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Schutzian Research

Volume 6, 2014

Alexis Emanuel Gros
Pages 75-91

Towards a Moderate Direct Perception Theory: Alfred Schutz’s Phenomenological Theory of Interpersonal Understanding in the Light of the Contemporary Debate on Social Cognition

In this paper, I intend to show the relevance of Schutz’s account of interpersonal understanding within the context of the contemporary social cognition debate. Currently, the research on the nature of everyday interpersonal understanding is taking place almost exclusively within the field of interdisciplinary cognitive science. Generally speaking, since the mid-nineties the so-called social cognition debate is dominated by two opposed theoretical outlooks which diverge concerning the ultimate mechanisms responsible for our understanding of Others, namely the theory-theory of mind (TT) and the simulation theory (ST). Yet, in the last couple of years, there is a phenomenological turn taking place in this debate. Thinkers like Zahavi, Gallagher and Overgaard, among others, return to classical phenomenological accounts of empathy—like those of Husserl, Stein, Scheler and Merleau-Ponty—to propose an alternative theoretical outlook on intersubjective understanding, namely the direct perception theory (DPT). However, this recuperation of classical phenomenological approaches to intersubjective comprehension is, to some extent, incomplete. Indeed, DPT supporters tend to neglect the valuable contributions that Schutz made to the study of this problem. This is quite curious, not only because Schutz’s phenomenological theory of interpersonal understanding agrees, to some degree, with the main thesis of the direct perception theory, but also because it contains of insights that may be helpful to formulate a more solid and self-clarified version of it.