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Alasdair MacIntyre - EDITH STEIN: A PHILOSOPHICAL PROLOGUE 1913 - 1922

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A brilliant philopher neglected because died a Jewish-Christian martyr and was canonized in 1998
1 review about Alasdair MacIntyre - EDITH STEIN: A PHILOSOPHICAL...

Edith Stein: first a philosopher, then gassed at Auschwitz, then a Saint

  • Feb 17, 2011
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How many creative philosophers have been canonized Catholic saints lately? The only one that springs to my mind is Edith Stein (1891 - 1942). She had been a Carmelite nun for nearly ten years, named Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, when she and her older Jewish-Catholic sister and fellow Carmelite nun Rosa were gassed to death by Nazis in Auschwitz, Poland in 1942. In 1998 Pope John Paul II canonized Stein -- as a Christian martyr -- and declared her one of six patron saints of all Europe.

If you are not a professional philosopher, you probably turn to her writings and to books about Edith Stein because you want to learn more about how a saint thinks and acts. Many Jews, however, were outraged in 1998 when the pope, himself a professor of philosophy, said that Stein died witnessing her Christian faith. Some Jews said, no: she was killed solely because she was Jewish. Edith Stein herself, I think, would have said she was killed witnessing to both her new and her old religions. She consciously offered her life to atone for the sins against her beloved Jewish people by such once baptized Christians as Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels.

If you are a philosopher, a student especially of 20th Century existentialism, phenomenology and of the writings of Nazi activist and onetime fellow philosophy student of Stein -- Martin Heidegger -- you will, I predict, thoroughly enjoy Notre Dame philosophy professor's 2006 EDITH STEIN: A PHILOSOPHICAL PROLOGUE 1913 -1922. On January 1, 1922 Edith was baptized a Roman Catholic. She had given up praying to her Jewish God at age 14, as a precocious, not very religious teenager in Breslau, Silesia (then a Prussian, now a Polish city). She had never personally experienced the intellectually advanced, profound forms of Judaism found in a number of German cities.

For the most part following Edith Stein's own 500-page autobiography, LIFE IN A JEWISH FAMILY 1891 - 1916, Professor MacIntyre retells the Saint's life as she finished drafting it in 1933, just after Hitler's Nazis had come to power in Germany. MacIntyre likens the impact of "philosophizing" on Edith Stein's personal life to the the impact the same activity had on Socrates, Plato and Saint Augustine. The relentless search for truth changed those four lives profoundly. As the same pursuit distinctly did not change the psyche of one-time ardent Nazi philosophy professor Martin Heidegger!

Stein took her PhD summa cum laude in 1916 at the German university of Freiburg. Her dissertation subject was "human empathy." And she used the precise, painstaking "phenomenological" methods of her beloved profesor Edmund Husserl to probe the many ways one person reads the inner workings of another's soul on the basis of facial expressions, gestures, friendship and otherwise. From empathy Stein went on in later years to women's equality with men, their right to lives in learned professions and politics.

I have suggested to my Feldenkrais exercises instructor and author Lavinia Plonka (WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?, WALKING YOUR TALK) that the phenomenology created by Edmund Husserl and practiced by Edith Stein and other philosophers is the perfect framework for the "controlled consciousness" that we find in Feldenkrais (teaching your brain to notice minute differences in bodily movement) and to a lesser extent in yoga, pilates, qigong, tai chi, religious examination of conscience and other forms of personal introspection of consciousness.

The more exposure you have already had to academic philosophy in university or in books, the easier a time you will have with EDITH STEIN: A PHILOSOPHICAL PROLOGUE 1913 -1922. But I must not mislead you. This book is, at most, 40% non-philosophical placing of Edith Stein in her time and country. The rest is about that form of hard thinking called philosophy. Even I, who 50 years ago but not since until recently had immersed myself in philosophy, have had to read and re-read a dozen or more tough passages on what was original in the phenomenology of Husserl and Stein and what was partially rejected by Husserl's student Martin Heidegger. Edith Stein, says Alasdair MacIntyre raised more important philosophical questions than she definitively answered. But that is a not uncommon failing of philosophers, he argued, including of the great Immanuel Kant. The ex-Nazi Martin Heidegger, not Edith Stein, is conceded to be Germany's most important 20th Century philosopher. But Stein is important in her own right as a creative, original philosopher. I will let you know once Heidegger is proclaimed a saint!


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