Intersubjectivity, Humanity, Being

Edith Stein’s Phenomenology and Christian Philosophy

by Mette Lebech (Volume editor) John Haydn Gurmin (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection XII, 622 Pages


This volume brings together revised versions of papers presented at the inaugural conference of the International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith Stein (IASPES). The conference papers are supplemented by a number of specially commissioned essays in order to provide a representative sample of the best research currently being carried out on Stein’s philosophy in the English speaking world. The first part of the volume centres on Stein’s phenomenology; the second part looks at her Christian philosophy; and the third part explores the contexts of her philosophical work.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part One: Phenomenology
  • Reconciling Time and Eternity: Edith Stein’s Philosophical Project
  • The Blinking Eye/I: Edith Stein as Philosopher and Autobiographer
  • Edith Stein’s Concept of Empathy and the Problem of the Holocaust Witness: War Diaries of Polish Warsaw Writers
  • Edith Stein’s Reworked Liberalism and the State
  • Solidarity and the Legal Order in Stein’s Political Theory
  • A Yet Hidden Story: Edith Stein and the Bergzabern Circle
  • Phenomenological Ontology: Stein’s Third Way
  • Stein and Levinas on the Other
  • Reinachian Themes in An Investigation Concerning the State
  • An Artist and Edith Stein
  • Part Two: Christian Philosophy
  • Quid and Quale: Reflections on a Possible Complementarity Between Metaphysical and Phenomenological Approaches to Personal Individuality in Edith Stein’s Potenz und Akt
  • Edith Stein and Erich Przywara and the Place of Love in Christian Philosophy
  • Edith Stein’s Ontological Argument
  • Edith Stein’s Trinitarian Ontology
  • Exemplars and Essences: Thomas Aquinas and Edith Stein
  • The Method of Stein’s Realism
  • Do We Die Alone? Edith Stein’s Critique of Heidegger
  • Sinnereignis in the Philosophy of Edith Stein
  • Part Three: Stein’s Philosophy in Context
  • Hedwig Conrad-Martius und Edith Stein Husserls Schülerinnen und die aristotelisch-thomistische Philosophie
  • Edith Stein in der deutschen Forschung und Rezeption
  • Inviting Edith Stein into the ‘French Debate’
  • Edith Stein and John of the Cross: An Intellectual and Spiritual Relation from Husserl’s Lecture in 1918 to the Gas Chamber of Auschwitz in 1942
  • Empathy and the Hermeneutics of the Self: E. Stein, H. Kohut, P. Ricoeur
  • Geisteswissenschaft: Edith Stein’s Phenomenological Sketch of the Essence of Spirit
  • A Possible Opening Up of Phenomenology Towards the Metaphysical Question of Materia Prima: Edith Stein’s Thought in Relation to the Work of Vitalis de Furno, Edmund Husserl and Hedwig Conrad-Martius
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index of Names

← x | xi →Acknowledgements

Many sponsors gave generously towards the inaugural IASPES conference, which took place in Maynooth, June 2011. By doing so, they have also contributed towards the publication of the present volume, which presents the papers given at the conference, albeit in a substantially edited form. The sponsors include The Committee for Philosophy and Ethics of the Royal Irish Academy, The Department of Philosophy, NUIM, The Discalced Carmelites Ireland, The Divine Word Missionaries, The Edith Stein Gesellschaft Deutschland, The German Embassy in Ireland, The Irish Bishops’ Conference, The National University of Ireland Maynooth, The Maynooth Scholastic Trust, The Pontifical University Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth and three anonymous sponsors, one dedicated to the memory of the late Fr James McEvoy.

We wish to thank Monsignor Hugh Connolly, President of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, who made the beautiful rooms of St Patrick’s College available to us, and Dr Michael Dunne, head of the Department of Philosophy NUIM, for his kind support for the conference. We are also very grateful to the many students of the department of philosophy at NUIM and SPCM who gave freely and willingly of their time to ensure that the IASPES conference was not only a success, but a lovely experience. Without them, and especially without Keith Murphy and Damon Shortt, it would not have worked. A special thanks also to all the chairpeople, Hans Christian Strange-Lebech and Stella Sørensen.

