Edith Stein

Psyche and action

Authored by: Antonio Calcagno

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138098978
eBook ISBN: 9781315104249
Adobe ISBN:


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A quick scan of the scholarly literature on the philosophy of Edith Stein (1891–1942) shows a larger body of work devoted to her later philosophy, which mainly focuses on a rapprochement between phenomenology and medieval and Christian philosophy (see, for example, Manganaro 2002; Sharkey 2006, 2009; Maskulak 2007). One notes, however, a growing interest in her early, more strictly phenomenological work, especially her account of communal mind and social ontology (Moran 2004; Zahavi 2010, 2015; Calcagno 2014; Moran and Parker 2015; Szanto 2015; Ferran Vendrell 2015). There exist, however, only few sustained studies of Stein’s understanding of psychology and the lived experience of psyche (Ales Bello 2007, 2010; Betschart 2009, 2010). Stein’s essay “Psychic Causality” (Psychische Kausalität) forms the first part of her monumental Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities (Stein 1922/2000). The essay may be read as an attempt to curb Husserl’s transcendental idealism, as found in the first version of Ideas I, and it may also be interpreted as a concrete analysis of how psyche conditions sense-making (Calcagno 2018). Here, I wish to highlight another important aspect of Stein’s discussion of psyche, namely its relation to action. I consider action in two senses. First, psyche acts upon consciousness, influencing how consciousness experiences reality and makes sense of it. Hence, psyche is an important building block of the act of sense-making (Sinngebung): for Stein, Sinngebung is not a purely logical process, as the first version of Husserl’s Logical Investigations suggests (cf. Stein 2014: 38–43). Second, psyche conditions how we ethically act: psyche is part and parcel of valuing and, therefore, conditions our ethical decisions and actions. Though I cannot show how psyche, for Stein, conditions all aspects of the life of the human person, I shall argue that psyche is vital for her understanding of action, understood in the two aforementioned senses. In particular, a hierarchy of values and acts of valuing cannot exist without the constitutive structure of psyche.

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