THE TRANSPOSITION OF EDITHSTEINby John C. WilhelmssonDefinition and MethodEdmund Husserl often had his doctoral students review the thought of another thinker on the same topic as their own doctoral theme as a starting point for study. This is the process Edith Stein engage in so I propose we follow that same path. Yet let us first, for the sake of clarity, define the term “empathy” and give a basic explanation of the phenomenological reduction.When discussing the question of a given person attempting to enter into the “feeling” of another person a controversy often arises between the use of the word “empathy” or “sympathy.” Edith Stein seeks to
put this question to rest promptly:All these data of foreign experience point back to the basic natureof acts in which foreign experience iscomprehended. We now wantto designate these acts as empathy, regardless of all historical traditions attached to the word.The purpose here is to help the reader realize that the investigationbeing entered into has little to do with the common usage of the words “empathy” and “sympathy.” These are terms we use to describe acts in which foreign experience is comprehended. However, the
investigation we shall now enter into is concerned with the act itself: With the phenomenology of empathy. The phenomenological reduction must first be understood. If I wish to intuit a given object, say a chair, Imust first bracket off all of the things and facts I know about said object. I now enter into a state of pure consciousness as a subject which encounters an object by intending to it. However, this process of intentionality takes placeonly from a certain perspective, within a short moment in time. Therefore, I can only look upon the chair from a certain limited perspective which will only give the chair a certain limited meaning to me. Perhaps I see the chair directlyfrom above so I am unaware of its
legs. Then I intend to it from the side and become more aware of its features. Now by intending to it over and over again, thus seeing it from several different perspectives, I have the possibility of gaining determinate knowledge of the chair.Are intending to objects, like a chair, and intending to another human person in an attempt to haveempathy analogous to one another? Edith Stein speaks of seeing a friend who has just lost a loved one and becoming aware of that friend’spain. This awareness might come about as a result of a strained tone of voice or a pale and emotionless face. Yet, by intending to my friend’s pain from many different perspectives can I come to a determinate knowledge of it? Stein states:
I can consider the expression of pain, more accurately, the change of face I empathically grasp as an expression of pain,from as many sides as I desire.