Abstract and Keywords
The text moves to a more systematic consideration of the concept of empathy by way of Stein's dissertation On The Problem of Empathy. Our methodology focuses on “unpacking” Stein's concept of empathy as arising “con-primordially”: “I” become one with the other by turning to the content of the event of the other as if I were the subject. A reprise with Heschel on prayer as empathy reveals how the concept is not external to his categories, and from this we may argue that Heschel's concept of “trans-subjectivity” actually speaks to what Stein wishes to accomplish through the use of “con-primordiality”. Ultimately, Stein's thesis of empathy secures the mutuality of an authentic trans-subjectivity: it is a dialogical concept; where empathy may mean a prolonged attentiveness and mindfulness that contributes to genuine inter-religious partnership and cooperation.
Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, in Breslau. Her birth coincides with one of the most important holy days for the Jewish people: The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.1 Stein says the “correlation of events was so important to her mother that it was the paramount reason why [she] held her so dear.” Stein, the youngest in a family of eleven, was a “willful” and “headstrong child” who often became “infuriated when she could not have her own way.” Always at the top of the class in the Gymnasium, this willfulness develops into an insatiable curiosity and desire for truth in her adult life.2
The courses of both Adolf Reinach and Max Scheler have a seminal effect on Stein during her Göttingen University days (1913–1915). Scheler teaches Stein a “‘feeling for values’ (Wertfühlen)” and a way of feeling one’s way into living “which breaks through all systems and concepts and a priori notions to reveal the fullness of being to ‘the seeing eye and empathetic heart.’”3
An empathically attuned philosophical attitude, if it is to be truly personalist (i.e., directed towards real others), will value that a subject is always a subject in relation: “[b]eing is either open to, or dependent on, what is more than being, namely, the care for being, or it is a cul-de-sac, to be explained in terms of self-sufficiency.”4 Under the guidance of the “Master” Edmund Husserl, phenomenology becomes a first teaching; and she discovers a new vehicle for appreciating the interconnectedness of persons.
This methodological inquiry into the existential event-horizon(s) of human living, where “[a]ction is experienced as proceeding meaningfully from the total structure of the person,” eventually comes to inform Stein’s own way of living in the world. She becomes radically “given” to a way of (p.62) living, even from behind the walls of Carmel, that bespeaks a prophetic kenosis towards real others who are being persecuted by the genocidal totality of Nazism.5 Stein’s predisposition towards the real makes her increasingly more suspicious of an idealistic philosophical inquiry. She remarks in 1913 during her student years at Göttingen:
[Husserl’s] Logische Untersuchungen had caused a sensation primarily because it appeared to be a radical departure from critical idealism … [i]t was considered a ‘new scholasticism’ because it turned attention away from the ‘subject’ and towards ‘things’ themselves. Perception again appeared as reception … All the young phenomenologists were confirmed realists. However, the Ideas included some expressions which sounded very much as though the Master wished to return to idealism. Nor could his oral interpretation dispel our misgivings. It was the beginning of that development which led Husserl to see, more and more, in what he called “transcendental Idealism” … [t]his was a path on which, to his sorrow as well as their own, his earlier Göttingen students could not follow him.6
Stein qua phenomenologist is very much interested in exploring and delineating one aspect of the phenomenon of reciprocal subjectivity between persons because “[p]henomenology wants to address the whole question of the experience of and the encounter with ‘other subjects’ (Fremdsubjekten).”7 She therefore makes the move from perception to reception through a phenomenological inquiry on the reciprocity of givenness, under the psycho-spiritual category of empathy. She says about her project,
Now the question needed to be settled: what did I want to work on? I had no difficulty on this. In his course on nature and spirit, Husserl had said that an objective outer world could only be experienced intersubjectively, i.e., through a plurality of perceiving individuals who relate in a mutual exchange of information. Accordingly, an experience of other individuals is a prerequisite. To the experience … Husserl gave the name Einfühlung [Empathy]. What it consists of, however, he nowhere detailed. Here was a lacuna to be filled.8
Dermot Moran, in an essay on the phenomenology of empathy entitled “The Problem of Empathy: Lipps, Scheler, Husserl and Stein,” frames the question for us: “the problem is: how do I constitute someone else as the alter ego, as another ego (Ich), with its own ‘centre’ and ‘pole’ (Ichpol) of psychic experiences, affections and performances?” It raises the question: how do I “grasp” the other’s “cognitive and what in German is called Geistigesleben, ‘spiritual life’”?9
(p.63) Stein completed the dissertation in 1917, entitled On The Problem of Empathy. Stein’s academic pursuit in phenomenologically describing empathy awakens a deeper appreciation within herself for the world of inwardness: “All that constant drilling about looking at everything without prejudice and throwing away our blinders hadn’t been in vain. The bars of the rationalistic prejudices I had unconsciously grown up with collapsed, and there, standing in front of me, was the world of faith.” This “collapse” of “prejudice” awakens in Stein a growth of trust in others. It is this trust-in-others that ultimately embraces an ever-widening interreligious continuum of Jewish–Christian relationality. And it is precisely this renewed sense of faith in otherness that she eloquently describes in her dissertation on empathy.10
Empathy as truly being Einfühlung-in-action; a kenotic given-for-ness into the heart of the world of otherness—a response to a need in a “moment of crisis”—resounds throughout Stein’s life as a profound conatus essendi; a “struggling for life” against the horizon of the Shoah. What becomes the fertile ground for her theoretical reflections on empathy was already being prepared through an ever-widening lived empathy as a Red Cross nurse during the First World War (1914–1918). She eloquently describes this pilgrimage towards the other in her autobiography, Life in a Jewish Family.
