Tag Archives: Edith Stein

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

Edith Stein’s empathy as sharing noematic perception

Imagine that you and I both are looking at a breathtaking panorama – the sun rising over majestic snow-capped mountains reflecting off pristine lakes below with flowered meadows and a rushing river in the foreground. For you the experience is powerfully spiritual; so many concepts and experiences from your life merge into a single vision of faith, hope, and love. It transforms you. You simply stand and stare in contemplation. I’m next to you looking at the same landscape. My reaction is, “Wow, that sure is beautiful! You don’t see that every day!” I take a picture with my Iphone, upload it to Facebook, and that’s about it for me.

We are looking at the exact same thing. But you are experiencing a noema, a “meaning” through your experience. Sure, we have the same beautiful panorama before us; however, you see more. There is a “field” of related ideas, concepts, experiences, and beliefs that are the material making up that merging vision. The entirety of these not-immediately-apparent aspects is your “internal horizon” of perception. This totality of what you see, apparent (the vista) and not-apparent (the field of related ideas), is your perceptual “thematic field.” You see the panorama, but you see still more somewhere on the edges, behind, in front, and above. There are ideas and concepts all around it. I do not see the entirety of your thematic field. I see only the vista.

So, we see the same object. It is objectively real. However, we do not share the same “noematic perception” due to my “natural attitude” that is devoid of meaningful reflection and your thematic field. Another way to say it is that I do not empathize with you. To empathize is not simply to see the same thing as another or to share in their “feelings.” It is to share in the totality of their noematic thematic field of perception.

Edith Stein wrote her doctoral thesis on empathy. I have read the entire document. At the time she was a Jewish atheist. But it is clear to me how she gravitated toward Edmund Husserl and his development of modern-day phenomenology. As an atheist she was searching for truth and true experience. She began with empathy, and no doubt found the fulfillment of her thesis in Husserl’s work. Later, she read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Jesus, put it down and said, “This is truth.” Today, Edith Stein is one of six patron saints of Europe.

Edith Stein’s reconciliation of Husserl and Aquinas

I’m making what in my mind is astonishing progress. I’m reading ‘Phenomenology Explained – From Experience to Insight’ by David Detmer. It is a superb summary of Edmund Husserl’s work. I am in his discussion of Husserl’s “time-consciousness.” Thus far this is the most elegant and integrative of Husserl’s philosophy (which really is a methodology).

He starts by pointing out that whereas Martin Heidegger formally is credited with editing this piece of Husserl’s influential Logical Investigations, actually it was Edith Stein who did the heavy lifting. The concept is difficult to refute. Husserl’s insight is that perception is not bound by linear time; when we perceive we are synthesizing the past – retention – and the future – protention – into a whole. Retention is not memory, and protention is not imagination. They are different.

But to the progress I am making, I now the see the profound connection to Stein’s main accomplishment, that of reconciling the medieval scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas’ Aristotelianism and Husserl’s modern day Phenomenology. Stein takes Aristotle’s (and Aquinas’) potency and act and interprets it through the lens of Husserl’s time-consciousness. Does not “potency and act,” Aristotle’s big concept, have to do with time? Of course. Things move from potency to act only over time. But how does one understand the essence of coming from potency to act over time? Of what it really means? Of its objective truth? Of the point of it all?

Stein applies her insights stemming from editing Husserl’s works to the less elegant, somewhat clunky concept of Aristotle’s potency and act. Suddenly, potency and act becomes more elegant, more explainable, more intuitively real than Aristotle or Aquinas could ever accomplish. She loved Husserl’s work, and she loved Aquinas and his Aristotelianism. She married them.

I have noted this for some time. I never knew how to explain what she did until now. I think that if we would follow Stein’s insights, the world would be a much better place. This may all sound irrelevantly esoteric; however, through it we would better understand the world around us. And right now, it seems that few if any of us understand the world around us.

Edith Stein as a giant figure in my own work

It was only about four or five years ago, I think. I knew who Edith Stein was and had read a little of her work but really had no concept at all of what she was about. It had something to do with Phenomenology, a branch of Philosophy that, candidly, I had never heard of. But she was a German philosopher, so I knew it had to be systematic and substantive. Stein worked alongside Martin Heidegger in assisting Edmund Husserl, the father of modern day Phenomenology.

I was at a stuck point in my own model. Troubled I drove to the shrine of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Darien IL. They have a bookstore behind the gift shop. After praying for guidance in the chapel, I walked in to the gift shop, around the counter, and straight back to the book store. The very moment I crossed the threshold, my eye caught a book directly across the room. It was positioned facing front rather than sideways where you only see the title on the binding.

