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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 5: An Analysis of Human Dignity pace Stein

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CHAPTER 5

An Analysis of Human Dignity pace Stein

Human dignity is a term it is not easy to define, even though most of us will make use of the term now and then. Nor is it a reality that is easy to describe precisely, although it seems to be something of which we all have a keen intuition and which matters to us in a vital way. In what follows I shall propose a definition that allows us to describe the intuition of human dignity by means of Stein’s phenomenology.

Addressing the topic of human dignity according to the phenomenology of Edith Stein requires a preliminary comment about Stein’s own idea of human dignity and the relationship it bears with our present analysis. Stein did not explicitly write on human dignity, nor did it interest her specifically to give an account of what it is, although the reality probably mattered as much to her as to anyone of us. She lived and wrote before the expression found its lasting form in the human rights tradition, but had she survived the Second World War, it is likely she would have found this development of particular interest. However, Stein used the corresponding German expression Menschenwürde three times in her work. In her autobiography Life in a Jewish Family she explains her own life long abstention from alcohol by reference to human dignity.1 In Potency and Act she explains her own emphasis on the individuality...

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