Beginnings of Einfühlung: Life in a Jewish Family, The Lazaretto11
Stein immediately conveys to the reader in Life in a Jewish Family the awareness that the fate of the Jews could soon be her own fate. In the preface of the book, Stein chides a friend for her inability to understand how Hitler came to his blind hatred of the Jews. Stein challenges this friend to open her eyes to the “horrendous caricature” that was looking out at them, and all Jews. The “programmed writings and speeches of the new dictators” were a monstrous indication of the things to come. This new reality encourages Stein to witness to her consanguinity with Judaism by writing Life in a Jewish Family. She gives the following reasons for doing so:
Recent months have catapulted the German Jews out of the peaceful existence they had come to take for granted. They have been forced to reflect upon themselves, upon their being, upon their destiny … Repeatedly in these past months, I have had to recall a discussion I had several years ago with a priest belonging to a religious order. In that discussion I was urged to write down what I, child of a Jewish family, had learned about the Jewish people since (p.64) such knowledge is so rarely found in outsiders … Last March , when our national revolution opened the battle on Judaism in Germany, I was again reminded of it … I would like to give, simply, a straightforward account of my own experience of Jewish life as one testimony to be placed alongside others.12
It is interesting to note the date of this foreword to her autobiography: Breslau, September 21, 1933. On October 14, 1933, less than a month later, and ten years after her conversion to Catholicism, Stein enters the Cologne Carmel. The writing of Life in a Jewish Family was her first major project as a Carmelite: “a strange project for a postulant to undertake, at her superiors’ urgings … a detailed memoir of a Jewish upbringing.”13 Stein writes her Jewish story from the place of her adopted otherness: Carmel. This text-as-witness, beginning with the very title, rightly remembers a life of being Jewish. Stein’s flesh and blood anamnesis, as conveyed to us in her own words, challenges the lies about the Jewish people that were being programmed into the German nation while keeping alive the memory of being Jewish.
In July of 1914 we find Stein reading at her “small desk, immersed in Schopenauer’s The World as Will and Idea.” Stein plans to attend a lecture when, at five o’clock in the afternoon, she receives the news of war. Stein skips class and journeys back home from University to Breslau where she unreservedly presents herself for Red Cross service (“I placed myself unconditionally at their disposal”). Stein desires to give herself completely to something bigger than herself: “The first such grandeur she encountered was the Great War … It was clearly Edith Stein’s desire to disappear into devotion to a greater good.”14 Her immediate desire is to go to the front (“preferably to a field hospital”) but she first needs to train in the art of nursing. She spends several weeks at All Saint’s Hospital [Allerheiligenhospital], and immerses herself in the work of caring for others (“everywhere I found plenty to do. One never felt like a fifth wheel.”). As in studies, Stein proves herself to be both an efficient and caring nurse: “I got the impression that the sick were not used to getting loving attention and volunteer helpers therefore could find endless opportunities to show their own compassion and love of neighbor in these places of suffering.”
In 1915 she receives a call to report to a place of great suffering: a lazaretto (Seuchenlazarett) at Mährisch-Weisskirchen in Austria. Stein faced heavy opposition from family and friends, including a warning from the chief academic officer for the local humanistic Gymnasiums, Privy Councilor Thalheim: “Do you know what goes on in a lazaretto?” Stein retorted (p.65) to Councilor Thalheim that although she “did not know” what war was like, there is nevertheless someone in need: “I found it even more essential that persons with a serious attitude should go to work there … I would permit nothing to divert me from my course.” Both the Stein family and Councilor Thalheim meet with Stein’s determined willfulness. She reported to the field hospital in April 1915.15
Stein “got along well” with the other nurses and carries out her duties with uncompromising dedication. She wonders about the devotion of other staff members (“one had the impression that in this they were motivated more by ambition than by a love for humanity”). At the same time, she freely agrees to take on more work (“I cheerfully accepted any kind of duty entrusted to me and was always happy to substitute for others”). One nurse in particular, Susanne Mugdan or “Suse,” comes to enjoy a mutual and profound friendship with Edith Stein.
Stein is taken up with Suse’s Jewish–Christian background. Suse’s mother “had all her children baptized Protestant after her husband died.” While Stein wonders as to why Suse’s mother (“Frau Mugdan”) had her children baptized (“out of a peculiar mistaken maternal solicitude to insure for them a more prosperous future”) she also concludes that Frau Mugdan, “a kind and benevolent woman,” did not baptize her children for “her own advantage.” But this situation “was never a source of gratitude” for Suse, and proves frustrating: “[Suse’s] genuine straightforward soul rebelled against changing one’s religion except from an inner conviction.” Even in the midst of “anti-Semitic remarks,” occasionally thrown about the lazaretto—an insensitivity that drove Suse to silence—Stein never denies her roots (“the ability to come forward with a simple acknowledgement that I was Jewish”).16
It is easy to gloss over the importance of the context wherefrom Stein writes the above acknowledgement of being a Jew: again, it is from her newly adopted post-Catholic, post-Carmel situation where she reaffirms her consanguinity with Judaism vis-à-vis the portrait of her friendship with Suse in Life in a Jewish Family. While Stein’s subsequent conversion to Catholicism (1922) is one of inner conviction, it also becomes a way of belonging to otherness with greater confidence and courage. She freely belongs to others, Gentile or Jew, and her real-time kenosis towards others, through a widening empathy as a nurse, frees her for completing her considerations on empathy, a project she began entertaining as early as 1913–1914.
After returning from the war, in late 1915, she takes up her study of empathy from a new less-limited and tranquil point of view; from a space widened by compassion. She tells us:
(p.66) In Weisskirchen I used to get anxious indeed when I leafed through the pack of abstracts and outlines. And the winter, that dreadful winter of 1913–14, was not yet forgotten. Now I resolutely put aside everything … and began, entirely at rock bottom, to make an objective examination of the problem of empathy … Oh, what a difference compared to my former efforts! … I was like a tiny dot in limitless space … I lay as far back as I could in my chair and strenuously focused my mind … After a while, it seemed as though light began to dawn … and as soon as one point became clear, new questions arose in various directions (Husserl used to call these “new horizons”).17
What was the difference? Husserl argues in Cartesian Meditations, “the cogitatum qua cogitatum is never present to actual consciousness [vorstellig] as a finished datum; it becomes ‘clarified’ only through explication of the given horizon” and the continuous awakening of these new horizons [“der stetig neu geweckten Horizonte”]. Furthermore, the “predelineation” of the what (cogitatum), while “at all times imperfect” or “indeterminate,” nevertheless “has a determinate structure.”
