Tag Archives: Phenomenology

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.

Merleau-Ponty – tear down the Cartesian wall…

Merleau-Ponty, my newest adventure, is about to resolve my thirteen year dilemma of trying to justify objective truth through subjective experience. Not he alone, of course. It required a culmination of experiences. They all had to be in order for the whole thing to make sense. Stein to Hussserl to Heidegger to Merleau-Ponty. Had the order been reversed I think I would have ricocheted off the atmosphere. But what Merleau-Ponty is about to tell me as we walk together along the river bank is that there is no dilemma in the first place. I’ve spent thirteen years fighting a non-existent opponent.

The world has never escaped Descartes’ dualism of perception, he will say. This Cartesian mess goes as follows. The world is full of objects (objective). We cannot trust what we see (Methodical Doubt); therefore, what I perceive is only “an idea” in my mind. It references the object but is not the object. What I perceive is only “in my own head” (I think therefore I am). Therefore we have a split in perceptual understanding – an objective reality that I only can understand subjectively, as an idea in my own mind. As my subjective understanding merely is “an idea in my own mind,” I cannot possibly say that my perception is true, or reality.

That almost perfectly describes the world today. It is the source of our bitter contestations of ideologies. Merleau-Ponty says balderdash to Descartes. Such a split between an objective world and a subjective world of ideas does not exist. It’s a terrible model that is crippling humanity. I sort of know where he’s going based on the other phenomenologists (Stein, Husserl, Heidegger). What he, and the rest of them, are saying to us is, you are starting off badly. Let’s go back, as Husserl says, “to the things themselves.”

This is the refreshing thing about the phenoms. People *too often* see them as “subjective.” They think it is about “perception” and not objective reality. Not at all. It is the opposite. The phenoms are trying to say that it is through subjective experience that we understand objective truths. Through experiential intuition, we know reality, the world as it is, “the things themselves.” Descartes built a wall between the two, between the world and the mind. What Merleau-Ponty is about to tell me as I walk along the river bank with him is (imagine Pink Floyd playing in the background) “tear down the wall!”

Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of ‘singing the world’

I’m already learning a couple of things from my newest adventure into the mind of Merleau-Ponty. One is a relief, expressing the success of my model; the other is a conviction, revealing the failure of my project. Had I read MP eight years ago, I likely would not have felt a need to go on, but then again, eight years ago, I would not have known how to receive MP. The biggest learning lesson early on is the understanding of where I’m failing. That’s what I need to know.”

Philosophy, re-conceived by Merleau-Ponty as expressing the world, as ‘singing the world;’ chanter le monde (PP 187, PP-F 218), is an endless task, but not a futile one. It is the ongoing work of renewing our connections to the world, of embracing our very being as flesh and nature, of remaining alive to our being with each other. At the same time, it is also about celebrating the creative, transformative powers of thought, language, and philosophy itself.” ~ Lawrence Hass. Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy (Studies in Continental Thought) (Kindle Locations 184-186). Kindle Edition.

The Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty

Phenomenology of Perception does not seem to be available in Kindle at the moment. But this book is highly recommended by reviewers and looks like a good investment. I have to get my arms around these phenoms.

I’m thinking Merleau-Ponty might be a key to my next phase which is to understand how we can have such empathy with almost anyone at the level of perception and intuition but dissipate so widely in the vulgarity of socio-politics.

Merleau-Ponty left the Church for socialism. I left everything for the Church. Why can I (it seems with only my toe in the water) related to his thoughts so well?

Walking along a river bank with Merleau-Ponty

“What then have we learned from our examination of the world of perception? We have discovered that it is impossible, in this world, to separate things from their way of appearing.” ~ Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception (p. 70). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

I am reading a short book of Merleau-Ponty’s lectures he read over French radio around 1948. I am likely going to need to break down and get his opus Phenomenology of Perception. These lectures are fascinating. The French style is very different than the German. The French talk about what they’re thinking, while the Germans tell you what they’re thinking, and in precise order.