I did not look at anything else. I was drawn immediately to this book. I picked it up, read the back, and said, “This is it.” I payed, and off I went.

Five years later, looking back on my model, I am dumbstruck at what a giant figure Stein has become in my work. Her shadow now seems to loom over almost every aspect. When I started with Stein, she was to be an auxiliary addition, a “nice touch” on a couple of essays. Her influence now is everywhere, in fact, it appears my model, which at the time I thought quite mature, was only a disassembled set of spiritual and philosophical concepts. Stein provided the “instructions” on how to assemble.

I started here, and this is the most influential of her books on me, along with Potency and Act. However, I would caution the potential reader to do a little background study on Phenomenology before diving in. I was confused by her use of words and terminology until I did so myself.

Two pinnacle questions – Husserl and Edith Stein

There are two pinnacle questions that drove me to study both Edmund Husserl, the father of modern day phenomenology, and his student Edith Stein. It is analogous to walking around a piece of art in amazement, trying to understand what is its essence, or perhaps listening in awe to a pianist elevate and unveil an unseen but very beautiful and very real substance that exists above and beyond us. 

Edmund Husserl developed a model of thought that purposefully, deliberately excluded facts. He loved science but found science’s claim to be a pathway to truth as absurd and circular in its reasoning. His model is, in his mind, the science of all sciences and one without which natural science can never achieve its stated goal. Husserl’s model is one of pure consciousness and apriori reasoning. For Husserl, reason directs science, not the other way around. That was the first of my pinnacle questions. Why?

His student Edith Stein, a Jewish atheist, assisted him in the organization of his work. She was transfixed on Husserl’s work. One day she came across the book St. Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography, who was the founder of the Discalced Carmelite Order. There is reason to believe that Edith read it overnight in one sitting. When she finished the book, she closed it and said, “This is truth.” That was my second pinnacle question. Why?

Why did two well-recognized philosophers believe that truth could be found through pure essence, pure consciousness and reason, such that it could even direct the natural sciences, and why did one of them, Edith Stein, close St. Teresa’s book and posit, “This is truth”?

These are my two questions, the answers to which I seek. Stein later would give me a clue. There is something, she said, that consistently is there, unchanging, in the flow of our life, something higher and toward which we move in space in time, something toward which each artist, each person, strives. Ultimately, she would fulfill her phenomenological mission. She would discover that this something toward which we move, toward which we strive, that we seek to unveil, is a Trinity of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

The Monarchy as the social order of creation’s liturgy

The Monarchy as the social order of creation’s liturgy

The essence of the Monarchy is the divine order. Its telos is the structuring of human society in accord with the liturgy of the created universe. The cosmos themselves are part of the divine liturgical expression. Within this expression, the movement of the heavens, the earthly eloquence of the mountains, rivers, meadows and lakes, alongside the natural beauty of the wildlife inhabiting it, form one panorama, maintain one rhythm and melody, that is synchronized through the divine liturgy of the Mass. The Mass is the apex of the telos that draws upward all of creation’s liturgical affinities.

“1 In the beginning God created a the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit b of God was moving over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. 6 And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.”

And so on through each day whereby the order, rhythm, and mathematical beauty of creation was informed and actualized.

Edith Stein emphasizes in The Hidden Life that Jesus reconstituted fallen creation to once again act in accord with its divine telos through the Mass as its crowning glory.  The Mass is the form and content that the created order seeks to actualize. Stein’s integration of her philosophy with her spirituality might be our own in “seeking first the Kingdom” across the threshold of the “knowledge horizon” from the natural philosophical to the supernatural spiritual. Monarchy is the visible manifestation of that transcendence from time and space to eternity.

“Blessing and distributing bread and wine were part of the Passover rite. But here both receive an entirely new meaning. This is where the life of the church begins. Only at Pentecost will it appear publicly as a Spirit-filled and visible community. But here at the Passover meal the seeds of the vineyard are planted that make the outpouring of the Spirit possible.”

“The wondrous form of the tent of meeting, and later, of Solomon’s temple, erected as it was according to divine specifications, was considered an image of the entire creation, assembled in worship and service around its Lord.”

“In place of Solomon’s temple, Christ has built a temple of living stones, the communion of saints.”

“…and finally also the inhabitants of heaven, the angels and the saints. Not only in representations giving them human form and made by human hands are they to participate in the great Eucharist of creation, but they are to be involved as personal beings—or better, we are to unite ourselves through our liturgy to their eternal praise of God.”

Stein, Edith. The Hidden Life: Essays, Meditations, Spiritual Text (The Collected Works of Edith Stein Book 4). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.

My Edith Stein Blog

My Edith Stein blog, newly emerging and not at all in full maturity, i.e., it will develop more over time, is devoted to inspiring in others a love of philosophy.

