From Phenomenology to Metaphysics
Chapter 12: A Steinian Approach to Dementia
A Steinian Approach to Dementia
The word dementia refers in Latin to the undoing of the mind, to de-minding. In English ‘to be demented’ still carries the Latin meaning of being out of one’s mind, of being mad; someone or something can ‘drive you demented’ if they are extremely irritating, repetitive, confusing, senseless or silly. Generally however, dementia is thought to refer to a spectrum of mental illnesses affecting in particular (but not exclusively) people in old age, illnesses having a physiological substratum responsive to medical treatment, but which are unfortunately not curable at the present time.
Dementia is generally understood to first affect the memory, which Augustine regarded as the place where the soul is rooted in the eternal ideas. In what follows I shall argue, in the light of Stein’s phenomenology, that it affects more broadly what she calls ‘the function of the I’: the ability to constitute, to identify things, and to recognise.1 When one cannot recognise, one cannot bring the ideas, as Augustine understood them, to bear on past and present experience, and as a consequence one cannot conceptualise and remember. Dementia seems to be experienced by the subject suffering from it as the world becoming increasingly indistinct, confusing and unmanageable. However this does not necessarily mean that the ability to empathise, value and feel is diminished, (except in so far as ← 165 | 166 → these presuppose identification).2 The consequent change in the balance between cognitive and spiritual...
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