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Aron, L. (1996). Symposium on the Meaning and Practice of Intersubjectivity in Psychoanalysis: Introduction. Psychoanal. Dial., 6(5):591-597.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 6(5):591-597

Symposium on the Meaning and Practice of Intersubjectivity in Psychoanalysis: Introduction

Lewis Aron, Ph.D.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans began to encounter foreign peoples and the belief systems of other lands. Some of their most widely read books described people from far away, such as the Chinese, the Japanese, and Native Americans. Europeans were amazed by their similarities to and differences from others. They were struck, for example, by how certain other cultures mistreated women, and equally struck by some other cultures' respect for the elderly. Until this time, Europeans believed that they had received the only moral code that ensured order and justice in society. They were amazed by missionaries reports of flourishing non-Christian cultures. This awareness of cultural difference was the impetus for many philosophers to struggle with the challenge of relativism, as can be seen, for example, in the works of Voltaire and Montesquieu (Kors, 1992).

One aspect of this development is particularly relevant to our topic of intersubjectivity: While Europeans were studying other cultures and peoples, they suddenly recognized that other people were also studying them. They realized that their culture was as strange to those of other cultures as other cultures were to them. Imagine Montesquieu's reaction when he met a Chinese person who had converted to Christianity while still in China and come to France with greatly idealized expectations of coming to see how a culture of Christians really lived.

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