Monthly Archives: November 2021

Edith Stein’s Philosophy of Psychology

This book is far more interesting than I thought it would be. I’ve read her three most important works and am working on the fourth. I set this one aside because I’m not really interested in psychology itself; I’m interested in Stein’s phenomenology. But this is going to be a real page turner.

I do not think that the world understands the enormity of Edith Stein’s contributions to life. Few know that Edith Stein is one of six patron saints of Europe, one of three women: St. Bridget, St. Catherine of Sienna, and St. Edith Stein.

Stein was an atheist Jewish woman who turned from atheism to whateverism while studying under Edmund Husserl, the father of modern day phenomenology. She was contemporary to another famous student of Husserl’s, Martin Heidegger, with whom she shared ideas. Stein is said to be the main editor of Husserl’s Ideas despite Heidegger getting more of the credit. She advocated for women’s rights, was neither royalist nor republican – just a loyal German.

Despite her voluminous writings and prestigious associates, she converted to the Catholic faith by reading one book over the course of one night – The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, the foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Order (the same as St. Thérèse of Lisieux). Edith became a Carmelite nun, later was taken by the Nazis from her convent, and executed at Auschwitz.

She converted because she sought truth, and she recognized it in Teresa of Avila’s story. This is one of her great contributions to modernity – the desire to seek truth. I always took it for granted that people were seeking for truth. In modern society I have come to the conclusion that most people are not. Most, I think, have given up on the idea of truth for a Nietzschian nihilism.

Stein can kindle in us the desire for truth, a desire the world has long since abandoned.

Getting back to Edith Stein’s Finite and Eternal Being

I am now back to an attempt at finishing Edith Stein’s opus, Finite and Eternal Being. In order to understand her sufficiently, I found it necessary to explore broadly the field of phenomenology: Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Marion…etc. This is Edith’s formation. However, we also must understand Scholasticism, as her work marries the two. It’s mesmerizing. She does not limit phenomenology (with a few important exceptions) but explores Scholasticism through the lens of Phenomenology. The quote below is an example. Having just acknowledged the work of the early Christian Platonists (e.g., Augustine) in the previous paragraph, she keeps her focus on the “experience” of the ego. And it all intertwines like a finely crafted silk cloth. I would not see it as clearly if I had not touched on her work in psychology. She pulls from her past work in unity and integrity to her foundations.

“Our own procedure demands that we first of all clarify the nature of being to the extent that this is possible within the circumference of the life of the ego, i.e., within that sector of being that is in our immediate proximity and indeed inseparable from us. In that region we have met with a type of existent that is removed from the flux of the life of the ego and that itself conditions this flux: We mean the experienced essences [Erlebnis-Wesenheiten]. In comparison with the experiential units which become and pass away, these experienced essences are in fact a kind of first existent. Unless essences were realized in the life of the ego, this latter would be a chaotic maze in which no formal structure whatever could be distinguished. It is the essences which impart to the life of the ego unity and multiplicity, organic articulate structure and order, meaning and intelligibility.” ~ Finite and Eternal Being, Edith Stein

Reduction versus Reductionism

Let’s take a house. The thing about looking at a house is that under no circumstance do you see the entire house at one time. You can walk around it, but you never see the entire thing standing in a single spot. If you are in the front, you do not see the back. If you are in the back, you do not see the side. And so on. You always see what objectively is a complete house, but you see it only from one subjective viewpoint at a time.

Can you be in error regarding your own, subjective viewpoint? Yes. Let’s say you are looking at a white house. You describe it as a red house. You are wrong. No matter where you stand (your subjective viewpoint), you are looking at a white house, not a red one. So, we have subjective understandings but are always faced with objective reality. We can misperceive reality. We can be objectively wrong in our subjective perceptions.

The eidetic reduction was Husserl’s method of determining the true, objective essence of an object knowing that we never see something in its entirety from any single viewpoint. To discover the true essence of an object, the eidetic reduction strips away all that is unnecessary. What if we changed the color? Does a house have to be white to be a house? No. Remove color as inherent to the essence of a house. Does a house have to have two stories? No. Remove the number of stories as inherent to the essence of a house. Does a house have to have a roof? Yes. Keep a roof as inherent to the essence of a house. And so on and so forth until we have the “eidetic principles” governing the concept of a house.

“Reductionism” on the other hand is something entirely different from Husserl’s eidetic reduction. Reductionism is the dome of oppression under which we suffer in our model world. Reductionism is the situation where I see the front of the house and hold that my view of the house is the only one. What I see from the front of the house “is the house.” My view from the front defines the essence of the house. You tell me you are seeing something a little different from the back. I tell you that you are a heretic, that your position is not orthodox, it is an evil teaching because the view from the front is the only correct one.

Notice that reductionism closes the reductionist from any expression of the truth that remains to be discovered. Discovery of “new truths” that follow the “objective principles” of the objective house are stifled. I can “discover” new expressions of the one, objective house if I were to walk around and look from other viewpoints, all without violating the objectivity inherent in the house. To more fully understand the objective essence of the house, I need to be open to “phenomenological discovery” which requires an openness to what the house “gives” of itself from various viewpoints while rejecting only those perceptions that are erroneous to the objective principles underlying the house (it’s white, not red). I cannot say the white house is red. However, I can be open to what the house reveals to me from the back or the sides in order to get a more complete picture.An openness to true phenomenological reduction would be a significant help in the modern world.

An openness to “phenomenological reduction” would help mitigate the divisive tribalism resulting from “reductionism.” Phenomenological reduction is an openness to the world, while reductionism closes us off from it.

We even can discover “new truths” in a world of “unchanging truth.”

Phenomenology

Phenomenology is about the intellectually honest pursuit of the true essence of an object (eidetic reduction) and an openness to the meaning of that truth (its givenness once that truth is discovered). The dome of oppression in the modern world is the opposite; it is a projection of a narrative onto the essence of an object. Phenomenology seeks truth and meaning, while the modern mind seeks only narrative and power. Phenomenology is an openness to what an object gives, while the modern mind is a violent imposition of narrative, a forcing of itself, without regard to what the object gives from its essence.