Elementary recognition and empathy
A Husserlian account
This article explores the affinity between Axel Honneth’s conception of elementary recognition and Edmund Husserl’s work on empathy, with the aim of indicating one way in which phenomenological analysis might contribute to critical social theory. I begin by sketching the ‘two-level’ account of recognition developed by Honneth in recent writings, which distinguishes between ‘elementary’ and ‘normatively substantial’ forms of recognition. The remainder of the paper then seeks to offer a deeper account of elementary recognition by identifying it with Husserl’s conception of empathetic perception. I begin by clarifying what Husserl means by ‘the person,’ before illuminating the sense in which empathy counts as a distinctive kind of perceptual recognition of other personal selves, and shedding phenomenological light on empathy as a sui generis mode of interpersonal intentionality. I then conclude with some preliminary remarks regarding the relationship between empathetic perception and other forms of interpersonal responsiveness and recognition.
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