The question of the self and the other: a possible intersubjectivity?

Image: Leo Zhao


It is part of every true dialogue to meet the other, trying to really understand him, assert his points of view and put himself in his place.

“A dialogue happened when he left something inside us. When we find in the other something that we had not found in our experience of the world. Dialogue puts us to the test; the other helps us discover our prejudices”. (Hans-Georg Gadamer)

 "The essential truth is the unknown that inhabits me. I am observed by him with irony and incomprehension. Why don't we understand each other?" (Carlos Drummond de Andrade)

The emergence of neo-fascism in Brazil, with a large number of civil, military and religious followers, represented by the figure of Jair Bolsonaro, with its ideological structure based on egocentric, violent, sexist, racist, military, denialist and mystifying domination (fake), raises to a large extent the question of the relationship between the “I” and the “other”. To what extent can the “I”, in a pluralistic and democratic society, be impregnated by a wide coexistence with the “other” (living with), capable of recognizing the other in oneself?

After all, the Western dualistic metaphysical heritage opposes the body to the soul, old age to youth, rationalization to feeling, West to East, Heaven to Hell, through the establishment of orders that define hierarchies, leading Westerners to see the other like everything that opposes his idealizations and achievements: the barbarian, the savage, the infidel, the pagan, the despicable, the unfriendly, the crazy. Therefore, how to gain access to the other without degrading him, without humiliating him, without oppressing him or eliminating him, integrating him into the “I”? And if we do not converge in relation to each other, how can we democratically build a common world to recognize norms with universal validity? Will there be an ethical attitude that reciprocally enables access to the other?

Placing the question in a broader concrete spectrum, from what perspective the US-NATO European war against Russia, to take place in the territory of Ukraine, decimating thousands of lives living in that space-time, will be able to raise a more critical and engaged understanding, to the many different citizens and national governments, about the ongoing paradigm shift in world geopolitics, in which Are new actors legitimately emerging as potential leaders in the economic and political field, in search of new cultural and international normative arrangements to be elaborated in terms of a multipolar world order that promotes a new symbolic and relational coexistence, more egalitarian, distributive and fraternal? After all, wars no less merciless and truculent, engendered by the hegemonic interest of the western empire, such as the invasions of Vietnam, Iraq 1 and 2, Libya, Afghanistan, did not cause such commotion or media manipulation as the current European war.

With an eye on the western founding past, we will find in the fifth century BC that the difficulty of the relationship between the “I” and the “other” appeared with the Greeks when they established a vertical difference between them and the barbarians, initially designating them as those who articulate words badly, who babble badly, possessing a repulsive aesthetic. Later, this meaning was extended to those people who did not have the Greek culture, starting to be constituted as the wild, the strange, the other. Thus, for this culture, that which is strange, which escapes standardization, must be destroyed. (HERMANN, Nadja. The issue of the other and dialogue. Brazilian Journal of Education, Jun 2014).

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), an Italian friar of the Order of Preachers, a great scholar of the Greek Aristotle, also pointed in this line in his book De Regimine Principium, stating that “certain peoples live in a degree of matter and barbarism that can only be governed by with a stick”. For Thomas Aquinas it was licit to make war on the pagans, for example, if they offended the Christian faith with idolatry, the blasphemy of blasphemies. (FARIA, Fr. Henrique de Moura. Bartolomeu de Las Casas: the right to serve the life of the poor.paths of law, Belo Horizonte, v.2, n. 4, Jul/Dec 2005).

For Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), a Christian existentialist thinker, in European modernity, the Cartesian “I think” founded all relationships by expressing itself without confronting something outside itself. In the meditations, René Descartes (1596-1650) [who had all of his work banned from circulation by the Catholic Church through the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, created in 1559 by the Council of Trent], considered the founder of modern Western philosophy, shows that the objectification of thought, which can guarantee the truth, does not depend on others. Certainty is linked only to the I think. There is only pure thought and this allows us to represent the world and dominate nature. The radical separation between thinking and corporeality, for example, resulted in our difficulty in dealing with nature, in recognizing the other in ourselves.

Not only in the intellective dimension, but also in the moral dimension, the other is not an object of consideration. In The Passions of the Soul, when analyzing passions such as esteem and generosity, Descartes refers them, in the first instance, to himself, and not to the other. Thus, the modern Western subject is constituted without appealing to any exteriority, and, in everything we look around, we will only see what we put there, that is, ourselves. According to the philosopher Bernhard Waldenfels (1934), the path that led to thinking of the other as oneself was “paved with many deficiencies”. One of these paths refers to the formal universal, which withholds plurality, creating difficulty in recognizing what is different, what is not identical. A second path leads to individualism, to the particularity of the self, in which the other is a mirror of oneself. (HERMANN, Nadja. Op. cit.).

On his first official trip to the European continent, visiting the countries of the Iberian Peninsula, from 21 to 27/04, after the deplorable international isolation to which Brazil was subjected by the government of the captain of the army (2019-2022), President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva participated in the Brazil-Portugal Summit, a summit that had not been held since the 2016 Coup, in addition to delivering the Camões Prize to Brazilian artist Chico Buarque de Hollanda.

