The Psycho-developmental Origins of Intersubjective Experience

Undergraduate thesis project produced during my time at American University. “Intersubjectivity, not Inter-Subjectivity” studies the origins of human intersubjective experience in analysis of western psycho-developmental discourse. Jointly supervised by Dr. Jane Flax (AU Philosophy Department) and Dr. Wilfried Ver Eecke (Georgetown Philosophy Department). 

This essay studies the origins of intersubjective experience in human interaction and inter-relation. 

My initial task is to understand how the idea of ‘intersubjectivity’ emerges from earlier discourses in which the human mind is conceived of as a closed and isolated system. I find that the positioning of an entity (the human) against a reality external to it has contributed to a schematization of subjectivity that constrains our conceptions of the scope of human relationality. Rather than reproduce the speculative effects of the assumption of a fundamental, ontological distinctness, I build the scaffolding of my study upon a soil that offers a radical reconceptualization of human experience — its origins, its form, and its relation to the environment that enframes and constitutes it. I bring us to the terrain of psycho-developmental theory, where the emergence of human experience in one form or another is considered in a formative relation and dependence upon its environment. 

Essentially, I restore a traditional unit of philosophical speculation — the adult human being — to the more extensive and implicitly relational unit of its infancy: the Mother-Infant complex. I figure that the emergence of human subjectivity is from the outset an intersubjective phenomenon, and that the Mother-Infant relationship is the primary and irreducible unit from which a human being may gradually achieve (develop) a psychological interiority. Surveying psycho-developmental theory, I arrange a composite of structures of relatedness: suspensions of particular stages in the developmental course of a human being from its birth to its potential achievement of a psychical distinction from its caretaker. These ‘structures’ are essentially modelings of the scope and parameters of individual human experience within an interpersonal dimension. My challenge in this essay is to conceive — using a variety of theoretical frameworks — of the co-formation and/or interpenetration of subjective experience within a dynamic and determinative intersubjective matrix.

The broad movement that I study in my consideration of theoretical schemas of relatedness is the gradual distinction of the infant from its mother, for whom the infant was once an organ. I present a set of psychoanalytic accounts of early human life by S. Freud, M. Klein, D. Winnicott, T. Ogden, and J. Lacan. I do so with the aim of harnessing their most significant contributions towards an understanding of the development of human experience as  an intersubjective phenomenon.

Intersubjectivity, not Inter-Subjectivity