Empathy (In General)

According to Edith Stein, empathy is “the experience of foreign consciousness in general, irrespective of the kind of the experiencing subject or of the subject whose consciousness is experienced (p. 11).”

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I constantly go back to this definition of empathy because I believe, and obviously, it is crucial for my thesis. The Steinian definition of empathy given above is broad. It is probably because Edith Stein was establishing it as an act revealing the presence of other individuals. Precisely, this is the background in which Stein explored empathy. It was the fact that, as Stein pointed out in her dissertation, the subject has an awareness of other individuals. How this is so, the act of empathy is the answer. So, for Stein, regardless of the nature of the subjects, the knowledge and experience they have with each other are based on the act of empathy.

*All of the above is based on Edith Stein’s On the Problem of Empathy.

The Psycho-Physical Individual – Physical (Part 5 of 5)

The individual, for Edith Stein, is a psycho-physical individual. It is composed of the psychic, which is the unifying principle, making the individual a separate being. And it is also composed of the physical. In the individual, both are intrinsically tied to each other. Stein says, “[T]he soul is always necessarily a soul in a body (p. 41).”

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The first part of the series tackled the givenness of the living body. The second part tackled the living body and feelings. The third part tackled the soul and living body, psycho-physical causality. The fourth part tackled the phenomenon of expression. The fifth, and the last post, will tackle the will and the living body.

Will and Living Body

In this last analysis of the psycho-physical individual in the lens of inner perception, Stein would first differentiate bodily expressions coming from feeling and bodily expressions coming from the will. So far, Stein explored how feelings play a vital role in the constitution of the psycho-physical individual. But here, she explores the will as also a vital element of the constitution of the psycho-physical individual. For Stein, an action that is merely due to a feeling is not a “volitional decision.”

Stein says, “[L]ike feeling, neither is it [will] isolated in itself, having to work itself out. Just as feeling releases or motivates volition from itself… so will externalizes itself in action. To act is always to produce what is not present (p. 54-55).” The will, then, is not complete in itself. Rather, it fulfills itself in action. Similar to the relationship between feelings and expression, the will “terminates” in an action. And action is something that tries to realize something that is not yet the case.

The will, thus, is creative (p. 56). In this sense, the will does a “special effect” in the individual, that is, it intervenes in the causal connection of things (p. 56). This happens when the individual just decides something (i.e., have a conviction) for himself or herself and acts on it. The will is the “yes” of the individual. When he decides to change himself to have a better character and do it, that is the will. When she decides to accept her maternal responsibility and do it, that is the will. When he decides to propose to his girlfriend and do it, that is the will. The will, thus, fulfills itself in action.

For Stein, the will is the master of the soul (p. 55). Yes, it may be causally influenced. When the living body is tired, for example, the individual may not have the will to do some things. But it is precisely within the power of the will that the individual may still do the thing despite the tiredness. This makes the will truly creative. Stein says, “Every creative act in the true sense is a volitional action (p. 56).”

*All of the above is based on Edith Stein’s On the Problem of Empathy.

The Psycho-Physical Individual – Physical (Part 4 of 5)

The individual, for Edith Stein, is a psycho-physical individual. It is composed of the psychic, which is the unifying principle, making the individual a separate being. And it is also composed of the physical. In the individual, both are intrinsically tied to each other. Stein says, “[T]he soul is always necessarily a soul in a body (p. 41).”

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The first part of the series tackled the givenness of the living body. The second part tackled the living body and feelings. The third part tackled the soul and living body, psycho-physical causality. This post will tackle the phenomenon of expression.

The Phenomenon of Expression

Stein here differentiates the phenomenon of expression from a mere physical accompaniment coming from a feeling. Physical accompaniment happens due to the psycho-physical causality (i.e., the soul causally affecting the body). As to expression, she explains, “[A]s I live through the feeling, I feel it terminate in an expression or release expression out of itself. Feeling in its pure essence is not something complete in itself. As it were, it is loaded with an energy which must be unloaded (p. 51).” In other words, an expression is a feeling externalized or actualized. It is a feeling fulfilled.