Husserl provides the following helpful example drawn from observing a gaming/casino die for describing a process for how one may “look” for the “new horizons” in and through the “structure” of one’s experience:
For example: the die leaves open a great variety of things pertaining to the unseen faces; yet it is already “construed” in advance as a die, in particular as coloured, rough, and the like, though each of these determinations always leaves further particulars open. This ‘leaving open’, prior to further determinings (which perhaps never take place), is a moment included in the given consciousness itself; it is precisely what makes up the ‘horizon’.18
Prior to her wartime service, Stein comments in 1912–13, “what I had learned about phenomenology, so far, fascinated me tremendously because it consisted precisely of such a labor of clarification … one forged one’s own mental tools for the task at hand.”19 And yet, it is Stein’s praxis of service to others at the lazaretto that helps to instigate the subsequent creative unfolding, or “clarification,” of her theory on empathy. The other or others of the lazaretto breaches that which was like an impregnable wall. The “new horizon” of otherness awakens knowing at a new depth: Stein comes to reflect upon her own experience: “after a while, it seemed as though light began to dawn … and as soon as one point became clear, new questions arose in various directions.”
We have been arguing that Stein’s theoretical considerations on empathy have an antecedent, experiential ground during the years of the Great (p.67) War. Most notably, Stein’s service to others at the lazaretto shapes her scholarship on the “phenomenology of human personality.”20 It is precisely the distillation of this newer horizon into a theory on empathy that will serve as a kind of magna carta for how she will live the rest of her life. We must therefore take some time in appreciating this important text on empathy.
This consideration may further assist us in underlining how Stein’s subsequent praxis of living empathy, of standing with others in a dialectically attuned, intersubjective matrix of relating sameness and otherness, is grounded in this “clarified” theoretical ground. This consideration may further reveal how her prophetic response to the call of pathos runs with and through her Jewish identity and into her Christian belonging.
The Givenness of Einfühlung
Stein opens the question of describing the “certain character” of the empathic event with the following descriptive example in order to draw us into a consideration of how we may describe the phenomenological process of empathy. That is to say, what goes on in “me” when “I” enact empathy?
A friend tells me that he has lost his brother and I become aware of his pain. What kind of an awareness is this? I am not concerned here with going into the basis on which I infer the pain. Perhaps his face is pale and disturbed, his voice toneless and strained. Perhaps he also expresses his pain in words. Naturally, these things can all be investigated, but they are not my concern here. I would like to know, not how I arrive at this awareness, but what it itself is.21
We know from experience that the expression of pain on the face of the other, whether it be drawn from the above example or our own experiences, is only a visible pointer into the hidden “other.” The pain he or she is feeling here and now is unique and intimate to them.
The fact that “I” am there to recognize and “take in” this pain is a necessary prerequisite for empathy. Moran argues, “this temporal coincidence is an important structural feature of empathy … The empathised experience is experienced as being in the same now as my own experience. The other experience is given in a presentified ‘now’ which is identified with my ‘now.’” And in this same now “I” undergo the experiencing of “my” friend’s concerns as she is in pain. Her concerns become “my” concerns. The heave and pitch of giving and receiving is the enacted language of this (p.68) concern, drawing “me” beyond a “solipsistic world,” and into the drama of intersubjectivity.22
This present-tense presence, the other’s face, heightens pathos: a transcendent concern in “me” for the other(s). “I” therefore take the first step towards Einfühlung in orienting “my” self around the look issuing forth from the other. There is a “natural unity” between the other’s countenance and the other’s feelings. For example, “The sad countenance [on the face of the other] is actually not a theme that leads over to another one at all, but it is at one with sadness.” And “my” preliminary orientation towards the other’s look, as an outwardly perceived event, is a first real signpost on the journey into Einfühlung with the other.
Stein argues that the other’s givenness already “implies tendencies” for the other “to advance to new givennesses.” In this we hear the echo of Husserl. The other is a “new horizon,” and this horizon will leave “further particulars open” for further observation and incorporation. The successful execution of empathy will necessarily depend upon how open and sensitive—in a word given—“I” am to the multifaceted horizon of the other. Stein, however, does insist that the experience of pain in one’s own life is ultimately of a unique and personal nature. She argues, “[y]et, in principle, I can never get an ‘orientation’ where pain itself is primordially given” in the first person other.23
So while “empathy is a first-person experience” it “does not have the same intentional structure as a sense perception.”24 Empathy is “my” experience, and is drawn from, as a reaction to, the experience of the other. But my experience is not the same as the other’s original sense experience. What then is the trajectory of empathy’s givenness? It is somehow the same, and yet uniquely distinct from, the primordial experience of the other. Stein proposes a nuanced position—situating “my” givenness of empathy as being “con-primordial”: as arising from myself and the other.
Einfühlung as Con-primordial: Dyadic
Empathy arises as both primordial—as “my” unique “present” experience of the other—and also “non-primordial in content,” for the experience first and foremost belongs to the other. The experience “arises before me all at once, it faces me as an object (such as the sadness I ‘read in another’s face’). But when I inquire into its implied tendencies (try to bring another’s mood to clear givenness to myself), the content, having pulled me into it, is no longer really an object.”25 “I” become one with the other by turning to the (p.69) content of the event as if I were the subject. Stein delineates the process of Einfühlung as follows:
(i) The content of an experience, upon reflection, pulls “me into it,” and thereby ceases being an object of reflection.
(ii) Rather, the content “I” examine takes a secondary position—i.e., “I am now no longer turned to the content but to the object of it,”
(iii) And the “I,” in turn, becomes “the subject of the content in the original subject’s place.”
(iv) Stein concludes, “only after successfully executed clarification, does the content again face me as an object.”
The unique expression on the other’s face, her entire countenance, calls me into a preliminary reflection on what is being revealed before “my” eyes (i). Then a movement happens that may be described as a metanoia towards the other; a comprehensive turning towards. A new givenness as conversion to the subjective experience of the other wherein the “I” gains a “new image” of the other insofar as the “I” stands in solidarity with the other (ii).
While I may never be the other, or substitute myself for the other, the experience of the other’s content moves to be “my” experience in a “con-primordial” way. I become the subject of the content in the original subject’s place (iii). Stein concludes that the empathized content will “again face me as an object” (iv). But what is really facing me again? What objective state does that which, through empathy, “ceases to be an object” we return to?
