The paper assumes the distinction Enriquez makes between pakikipagkapwa and pakikisama, and argues for the need to clarify the essence of pakikipagkapwa.  On the basis of the philosophies of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, the writer attempts to describe the terms associated with pakikipagkapwa.  These terms are “being-with-others,”“shared identity,” and “equality.” As a result, pakikipagkapwa, as compared to Kantian ethics, is shown to be more respectful of the Other as other.  It is further realized that, unlike Kantian ethics which stresses the priority of moral principles, pakikipagkapwa promotes moral imagination, or as Mark Johnson puts it, imaginative rationality “through which we can participate emphathetically in another’s experience…”





This paper will establish the Filipino value, pakikipagkapwa, as the fundamental ethical relation between the self and the other.  The paper shows that by its very nature, pakikipagkapwa develops and promotes moral imagination.  This notion is established by clarifying the terms related to this Filipino value, namely, “shared identity,” “equality,” and “being-with-others,” in the light of the existential thoughts of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas.  The paper proceeds to relate pakikipagkapwa and moral imagination by evaluating Richard Rorty’s position on literature and Mark Johnson’s notion of moral imagination in the light of pakikipagkapwa.




In his pioneering work on Sikolohiyang Pilipino, Virgilio Enriquez (1994) argues that pakikipagkapwa is not to be identified or confused with pakikisama since the latter is not a value.  He writes:

In spite of the fact that western psychology looms large in psychological work in the Philippines, especially in western-oriented universities, the full use of Filipino has led to the identification of the value pakikipagkapwa which is surely more important than pakikisama.  The barkada (peer group) would not be happy with the walang pakisama but the Philippine society at large cannot accept the walang kapwa tao.  Pakikipagkapwa is both a paninindigan (conviction) and a value….  Pakikisama is a form of pakikipagkapwa but not the other way around.  (Enriquez 1977)


He goes on to say that “Pakikipagkapwa…means accepting and dealing with the other person as an equal….” By this, Enriquez means a regard for “the dignity and being of others.” Elsewhere, he writes: “…that one should not underestimate the Filipino with supposed values such as pakikisama when more accurately, it is pakikipagkapwa that moves him.”

Related to pakikipagkapwa, kapwa is the “unity of the self and others.  In other words, kapwa is a recognition of shared identity.  Enriquez explains that:


A person starts having a kapwa not so much because of a recognition of a status given him by others but more so because of his awareness of shared identity.  The ako (ego) and the iba-sa-akin (others) are one and the same in kapwa psychology: “Hindi ako iba sa aking kapwa” (I am no different from others).  Once ako starts thinking of himself as different from kapwa, the self, in effect, denies the status of kapwa to the other.


The Need for Philosophical Justification


Much as pakikipagkapwa and kapwa are described by these terms, Enriquez does not tell us of their meanings.  If pakikipagkapwa stands for “being-with-others” or being concerned about others, how sure are we that we are truly concerned about the other? We may appear to be concerned about the other, but in truth, we act in such a way only because we can see ourselves reaping benefits from doing so.

In another instance, when we say that the self and the other are united in “shared identity,” are we implying that the other is like the self?  Now, if that’s how we understand the term “shared identity,” are we not treating the other from the perspective of the self?  Is the other, then, merely a reflection of the self—the ego?  If that were to be the case, is the other not being deprived of his otherness, that is, as being essentially different from what and how the self is?

Furthermore, does “shared identity” imply that both the self and the other lose their individuality, like a drop of water uniting with the ocean?  Does pakikipagkapwa require that both the other and the self suppress their individualities or differences in the name of being one with each other?  Or, does it imply, on the other hand, an overcoming of one’s egocentricity?  If so, what is the difference between individuality and ego?