We also acknowledge the work of the many anonymous peer-reviewers, the proofreading of Isabelle Cartwright and the editorial assistance of Dr Lidia Matassa, all of whom corrected and ironed out many problems and mistakes and thus contributed greatly to the improvement of the papers.

The publishers Peter Lang, and in particular their commissioning editor Christabel Scaife, must be thanked for their willingness to take on this project and their diligence in carrying it through.← xi | xii →

← xii | 1 →Introduction

This volume has its source in the inaugural conference of the International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith Stein (IASPES) which was held at Maynooth under the auspices of the philosophy department of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth – now University of Maynooth – and the faculty of philosophy of the Pontifical University at St Patrick’s College Maynooth in June 2011. The title of the conference: Intersubjectivity, Humanity, Being. Edith Stein’s Phenomenology and Christian Philosophy has been kept for this volume.

We have also kept the order in which the papers appeared at the conference for the structure of this publication. Thus the first part of the publication centres on ‘Stein’s phenomenology’, the second part on her ‘Christian Philosophy’, and the third part concerns the ‘contexts’ of her philosophy. Most of the papers that were presented at the conference have been included, but the collection also includes a number of contributions by academics who would have liked to participate but were unable to do so in order to reflect some of the best research currently being carried out on Stein’s philosophy in the English speaking world.

In recent years Stein’s work has begun to attract scholarly, and more specifically philosophical, attention. IASPES was founded to nourish and sustain this academic interest at an international level. (Please consult the IASPES website (www.edithsteincircle.com) should you wish to explore further.) The interest in Stein’s philosophy comes from many directions and reflects her many facets as a philosopher. Interest in her phenomenology is awakening in a wider scholarly community concerned particularly with early phenomenology and/or the phenomenology of social relations. Stein’s phenomenology is also of practical interest to people working in the fields of neurology, psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, software development and artificial intelligence. Stein’s Christian Philosophy (inclusive of the philosophy of woman) has attracted the interest of not only Christian (and Jewish) philosophers and theologians of all denominations but also ← 1 | 2 →of feminists. Stein’s philosophy as a whole has moreover attracted interest from many people, outside academia who admire Stein as a person and a saint and are attempting to learn from her as a scholar. It is our hope that the present volume will prove useful for people of all these groups.

The unity of Stein’s work will continue to be appreciated more and more, and as this happens people will find that themes of interest in her early philosophy lead to further developments later, and that themes prevalent in her late philosophy had forerunners, of an often unsuspected kind, in her early phenomenological work. Stein was above all a philosopher, and thus it is the originality and intensity of her reflective voice that commands attention in all aspects of her thought.

Part One includes an important number of contributions from scholars working in the Americas and Canada, namely: Sarah Borden Sharkey (Wheaton, Illinois), Joyce Avrech Berkman (Amherst, Massachusets), Rachel Feldhay Brenner (Madison, Wisconsin), Antonio Calcagno (London, Ontario), Marianne Sawicki (Huntingdon, Pennsylvania) and Gloria Zúñiga y Postigo (Arlington, Texas). Part I also includes a number of contributions from European scholars: Joachim Feldes (Heidelberg, Germany), Elizabeth Meade, and James Smith (both from Maynooth, Ireland) who all focus on the relationship between Stein’s phenomenology and other phenomenologists of her time. The first part of the volume is rounded off with a paper by Nicholas Madden OCD which gives an analysis of two Irish stained glass windows consecrated to Stein. With Madden’s paper our publication is rooted firmly in space, in Ireland.

Part Two, once again, includes an important number of papers by American scholars (although some of these also work in many other parts of the world): Philip Gonzales (Dallas, Texas), Walter Redmond (Fort Worth, Texas), Marian Maskulak CPS (Queen’s, New York), Thomas Gricoski OSB (St Meinrad, Indiana) and Ken Casey (Hopkinsville, Kentucky). This part also includes a paper by an Australian: Gerald Gleeson (Sydney, New South Wales) some contributions by Europeans: Christof Betchart OCD (Rome, Italy), and Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz (Heiligenkreuz, Austria).