Stein argues vis-à-vis this new third term of con-primordiality that when I interpret the other from her point of view, the other’s “spatial world” becomes “a new zero point of orientation” for “me.” By “empathically projecting myself” into the life-world of the other “I shift my zero point to this place” and “empathically, non-primordially” achieve this “new image” or deeper insight and understanding of the other while nevertheless “retain[ing] my ‘primordial’ zero point and my ‘primordial’ orientation.”26
Einfühlung may therefore mean a dynamic “intergivenness” in a world of otherness. It is the kenotic feeling of one’s way into the life of the other where one and the other enter a “new horizon” of relationality. Empathy consists in a double movement where the friend who is mourning, for example, presents herself to a preliminary “being seen by the I” (i), whereas “being seen” subsequently unfolds into a more intimate and radical givenness to “me” from the other (ii).
It strikes us that if empathy is con-primordial then it may be considered as having a dyadic structure, for the empathic act is both extraverted and introverted.
The extraverted ground of empathy, as we have seen, may be described as the moment when the “I” sees, for example, another person in mourning (i), followed by the subsequent objective (and preliminary) reflection on her status before “me” in space and time (ii).
The introverted ground of empathy may be described by the following movements: the “I” takes the objective data presented “out there” (e.g., “there is another in pain for her grief” (i)) and renders oneself given anew to the data in a subjective way (ii). One’s subjective givenness to the data of the other thereby brings one to a new “meeting point”: the very place of the primordial subject herself.
Empathy brings the profound lesson from the other to me in an intimate way, as a feeling, as a concern, and “I” show this teaching as a lesson learned through my own physical, psycho-spiritual reorientation: a being given anew towards the one with whom I empathize. It is the way “human beings comprehend the psychic life of their fellows. Also as believers they comprehend the love, the anger, and the precepts of their God in this way.”27
What “I” know will remain “blind, empty and restless” unless it points back to “some kind of experienced, seen act. And the experience back to which knowledge of foreign experience points is called empathy.” Empathy is a deeply intuitive realization about the status of another as other.28
The I has experiences in the real world where any notion of a “pure I” is an “empty” concept, for ‘I’ depend on an “experience of an outer world and of an inner world.” Stein commentator Mary Catherine Basehart concludes,
The I is revealed as the subject of actual qualitative experiences, with experiential content, lived in the present and carried over from the past, experiences which form the unity of the stream of consciousness … this consciousness is body-bound consciousness. The body given in consciousness is sensed as ‘living body’ (Leib) in acts of inner perception and in acts of outer perception. It is outwardly perceived as physical body (Körper) of the outer world; but this double givenness is experienced as the same body.29
The moment of “my” primordial experience of the other—arising from the real-time extraverted phenomenality of the other—is the necessary prologue to the more non-primordial and self-reflective experience of the other. In the con-primordial moment, the self, as a physical and (p.71) psycho-spiritually transcendent self, makes a pilgrimage towards the other where “I” “greet” the other as she greets “me,” with her own inner and outer modes of being given in the situation. It may be argued, therefore, that empathy is a kenotic response of living from one’s interiority with givenness. I give myself freely to the place of the subject as prompted by the former; the original phenomenon, the other’s unique call and countenance.
The con-primordiality of empathy is nothing less than a double-givenness where extraverted and introverted moments of empathy are dialectically related beyond the authority of “my own perceptions”: “[i]f I experience a feeling as that of another, I have it given twice: once primordially as my own and once non-primordially in empathy as originally foreign.” Stein concludes that “this non-primordiality of empathized experiences causes me to reject the general term ‘inner perception’ for the comprehension of our own and foreign experience.”30
Empathy reaches beyond inner perception and towards transcendence by grounding itself in a world of values.31 Stein argues, “this ‘self’-experiencing ‘I’ is not the pure ‘I,’ for the pure ‘I’ has no depth. But the ‘I’ experienced in emotion has levels of various depths.”32 What makes this world of values transcendent for Stein is a feeling for and with the other, beyond a highly privatized, solipsistic cogito where “I think” never means “I am feeling” into the terrain of the other, where this empathy informs and challenges prior epistemological commitments on who or what the other and otherness is and means for “me.”
Heschel on Empathy
In a fashion corresponding to Stein’s thesis on empathy, Heschel refines his categories in speaking of prayer as “an act of empathy” where “our reading and feeling the words of the prayers” is accomplished through “an imaginative projection of our consciousness into the meaning of the words.” In this way we may con-primordially feel “the ideas with which the words are pregnant.” Heschel argues, “[a]t first, the words and their meaning seem to lie beyond the horizon of the mind … [w]e must, therefore, remember that the experience of prayer does not come all at once. It grows in the face of the word that comes ever more to light.”33 Notice the correspondence between Heschel’s and Stein’s perspectives. “I” imaginatively project “myself” towards the Other in prayer. And just as one rises to the “greatness” of the words in the prayer of empathy, we rise to the greatness of the other when our prayer becomes the deed of a living empathy.
(p.72) Edmond La B. Cherbonnier, in commenting on Heschel’s thesis of prayer as empathy, argues for the natural “empathy” between prayer and prophetic-action-in-the-world: “Feelings can be conveyed by inarticulate sound and gestures, as they are by animals … Prayer is primarily about action-God commissioning men to action (“Here am I-send me”), or men asking God’s help. This kind of communication cannot get very far without words.”34 Heschel concludes that words “demand an intensity of dedication which is rarely present.” But so does our devotion to otherness: “Judaism stands and falls with the idea of the absolute relevance of human deeds … Imitatio dei is in deeds. The deed is the source of holiness.”35
The deeply subjective, introverted moment, “the private, the intimate dimension of the word, the subjective side of the message,”36 as “my moment of reflecting on the reality of the other before me,” allows for the radical “breaking in” of another’s reality into my psycho-spiritual being.
The introverted moment of “me” being given to the datum of the other is a “new horizon” that is simultaneously reverberating outward as a call towards the real other. The call points me directly back to the living word: the extraverted reality of this other whom I am endeavoring “to feel with”; her pain as my pain, her joy as my joy, her suffering as my suffering. And yet, as Cherbonnier argues, empathy is more than a feeling, for “the best way to express mutual empathy is through deeds (mitsvoth)” but “deeds require interpretation.”
