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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 9: Phenomenology and Thomism



Phenomenology and Thomism

It is generally known that Stein was a non-believing Jew before her conversion to Catholicism. She encountered Aquinas as a way into the Catholic tradition. Her translation-commentary on De veritate, which came out after many years of work in 1931 and 1932, afforded her the time to habituate herself to his thought world – and with it to the Catholic worldview. She ‘became so absorbed by his thought that an inner clash between it and the phenomenological way of philosophising was inevitable.’1 Her own first formation was as a phenomenologist, first studying with and later being the assistant of Husserl in Göttingen and Freiburg. During this time both Adolph Reinach and Max Scheler had a profound influence on her, and each in their own way prepared her for the encounter with the thoughts of Thomas Aquinas.

Scheler and Reinach’s version of phenomenology was, like that of Husserl’s Ideas, marked by the exploration of the intuition of essences. They shared the understanding that an important task for the discipline of phenomenology is to enable such intuition,2 which is not exhausted in the achievement of definitions, but rather commands a sustained effort at describing, discerning and clarifying, in order to look afresh and let the phenomena show themselves forth in their purity. The purpose is insight – Wesenschau. When Husserl’s transcendental turn led him to practically ← 115 | 116 → support Heidegger as his successor, Reinach came, for the Bergzabern phenomenologisits, to ‘stand...

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