In Part Three, the European contributions finally play a dominant role: Jerzy Machnacz (Wrocław, Poland), René Raschke (Dresden, Germany), ← 2 | 3 →Harm Klueting (Cologne, Germany), Michel Dupuis (Louvain-la-neuve, Belgium), and Francesco Alfieri OFM (Bari, Italy) all present perspectives on Stein’s contexts, both synchronic and diachronic. Is it that the Europeans find it particularly necessary to contextualize Stein’s thought? Some American scholars find their way to this section too: Kathleen Haney (Heuston, Texas) and Donald L. Wallenfang (North Canton, Ohio). The last two papers of this section were in fact not presented at the conference, and one could debate their placement in this section. We ended up weighing the context-orientedness of the papers as more important than their placement in one of the other parts. For summaries of the individual articles please see the abstracts prepared by the authors themselves at the beginning of each paper.

Much research is being done in languages other than English, first and foremost in German, but also in Polish, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. We have included some papers in German to keep an awareness of the fact that Stein worked in the German language. Several societies exist that support Stein research in various locations. Their steady and diverse growth induces one to think that the phenomenon of research into Stein’s thought in many languages is here to stay.

We hope that this volume provides interested English speaking readers with a place to start or indeed to continue their research on Stein. As we write, the second volume of proceedings of the biannual IASPES conferences, which was held at King’s University College, at Western University, London, Ontario, has been edited by Antonio Calcagno and is currently being published by Springer. This present volume is therefore taking its place in a growing body of literature. May it become you well.

Mette Lebech and J. Haydn Gurmin

Maynooth University

August 2015← 3 | 4 →


Reconciling Time and Eternity: Edith Stein’s Philosophical Project

ABSTRACT: Edith Stein’s writings cover a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from Husserlian phenomenology to the characters of Sigrid Undset, from critiques of her contemporaries’ understanding of the state to commentaries on St John of the Cross. Nearly all of her thought, however, is marked by an interest in updating older ideas in light of more recent concerns. In this paper, I would like to present a brief intellectual biography for Stein, and then look at four examples of how she takes more traditional ideas and gives them a distinct, contemporary twist.

Edith Stein is one of the great creative minds of the twentieth century. She wrote on a vast array of topics: philosophic method, education, politics, metaphysics, gender, spirituality, and the Carmelite tradition; she engaged in translation work, literary analysis, playwriting, autobiography, and philosophic commentary. But throughout, her thought is marked by an interest in updating older ideas in light of distinctively contemporary concerns. Stein was profoundly aware of the modern turn to the subject, of Kant’s transcendental turn, and subsequent philosophic interest in the formative power of history, gender, and social conditions. She took into account advances in the natural sciences, and her writings are marked by an affirmation of the value of individuals and individual experience. In nearly all of her work, we can see an interest in reconciling the old and the new.

In the following, I would like to give a taste of the sweep of Stein’s thought, beginning by very quickly sketching an account of Stein’s theoretical development and what I see as four major periods of her thought. Then I would like to look briefly at four examples of Stein’s way of updating traditional ideas, including, firstly, her understanding of the phenomenological method; secondly, her account of women; thirdly, her incorporation of evolutionary theory into a broadly Thomistic vision of form; and, ← 7 | 8 →fourthly, her appropriation of Teresa’s image of the castle of the soul for philosophic purposes.

Overview of Stein’s philosophic development

Stein’s earliest work in philosophy was with Edmund Husserl and what was then the new phenomenological method. Stein contributed to Husserl’s project by responding to concerns regarding solipsism, giving an account of how we understand or follow along other’s experiences, and challenging certain aspects of Husserl’s understanding of constitution. She edited, piecing together, Husserl’s Ideas II and Lectures on Internal Time Consciousness, and she did her own phenomenological studies of individuality, value-constitution, the nature of human freedom, of human communities, and political states.