While “in a close relationship between two people the significance” of a mutual empathy “becomes self-evident,” a greater “clarification” of what one shares with the other may be required in other situations. For example, “in case of misunderstanding” or in the complexity of interreligious interactions, “the meaning” of empathy will need to be “put into words” through the deed of the dialogue.37 Empathy delineates a dialogical and dialectical trans-subjectivity, where the physical and spiritual worlds of oneself and another begin to meet across a widening range of sociopolitical and theological perspectives.
Empathy’s Dialogical Structure: Trans-subjectivity’s Reprise
Alastair MacIntyre, in his study Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913–1922, argues that in empathy there is a “closer relationship between first-person and third-person accounts”38 where “closer” means devotion, while also meaning an ever-more-subtle “differentiation”39 between oneself and another. Empathy between the first and third positions, in dialogue, may necessarily point towards further clarification and debate, with renewed dedication, to a common cause. This pursuit of a greater understanding (p.73) through an empathic engagement may point towards a more sustainable dialogical sympathy between the first- and third-person(s) perspectives. Let us take the following example of the globe from MacIntyre:
Here I lay myself open to what is presented to me in a perceptual experience and report what I see. What I see is a revolving globe with rapidly changing patterns of color. When I report the successive colors, someone else observing the same globe says, ‘Between the yellow and green was a very thin line of purple which you missed. Look again!’ I look again and see the purple. My first-person report is corrigible in the light of the third-person reports.
Here one thinks of Husserl’s casino die. In this case, however, “I” am looking at the data with others. Whether it be a die or a globe, our looking together at the same thing, and our reflection back to one another on what we “see,” opens up the world of dialogue. The dialectic between the first and third person(s) is a creative tension where, in personalist terms, the “understanding of ourselves is open to correction by what we learn about ourselves from others through our empathetic awareness of their view of us.”
This “iterated empathy” of how others “view us” is a way of being dialogically given to the other for “what we had hitherto taken for granted about our own motives” submits itself to a cross-examination of sorts through the simultaneity of living together as persons in “first and third” dialogical situations. Through the ebb and flow from oneself to another—in “becoming aware of the evaluations of others, including their evaluations of us”—we may begin “to question our own evaluations.”40
Stein concludes that the process of empathy may be described along “three levels or modalities.” And these modalities are: (i) the emergence of the experience, (ii) the fulfilling explication, and (iii) the comprehensive objectification of the explained experience.41 In regards to (iii) Stein argues, as we have been considering, that “only after successfully executed clarification, does the content again face me as an object” (cf. Heschel, Chapter 3).
Once empathy has been accomplished the other faces me again as an object. In light of MacIntyre’s considerations, it strikes us that the dynamic between “the first and third” perspectives, as being constitutive of a discerning empathic engagement, would put to question a return to the level of objectification. Pace Stein, a “comprehensive” objectification may subtly (re)introduce an undoing of the pathic mutuality conceived by Stein in her third term of con-primordiality.
We have been critically wondering with Heschel as to whether or not “mutual” and “personal” may be attributive of God in his thought. We (p.74) concluded that the “overturning” of a relational trans-subjectivity in favor of a “Subject to object” intentionality between God and humanity makes the argument for non-mutuality all the more plausible. Might this mean that there is also a subtle return to the “non-mutual” in Stein through a return to a comprehensive objectivity?
At variable and unpredictable degrees in Heschel, the “intergivenness” between God and the prophet seems to oscillate between two poles. An undifferentiated and direct sympathos qua non-mutuality (“here all mutual relations end”); at other times, Heschel raises the possibility of the prophet and God being in a transubjective situation. This raised the following question: may the prophet’s “sympathetic” response to the call ever be completely personal? As a response issuing from a prophet who is an independent center of action—or, as Stein would argue, as a response from my “zero point of orientation”—and towards a God who is also mutual because he is personal?
Empathy in the key of transubjective mutuality strikes us as being a phenomenologically more viable category when speaking of the relationality between personal subjects. Furthermore, trans-subjectivity is another way of naming what Stein is accomplishing by way of the via media of con-primordiality. As she herself says, “Husserl had said that an objective outer world could only be experienced intersubjectively … he gave it the name Einfühlung.”
MacIntyre concludes that Stein’s thesis of empathy, to be sure, argues for a dynamic interpersonal mutuality capable of recognizing the following: “[t]he ‘I’, whether as perceiver or as agent, is partially constituted in and through relationships with others.” And this being constituted relationally “involves situating myself bodily in relation to others and to those objects which are shared objects of perception by myself and by those others” in such a way that these “different types of social relationship into which we enter make a significant difference to the kind of human being that we become.”42
That which was once solely the other’s is now something that is being shared between subjects. The other’s primordial experience is “still there, manifesting itself in my non-primordial experience.” And there it will remain as being primordial in the other while being con-primordially given to “me.” Any return to the objective level must therefore be a return through the subject, so what faces “me” again as an object may no longer carry with it a sense of the “objective” that connotes indifference or “detachment.”
Take, for example, the act of loving and being loved. Norris Clarke, in Person and Being, a creative rapprochement towards a more dynamic Thomism, argues that “once one crosses the threshold into personal being the picture begins to change significantly. Once one begins to analyze love, (p.75) in particular the highest mode of love, the love of pure friendship, it is clear that mutuality is of the essence of this love.”43 A return to an empty spatial-temporal perspective of before-being-loved would seem to be impossible to accomplish after the experience.
It would be an attempt to deny the memory of the other in oneself. One’s relationship with the other does make a significant difference to the kind of human being that I become. In this sense, the other “I” love may never completely return to the status of being “comprehensively” objectified by “me.” “I” may never place the other on the shelf marked before “I” loved “you.”
While we do not believe that there is a subtle return to non-mutuality in Stein, we would nevertheless want to strenuously preserve the doctrine of con-primordiality for Einfühlung. Con-primordiality begins to balance a necessary distance-in-relation constitutive of an empathic response while also challenging a forgetfulness-for-the-other that is accomplished in non-mutuality. Stein’s doctrine of con-primordiality pushes us to acknowledge that within the perichoretic drama between the “first and third perspectives,” “my” assumptions become open to the possibility of being challenged by the other. Ultimately, I must acknowledge that “I” am involved in the process of Einfühlung, and this experience of my empathy with the other changes “me.”
