The phenomenology of solitude

Husserl, Heidegger and our social nature

Throughout the history of philosophy there has been a tension between the valuable introspection afforded by solitude and the intrinsic need to understand ourselves in relation to others. In the phenomenological tradition of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger we find a vivid picture of man as a being meditatively alone but fundamentally social.

It is often thought that philosophers favor living alone, in isolation, devoting themselves to quiet contemplation. There is the standard image of the guru or sadhu living in a cave. And this really happens. A young British woman, Tenzin Palmo (formerly Diana Perry), converted to Buddhism in her teenage years, travelled to India to study at the age of 20, and then lived for some 12 years on her own in a tiny cave in the high Himalayas in Northern India. She lived alone in great hardship, but claimed she was never lonely – “not for one minute” (MacKenzie 1999, 87). Living alone in such isolation is an almost impossible i

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