Human Studies 41 (3):457-474 (2018)

Thiemo Breyer
University of Cologne
This paper revolves around the question of how we can phenomenologically interpret the application of the mirror metaphor to intersubjectivity. To answer this question, we must first clarify the phenomenon of the mirror itself, and specifically its function and how the objects it reflects appear, as well as the modes of self- and other-relations that it makes possible. We can compare these properties with the characteristics of intersubjectivity in order to find out how sound or significant the mirror metaphor is here. Our goal then is not to show whether the mirror metaphor is a ‘correct’ or ‘false’ descriptive determination of intersubjectivity. Redeeming the metaphor in the phenomenological sense would require that we elucidate which aspects of the mirror phenomenon permit an analogy with the Other and which do not. If the metaphor were to conform perfectly with the analogy, and if one could transform it into a verifiable and complete description, it would no longer be a metaphor. In other words, metaphors live by the dialectic of their resolvable and irresolvable descriptive elements. We must preserve this tension in our phenomenological analysis while bracketing any overarching assessments of the metaphor. Only when we have worked out the individual aspects of the core of the matter, can we examine the adequacy of its application to the sphere of intersubjectivity. In the following, then, our task is a critique of the metaphor, in the sense of unpacking its specific phenomenal features, on the basis of which we may then discuss whether or not we can carry out a metaphorical translation of those features. Indeed, even though the metaphor is such a prominent one, the paper demonstrates its limitations when it comes to determining social relations.
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DOI 10.1007/s10746-018-9461-0
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