Perhaps, Enriquez can help in understanding the Filipino perspective of individuality and egotism.  He argues that Filipinos do not believe that a human individual exists alone.  Socially, culturally and psychologically, the Filipino individual is always in relation to the other, to his barkada, his family, and other people around him.  He stands not against them, but rather with them.  The best term to describe this relation is “being-with-others.” However, nowhere does Enriquez imply that the Filipino has no sense of individuality.  Indeed, he experiences himself as an individual.  But if the Filipino finds himself always in relation to the other, how can his sense of individuality survive?  To be sure, he does not perceive himself as a Cartesian individual who cherishes his autonomy and independence from the world, as the other.  But, it appears that in order to have any sense of individuality, one must stand against the world.  It seems that “shared identity” and “being equal with the other” do not promote individuality.  In any case, there are no conceptual means to distinguish individuality from the ego.

To maintain the meaningfulness of these terms, it is necessary to recognize the autonomy of both the self and the other as well as the essential differences that exist between the two.  The reason for that is simple.  If the other is no different from the self, how can we even speak of the other? How can we even speak meaningfully of respect? Why should we even try to reach outward towards the other? It is on the basis that the other is essentially different from the self that these terms derive their meaning and significance.

The following discussion on existential thought focuses on the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber which can help illuminate the meanings of the term pakikipagkapwa.




Levinas’s ideas relate well to the discussion of the nature of pakikipagkapwa in dissociating the meaning of “shared identity” from the “unity of similarities.” This paper first exposes Levinas’s description of the self and its ways in the world.  It shows that the self, by its nature, is narcissistic and ego-centered in its dealings with the world.  As such, it is full of itself.  It never loses its individuality.  The discussion then points out the necessary distinction between the self and the other.  The distinction is deemed necessary for the self to be able to question its ways, and for the other to be regarded as essentially different from the self.

According to Levinas, the self orders the world.  It organizes the world from its perspective.  For example, when I say that I understand the world, I have succeeded in shaping the world so that it becomes intelligible to me.  In another case, when I am hungry, and the pain is becoming increasingly unbearable, I seek a way to be relieved of this pain.  I, then, appropriate the cow in such a way that I can chew and swallow it.  Naturally, I cannot eat the cow in its original shape.  Hence, by killing it, cutting it, slicing it, cooking it, and then eating it, I succeed in appropriating it for myself.  In both cases, the self is said to have done violence to the otherness of the other.  The cow, in its otherness, is not originally intended for the self.  It was not meant to be eaten.  Yet, the self appropriates the cow as something to be eaten.  In other words, to appropriate the othernesss of the other for the sole benefit of the self, the self violates the other.  This is a necessary aspect of the life of the self for it to remain in existence.  The self feeds on the other in order to be an autonomous entity.

Since the self appropriates the other for its sake, it knows no perspective other than its own.  And for that reason, the self lacks the power to transcend its perspective.  In effect, the self cannot question itself; nor, can it become a question to itself.  To be sure, it can and does question the choices of means by which he appropriates the world, especially when the means fail to serve the self’s purpose.  However, the self is oblivious to his moral treatment towards the other.

The other exists on its own terms.  Otherwise, it would not be called an other.  If the other were not to exist on its own terms, then “he” would only be a mere extension or a reflection of the self.  But, for the self to be what it is, to be distinguished from the other, it requires the other to exist independently of the self.  In appropriation, the self depends on the other in order to become independent, autonomous, and distinct from the other.

Levinas provides us with another insight into why the other and the self do not lose their distinction.  In the encounter which Levinas calls the epiphany of the Face, the other as other catches the self off guard before it is able to appropriate the other.  Like the sudden appearance of a poor child tapping at one’s car window, the other “surprises” the self who momentarily loses its grip on itself.  In this face to face encounter the self experiences guilt.  He experiences guilt, not for being what he is, but for having been irresponsible in the way he exercises his freedom towards the other.  The face of the other pleads the self to not kill him, to spare him from being appropriated by the self.  The self, in that instance, experiences his “unethical” treatment of the other.  It is only the other who, in his otherness, can question the existence of the self.

