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Karl Löwith's understanding of sociality

Gerhard Thonhauser

pp. 121-141

This paper discusses Karl Löwith's as yet little known contribution to an understanding of human sociality and social reality. It focusses on his accounts of "social roles" and "correflexivity" in human interaction, and the intelligibility of social artifacts through their connectedness with everyday practices. According to Löwith, the intelligibility of social behavior depends to a large extent on us ascribing roles to others. This is combined with the notion of correflexivity: Human social action is not simply directed towards others, but is already co-determined by the anticipation of their response; we relate to others in such a way that the anticipation of their potential relation to us, including an anticipation of their anticipation of our action, co-determines our initial relation to them. For Löwith, the understanding of others as having social roles and the correflexivity of social interaction are the basic infrastructure of human sociality. They form the background that makes others and their actions intelligible, thereby presenting them as potential partners for joint intention or action. In addition, the paper discusses Löwith's criticism of universal ontology. He opposes any essentialist project, may it be metaphysical or naturalistic, in favor of a hermeneutic phenomenological method; such an approach fosters awareness of its own preunderstandings, opening them to critical examination and political contestation.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-27692-2_6

Full citation:

Thonhauser, G. (2016)., Karl Löwith's understanding of sociality, in A. Salice & H. B. Schmid (eds.), The phenomenological approach to social reality, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 121-141.

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