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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 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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