After working as Husserl’s assistant and contributing substantial studies to Husserl’s Jahrbuch, Stein began teaching high school girls. This focus on the development of young female students, as well as her 1922 entrance into the Catholic Church, marks her thought from the 1920s. During the mid-20s through early 30s, she wrote quite a bit about education and the nature of women. She also developed more complex philosophic methods that integrated a phenomenological method with other theoretical approaches.1

In the late 1920s, at the behest of Fr Erich Przywara, editor of Stimmen der Zeit, Stein took on a number of translation projects, working on, for example, letters from John Henry Cardinal Newman and Thomas Aquinas’ De veritate. These projects focused Stein’s subsequent work, and the ← 8 | 9 →intimate study – particularly of the Christian medieval tradition – shaped her writings of the 1930s in a strong way. Stein increasingly incorporated Augustinian, pseudo-Dionysian, Thomistic, and Scotist ideas into her writings. Although not quite summas, Stein’s two major texts from the 1930s, Potency and Act and Finite and Eternal Being, both share in the vision of the classic medieval summas: they are clearly metaphysical; they’re deeply interested in the question of the meaning of being; and they articulate a vast vision of the whole of reality.

In addition to echoing classic summas, part of what makes Stein’s late metaphysical work so distinctive is her incorporation of Carmelite sources and themes. In Stein’s 1936 Finite and Eternal Being and then increasingly into her writings of the 40s, Stein turns to Carmelite questions and concerns. Stein’s final works are on St Elizabeth of Hungary, St Teresa of Avila, and various feasts and holy days. The last great commentary, which Stein was working on when the deadly knock came to the door of her Carmel in Echt in 1942, was on the Carmelite reformer St John of the Cross.

We can divide this development into four loosely distinguishable periods which can be described, very roughly, as: (1) Stein’s more strictly phenomenological work, (2) her more populist writings on education and gender, (3) her translations and subsequent metaphysical writings, and (4) her development of themes in Carmelite spirituality. I would like to take one example from each of these periods and show how Stein, in each of these times, integrated some classic or traditional notion with distinctively contemporary concerns and questions.

Early phenomenology

Stein read the first volume of Husserl’s Logical Investigations while a student of psychology at the University of Breslau, her hometown. She turned from psychology to philosophy, in significant part because of that text, and she maintained a life-long commitment to the phenomenological method – even if she did not remain a pure practitioner of it. Phenomenology, as ← 9 | 10 →a philosophic method, participates in the modern ‘turn to the subject.’ Like most post-Cartesian approaches, questions regarding the nature and conditions of knowledge are central, and phenomenology shares in the Kantian transcendental turn. Like Kant, phenomenology understands the subject to be, at least in certain key respects, active in what it comes to know, contributing in some way to the content of its knowledge, rather than passively being measured by things. These features of phenomenology make it truly contemporary, attuned to the modern and contemporary critiques of naïve realism, critiques of a passive knower and an acontextual concern primarily for objects of knowledge.2

Phenomenology is, however, also strikingly ‘old-fashioned,’ even medieval, in its commitment to the reality of forms or essences. On the question of universals, Husserlian phenomenology – and Stein, following him – holds a clear realism: universals, forms, essences, are real, with perhaps even more being than any contingent, factual, or particular object. The claim is that, in our coming to know objects, we always do so in terms of some essence or form, and, furthermore, that essence is distinct from – and perhaps more real than – the data which we sense. Phenomenology as a method is thus already a kind of reconciliation of the very old and the new.

When Stein takes up Husserl’s method, she deepens both of these concerns. Stein is unambiguously a realist about universals, committed to essences with a clarity that others following Husserl (for example, Heidegger) are not. And yet she also deepens the distinctively non-medieval focus on the personal as well. Stein wrote her dissertation on the problem of empathy, or how we have access to another’s experience. Husserl, at this point, was interested primarily in the question of how an individual constitutes or understands the objects around him. Stein raises the question of how an individual understands other subjects, and not primarily objects, around her. Stein’s primary question, unlike Husserl’s, was about how we know persons and not merely things.