I believe that it is your responsibility to be actively and purposefully in pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. This goes for everyone. Without exception. In particular, this goes for those of us who profess to be Christians. Philosophy deals with natural wisdom, a wisdom alone which cannot bring us to Heaven. However, in order to “accept Christ” in the most full manner, we must be open to his divine wisdom, which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That means it is really, really important. Our natural philosophy is the event horizon between the natural and supernatural.

Does this mean being smart? Does this mean that only smart, well-educated people can open themselves up to divine wisdom through the expansion of their natural philosophical understanding? Please. That is painfully naive. We need a better grounding than that.

Many of the greatest saints in history were among the least educated. Yet, their minds were open to receiving divine wisdom. Their event horizon between natural and supernatural thought was well developed, and that is what we are describing as the true philosophical mind. I learned philosophy through a 15th century teenage peasant woman with no education. Her philosophical event horizon was second to none. During her trial, she humiliated the philosophy “experts” from the university of Paris by giving them such wise responses that they knew not how to deal with her. Even the notaries recording the events were dumfounded as we know by their own remarks. True to scripture, the Holy Spirit will guide us in what we need to say, and we can be more open to that divine inspiration with the correct natural philosophical framework.

As Christians, we have responsibilities in the natural world. One cannot excuse being a negligent, lazy husband and father just because he is a Christian. His Christian faith bears down upon him a supernatural responsibility to be a caring, responsible husband and father in the natural realm. Philosophy is one of those responsibilities in the natural realm we all carry.

Most people can explain what they believe, but few can explain why. However, that is only representative of a dearth in critical thinking. The real test is if you can explain what you believe and why without referencing your Christian faith. That is philosophical thinking. The final test is if you can bring together the two and find that they complement and nurture one another. When they do, we have our event horizon well prepared.

Edith Stein, Empathy, and Goodwill

The attached PDF is to a very interesting paper by Kit Apostolacus, a graduate student at Villanova. This is from a public domain academic site. These papers are free by subscribing.

A Hermeneutic of Empathy: On Edith Stein in Relation to Hermeneutical Theology

What caught my attention was Apostolacus’ identification of something I’ve been searching for, namely, a way to express goodwill. We talk and hear much of our “freewill.” But my own work is leading me to the conclusion that what we are missing is more discussion and understanding of “goodwill.” No matter where I turn in my own efforts, I seem to come face to face with the problem of goodwill (more than freewill).

Apostolacus relates:

“a person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell him something.”

That seems to me to be a very helpful foundation upon which to integrate goodwill formerly into the model. We must desire to understand before we can be prepared to receive that which the other offers. The desire to receive is the first step in goodwill. This predisposes us to empathy with the “otherness” facing us. Apostolacus continues: “As Stein might say, we must empathize with the text.”

Desire to receive combined with empathy for the other – now I think I am moving this forward to a definition of goodwill I can integrate with the larger model.

Monarchy through the lens of Edith Stein’s Empathy

Edith Stein’s work on empathy is complex and rigorous; however, one ray of common-man light shines forth. This is that we come to know ourselves in great part through empathy with others. Part of our self-knowledge is primordially interior, but part is empathic. We see ourselves, but also see ourselves through the eyes of others. At times others see us differently than we know ourselves to be, but at times others know us better than we know ourselves.

I see this as covering an expansive terrain. This light reflects so far as to inform my understanding of culture and society. It leads me to a conclusion that what others do in society truly effects me in a profound way. Sin is never private, and the “personal” choices others make impact me empathically so deeply as to inform me of who I am. They soak into me. To tell me that I should not judge the lifestyle of another, that I should simply make my own choices differently if I believe so, to “live and let live,” is not only insufficient but harmful. What we decide has an impact on all of us.

This is why I reject not only the cultural and political Left but the Libertarian Right as well. The Left forces upon us a personally harmful and distorted society, while the Right, no matter how much they protest the opposite side’s society, ensures the latter’s success through their own libertarianism.

This is one of the fundamental reasons I am a Monarchist. As individuals who come to know ourselves through both primordial and empathic means in the Steinian sense, we require as a correlate both individual freedom and a healthy reflective society based on truth, beauty, and goodness. We must be free (primordial) but at the same time embrace healthy “foreign others” and role models (empathic).

For these reasons I reject both the Republican left and Republican right. They are two sides to the same coin, each feeding off of the other in a spiritually carcinogenic fashion. What is required is a society grounded neither in Left nor Right but in Truth. This is the essence of Légitimité and the Légitimiste Monarchy.

This healthy, life-giving embrace of both our primordial selves and the empathic “other” is expressed profoundly and with great clarity in the following gospel story.

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’