The Philosophy of Edith Stein

From Phenomenology to Metaphysics

by Mette Lebech (Author)
©2015 Monographs XX, 190 Pages


Many interested reader will have put aside a work by Edith Stein due to its seeming inaccessibility, with the awareness that there was something important there for a future occasion. This collection of essays attempts to provide an idea of what this important something might be and give a key to the reading of Stein’s various works. It is divided into two parts reflecting Stein’s development. The first part, «Phenomenology», deals with those features of Stein’s work that set it apart from that of other phenomenologists, notably Husserl. The second part is entitled «Metaphysics», although Stein the phenomenologist would, like Husserl, initially have shied away from this designation. However, as Stein gradually understood the importance of the Christian faith for completing the phenomenological project of founding the sciences, and accepted it as indispensable for a philosophical view of the whole, her «attempt at an ascent to the meaning of being» can legitimately be called metaphysics, even as it also constitutes a fundamental criticism of Aristotle and Aquinas.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Glossary
  • Chronology of Stein’s Works
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Edith Stein as a European Philosopher
  • Part I Phenomenology
  • Chapter 2: The Constitution of the Body
  • Chapter 3: Motivation and Value
  • Chapter 4: The Motivated Constitution of the State
  • Chapter 5: An Analysis of Human Dignity pace Stein
  • Chapter 6: The Formation of Christian Europe
  • Part II Metaphysics
  • Chapter 7: Education of the Human Person
  • Chapter 8: Woman
  • Chapter 9: Phenomenology and Thomism
  • Chapter 10: Beginning to Read Finite and Eternal Being
  • Chapter 11: Heidegger and the Meaning of Being
  • Chapter 12: A Steinian Approach to Dementia
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Terms


The material for this volume consists of previously published articles. All have been revised to fit them into this patchwork monograph, most of them substantially. Permission has been sought for reprinting or translating them. Thanks are due to Therese Meehan, Anna-Marie Lebech Sørensen and Liz Meade for careful reading of the chapters and many helpful suggestions.

Chapter 1 is based on a German version of the paper, originally given to the Edith Stein Gesellschaft Deutschland in Salzburg, 17 April 2010 and published in the Edith Stein Jahrbuch, 2011, pp. 71–86. It was subsequently given in a substantially revised English version as a paper in Centre of Dialogue and Prayer Oświęcim/Auschwitz to commemorate Stein’s death, 8 June, 2012. The title of the paper was ‘Edith Stein as a European Philosopher’. A German version of this paper is to be published with the other papers given at the conference by P. Manfred Deselaers.

Chapter 2 and 3 were originally printed in The Yearbook of the Irish Philosophical Society. A much shorter version of the first paper was given at the Intercorporeality and Intersubjectivity International Conference, UCD, 6–8 June 2008, which was published in Maynooth Philosophical Papers, 2008, ed. Simon Nolan, Maynooth, pp. 16–20 under the title ‘Stein’s Phenomenology of the Body. The Human Being between Description of Experience and Social Construction’. It was subsequently expanded for a longer paper given at the Centre for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen 13 January 2009, and published in The Yearbook of the Irish Philosophical Society, 2008, ed. Fiachra Long, Maynooth, pp. 61–70. The second paper was first given in the Invited Speakers Series at Wheaton College, Illinois, 13 October 2009, and then at the Baltimore Carmel’s Festival of Learning, Maryland, 14 November 2009. It was published in The Yearbook of the Irish Philosophical Society, 2010, ed. Julia Hynes, Maynooth, pp. 139–50 as ‘Stein’s Value Theory’. ← vii | viii →

Chapter 4 is based on ‘Edith Stein’s Value-Theory and its Importance for her Conception of the State’ printed in Europa und seine Anderen. Emmanuel Levinas, Edith Stein, Jozef Tischner, ed. by Hanna-Barbara. Gerl-Falkovitz, René Kaufmann and Hans Rainer Sepp (Dresden: Thelem, 2010), pp. 145–54. The volume holds papers given at a conference in Dresden with the same title in June 2009.

Chapter 5 is a translation of ‘Bildung des Menschen – Bildung Europas. Der Einfluss der Christitentum im Lichte der Philosophie Edith Steins’, published in Die Bildung Europas. Eine Topographie des Möglichen im Horizont der Freiheit, ed. by Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, René Kaufmann and Hans Rainer Sepp (Dresden: Thelem, 2012), gathering papers from a conference held in Dresden in June 2010.

Chapter 6 is based on a paper originally given at Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, 21 October 2009, entitled ‘The Constitution of Human Dignity according to Edith Stein’. It was developed for another paper given in the Newman House, UCD, 16 December 2013, as part of an EU funded project entitled ‘Discovering the “We”’ under the title ‘The Constitution of Human Dignity according to the Phenomenology of Edith Stein’. It was given again in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick on the 8 February 2014. After a substantial revision, which owes a lot to the critical reading of Thomas Szanto, it is under consideration for publication by Springer in a volume edited by Dermot Moran and Thomas Szanto under the title ‘Human Dignity according to Edith Stein’. A German version was given in Vienna 24 October 2014, under the title ‘Menschenwürde im Lichte der Philosophie Edith Steins’, at a conference organised by the Edith Stein Gesellschaft Österreich. It was also given at the Hochschule Heiligenkreuz in Heiligenkreuz, Austria, on the 25 October 2014, slightly altered, at a conference organised by the EUPHRat Institute entitled Europa eine Seele geben, under the title ‘Europa und die Menschenwürde’. The first of the German papers will appear in the Edith Stein Jahrbuch 2015, and the second in the proceedings of the said conference.