← 10 | 11 →Furthermore, as Marianne Sawicki convincingly argues, Stein challenges Husserl on the question of whether constitution or empathy is more basic. Stein claims that the very condition of the possibility of constituting objects in one way rather than another is that we are able to follow along another person’s experience and acts of constitution. And thus the grasping of and following along another person’s experience – that is, empathy – might be co-equal, if not more basic than, constitution.3 Stein thereby deepens, or adds another twist, to the modern turn to the subject: not only ought we to be concerned with the subject (that is, the conditions of knowledge and not merely the objects known), we also need to be concerned with and oriented toward other persons as we come to grasp objects.

This move, however, also works against early modern separations of subject and object and the Kantian distinction between phenomena and noumena. We are not locked in our own heads, separated from the real. The very condition of the possibility of distinguishing the real from the unreal is that I can follow along another’s constitution of some things as real and others as not. Such epistemological realism places Stein closer to ancient and medieval commitments to our fundamental communal nature (our belonging together in the polis) and to our minds’ genuine ability to know the real, but Stein does so through a distinctively contemporary epistemological turn.

Account of women

Stein published her strictly phenomenological works between 1917 and 1925. In 1922, she entered the Catholic Church, and she thereby entered a community that has a long history, whose identity and claims are tied to very ancient events, and many of whose members are long gone from this ← 11 | 12 →earth. Entering that tradition fully, and taking seriously the claims of that historical body, became an increasingly explicit concern for Stein during the 1920s. One of the markers of Stein’s thought in this period was her increasing desire to dive into, appreciate, and update the Catholic tradition – and one of the more creative places where she does this is in her popular lectures on women.

While in college, Stein participated in the feminist organizations of her day, describing herself in one letter as ‘a radical feminist.’4 She argued then that a woman should not give up her career or profession for marriage. Stein maintains this concern that women should not have to choose among their various capacities. Women, like all human beings, ought to have the opportunity to develop their full humanity. Thus, women should have full access to all professions. As Stein states it, ‘Only subjective delusion could deny that women are capable of practicing vocations other than that of spouse and mother.’5 And Stein maintains, throughout her writings on women, that there is significant sexism in our societies, hindering women’s access to the resources that would enable them to develop fully their humanity.

But Stein also accepted the traditional view that there is something different about women and men, and that these differences go deeper than merely different physical bodies. It has been traditional to associate certain traits or qualities with women in contrast to men: for example, women are caring, good helpmates, both empathetic and sympathetic, such that women make good mothers and primary caregivers and justifying the idea that women’s professional pursuits are rightly limited to protect their place in the home. Stein maintains the traditional idea that there are traits or qualities more characteristic of women in contrast to men, but she articulates these in such a way that the traditional position is gutted of its justification for limiting women’s access to professions and her account provides resources for arguing against many forms of sexism.

← 12 | 13 →Stein’s way of putting all of these together is creative. She distinguishes three levels of analysis: human nature, gendered nature, and individual nature. By considering all three, Stein can both affirm a gendered nature but also see it in the context of a more basic human nature and a qualifying individual nature.6 Stein understands our human nature in broadly Aristotelian terms, as a set of potencies characteristic of all members of the human race that nonetheless need to be developed in and through our material conditions. All human beings share the exact same human capacities. No one is more human than another, and no female has capacities – insofar as they are properly human capacities – lacked by males or vice versa.7 Stein clearly claims that our being human is the most fundamental level of analysis; being a woman or man is secondary.8

Stein also thinks, however, that certain of the human traits are more easily developed by women in contrast to men and vice versa. She thinks that the traits themselves are human ones, not masculine or feminine ones. But the order or ease of development can be considered ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine.’ Thus, one can speak of a feminine and masculine nature, of tendencies of women in contrast to men, etc. But Stein clearly thinks that the ideal and what we are all after is a human ideal, not a feminine or masculine one. Interestingly, Stein does not think that the differences between men and women are simply a result of our biology; they are rather written on our soul itself. Nonetheless, the differences do not indicate a difference in capacities per se, but have rather to do with how the capacities are developed.9

