story, or in the carrying out of a mathematical proof, we will encounter no identical ego-pole” (Zahavi, 2005, p.35). Whislt all experience are characterised by a (subjective) first-person givenness, no moment of these experiences is characterised by a form of self-awareness that reveals oneself as the identical pole, or graspable human subject (with qualities, determinations, characteristics and for forth) of these experiences; the transcendental self remains strictly anonymous in its functioning As Zahavi thus again explains: “when subjectivity functions, it is self-aware  but it is not thematically conscious of itself, and it therefore lives, as Husserl puts it, in anonymity. Thus, contrary to what might perhaps be expected, for Husserl the terms “anonymous” and “anonymity” are not mean to designate the absence of self awareness. For an experience to be anonymous it is for the experience in question to lack thematic self awareness; it is not for it to lack first-person givenness altogether” (Zahavi, 2005, p.52)

[10] Or as otherwise put, “the peculiar phenomenological feature of the split of the ego [required for my self constitution as a wordly subject], therefore, is an interplay between objectification of the Ego and identification. I look at myself as if I were an Other, and at the same time I am somehow aware that it is I” (Averchi, 2015, p.238)

[11] Indeed, since my core is so anonymous, at a certain level the other and I could be said to coincide (upon this level of transcendental being); finding our differentiation only via the differing contents of our streams and one’s self constitution within it. Or as Mensch paraphrases: for Husserl “the “primordial” Other is, in fact, the same as my primordial self. Both are indistinguishable in the stationary streaming now. From the point of this now, both self and Others are represented or constituted unities. Thus, each subject, in taking up the standpoint of his ground can be said to bear both his objective Others and himself as self-appresentations. They are re-presentations of what the self’s core originally presents” (Mensch, 1988, p.279).

[12] Especially when Husserl continues to state it could just as much turn out that I am not a human subjectivity united with a body as it could be the case that the other also is not – since as Husserl states:“ in order to know what a human being is or what I myself am as a human personality, I have to enter into the infinite of experience in which I come to know myself under ever new properties, and in an ever more perfect way. Only this experience can exhibit (or perhaps repudiate) what I am and even that I am. In principle it is always possible that I, this person, am not at all” (Ideas II,P.111)

[13] But of course, we can say this is precisely what gives rise to the precise sense of their otherness to me; their complete transcendence securing the facticity of their independence, at the mere cost that there will never be a single proof of the co-persistence of their subjectivity in the mode of original accessibility.

[14] Whilst I do continually live as a pre-thematically self-aware subjective pole of experience, that has an unchanging identity, this identity is not a kind of identity that could give rise to any notion of my own personhood/ the personal qualities and determinations we see to be essential to our essentially human kind of being. All such predicates that meet the most minimal requirement for a sense of personal human identity, are truly transcendent (in immanency) to me, as a transcendental self, since their constitution require they stand as the object of my transcendentally directed gaze.

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