I imagine walking along a river bank with Merleau-Ponty. I would be fascinated with his lecturing but would not know quite what to say. Have you ever been around someone fascinating who turns to you for a reaction, and you’re not quite sure what to say because you’re not entirely sure what they said. But you liked it, so you just sort of deflect with a “yeah, cool!” kind of remark.

How is it that one can identify with another at the level of perception but then disagree so vehemently at the vulgar level of politics? That’s what has me thinking. I can read Merleau-Ponty or Sartre with delight. But how do we end up so differently in the practical world?

Merleau-Ponty hints at the answer himself. We never escape the influence of those with whom we choose to agree. He left the Church for socialism. I left everything for the Church. But walking side-by-side on that river bank, I find him delightful.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty and meaning before technocracy

I finished the book on Husserl and decided to make one more stretch into Maurice Merleau-Ponty, yet another phenomenologist, an associate of Sartre and Camus, and greatly influenced by Husserl and Heidegger.

It did not take long to feel the impact. Merleau-Ponty saw art, music, and phenomenological philosophy as the solution to our modern entrapment by scientism and technocracy. We have lost touch with the world around us. We are told to ignore meaning for the sake of technology. What is meaningful is not important. That’s just a subjective product of your own mind. Science, on the other hand, is real! MP says, no. Actually the world of perception and meaning is real. Science is merely a shadow of that reality. But the biggest light that turned on for me was this…

It is not so much what I developed in my phenomenological model I have worked on for over a decade. It’s that I did develop it! I stepped beyond the world of corporations, technocracy, and “the natural attitude.” In doing so I stepped into a world of perceptual meaning that transcends the technocratic order. That was Merleau-Ponty’s point.

And to prove this point, I am finding true commonality, true empathy (though not necessarily ideological agreement) with the likes of Leftist Marxists such as Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and Camus, with national socialists such as Heidegger, and with Carmelite saints such as Edith Stein. There is a commonality of meaning that transcends the awful state in which we find ourselves, whereby I can reach the humanity of a wide array of fellow travelers, most with whom I disagree at the lower, more vulgar domain of politics.

*That* is why we need art, and music, and… phenomenology. Folks, we do not have much time. We need a new way of thinking, a new way of communicating, and pathway to transcendent empathy.

The phenomenological influence of Nolwenn Leroy

There are two epilogues to my model that I will address going forward. One is the influence of Martin Heidegger and the other is the odd and seemingly serendipitous inclusion of the music of Nolwenn Leroy. Nolwenn’s influence led me to the final component which was syntax. Syntax is my addition to the Husserlian and Steinian phenomenological model.

Heidegger I will cover in more depth later. One of his critiques of his master Edmund Husserl was that we do not live our lives constantly “eidetically reducing” everything we do to its core essence. We run around doing things without thinking much of everything we’re doing. So, he developed the concepts of “present-at-hand” (being aware) and “ready-at-hand.” Contemplating the meaning of the wine glass in your hand makes it “present-at-hand.” Just drinking your wine with little to no regard for the glass makes it “ready-at-hand.” More on that later. The second is his notion of “presence.” An object locked inches from me behind a door is less present to me than an object a block away that I can access. The latter is “closer” to me than the former. The third Heideggarian influence is the need for a hermeneutical process in the science of phenomenology.

Nolwenn’s influence begs more explanation, and I will focus on this in more depth later as well. It began when French social media introduced me to her version of Tri Martolod. I then downloaded her Histoire Naturelle live performance to an unmarked CD. For five or so years I listened to this performance on my commutes without remembering who she was. I would just play that “French singer” over and over.

Simultaneously I was writing and developing the model. More and more the flow of the Histoire Naturelle music, the syntax, became part of my “thematic field of noematic meaning.” Of itself, I would say this could easily be explained away through psychologism. But then I discovered that medical tests demonstrated that her music was more efficacious in some respects than even Mozart. And she is a pop singer. How can a French pop singer have an affect that matches or exceeds that of Mozart?

I began to look beyond psychology and toward phenomenology to answer the question. What I found was an “eidetic” principle of syntax. Her music was pointing to something more transcendent than the instantiation of the music itself. That principle was the capstone to my project. When I listen to Nolwenn, I hear more than marvelous music, I hear my project.