In Spain, which will assume the presidency of the European Union in the second semester, in addition to several bilateral agreements in several areas, Lula has once again outlined his tireless campaign for the search for peace in the European conflict fought on Ukrainian soil. During lunch with the Spanish King Filipe VI and Queen Letizia Ortiz, President Lula, in his speech, stated: “We want to open the way for dialogue and not obstruct the exits offered by diplomacy. The world needs peace. The world also needs solidarity. Without the ceasefire, it is not possible to advance. There will be no sustainability without social justice. Neither will there be sustainability in a world at war”.

Listening to Lula's voice, crying out in the desert, to a Europe that was once fanatical in its violence against the Moors, against the peoples of Islam, against the indigenous people, against the Chinese, against the Jews, against the communists, and now against the Russians, reminds one of the voices of other humanists in times gone by who fought against the brutality of European colonization, such as that of the Dominican Friar Bartolomeu de Las Casas (1484-1566) who dedicated his life and work entirely to the indigenous cause and to the defense of the political rights of peoples free, capable of realizing a new society and a new Catholic Church closer to the gospel than the old Christianity. In the work of Bartolomeu de Las Casas there appears a continuous interaction between reflection and historical commitment, between theory and practice. (GUTIERREZ, Gustavo. In search of the poor of Jesus. São Paulo: Paulus, 1995).

Bartolomeu de Las Casas contemplated the native peoples of America with different eyes, seeing them as brothers, possessing the same human origin, sane, rational people, living in full harmony with themselves and with the land itself, showing that their religion is not inferior that of other cultures with which Christianity had contact. Bartolomeu de Las Casas asserted, facing enormous religious and political opposition, that the [human] rights of the indigenous people must be respected and defended: “The Spaniards do not have the right to deprive the indigenous people of their governments and legitimate authorities, after all they are free by right natural, since all civil and religious power must be at the service of the community”. He was the person who faced violence against the other indigenous, proposing new paths, challenging the Catholic Church and Spain to an enormous ethical-legal debate.

As in the narrative of the US-NATO war against Russia, we are used to seeing, reading and hearing the history of Latin America from the perspective of the European hegemonic power. The winners speak, with their Camões, singing their power, their adventures, their artists, their sculptors who immortalize their triumphal gestures. Power to dominate; domain, to profit. What would it be like if we listened to the voices of the victims, seen as animals and treated like that by the rulers, invaded in their lands and freedoms by Hispanic-Portuguese truculence? What would your version look like? (NASCIMENTO FILHO, Antônio José do. Bartolomé de Las Casas, a universal citizen. Loyola Editions, São Paulo, 2005).

The Spaniards standardized all indigenous populations native to the new continent, calling them “West Indians” or “barbarians”. Because they walked completely naked, they were considered stupid, stupid and sinners, for not respecting Catholic chastity. They were seen as true ferocious animals, a race full of vices and bestialities, without any glimmer of goodness or culture. When Hernán Cortez took the city of Tenochtitlán, in 1519, the indigenous population of Mexico, under the rule of the Aztec empire, was 30 million inhabitants. In 1615, due to the decimation perpetrated by European Christians, it plummeted to 1,5 million.

Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, an Aristotelian philosopher, favorable to the enslavement of the Indians, famous opponent of the Dominican monk Bartolomeu de Las Casas, affirmed that “the Indians are immersed in such barbarism that, within the standards of a healthy philosophy, they should be considered slaves by nature ; therefore the Spanish king would be authorized to punish all natives with death and to withdraw their land and all possessions”. (FARIA, Fr. Henrique de Moura. Bartolomeu de Las Casas: the right to serve the life of the poor. paths of law, Belo Horizonte, v.2, n. 4, Jul/Dec 2005).

Bartolomé de Las Casas, in his book Paradise Destroyed: A Brief List of the Destruction of the Indies, denounces the daily atrocities perpetrated by the Spanish invader: “The Spaniards, with their horses, their swords and spears, began to practice cruelties: they entered the villages, sparing neither the children nor the old men, nor the pregnant women and women in labor and opened their wombs. and tore them to pieces as if they were striking lambs enclosed in their pen. They plucked the children from their mothers' breasts and rubbed their heads against the rocks while others threw them into the water of the streams, laughing and mocking; others, more furious, slashed mothers and children with the edge of the sword”.

Thus, as a final consideration, in view of the remote and present historical heritage, what presents itself to us as an intersubjective challenge involves a paradigm shift of great importance. As Waldenfels pointed out, the expectation of the other is only perceived if we concretely disentangle ourselves from our epistemological and ethical enclosures, to free ourselves from the harmful mistakes of a logic of reductive appropriation of the “other” to our interpretative schemes. It is part of every true dialogue to meet the other, trying to really understand him, assert his points of view and put himself in his place.

Authentic dialogue, the one in which we get involved and from which we don't know what will result, presents the possibility of creating a common world, allowing coexistence, the reciprocal acceptance of the other as well as the expansion of our own individuality. For this, it is necessary to overcome the monosyllabic vision of the world, the single discourse. After all, dialogue is only possible, and it begins, because there is another.

*Alexandre Aragão de Albuquerque Master in Public Policy and Society from the State University of Ceará (UECE).

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.
Click here and find how

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives