Edith Stein: Seeker of Truth

Here’s an excerpt from a book called Edith Stein: Seeker of Truth by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, posted today.  The book is a study guide published by a group called ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women).  It accompanies a class that is also offered by ENDOW in certain areas of the country.  I wasn’t familiar with the group, but their website is certainly worth a look.  And Dr. Mitchell’s book looks like an excellent resource.


4 Responses to “Edith Stein: Seeker of Truth”

  1. RMF Says:

    Well, parts of this excerpt are interesting, but other parts are problematic. It’s not by any means accurate that, “Edith Stein is one of the most important Catholic philosophers of the twentieth century, partly because she was able to synthesize contemporary phenomenology with the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.” If she had been able to do that, she would be THE greatest philosopher–not just of this century–but of the recent past. Certain parts of this work are illuminating, but other parts resort to superficial and circular statements, e.g., “Like Thomas, Stein recognizes that the ultimate foundation of the truth is God, who is the source of all truth.” Well, yes, if He is the source, He is also the foundation, but *how* and *in what manner*? Is the author a philosopher? I would guess not by some of the writing/arguments. If the author is a philosopher, the excerpt given is disappointing in that I would expect the work to have more depth and clarity of thought. If the author is not a philosopher, the book maybe should have taken a different turn, to avoid some of these pitfalls, particularly since other aspects of the text are quite good.

  2. Barry Michaels Says:

    Thanks for the comment, RMF.

    I’m no philosopher, and I’m sure it would be unrealistic to expect unaniminity of opinion among the experts regarding how successful Stein was in synthesizing her mentor Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology and Thomas Aquinas’s scholasticism. But I can say that, having read a few books on Stein and also having interviewed a Stein expert (Josephine Koeppel, OCD) about her work some time ago, I’m aware that many do consider her phenomenological-scholastic synthesis to be pretty significant. One better-known fellow phenomenologist-Thomist who admired it was, in fact, Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II).

    One of the books about Stein that’s on my shelf is Waltraud Herbstrith’s 1971 book, Edith Stein: A Biography. Stein’s effort to unite Thomism with phenomenological personalism is one of the aspects of her work that Herbstrith emphasizes. She quotes at length a 1953 article by Alois Dempf from a German philosophical journal, who points to Stein’s book Finite and Eternal Being as her “magnum opus” and an important contribution to just such a synthesis. The result, Herbstrith argues, was “profound insights on the structure of the human person.” (See Herbstrith, pages 145-150.)

  3. RFM Says:

    Barry–thanks for your reply. I didn’t mean to diminish Edith’s contribution. I myself am a big fan of hers, as one philosopher to another. I only meant to say the case should not be over stated. In my opinion she has managed to synthesize some aspects of phenomenology and Thomism. That was, in fact, her stated goal in Finite & Eternal Being. She herself never stated the goal of synthesizing *all* of phen. with *all* of Thomism. That would be a massive undertaking. I think, in some respects, she has contributed beautifully to our understanding of the human person. In other ways, however, I for one would have loved to have seen what she would have written if she had lived a long, philosophical life! (The good God knows best, of course, certainly her martyrdom was her true calling.) However, parts of her philosophy and her understanding of Thomas are problematic. These parts, ironically, are used in the work cited (Edith Stein: Seeker of Truth) directly after the claim is made that she synthesized Thomas and phen. For example, Edith’s explanation for the individuation of the soul as explained in this excerpt is decidedly *un-Thomistic*, as is the account Edith gives of it in Finite and Eternal Being. In fact, Edith’s understanding of Thomas on the individuation of the soul is incorrect, in my opinion. She believes Thomas held *matter* to be the ontological impetus for individuation, whereas I would argue that matter, in itself, is pure potency. Thomas seems pretty clearly to maintain that it is precisely the union of matter and form that creates *this* soul. Matter in itself has no ontological impetus to give, so to speak. Of course, this is splitting hairs–but then, that is part of what philosophy does! I only intended to note that the excerpt given of this recent work on Edith seems disjointed and not terribly deep. When the claim is made that Edith synthesized all of Thomas with all of phen., and then directly after that Edith’s phil. of the soul follows in a manner that 1) gives an understanding of the sould that is precisely not reconciled with Thomas, and 2) could be criticized as not portraying Thomas accurately, that’s what I think is problematic in this excerpt.

    However, on closer look, I see that this booklet has three authors. Each may have their own areas of expertise, and that may be why this work appears disjointed and incomplete in thought. I have no arguments that Edith was a significant contribution to phil., or that even Pope John Paul II admired her, and rightly so. As a phil., however, I am accustomed to speaking precisely–and she did not, by any stretch of the imagination, synthesize Thomism and phenom. She did, however, make a brave and admirable start. Which is quite an accomplishment for one person, let alone someone as young as she was. I agree that Finite & Eternal being is a fine contribution to such a synthesis, but it is only a beginning. In fact, I would go so far as to say, it may not be possible to reconcile the two schools of thought. Realistically, a third school of thought may be born from the two eventually. It is very likely that certain aspects of each thought will never be able to be reconciled, but could lead to greater insight and reformulations.

  4. Barry Michaels Says:

    Interesting! Thanks for your thoughts, RFM. I agree, it’s enticing to imagine what she might have produced and achieved given different circumstances of history, society, and her own choices and vocation.

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