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Intersubjectivity (from Latin inter : between and subject : person, actor, etc.) expresses that a complex issue is equally recognizable and comprehensible for several viewers: For example, one agrees on how to perceive something, how to classify it, or what it means (e.g. "Bicycles are a useful invention").

The term on the one hand from the subjectivity distinguishable: "Subjectively," it is called, which is only the single individual is available, and what no generality is claimed. Typical examples are facts or taste judgments accessible only through introspection (“I don't like the spinach”).

On the other hand, intersubjectivity is also differentiated from objectivity : ideally, objective facts can be proven, regardless of the conditions associated with individual viewers. Typical examples are mathematical and logical truths ("1 + 1 = 2", "An object cannot have a property and cannot have it at the same time"); According to some positions, all facts that exist in the outside world, affect the natural properties of material objects, and are in principle unequivocally recognizable for everyone.

However, the term intersubjectivity is used and specified differently in many theories. In particular, it plays a role in emphasizing that certain problems are only adequately addressed if relationships between people and their respective points of view are taken as a basis. Such positions are represented in various fields, such as in the field of philosophy of science , the political theory , the ethics or the discourse theory (z. B. in a consensus theory of truth ). Intersubjectivity is the subject of fundamental debates in philosophy and the social sciences (for example in the value judgment dispute or positivism dispute ).

Intersubjectivity as an epistemological and epistemological criterion

A common epistemological classification distinguishes facts according to the extent to which they are generally accessible, i.e. hu a. can be recognized or can gain validity. For example, the following types can be distinguished:

  • Issues that can only be recognized or are valid from the perspective of the first person. Here one could think of taste judgments, i.e. aesthetic or culinary preferences, but some theorists would also classify ethical judgments here. Facts that are introspectively accessible (e.g. toothache or thoughts) also belong to this group.
  • Facts that are accessible to several people, but can in principle only be accessible to people in certain contexts and with certain characteristics, so that only these groups of people can be rationally justified or rationally forced to consider the corresponding judgments to be true. Some theorists would locate religious or ethical truth claims here. (see subculture )
  • Issues that are in principle accessible to everyone. (The addition "in principle" captures additional clauses such as "... who makes sufficient efforts" and the like). Here, for example, one could classify mathematical truths and, arguably, scientific facts in general.

“Intersubjectivity” could at least belong to the last two groups, and if used more narrowly, perhaps only to the latter group. All of these assignments and examples are of course controversial. At the very least makes such a rough model clear in what sense "inter-subjectivity" about in the context of epistemological discussion as quality criterion of scientific knowledge can be used: the "hard" sciences seem "intersubjectively accessible" truths to capture.

Especially on the part of so-called behaviorism , the criterion of verifiability through empirical perception (directly or possibly by means of certain aids) was suggested. Only such facts can therefore be relevant or even truthful for empirical studies. This so-called verification criterion has various difficulties, for example with regard to the distinction between “empirical” and “theoretical”. The application of theoretical terms can be considered “theoretical”, but also certain measurement conventions or even conceptual schemes. What obeys this verification criterion would obviously also be accessible intersubjectively (for several or in principle all persons).

One can, however, use "intersubjectivity" more weakly, for example in order to answer such problems of behavioristic verification criteria. Different explications of the application criteria are conceivable. Intuitively, for example, one would consider “intersubjective comprehensibility” to be more well-founded, the greater the amount of shared convictions, vocabulary or observation and evaluation conventions. This is the direction in which Donald Davidson's proposals on the conditions of communication and understanding in general go.

Another way of using "intersubjectivity" in a weaker sense as a criterion for scientificity is to relate it not to empirical verification, but to possible or factual consensus . Depending on how this is explained, such proposals are criticized from different sides. The Methodical culturalism for example, is considered insufficient if a statement could be scientifically named because they generally would find consent. Scientific quality cannot depend on chance consensus in argument communities . Instead, Peter Janich speaks of “trans-subjectivity”. By this he means an independence of the data that goes beyond any subjectivity .


The trans-subjectivity is the basic idea of ​​philosophy in connection with the constructivist idea of ​​the pragmatic foundation of the Erlangen school . It is synonymous with, "Transcend your subjectivity." The request to overcome subjective statements is specified more precisely. A statement is considered to be a transsubjective orientation if a qualified agreement has been reached about it in a discourse taking place under ideal conditions. The following discourse conditions should apply:

  • The participants in the discourse allow all orientations to be questioned in principle. (Impartiality)
  • The participants in the discourse are familiar with the correct use of the language, with existing knowledge and methods. (Expertise)
  • The participants in the discourse do not deceive themselves or others. (Non-persuasiveness)
  • No sanctions rule the speech. (Informality)
  • The arguments used can be generalized. (Sincerity)

Intersubjectivity in Ethics

Moral judgments diverge among individual persons and sometimes also between cultures. It is often much more difficult to achieve agreement about them than, for example, from empirical judgments. This is the problem background metaethischer discussions moral about the reality of truths: While moral realists in one way or another, insist on a truth of moral judgments, which is then explained differently, speak moral anti-realist different reasons and moral with different explanations judgments truth simply, and understand it as an expression of interests or feelings; while metaethical relativists relativize the validity to certain conditions that may only be used by certain groups of people, contexts, etc. to be met. If one assumes that only what can be "objectively" epistemically accessible can be true, one could defend the view that a decision is made between moral realism and anti-realism as to whether moral truths are objectively accessible.

If one understands “intersubjectively” as a weakening of “objective” and one takes the view that what is understood as true, justified or valid is what is accessible “intersubjectively”, such problems become more complicated. Until further notice, such an approach tends to take relativistic positions.