As a result of this encounter, the self is confronted with two decisions:  he may or may not bring himself to be responsible for the other.  He may choose to keep himself open in the face of the other.  Or, he may choose to kill it, that is, to appropriate it.  If he so chooses to remain open to the other as other, then a relation is established.  It must be noted that this relation is not easy to maintain.  At any time the self can take the path to being irresponsible towards the other.  On the other hand, if he decides to take responsibility for the other, he cannot hope to know the other—for the other in his otherness is essentially different from the self.  For Levinas, the other is infinitely irreducible.  This is why the relationship between the two is not about a unity of similarities.  Rather, Levinas describes the relationship as one of asymmetry.  Since, there is no essential similarity, but only an essential difference between the self and the other, the other cannot be said to be like the self and vice versa.  The other is merely different.

 In the Levinasian context, “shared identity” is not to be taken as the dissolution of differences or the unity of similarity.  For Levinas, there is nothing “shared” between the self and the other.  The notion of “shared identity” does not fit in his philosophy.

Yet, Filipinos do experience “shared identity.” So far, we have shown what “shared identity” is not.  Its positive meaning is yet to be determined.  We now look into Martin Buber’s philosophy for the possible meaning of “shared identity.”




Martin Buber basically agrees with Levinas in that the other is irreducible to any categories of thought set up by the ego. Buber recognizes the other’s way to authentic existence as essentially different from the self.  The other, insists Buber, is not an object of observation or rational contemplation which reduces the entirety of the other to being an “it” or object.  The only way to treat the other as other is for the self to be stirred by the life of the other.

Although Buber may not have viewed the relationship between the self and the other as an asymmetrical relationship as Levinas does, he recognizes a relation of Genuine Dialogue wherein both the self and the other, while acknowledging their differences—hence, their uniqueness—assist each other in the unfolding of their potentialities.


“Shared Identity,” “Equality,” and “Respect for the Other”


What Levinas and Buber tell us about the terms of pakikipagkapwa is that the other with whom the self stands in “shared identity” and, as “an equal,” is not to be understood as being like the self. Both the self and the other are infinitely different in essence. And it is within the context of the essential difference that we come to understand “shared identity” as sharing in the same universal experiences of commitment, love, suffering, sacrifices, to name a few. In other words, the self and the other understand each other because they have similar universal experiences; and also because such concrete experiences of love, suffering, and the like, cannot be grasped in their entirety on the grounds that both the self and the other encounter them in their own different ways.

The term “equality” refers to the fact that both the self and the other are not to “totalize” or “reduce” each other to anything that would deny their essential differences. As an “infinity” they are equal. Thus, I recognize the other as an other because he, “like me,” resists definition. “Equality” then is not about “sameness.” Consider the opposite view of identifying “equality” with “sameness.” If, by “equality” everything is the same in every aspect there will be no need, for example, to speak of respect or democracy. But in that reality, there will be no uniqueness, and everything can be replaced by anything since everything is the same, and no one thing will be missed since anything can replace it. What is “sameness”? What does it entail? Let’s take bolts as an example of “sameness.”

Bolts of one type are the same. They are mass-produced. If one bolt is found to be defective, another bolt can easily take its place. The former bolt will not be missed. Now, we don’t talk of equality and associate it with sameness. Equality is not about sameness or being the same (or, being exactly alike). Viktor Frankl (1965) once wrote that we individualize ourselves by becoming more conscious of being different. “To be equals, to be different,” said he, and therefore none of us can be replaced. Pakikisama is about sameness, not about “equality.”

Collectivism shuns individuality, discourages individual differences, and promotes sameness. Its motto: “Everyone is the same. No one is to be different from the group.” And, as mentioned earlier, it is the same with pakikisama which tolerates no one who attempts at being different from the pack. Whereas, pakikipagkapwa entails respect for, and the recognition of, the other as being different from the pack, from oneself, in pakikipagkapwa, we are the “same” by virtue of being different.




