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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 3: Motivation and Value



Motivation and Value

Stein’s phenomenology of value and motivation integrates insights she found in Reinach, Scheler and Husserl. Where Reinach stressed the a priori of the values and Scheler the hierarchy they form, Husserl was interested in describing the act of valuation and sees values as founded on things.1 Stein’s account stands between Sartre’s later subjectivist existentialism and Levinas’ insistence on the Other as the ground of obligation.2 Because of ← 27 | 28 → her ability to synthesise the best from Scheler and Husserl, and because she started with the notion of empathy that allowed her to include the hermeneutical tradition from Dilthey, Stein elaborates a phenomenological theory of motivation in which value plays the role of motivation’s object or formal explanation (analogous to how the perceived is the specific object of perception and its formal explanation). Motivation is like perception in that it is experienced as identified by its object. It is unlike perception in that it is essentially felt and in that it can be followed or infelt (empathised) in others, in texts, and in other things marked by spirit.3 Motivatedness reveals to us the entire inner world of persons and is in fact, according to Stein, what we understand by spirit.

It is the simplicity of this understanding – spirit is motivatedness – that allows Stein to develop her comprehensive theory of what in German is called the ‘sciences of the spirit’, and which we in English call ‘the humanities’ (Geisteswissenschaften). As values...

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