It is precisely the idealism implicit in Husserl’s approach, where a return to a comprehensive objectivity regarding this other becomes untenable when considered in light of Stein’s “con-primordiality.” MacIntyre is instructive on naming this objection to Husserl’s approach: “The ‘I’ of the phenomenological standpoint is always and necessarily subject and not object. How can this ‘I’ have the same reference as the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ of individuals who are always subjects and objects? It is of course true that the end purpose of the phenomenologist is to give an impersonal account of the nature of the experience of joy as such, of what it is for anyone to be joyful. But a condition of the phenomenologist’s report being true is that what he has inspected is his joy, for otherwise it would not be ‘subjective’ in the required sense.”
The “I” is in fact being converted towards a greater receptivity of otherness in its variegated forms:
Like the Sleeping Beauty, we must first be touched by another before we can wake up to ourselves. This process of awakening from latent to explicit self-consciousness is one that unfolds slowly, spread out over several years of time. And it seems that the explicit awakening to self-awareness as an ‘I,’ as a self, can only be done by another human person, reaching out to us with love and treating us as a person, calling us into an I–Thou relation.
(p.76) This “being awakened” by the other does not vitiate self-possession but heightens it, for it encourages oneself and the other to be more completely human.44
Empathy’s Intention: The Rehumanization of the Other
Jodi Halpern argues that “empathy serves as a normative ideal for a rehumanized view of the other” where empathy shows forth in “the ability to individualize rather than stereotype.”
Empathy encourages the cultivation of a habitus for “tolerance of ambivalence” and challenges an “organization of experience through feelings of resentment, anger, or fear.” Above all, empathy is realized, not “in an intense moment of sympathy, but in living together and genuinely attending to another’s perspective over time. Such an understanding seems to be the basis of genuine social cooperation.” The give and take between oneself and the other “rehumanizes” the “We” within the “I and Thou” relationship.45
We considered with Stein that when one encounters the friend grieving, the “I” first objectively sees the other grieving. But the “I” must move beyond an intentional objectivity by allowing the givenness of the other to do kenosis towards “me.” That is to say, in being open to her givenness “I” may begin to “feel with” the pain of this friend in mourning. Thus, the lover-loving-the-beloved, and being loved in return, is a complete portrait of giftedness, and exhibits the reciprocity of giving and receiving beyond substitution and towards a transubjective solidarity. Empathy results in more than a mutual exchange of “objective information.”
Stein’s phenomenology evinces a way of being in the world where the possibility for solidarity, the communicative and reciprocal praxis of empathy, is no longer foreign: “But ‘I,’ ‘you,’ and ‘he’ are retained in ‘we.’ A ‘we,’ not an ‘I’, is the subject of the empathizing.”46 In other words, “the thou, which implies the we”—that which is “prior to the I”—is empathy’s desired interpersonal horizon (cf. Mounier, Chapter 2 ).
Correspondingly, Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological concept of “intergivenness” may be one of the more helpful hermeneutical keys for appreciating how Einfühlung encourages a conversion towards the “we”: the one who enacts empathy, “receive[s] the Other—that is equivalent first and before all to receiving a given,” and, reciprocally, the one receiving empathy, “the gifted,” “belongs within the phenomenality of givenness.” The gifted, in turn, “gives [herself]” to another, and/or back to, the original empathizer.47
(i) “I” become aware of the concerns to the O/other subject.
(ii) “I” take “the original subject’s place” in being given to the concerns of this O/other.
(iii) Where taking “the original subject’s place” means being given transubjectively (Heschel) and con-primordially (Stein) to the other; it is an intergivenness between one’s self and the other.
(iv) This intergivenness is a self-regarding and self-effusive givenness towards a world of otherness; a freely given response to the call of the other who, while in relation to “me,” always remains free and other.
This exchange, beyond economy, and kenotic in nature, is the very exchange of the gift of love from one to another. Mounier likewise argues that the “communion of love” between persons “liberat[es] him who responds to it” while it also “liberates and reassures him who offers it.” And through this intercommunication “love is not only reassur[ing] me simply of a state of being in which I find myself, for it gives me to someone else. Love is the surest certainty that man knows; the one irrefutable, existential cogito: I love, therefore I am.”48 “Being gifted” therefore opens up the possibility for a transformative “being as communion” with otherness.49
We have been arguing that there is a dynamic “intergivenness” presupposed in Einfühlung. No return to a “comprehensive” objectivity, where comprehensive could be interpreted as meaning a quasi-denial or “forgetfulness” of the prior experience of the other, is possible. The erasure of the memory left by “you” on “me” and vice versa would (re)introduce a “barren” concept of a solely self-sufficient “I,” who, on the level of the “we,” risks mutating into totalitarianism.50
Stein’s phenomenology of empathy “begins with the awareness of one’s own being that is concomitant with the acts of consciousness.”51 Yet, it is her devotion to real persons that challenges an epoché of forgetfulness for the other.
Stein, in following Husserl’s lead, “focuses on the ‘things’ of experience … and probes them by way of descriptive analysis.” But it is precisely these “‘things’ of experience” that “presuppose” a real world. Just as there is a “correspondence” in knowing, where givenness arrives in relation, between what is being given, and what is meant and intended by the being-given through an “act of reflective apprehension” so, too, is there a necessary dynamic “intergivenness” among persons in the world. This “correspondence,” this partnership-in-giving among persons, may serve as a kind of “Grund” that makes the (p.78) “fulfillment, corroboration, confirmation” and interpretation of knowledge possible across an ever-widening continuum.52
Stein recognizes the human person as uniquely capable of fulfilling a vocation for transcendence through being “pathic” towards others, for “only the person as spirit can go beyond the self and relate cognitively and affectively to others in the full sense of these relations.”53 She argues for the “unified givenness” of the “I.” That is to say, the “I” is an undivided “center of orientation” and action. Yet, it is “the awareness” of the self as an “I”-in-relation-to-others—as one who is “brought into relief” by “the otherness of the other”—that becomes the data for Stein’s exploration of empathy.54
Edith Stein’s more theoretical vision of empathy finds a flesh-and-blood givenness through her own praxis from the time of her conversion, entrance into Carmel, and subsequent death at Auschwitz. Her work, not only significant for phenomenology, has a contemporary importance for Jewish–Christian dialogue.