Because pakikipagkapwa demands that the other be treated in his otherness, one cannot comply with Kant’s ethics.  In the traditional Western ethics, Reason is perceived as the sole judge that dictates the morality of actions.  The best representative of this sort of ethical thinking is Immanuel Kant.  In his book Critique of practical reason, Kant contends that the universal moral principles reside in every rational being.  Reason discovers these moral principles without the help of emotions.  These moral principles are not determined by circumstances or by weighing one’s decision on the possible consequences.  Since these universal moral principles are innate in every rational being and are highly valued, Kant sees to it that everyone is bound by one’s duty to treat each other as an end rather than as a means.  For instance, when the situation calls upon a person to be honest, he must be honest, not because it is beneficial to the self or the consequences call for such an act.  On the contrary, one must tell the truth simply because it is one’s moral duty.

Kant demands that every human being be treated as an end.  This may sound as if Kant were concerned for the other.  Closer examination reveals his real intentions.  Kant upholds the absolute status of rational ethical principles.  In other words, Kant treats man as an end because he is their bearer.  This goes against the grain of pakikipagkapwa for this value requires that the other is treated as he is, and not for what is contained in him.  For what is contained in him does not fully grasp what the other is in his otherness.  The ethical principles do not constitute his otherness whose nature is and will remain to be unknown to the knower.

Kant’s ethics, in effect, denies the fundamental relationship between the self and the other.  In emphasizing Reason, which is only one of the faculties of a human being, Kant suppresses the other.  More importantly, he silences the whole being of the other into submission to the dictates of Reason.  Whereas, for Buber and Levinas, the whole nature of morality arises from and is constututed by the fundamental relation between the self and the other whose relation is concrete and unique.

Due to Kant’s line of reasoning, his ethics lacks the empathy which pakikipagkapwa promotes and develops to a high degree.  By being open (receptive) to the otherness of the other, one is morally imaginative.  I am not insinuating that one places one’s self in the shoes of, or acquires the knowledge of, the otherness of the other.  Moral imagination fosters sensitivity to the otherness of the other.  This would not be possible had the self distanced itself from the other by turning the other into an object of observation or contemplation. 

The term “moral imagination” was first coined by Mark Johnson.  From his study of moral imagination, Johnson sets the purpose of ethics.  He (1993: 199) writes:


…of developing moral imagination…it sees our primary task as less a matter of learning to apply moral laws and more a task of refining our perception of character and situations and of developing empathetic imagination to take up the part of others.


On the importance of moral imagination, he (1993: 199) has this to say:


…it can’t tell us what to do in given situations, but neither could traditional Moral law theories.  Rather, it gives the kind of general guidance that comes from enhanced moral understanding and self-knowledge.


And, on empathetic imagination, he (1993: 199) continues:


…unless we can put ourselves in the place of another, unless we can enlarge our own experience through an imaginative encounter with the experience of others, unless we can let our own values and ideals be called into question from various points of view, we cannot be morally sensitive.


According to Johnson, moral or empathetic imagination allows one to take up the place of the other.  He (1993: 199) expresses this sentiment in this way:

This “taking up the place of another” is an act of imaginative experience and dramatic rehearsal of the sort described by Nussbaum and Eldridge in their accounts of narrative moral explorations.  It is perhaps the most important imaginative explorations we can perform.  It is not sufficient merely to manipulate a cool, detached “objective” reason toward the situation of the others.  We must, instead, go out toward people to inhabit their worlds, not just by rational calculations, but also in imagination, feeling and expression.


Reflecting in this way involves an imaginative rationality through which we can participate empathetically in another’s experience: suffering, pain, humiliation, and frustrations, as well as their joy, fulfillment, plans, and hopes.

Another American philosopher who may as well have been interested in moral imagination is Richard Rorty.  Rorty believes that literature, not religion or philosophy, is the most effective means for gaining self-knowledge, that is, for enlarging the self’s notion of itself.  Reading novels invites one to live out (or to relive) the life of the character, imagining what it’s like to feel and to act like someone else other than one’s self.  It is by way of literature, not of philosophy or religion, that egocentrism is overcome.  Reading novels keeps the human individual in touch not only with life but also with his self. 