Debates around these questions form a large part of classical and contemporary metaethical literature. The assessment of classical ethical positions and their various modern elaborations with regard to their application of “intersubjective” criteria is exegetically and systematically controversial. For example, you could both präferenzutilitaristischen , contract theory as discourse ethics and partly virtuous ethical positions elements one "inter-subjective" approach, which can then defend for various reasons or can attack. Conversely, one could, for example, ascribe a more “objective” foundation to various deontological positions and defend or attack this as well.

Intersubjectivity instead of "egocentrism"

The most varied of theorists either oppose a narrowing down to “objective” truth claims or a theoretical priority and independence “of the subject” or “of the ego” as the central authority for explanations, justifications , ethical facts or the like. Well-known examples are:

  • discourse ethics theories such as that of Jürgen Habermas , with its emphasis that ethical standards may justifiably be valid only on inter-subjective understanding of these standards and the principles of discourse about them
  • the hermeneutic and semantic theory proposal by Donald Davidson with his emphasis that only intersubjectively shared convictions, concepts, etc. make it possible to ascribe opinions and intentions and to interpret and communicate linguistic utterances in general
  • the anthropology and ethics of responsibility and virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre with its emphasis that people only develop or acquire virtues, responsibilities, competencies and goods because and after they are originally and continuously dependent on other people

Such theories, for which “intersubjectivity” is central in a certain sense, are also criticized on the other hand. For example, several French philosophers who became popular in the 1960s to 1990s welcome the overcoming of a central position of an isolated subject, but for them the focus on "intersubjectivity" does not go far enough. An example of such criticism is Emmanuel Levinas , according to which intersubjective relationships are only the result of subsequent considerations, but which are preceded by an original obligation to "the other", which then first constitutes the subject that I am and, in response to this obligation, becomes intersubjective Enabling "relationships".

Intersubjectivity as a concept of sociology

In sociology, intersubjectivity means that certain experiences are comparable for several individuals. This comparability allows symbols or signs, such as the words of a language , to have the same (or similar) meaning for different individuals . It is only intersubjectivity that makes successful communication possible. The creation of intersubjectivity can be problematic under various conditions. For example, if the actors belong to different social groups , then the same signs or symbols can be assigned different meanings based on different experience backgrounds.

In the application of qualitative methods , the concept of intersubjectivity is of particular importance, as it is the prerequisite for understanding meanings in other (sub) cultures . In these cultures events or facts could be assigned different meanings than in the researcher's culture. It is therefore crucial to have a certain access to this other culture, to share its horizon of experience and interpretation in order to understand events from the perspective of this culture. Only when you describe possible differences in the meanings of symbols or signs will the knowledge gained be comprehensible to others and can thus meet this criterion of objectivity .

The intersubjective character of the shared lifeworld is of central importance for phenomenological sociology . It enables the acquisition and dissemination of jointly accessible knowledge and practices.

Intersubjectivity in Psychoanalysis

In psychoanalysis, intersubjectivity is a conceptualization of the psychoanalytic relational situation as a dynamic intersubjective field that has been developing for 30 years. It is also known as the “intersubjective turn” and in modern psychoanalysis is a cross-school analytical attitude in which the relationship between analyst and analysand (or patient) is defined as asymmetrical (because the responsibility for the therapeutic process lies more with the analyst ), but also as reciprocal. Thus, the analytical process is less determined by interpretations by a subject (the “knowing” analyst) in relation to an object (the “ignorant” analysand / patient), but rather creates an intersubjective field in the encounter between two subjects that is analyzed together.

See also


  • Gerd Brand : Edmund Husserl. On the phenomenology of intersubjectivity. Texts from the estate. In: Husserl, Scheler, Heidegger from the perspective of new sources. (= Phenomenological Research. Volume 6/7). Publishing house Karl Alber, Freiburg i. Br./ München 1978, ISBN 3-495-47389-0 , pp. 28-117.
  • Donald Davidson: Subjective, intersubjective, objective. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-518-58387-5 .
  • Richard Grathoff, Bernhard Waldenfels (Ed.): Sociality and Intersubjectivity. Munich 1983.
  • Klaus Held (editor): Intersubjectivity. and intersubjective. In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy. Volume 4, p. 521.
  • Edmund Husserl : On the phenomenology of intersubjectivity. Texts from the estate. 3rd part in: Husserliana. XV, 1929/35.
  • Georg Schwind: Intersubjectivity. In: Lexicon of basic philosophical concepts in theology. Pp. 215-217.
  • Leon Tsvasman: intersubjectivity. In: L. Tsvasman (ed.): The great lexicon of media and communication. Compendium of interdisciplinary concepts. Würzburg 2006, p. 176.

Web links

Wiktionary: intersubjectivity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. For a clear presentation and discussion cf. for example J. Kim: Philosophy of Mind Springer, Vienna / New York 1998, pp. 29–51.
  2. See the corresponding chapter in Wolfgang Stegmüller : Problems and Results of the Philosophy of Science and Analytical Philosophy. Volume 1: Explanation-Justification-Causality. 1983 and Volume 2: Theory and Experience. 1974.
  3. Abel, B., Basics of the Explanation of Human Action, Tübingen, 1983.
  4. Lorenzen, P., Normative Logic and Ethics, Mannheim 1969, page 82
  5. Lorenzen, P., Constructive Philosophy of Science, Frankfurt a. M., 1974.
  6. Kambartel, E. (Ed.), Practical Philosophy and Constructive Philosophy of Science, Frankfurt a. M., 1974.
  7. Peter Potthoff, Sabine Wollnik (ed.): The encounter of subjects. The intersubjective-relational perspective in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Retrieved March 11, 2017 .