One of Stein’s favourite topics, a theme repeated in nearly all of her writings, is a commitment to individual forms or an individual essence. In her early phenomenology, Stein speaks of such an individual personal core. ← 13 | 14 →In her late spiritual writings, she describes spiritual development in a way that keeps personal uniqueness central.10 This commitment to our distinct individualities likewise influences her writings on women. While all of us are fundamentally human, and all women have a feminine soul and men a masculine one marking their paths of human development, Stein also claims that all expressions of our human nature as well as our feminine and masculine natures will necessarily, and properly, look different. We have an individual form, specifying our human form, and qualifying our femininity and masculinity, such that some women simply will not – and ought not – to develop in stereotypically feminine ways. No woman is, as Stein puts it, simply a woman. Nor is any man, simply a man.11

Thus, Stein both claims a gendered nature in addition to our human nature, and severely qualifies how we ought to understand that nature by emphasizing the centrality of our individual essence or form. Stein, thus, creatively affirms traditional feminine and masculine leanings, but updates these claims, emphasizing our full humanity as well as our distinct individualities, providing arguments for full equality for all human beings, for full access to all professional opportunities, and for fighting against sexism.

Mature turn to metaphysics

Stein’s early writings were strictly phenomenological. Her essays from the late 1920s, including her essays on women, give indications of a move toward classic metaphysics – with explorations of how one might find one’s way ← 14 | 15 →through phenomenology to metaphysics. This movement comes to full fruition in Stein’s writings of the mid-1930s. Stein’s great opus, Finite and Eternal Being, and her recently translated Potency and Act are both examples of classic metaphysics done using many of the categories drawn from the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition, especially as appropriated by Thomas Aquinas. Stein’s project in these texts is highly creative and detailed, and I would like here just to sketch a few features of Stein’s way of adapting the classic notion of form in light of evolutionary challenges.12

One key theme in Finite and Eternal Being is the notion of form. Stein distinguishes different types of form: essences, essentialities, natures, full whats, quiddities, etc. And while working on Finite and Eternal Being, cloistered in the Carmelite convent in Cologne, Stein requested books on quantum physics and her writings show a clear concern for Darwinian evolutionary theory. It is not common to associate classic forms with contemporary science. In fact, the rise of the modern mechanistic sciences and the subsequent mathematization of nature were among the key reasons the traditional Platonic-Aristotelian understanding of form was rejected. And the subsequent development of evolutionary theory has done little to revive an interest in form. Forms, for Plato, Aristotle, and certainly for Stein, are static. They are precisely what do not change. Particular instances of some form might change; an individual might gradually actualize or unfold some form,13 but the form itself – the structure of what it means to be a human being, for example – does not change. This is precisely why Darwin’s work was such a challenge. On the classic view of forms, whether Platonic, Aristotelian, or Thomistic, the species-form is permanent; individual members of that species have an origin, but the species-form itself does not. For Darwin, in contrast, the species itself has an origin; the type or kind itself comes to be and not merely members of that kind.

Part of what creates the difficulty for the traditional account is that form articulates that which is universal and necessary, that which must be ← 15 | 16 →the case in order for something to be human, for example. Even if some member cannot actualize all of the capacities, nonetheless, insofar as she is human, she would have the exact same capacities. This view seems to be stretched beyond plausibility if you accept an evolutionary account of human development. Not only do some individuals actualize different human capacities compared to others, but the capacities themselves seem to be different. If we are structurally changing, if there are gradual structural changes as we move between homo erectus and homo sapiens, then it seems highly unlikely that there is a single form which must characterize all of us structurally. The notion of ‘human being’ increasingly sounds like a category that is more or less useful, but which does not get at universal and necessary features, but merely draws a line in certain places for particular purposes.

Stein not only thinks that a largely evolutionary account of biological development is likely correct, she also thinks that it is philosophically and theologically attractive. But she does so without giving up on the classic notion of form, including the universal and necessary dimensions.14 For Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas, form prescribes – in some detail – the set of capacities characteristic of some individuals as well as the path by which those capacities are properly developed. There may be flexibility in appropriate paths, based in differing matter, but much of what it means both to be a human being and how to become so are laid out in the form. Stein, in contrast, limits how much information the species-form contributes. It may provide general information about the capacities characteristic of some entity, but there is, as Stein puts it, ‘room to play.’15 This flexibility and leeway allows for structural differences among members of the same species. Further, as far as I can tell, these structural differences can have important ties to our material and biological, historical and cultural situations.

