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On the Problem of Empathy: The Collected Works of Edith Stein (3rd Volume) Paperback – October 15, 1989
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This work is going to be a little difficult for those who are not familiar with phenomenology, so I would advise those interested without much philosophical exposure (specifically to phenomenology) to first read some kind of introduction to the subject. I would recommend Sokolowski's conceptual introduction, or (for the more advanced reader, or after one has read his introduction already) his "Husserlian Meditations", both available on Amazon. For a historical introduction to the field, Moran's introduction seems quite good, although I have not yet read much of it.
I would recommend prior exposure to Husserl's book "Ideas" (at least the first part) and possibly a few others, such as Scheler's "The Nature of Sympathy" and "Formalism in Ethics" as well as Pfander's "Motives and Motivation", but I don't think these would be necessary for the careful and well-informed reader.
This work forms the first part of a kind of trilogy along with her "Contributions" which are translated in an English volume called "Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities" and her political work called "An Investigation Concerning the State". After this work, I would certainly recommend those works as a follow-up and expansion on the themes begun in this book.
I selected “On the Problem of Empathy” because it relates very closely to concerns and other interests of my own. I have for a long time been fascinated by the phenomenon of empathy, that characteristic of consciousness which apparently allows us not only to “understand” but to actually FEEL the emotions and needs of others. Although I’ve always considered myself to be of minimal empathic capability, I deeply honor those people who seem to have a great deal of this gift, and who therefore are able to relate in a healing mode. Whereas what we often term “sympathy” can be almost insulting when we extend it to those in pain or grief, empathy is quite the opposite and empowers us to develop a genuine rapport that is a blessing instead of a curse.
Several points must be made concerning the writing itself: first, it is a dissertation prepared in scholarly fashion for review by peers, representing exhaustive literature search; second, it was originally written in German; finally, the present edition, actually the third, was published in 1989. This edition, translated by Edith’s niece Waltraut Stein, PhD, in fact predates Edith’s canonization by the Roman Catholic Church, which occurred in 1998. It is obvious, therefore, that this writing does NOT specifically reflect either Edith Stein’s particular religious orientation – which led her out of her natal Judaism, first to conversion to Catholicism (1922), then to her entry into the Discalced Carmelite Order (1933) – or the ultimate impact of her deportation to Auschwitz and martyrdom in 1942. During the century since that original presentation, there have been huge changes is philosophical and psychological insights. Although after joining the Carmelite community in 1933, Edith’s perspective undoubtedly changed drastically on many of her previous insights, one can see in her dissertation the development of important ideas which seem to become even more relevant as the insights of science and spirituality draw ever closer together in our era.
This is a book I believe I will return to on many occasions to review and renew the insights it represents.