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The Philosophy of Edith Stein

From Phenomenology to Metaphysics

Mette Lebech

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.
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Chapter 1: Edith Stein as a European Philosopher



Edith Stein as a European Philosopher

The Silesian philosopher Edith Stein is best known for her philosophy of the person. Her engagement with the relationship between personal and social identity is often overlooked however, along with her refined phenomenology of the social world resulting from this engagement. We shall in this first chapter look at how this engagement is rooted in her own experience of controversial social identity (as a German Jew in Silesia/Schlesien/Śląsk), and how it in turn forces us to understand her, beyond ethnic boundaries, as a European (1). We shall then look at the European roots of Stein’s philosophy, particularly in the traditions stemming from Husserl and Aquinas (2). Finally we shall attempt to show how her Christian philosophy is founded on her phenomenological engagement with social identity and may be seen as an attempt to solve the problems arising from various forms of colliding nationalism (3).

Stein as a European

Growing up in Silesia marked Stein’s thought significantly. Although she saw herself as a Prussian, the changeable history of Silesia was nevertheless her background. After the First World War some members of her family moved to Berlin from Polish speaking areas in Silesia as these ceased to be German territory. Silesia was also earlier under Austrian (1526–1742) and Bohemian (1335–1526) rule, and in the early Middle Ages it was first Moravian and then Polish. It is the latter, for most of its...

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