In particular, Stein’s middle-way of con-primordiality not only allows the subject to move beyond the level of self-containment, but opens the “I” to the possibility of experiencing “me” being contained in the other, and the other being contained in “me.” In a word, it inaugurates a being open to dialogue.
At the outset, we may conclude that a living Einfühlung in interpersonal encounters may be a “school of the heart” wherefrom one may emerge as more dialogical, compassionate, and remembering—that is, a more-completely-given “rehumanized” other—in a world of others. From this perspective, it would seem that Heschel’s concept of “trans-subjectivity” actually speaks to what Stein wishes to accomplish through the use of “con-primordiality.” Heschel’s poem “I and You,” considered “emblematic” of the “shared pathos” between God and humanity, gives us a powerful poetic insight into how an empathic desire longs for solidarity among persons:
Transmissions flow from your heart to Mine,/trading, twining my pain with yours./Am I not—you? Are you not—I?
My nerves are clustered with Yours./Your dreams have met with mine./Are we not one in the bodies of millions?
Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,/hear My own speech—a distant, quiet voice—in people’s weeping,/as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden.
I live in Me and in you./Through your lips goes a word from Me to Me,/from your eyes drips a tear—its source in Me.
When a need pains You, alarm me!/When You miss a human being/tear open my door!/You live in Yourself, You live in me.55
(p.79) This desire for living in solidarity—When a need pains You, alarm me! When You miss a human being tear open my door!—signals a new way of prophetic witnessing. Stein’s way of witnessing will mean cultivating a praxis that is constitutive of being more than religion’s stereotypical vasum Dei while also being nothing less than a genuine collaborator; an epicenter of freedom and creative faithfulness, where “my” encounter with the other will incarnate a genuine intersubjective communion that is sensitive to the interreligious situation.
Stein’s prophetic witnessing resonates well with Heschel’s vision: one’s response to a divine concern is transitive insofar as it may be localized as a kenotic concern; a radical concern-for-others-as-openness-to-death. This is evident throughout Stein’s life, even before she goes behind the walls of Carmel. (p.80)
(1) Rabbi Leon Klenicki, “Can Jews Forgive After the Holocaust? Historical Experience, Reckoning of the Soul and Reconciliation.” Ecumenical Trends, New York: Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, 31/11 (2002): 1–5, 2: “The Jewish notions of forgiveness and repentance are rooted in the Hebrew Bible. The word “forgiveness” stems from the cultic terminology of cleansing. The verbs are tiher (purify, Jeremiah 33:8); mahah (wipe, Isaiah 43:25); kibbs, rahaz (wash, Isaiah 1:16); kipper (purge, Ezekiel 16:63). To forgive then, in the biblical sense, entails a cleansing of the individual to be forgiven. It is done by God, but it involves the person’s conscience and rituals of personal penitence such as weeping, fasting and rending clothes (II Samuel 12:16 or Ezra 9:3ff).”
(2) Freda Mary Oben, “Edith Stein the Woman,” Carmelite Studies (ed. John Sullivan), vol. 4, Washington: ICS Publications (1987): 5.
(3) Eric Przywara, “Edith Stein,” In und Gegen (Nuremberg: Verlag Glock und Lutz, 1955), 49 in Waltraud Herbstrith, Edith Stein, A Biography (trans. Bernard Bonowitz) (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), 20.
(4) Heschel, Who is Man? The Raymond Fred West Memorial Lectures (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965), 91, hereafter WM.
(5) Mary C. Baseheart, Person in the World: Introduction to the Philosophy of Edith Stein (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997).
(6) Stein, Life in a Jewish Family: 1891–1916 (trans. Josephine Koeppel) (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1986), 250, hereafter Life.
(7) Dermot Moran, “The Problem of Empathy: Lipps, Scheler, Husserl and Stein,” in Amor Amicitiae: On the Love that is Friendship. Essays in Medieval Thought and Beyond in Honor of the Rev. Professor James McEvoy (eds. Thomas A. Kelly and Phillip W. Rosemann) (Leuven/Paris/Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2004), 269–312; 269–270. Also see in Moran: (i) footnote §10: E. Husserl, Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge, hrsg. Stephan Strasser, Husserliana vol. I (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1950), trans. D. Cairns, Cartesian Meditations (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1967), Meditation 5, §44; and (ii) 269: “The German term Einfühlung is of more recent provenance. The Munich philosopher and psychologist Theodor Lipps is usually credited with coining it from the Greek empatheia, literally: ‘feeling into’ Einfühlung thus refers to the phenomenon of feeling (or thinking) one’s way into the experiential life of another.” Also see footnote §4, also on p. 269: “Empathy is formed from the Greek prefix ‘em’, a rendering of ‘en’ (‘em after ‘p’) meaning ‘in’, and ‘pathos’ (feeling). In German Sich einfühlen is a reflexive verb which literally means ‘to feel one’s way into’. A.J. Steinbock, Home and Beyond.”
(8) Stein, Life, 270.
(9) Moran, “Lipps, Scheler, Husserl and Stein,” 270.
(10) Stein, Life, 260.
(11) The quotes in this section are from Life, chapter 15, pp. 318–367, unless otherwise noted.
(12) Preface, Life, 23–24.
(13) Patricia Hampl, “Edith Stein (Poland, 1942): A Book Sealed with Seven Seals.” In Joyce Avrech Berkman, ed., Contemplating Edith Stein (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), 59–75; 71.
(15) Stein’s determination also meets her mother’s “loving opposition” in the following poignant vignette, Life, 319: “I had heavy opposition from my mother. I did not even tell her it was a lazaretto … She was well aware that no suggestion of hers that my life would be endangered could ever induce me to change my plans. So as (p.161) an ultimate deterrent, she told me all the soldiers arrived from the front with clothes overrun by lice and that I could not possibly escape infestation. Naturally that was a scourge I dreaded … When this tactic failed, my mother declared with all the energy she could muster: ‘You will not go with my permission.’ My reply was every bit as determined. ‘Then I must go without your permission.’”
(16) Stein, Life, 343; italics added.
(17) Stein, Life, 377.
(18) Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations [Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge, 1929] in Donn Welton, ed., The Essential Husserl: Basic Writings in Transcendental Phenomenology (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), 109.
