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Intersubjectivity is a term used in philosophy and psychology to describe a condition somewhere between subjectivity and objectivity, one in which a phenomenon is personally experienced (subjectively) but by more than one subject.



Thomas Scheff defines intersubjectivity as "the sharing of subjective states by two or more individuals." [1]

The term is used in three ways:

  1. First, in its weakest sense intersubjectivity refers to agreement. There is intersubjectivity between people if they agree on a given set of meanings or a definition of the situation.
  2. Second, and more subtly intersubjectivity refers to the "common-sense," shared meanings constructed by people in their interactions with each other and used as an everyday resource to interpret the meaning of elements of social and cultural life. If people share common sense, then they share a definition of the situation.[2]
  3. Third, the term has been used to refer to shared (or partially shared) divergences of meaning. Self-presentation, lying, practical jokes, and social emotions, for example, all entail not a shared definition of the situation, but partially shared divergences of meaning. Someone who is telling a lie is engaged in an intersubjective act because they are working with two different definitions of the situation. Lying is thus genuinely inter-subjective (in the sense of operating between two subjective definitions of reality).

Intersubjectivity emphasizes that shared cognition and consensus is essential in the shaping of our ideas and relations. Language, quintessentially, is viewed as communal rather than private. Therefore, it is problematic to view the individual as partaking in a private world, one which has a meaning defined apart from any other subjects.

Intersubjectivity in psychoanalysis

Intersubjectivity is an important concept in modern schools of psychoanalysis, where it has found application to the theory of the interrelations between analyst and analysand. Adopting an intersubjective perspective in psychoanalysis means, above all, to give up what Robert Stolorow defines as "the myth of isolated mind."[3]

Among the early authors who explored this conception in psychoanalysis, in an explicit or implicit way, were Heinz Kohut, Robert Stolorow, George E. Atwood, Jessica Benjamin in the United States and Silvia Montefoschiin Italy.

Since the late 1980s, a direction in psychoanalysis often referred to as relational psychoanalysis or just relational theory has developed. A central person figure in the theory is Daniel Stern [4]. Empirically, the intersubjective school is inspired by research on the non-verbal communication of infants, young children, and their parents [5][6]. A central question is how relational issues are communicated at a very fast pace in a non-verbal fashion. Scholars also stress the importance of real relationships between two equivalent partners. The journal Psychoanalytic Dialogues is devoted to relational psychoanalysis.

Intersubjectivity in philosophy



In phenomenology, intersubjectivity performs many functions. It allows empathy, which in phenomenology involves experiencing another person as a subject rather than just as an object among objects. In so doing, one experiences oneself as seen by the Other, and the world in general as a shared world instead of one only available to oneself.

Early studies on the phenomenology of intersubjectivity were done by Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. His student, Edith Stein, extended the concept and its basis in empathy in her 1917 doctoral dissertation On the Problem of Empathy (Zum Problem der Einfuhlung).

Intersubjectivity also helps in the constitution of objectivity: in the experience of the world as available not only to oneself, but also to the Other, there is a bridge between the personal and the shared, the self and the Others.

See also

Intersubjectivity and philosophy:

Intersubjectivity in psychoanalysis:


  1. ^ Scheff, Thomas et al. (2006). Goffman Unbound!: A New Paradigm for Social Science (The Sociological Imagination), Paradigm Publishers (ISBN 978-1594511967)
  2. ^ Clive Seale. Glossary, Researching Society and Culture.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Stern, Daniel (2004). The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0393704297. 
  5. ^ Beebe, Beatrice; Frank M Lachmann (2002). Infant Research and Adult Treatment. Co-constructing Interactions. London: Analytic Press. ISBN 9780881632453. 
  6. ^ Schechter DS (2003). Intergenerational communication of maternal violent trauma: Understanding the interplay of reflective functioning and posttraumatic psychopathology. In S.W. Coates, J.L. Rosenthal and D.S. Schechter (eds.) September 11: Trauma and Human Bonds. Hillside, NJ: Analytic Press, Inc. pp. 115-142.

Further reading

Intersubjectivity in psychoanalysis

  • Laplanche, J. & Pontalis, J. B. (1974). The Language of Psycho-Analysis, Edited by W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-01105-4

Intersubjectivity and philosophy

External links


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