← 16 | 17 →The species-form is, I take it, a general structure. The particular instantiation of that general structure in an individual will have much, however, to do with other factors, including material conditions and, in the case of human beings and angels, our individual forms. Further, Stein thinks that, although the species-forms are permanent as certain types of possibilities, they become actualized only when the material conditions are such that they can support such forms. Thus, it is possible that a certain stage of evolutionary development had to be reached before human beings could appear as a possibility. What it means to be human would still be permanent, but there may not be humans until the material conditions are sufficient to support them. The notion of what it means to be human has a greater generality for Stein than the tradition, and thus genuine structural variation among humans is a true possibility for Stein, without compromising her commitment to a fundamental human form characterizing all of us.

This creative solution both preserves something of the classic notion of form and affirms the possibility of evolution. It also, however, grants to each individual a greater significance. We are not each, more or less actualized versions of the human form, but we each present a distinct and structurally unique face to the human form. Thus, each of us can expand not simply how human nature is actualized but what it can mean to be human. I would like to quote a rather long passage from Stein because she makes this point so beautifully. Stein writes:

Each individual has, however, also a heightening significant for the whole of the species. The individual entities embody the species and preserve it through procreation; in the individuals, the species also experiences, moreover, a gradual reshaping. It separates into varieties [Spielarten], in which it can be seen more meaningfully that the material structures are, from the standpoint of the distinctiveness of species, not merely accidental, more or less full actualizations that according to the favour or disfavour of external conditions (that is also the case); they express the distinctiveness of the species in several ways and directions and may therefore be regarded as end structures that are intentionally pre-designed in and with the particular species.16

← 17 | 18 →Appropriation of Carmelite spirituality for philosophic purposes

I have listed the fourth and final phase of Stein’s thought as a turn to themes in Carmelite spirituality, and the primary texts from this period include those translated in The Hidden Life and Stein’s Science of the Cross. Because, however, I am primarily interested in Stein’s philosophical development, I would like to look at a slightly earlier text that nonetheless anticipates this turn to Carmelite themes and shows Stein employing her understanding of the Carmelite spiritual tradition for philosophical purposes.

Stein completed Finite and Eternal Being in 1936, and she added two appendices to the work: one on Martin Heidegger’s existential philosophy and the other on Teresa of Avila’s castle of the soul. In addition to this lengthy appendix on Teresa, Stein articulates an account of the interior of the soul in Chapter VII that draws heavily from Teresian imagery. It is this use of Teresa’s thought to articulate an account of soul that interests me.

By and large, Stein employs the term ‘soul’ in a largely Aristotelian-Thomistic manner, as the principle of organization of the body, that which drives our development, and is the ‘seat’ of our capacities. In this tradition, soul is not primarily an interior space, but instead that which externalizes itself, becoming itself, expressing itself externally in our bodies. Furthermore, insofar as soul is a set of capacities or potencies, it has no being except in its actualization in and through our matter. Thus, soul in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition (in contrast to the more Platonic-Augustinian tradition) is not frequently spoken of using language of ‘inner space’ or ‘inner life.’

Stein both embraces the Aristotelian-Thomistic vision of soul as that which drives and organizes our development and the more Platonic-Augustinian vision of soul as the centre of inner life. But as Stein develops this later feature of soul, she does so not simply in Platonic or Augustinian ← 18 | 19 →terms, but in specifically Teresian and Carmelite terms. She builds on St Teresa’s image of the soul as a castle, as a mansion with many rooms. Like Teresa, she speaks of ‘dwelling’ within our soul. It is not simply a ‘seat’ of capacities, but a place out of which the I or person may live, ‘dwelling’ in the more interior or more exterior rooms. According to Stein, the more interior rooms are explicitly tied to our emotional, individual, and personal life.17

This turn to a specifically Carmelite vision of the soul and the marriage of this account with the classic Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding is, as far as I know, unique to Stein. Stein gives this whole vision a distinctively contemporary twist, however, by emphasizing the epistemological significance of this inward turn and not merely the spiritual significance.18 In Kant’s first Critique, the turn outward, toward objects, gives us only phenomena – the things as they appear to us – not noumena, the things as they are in themselves. It is only in the second Critique, the turn to moral concerns and our interior experience of moral duties, that we finally gain any access to noumenal, true realities. For Kant, our inner, practical life offers special insight that is denied to any merely theoretical approach to objects.