(19) Stein, Life, 222.
(20) Rachel Feldhay Brenner, Writing as Resistance: Four Women Confronting the Holocaust (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1997), 24–25: “According to Stein, the [primordial] core—or particular potential of a person—is an invariable given. Its potential cannot be affected by external factors, such as historical circumstances, but the development of the potential may be either enhanced or curtailed by external circumstances.”
(21) Stein, OPE, 6.
(22) Moran, “Lipps, Scheler, Husserl and Stein,” 285, argues that “Husserl himself will say in his Intersubjectivity writings, in constituting myself as a body, I am constituting a ‘solipsistic world’; whereas, in order to constitute an intersubjective world, I must employ empathy …” See: Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Texte aus dem Nachlass. Zweiter Teil. 1921–1928, Husserliana XIV (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973), 8.
(23) Stein, OPE, 77, 57, 7.
(24) Moran, “Lipps, Scheler, Husserl and Stein,” 274.
(25) Stein, OPE, 10.
(27) Ibid., 19, 11. Also see: Moran, “Lipps, Scheler, Husserl and Stein,” 271: “Einfühlung was seen to reach even into theology, when both Scheler and Stein saw it as involving the question of the relation of the person to God. Scheler writes that the interactions of persons with persons extends to God: ‘But it is precisely the realm of spiritual actuality that is articulated as strictly personal, substantive, and intrinsically individual, right up to God, the Person of persons (The Nature of Sympathy, p. 75).’”
(28) Stein, OPE, 19, 11.
(29) Basehart, Person in the World, 38–39.
(30) Stein, OPE, 34.
(31) See: OPE, 108 and following.
(33) Heschel, MQG, 27–30; 28.
(34) Edmond La Beaume Cherbonnier, “Heschel As a Religious Thinker,” Conservative Judaism, 33/1 (Fall, 1968): 25–39; 34–35.
(35) Heschel, MQG, 29, 109.
(36) Heschel, Prophets, xxii.
(37) Cherbonnier, “Heschel As a Religious Thinker,” 34–35.
(38) Alasdair MacIntyre, Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue 1913–1922 (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006), 82.
(39) May, “Sympathy and Empathy,” 7: “Scheler’s analysis of the relationship between moral values and feelings, in particular the Nachfühlen that allows us to reproduce in our own sensibility what the other is experiencing, which provides the basis of (p.162) Mitgefühl, empathy with the objectively grasped suffering of the other, and eventually of Einsfühlung, identifying oneself with the psychic reality of the other (see: Stegmüller [Hauptströmungen der Gegenwärtsphilosophie. Eine kritische Einführung. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 2nd rev. ed.] 1969: 106–110). The presupposition of this act of empathy which makes sympathy possible is not a primary self-awareness; rather, Scheler anticipates Levinas in maintaining that the reality of the other is given as immediately evident to an inner perception which precedes self-awareness of one’s own ego; one thus perceives one’s own self ‘as if I were another’ (‘als ob ich ein anderer wäre,’ Stegmüller 1969: 110). Within the framework of Husserl’s phenomenology Edith Stein developed an even more differentiated analysis of empathy (Stein [OPE] 1989). She, like Levinas, begins with the ‘look’ perceived in the face of the other, which leads the person of empathy from what is outwardly seen to the other’s inner disposition, from objective intentionality to a subjective ‘con-primordiality’, the realisation that the other’s primordial experience, while not my own primordiality, is equivalently primordial for him or her.”
(40) MacIntyre, A Philosophical Prologue, 82–83, 86.
(41) Stein, OPE, 10.
(42) MacIntyre, A Philosophical Prologue, 136–137, italics added.
(43) Clarke, PB, 85.
(44) MacIntyre, A Philosophical Prologue, 45, 60.
(45) Jodi Halpern, Harvey M. Weinstein, “Rehumanizing the Other: Empathy and Reconciliation,” Human Rights Quarterly 26 (2004): 561–583; 583.
(46) Stein, OPE, 18.
(47) Marion, BG, 323.
(48) Mounier, 23, italics added.
(49) Clarke, PB, 85, nn57–58: “[I]f person A timelessly gives perfection X to person B, then B does not first lack perfection and then later receive it, but always possesses it in act. And if we add that B receives X in equal fullness to A’s possession of it, then no potency is involved at all. There is only the possession of perfection X plus the purely positive relationship of active, grateful welcoming of it as a gift from A. In a word, the love relationship, if properly understood, opens up the capital metaphysical and psychological insight that to be gifted and to be grateful are in themselves not a sign of inferiority or deficiency at all, but part of the splendor and wonder of being itself at its highest actualization, that is, being as communion.” Cf. Gerard O’Hanlon, “Does God Change? Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Immutability of God,” Irish Theological Quarterly 53 (1987), 161–183, 171; The Immutability of God in the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
(50) May, “Sympathy and Empathy,” 7: “The fundamental importance of this convergence is perhaps best illustrated when we contemplate a world utterly devoid of the empathy that makes sympathy possible and prepares the ground for both love and compassion. The fascist and communist regimes of the twentieth century were examples of the attempt to purge society of such ‘soft-hearted’ virtues.”
(51) Basehart, Person in the World, 37–38.
(52) Edmund Husserl, Lecture 5 from The Idea of Phenomenology [Die Idee der Phänomenologie], Husserliana II (trans. and intro. Lee Hardy) (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999), 49–55; 54–55: “This evident act of seeing is itself knowing in the most precise sense; and objectivity is not something that is in knowing like something is in a sack as if knowing were a completely empty form—one and the same empty sack—into which one thing is put, and then another. (p.163) Rather, in givenness we see that the object constitutes itself in knowing, that one can distinguish as many basic forms of objectivity. Moreover, the acts of knowing, more broadly apprehended as acts of thought in general, are not free-floating particularities, coming and going in the stream of consciousness. Rather, essentially related to each other, they display the teleological forms of interconnection and corresponding connections of fulfillment, corroboration, confirmation and their counterparts. And everything depends upon the interconnections that present intelligible unity.”
(53) Basehart, Person in the World, 40.
(54) Stein, OPE, 42.
(55) Heschel, “I and You,” Poems, 14, 31.