While I agree with them that philosophy, especially ethics, has been plagued by egocentrism which has lured the self away from thinking of the welfare of the other, and instead concerns itself with how it ought to live, I do think that Rorty and Johnson failed to overcome egocentrism.  Just because reading novels enlarges the self’s notion of itself by identifying himself with the character, it doesn’t really mean that the individual overcomes egocentrism.  For example, I may be influenced by the life of Michael Jordan, but that does not mean I have left my egotistical ways.  I merely enlarge my domain by incorporating the different views that I have derived from reading novels and of a character whose life, beliefs, and values are different from those of mine.  Truly, they are different from mine.  Nevertheless, the point is that I have made them mine.  I have not once stepped out of the confines of my egocentricity.

What Rorty and Johnson lack is a basis on which to make moral imagination possible.  Johnson, for his part, is unaware of such a basis.  This is because Johnson believes that moral imagination is “the primary means by which social relations are constituted.” On the contrary, it is the fundamental relatedness between the self and the other that makes moral imagination possible.  Without this fundamental relatedness, the self would still be locked up in its egocentricity.




Existential thought illuminates the meaning of pakikipagkapwa.  The fundamental ethical relation reveals the meaning of “being-with-others,” “equality,” and “shared identity.” We see the meaning of otherness in this value, in that it is essentially different from the self.  We see that equality is not to be taken to mean that the other is like the self, for that will still be egotistical.  Shared identity does not entail the dissolution of the individuality of the two parties involved in pakikipagkapwa.

We have also shown that moral imagination must be grounded in the fundamental ethical relation which enables it, promotes it, and develops it.  Existential thought provides a ground for Rorty’s and Johnson’s ideas.

Pakikipagkapwa overcomes egocentrism and reaches to the other in his otherness.  His empathy is grounded in his ability to imagine what it would be like to be in the other’s shoes.  There are no ethical universal principles preceding social relations.  Social relations for the Filipino are ethical relations.  It is within the social relations, in the light of the kapwa of the other that the Filipino bases his ethical decisions.  Although there are no universal principles independent of concrete situations with the other, there nevertheless are universal human experiences such as happiness, joy, suffering, love, commitment, a sense of justice and injustice, and the like.  If the Filipinos were egotists, it would not be possible for them to empathize.  It also would not be possible for them to imagine what it’s like to be in the other’s situations.

Pakikipagkapwa transcends egotism in a radical way.  I say “radical” because it requires the self to let go of his egotism and to be touched by the otherness of the other.  It does not mean that the self has fully grasped or is capable of grasping the experience of the other.  If that were so, this would just be perceiving the other in the light of his self.  What is understood is the universal experience that all human beings share.  What cannot be grasped is the concrete expression of the universal experience that the other goes through.  Because the other is not the self and the self is not the other, the concrete expression of the universal experience of the other cannot wholly be understood by the self.  This, then, is the meaning of pakikipagkapwa.  This is why pakikipagkapwa is not pakikisama.



Buber, Martin.  1986.   “Elements of the interhuman.”  In Philosophy of man: Selected readings.  Edited by Manuel Dy.  Manila:  Goodwill Trading Co.

Enriquez, Virgilio.  1994.  From colonial to liberation psychology:  The Philippine experience.  Manila:  De La Salle University Press. 

Frankl, Viktor.  1965.  The Doctor and the soul:  From psychotherapy to logotherapy.  Translated by Richard Winston and Clara Winston.  New York: Bantam Books.

Johnson, Mark.  1993.  Moral imagination:  Implications of cognitive science for ethics.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.

Kant, Immanuel.  1966.  Critique of practical reason.  Translated by F. Max Muller.  Garden City, New York:  Doubleday and Co., Inc.

Rorty, Richard.  2002.  Redemption from egotism:  James and Proust as spiritual exercises.  < htm>.  Accessed:  21 November 2001.



Last Revised 04-Feb-09 04:09 PM.