Chapter 7 is based on an article entitled ‘Edith Stein’s Education Theory in The Structure of the Human Person’, first printed in REA, Religion, Education & the Arts, Issue V: The Philosophy of Education, edited by ← viii | ix → Ian Leask, 2005, pp. 55–70, and subsequently reprinted in What Price the University? A Special Issue of the Maynooth Philosophical Papers, ed. by Thomas Kelly, NUI Maynooth, 2006, pp. 163–78.

Chapter 8 originates as a paper given to the Newman Society, UCD, Ireland, 11 February 2009 commissioned to address the topic ‘female identity’ in the context of someone else speaking to the topic of ‘male identity’. It was published under the title ‘What can we learn from Edith Stein’s Philosophy of Woman?’ in the Yearbook of the Irish Philosophical Society, 2009, ed. Cyril McDonnell, Maynooth, pp. 215–24.

Chapter 9 is based on ‘Edith Stein’s Thomism’, Maynooth Philosophical Papers, 2014, Issue 7, pp. 20–32. The first version of this paper was given at the Centre for Thomistic Studies at the University of St Thomas, Houston, Texas, 21 March 2013, and a subsequent version was given in Dublin, at a Cairde Tomáis Naofa conference 7 June 2014 in Ely University Centre.

Chapter 10 was published in Phenomenology 2010. Traditions, Transitions and Challenges, ed. Dermot Moran and Hans Rainer Sepp, OPO (Bucharest: Zeta Books, 2011), pp. 138–54, under the title ‘Beginning to Read Finite and Eternal Being’. It was previously given at a conference of the Irish Philosophical Society in Maynooth, 4 April 2009.

Chapter 11 originated as a paper at the Newman Society, UCD, on 29 November 2006, entitled ‘Edith Stein and Martin Heidegger’. It was rewritten for a Cairde Tomáis Naofa conference, in Maynooth, 10 March 2007 with the title ‘Edith Stein and Martin Heidegger on the Meaning of Being’. It was expanded for a collection edited by Kathleen Haney to be published by ICS Publications.

Chapter 12 is based on ‘The recognition of human dignity in the person living with dementia: reflections in the light of the phenomenology of Edith Stein’ published in its English form in An Irish Reader in Moral Theology. The Legacy of the Last 50 Years, Vol. III: Medical and Bio Ethics, ed. by Enda McDonagh and Vincent MacNamara (Dublin: Columba Press, 2013), pp. 66–76. This English version is a translation of ‘Die Anerkannung der Menschenwürde von Demenzkranken. Untersuchungen im Lichte der Philosophie Edith Steins’ in Leid und Mitleid bei Edith Stein, ed. by Malgorzata Bogaczyk-Vormayr, Elisabeth Kapferer and Clemens Sedmak (Salzburg: Verlag Anton Pustet, 2013), pp. 136–48. Originally the paper ← ix | x → was given in English at the IACB International Conference in Cardinal Schulte Haus, Cologne, Germany, 14 July 2009. This chapter is dedicated to Annette Bolhorn and her team, who expertly looked after my mother until she died at Dorte Marie Hjemmet, Rødovrevej, Copenhagen in 2007.

The book is supported by a grant from the National University of Ireland. ← x | xi →


To facilitate the reading of this book it is useful to define a few terms often used by Stein. These are meant for the reader to have recourse to throughout the reading of the book, whenever doubt arises about the meanings of the words. They are mostly related to the phenomenological method, which she develops, tests and perfects throughout her life.


Eidetic variation is possible in imagination because essences are a priori, i.e. before (concrete) experience, and because one can gain insight into a priori relationships relatively independently of empirical experience. Thus I can discuss meaningfully what pertains to the essence of a dragon or to Sleeping Beauty, without either existing, or without me having seen either. Ontologies are sciences of essence in that they investigate various types of essence (e.g. nature, spirit).


‘Constitution’ is a term Stein inherits from Husserl, who uses it systematically to mean the way in which things appear as one (for me, for us). Constitution happens quasi-automatically, but not without the involvement or activity of the ‘I’. It is the primary activity of the ‘I’, its first expression, its function. Whenever there is constitution, there is an ‘I’ (or several ‘I’’s); whenever there is an I, it is because there is constitution. This is why ‘I’’s are constituted as constituting, according to Stein (and Husserl). Constitutional analysis is, alongside eidetic and ontic analysis, a type of phenomenological ← xi | xii → analysis practiced by the phenomenologists. It attempts to establish how the unity of some object comes about for me or for us, i.e. in what acts it is identified or constituted as one.


XX, 190
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (April)
Christian faith faith Thomism Dementia
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XX, 190 pp.

Biographical notes

Mette Lebech (Author)

Mette Lebech has been a lecturer in philosophy at Maynooth University since 1998. She holds degrees in philosophy from the universities of Copenhagen, Louvain-la-Neuve and Leuven and has lectured and published widely on human dignity, bioethics and the philosophy of Edith Stein. Her publications include On the Problem of Human Dignity: A Hermeneutical and Phenomenological Investigation (2009), which employs Stein’s phenomenology to explore the experiential necessity of the idea of human dignity. She is the founding President of the International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith Stein (IASPES). Her current research interest is in phenomenological value theory.


Title: The Philosophy of Edith Stein