Like Kant, Stein wants to emphasize the special insight of our inner life. There is something about a turn to the ‘interior of the soul’ that grants a particularly significant insight. But unlike Kant, Stein does not oppose this interior turn to an exterior turn to objects. Instead, she articulates a paradox where the deeper one goes into one’s ‘interior,’ the better, more deeply and accurately, we can grasp ‘exterior’ truths.

Her thought, as far as I can tell, goes something like this. We understand and constitute the world in differing ways based on the data that we receive. We receive, however, far more data than most of us can attend to and understand well. You look around the room, and although our sense ← 19 | 20 →faculties might fall upon a tremendous amount of information, much of it is not taken in or understood. Further, our condition – our energy levels, habits of attention, and previous experiences – all affect how much we can attend to and the patterns we can perceive in what we take in. The ‘inward turn,’ the moving into the more inner rooms of the castle, includes a greater ability to attend to more data, to recognize the patterns in more things, and to be more deeply affected by the data and therefore capable of reading more clearly the patterns there in the data.

In her use of Carmelite sources, Stein surely draws, in part, upon her own participation in distinctively Carmelite practices, but the particular way she ties together her own spiritual practices, modern epistemological concerns, broadly Husserlian cognitional theory, the Thomistic understanding of soul, and Teresian images regarding the structure of the soul is highly creative and philosophically provocative.


Stein’s theoretical work covers a broad sweep of topics, and her thought goes through a number of important shifts during her all-too-short life. But throughout – from her earliest phenomenology, through her discussions of gender and appropriations of contemporary science, to her final turn to Carmelite themes – Stein works to reconcile the vetera and nova.

1 The more popular nature of some of her writings from this time (for example, her many public lectures) make it a bit more difficult to discern the precise methods she is using to reach each of her conclusions. She does, however, discuss her methods explicitly in a number of essays, including especially ‘Problems of Women’s Education’ in Essays on Woman [The Collected Works of Edith Stein 2], trans. by Freda Mary Oben (Washington DC: ICS Publications, 1996).

2 This, of course, presumes a particular reading of what phenomenology is – a highly disputed notion, especially given Husserl’s many different attempts to describe it.

3 See especially Chapter 3 of Marianne Sawicki’s, Body, Text and Science: the Literacy of Investigative Practices and the Phenomenology of Edith Stein (Boston, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1997).

4 See, Edith Stein, Self-Portrait in Letters, 1916–1942, trans. by Josephine Koeppel (Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications, 1993) #100. Stein wrote this quite a bit before the more contemporary, technical meaning of ‘radical feminist,’ associated with Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millet.


XII, 622
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (November)
Edith Stein Christian Philosophy Phenomenology
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XII, 622 pp., 2 coloured ill., 4 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Mette Lebech (Volume editor) John Haydn Gurmin (Volume editor)

Mette Lebech is a lecturer in philosophy at Maynooth University. She holds degrees in philosophy from the Universities of Copenhagen, Louvain-la-Neuve and Leuven. She has lectured and published widely on human dignity, friendship, 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, and The Philosophy of Edith Stein: From Phenomenology to Metaphysics (2015). She is President of the international Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith Stein (IASPES). Her current research interest is in phenomenological value theory. John Haydn Gurmin is a lecturer in philosophy at Maynooth University. He holds degrees in philosophy from Maynooth University, the Pontifical University at Maynooth and University College Dublin. He is Secretary of the International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith Stein (IASPES) and his current research interests focus on philosophical theology, phenomenology and the philosophy of science (particularly evolution).


Title: Intersubjectivity, Humanity, Being
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636 pages