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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

6 - The lives of Others

Summary

The mystery of the Other is nothing but the mystery of myself.

— Merleau-Ponty

The specter of solipsism

A specter of solipsism haunts transcendental phenomenology. From its methodological inception with the suspension of the natural attitude and the ensuing reduction to the field of pure consciousness, the descriptive science of transcendental phenomenology invokes a first-person point of view that might easily be seen as inviting the objection of solipsism. This vantage-point of transcendental self-explication is more than simply a stylistic device or a matter of descriptive convenience; it reflects the essential egological form of subjectivity in its singular accomplishment of transcendental constitution. As Husserl states, the epoché “affects the intramundane existence of all other egos, such that we should no longer rightly speak in the communicative plural” (Hua I, 58 [19]). Such a methodological commitment to the suspension of the natural attitude and the disclosure of transcendental experience do not look promising for avoiding what seems inescapable: the solipsism of transcendental subjectivity. If the transcendental reduction is ipso facto a reduction to the solus ipse of pure consciousness, how can such solitude render intelligible the transcendence of a world open to any possible experience, including the lives of Others? Must we conclude that “le solipsisme n'est ni une aberration, ni un sophisme: c'est la structure même de la raison”?

Ironically, this fate appears to be confirmed by Husserl's account of the Other in the context of presenting phenomenology as the proof of transcendental idealism.