Primordiality, Imagination, and Emapthy

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Aug 3, 2010, 12:26:27 PM8/3/10
Hi Dan, Sean, and Phil,
I haven't had time to participate for the past several days, and I'm still catching up, but I want to respond to some of this.
First, as to "primordial" and "non-primordial" in Stein and in empathy.  "Primordial" essentially means "the first in time," which can also be thought of as "original," or according to the Latin roots, the first as we begin to weave [what comes later] (primus ordiri).  I agree with Dan that much of our experience is colored by our social context, so that the nuances of a given term or situation are often complex and vary from person to person, depending on the social influences they have been exposed to.  However, there are some fundamental or primordial experiences that require immediate experience and cannot be communicated in any mediated way.  A person born blind cannot conceive of blue as a sighted person experiences it; similarly someone born deaf cannot experience specific sounds.  I suspect that sadness, grief, shame, horror, desire, sweet/sour/savory, orgasm, respect, etc are primary experiences, and that we cannot learn how they feel through learning from someone else.  When Stein speaks of empathy she says we experience a primordial feeling in a non-primordial way when empathize with someone who is, say, ashamed, in pain, filled with joy, etc.  So far what I don't hear anyone talking about in this discussion is the fact that we can put ourselves in the other person's place and, drawing on our own (primordial) experience, imagine how it feels for that person to be in that situation. Several references have been made to "fantasy" but nothing of significance has yet been made of it. Yet it seems to me that empathy is our capacity to imagine ourselves in the situation of the other person, and to call into awareness the feelings we have experienced in our lives and likely would experience if we were in that person's situation. Even when I am not imagining a specific person, I can imagine what it must be like to be hopelessly homeless, hungry, and confused in Port au Prince Haiti.  Sometimes when I have dealt with people who seem unmoved by the suffering and pain their behavior inflicts on other people they seem to me to be lacking in moral imagination, where they cannot/will not imagine themselves in the other's place, i.e. on the receiving end of their behavior.  When I experience someone else's suffering I literally have emotion-laden physical sensations running through parts of my body.
The second point I wanted to make is that I disagree with both Dan's notion that there can be awareness without an object; or that the experience of id is either outside of awareness or non-specific.  I think id may be in principle and as a capacity similar to care in Heidegger, i.e. the fundamental human capacity to be non-indifferent to what is happening in one's own actual experience; more positively, the ineluctable tendency to evaluate whatever happens in a positive or negative way, and to live through time constantly with an orientation toward (large or small) goals of some kind.  For me ego is our practical capacity to devise means to ends, with personality as the skills and habits we've developed through lived experience.  I realize that there are differences of opinions in these matters, but I don't think a case can be made for id's being outside of awareness, or that awareness can be totally without an object.
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