Stein gives examples of how this “unloading” works. The first is about volition and actions. For Stein, feelings motivate an individual to decide or take action. Because of a feeling, the individual may decide something or act in a certain way. The second case would be when an individual imagines certain scenarios, which he or she cannot do in real life due to moral grounds. But even in this restraint, the feeling is unloaded in the act of imagination. The third case is when there is a reflection about a feeling, that is, making the feeling objective. When an individual feels, sometimes it motivates him or her to reflect his or her feeling (i.e., be conscious of the feeling). The last case would be about bodily expression. A smile, for example, might be an expression of joy. In all these cases, a feeling is fulfilled by this unloading, making an expression, for a “feeling by its nature demands expression (p. 53).”

What is also crucial is Stein’s observation that expressions reveal the individual’s feelings. She says, “Since phenomena of expression appear as the outpouring of feelings, they are simultaneously the expression of the psychic characteristics they announce. For example, the furious glance reveals a vehement state of mind (p. 54).” I think this is so because expressions are simply feelings that are externalized. And therefore, if there is an expression, there is a feeling behind it. Of course, Stein acknowledges that not all physical manifestations are expressions. Some are just simulated action (e.g., a genuine smile vs. stretching of the lips). But the point is that feelings manifest through expressions.

*All of the above is based on Edith Stein’s On the Problem of Empathy.

The Psycho-Physical Individual – Physical (Part 3 of 5)

The individual, for Edith Stein, is a psycho-physical individual. It is composed of the psychic, which is the unifying principle, making the individual a separate being. And it is also composed of the physical. In the individual, both are intrinsically tied to each other. Stein says, “[T]he soul is always necessarily a soul in a body (p. 41).”

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The first part of the series tackled the givenness of the living body. The second part tackled the living body and feelings. This post will tackle the Soul and Living Body, Psycho-Physical Causality.

Soul and Living Body, Psycho-Physical Causality

First off, Edith Stein reiterates that the “soul together with the living body forms the ‘psycho-physical’ individual (p. 50).” Because of this inherent connection between the two, she would say that “everything psychic is body-bound consciousness (p.49).” This simply means that anything that relates to the psychic happens within the limits of the body, for the individual is necessarily a psycho-physical individual.

Stein, then, explores the idea about spiritual feelings, another type of feeling in addition to the other types of feelings. According to Stein, spiritual feelings in their purity are “accidentally psychic and not body-bound (p. 50).” She brings an argument that states that feelings cannot be phenomenally separated from the physical, believing that all feelings are body-bound. As a counter-argument, however, she would say that spiritual feelings are separate despite that they may be accompanied by physical changes as part of psycho-physical causality. She says, “When we think the living body away, these phenomena disappear, though the spiritual act remains (p.50).” When one is frightened, for example, there would be a rush of adrenaline in the body, which would result in one’s alertness. But this does not mean that adrenaline rush is part of being frightened. Rather, the spiritual feeling of fright caused the adrenaline rush. Spiritual feelings may be found in the psycho-physical bounds, but they essentially operate in a non-somatic way.

Stein proceeds that physical experiences have a causal influence on the psychic or the soul. She would explain this with human capacities being strengthened by training or weakened by inaction (p. 51). One example she gives is when someone works on natural science, his or her “power of observation” develops. Another example of this is when a person practices his or her singing talent. But when a person stops practicing, the capacity weakens. Stein, then, contends that physical events affect the soul.

Stein, however, gives sophistication by also mentioning that there will come a time in developing the capacities that the opposite effect happens. She calls this a consequence of “habituation,” that is, when a practice becomes a habit. And when this happens, boredom or other feeling strikes, which makes the person disinterested. So instead of an increase, the training might just weaken the capacity. Stein concludes, then, that “the physical is phenomenally having an effect on the psychic (p.51).”

*All of the above is based on Edith Stein’s On the Problem of Empathy.

The Psycho-Physical Individual – Physical (Part 2 of 5)

The individual, for Edith Stein, is a psycho-physical individual. It is composed of the psychic, which is the unifying principle, making the individual a separate being. And it is also composed of the physical. In the individual, both are intrinsically tied to each other. Stein says, “[T]he soul is always necessarily a soul in a body (p. 41).”

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The first part of the series tackled the givenness of the living body. This post will tackle the living body and feelings, the second part of the series.

The Living Body and Feelings

Stein here delineates three types of feelings due to the causal relationship between the soul and the living body. The three types are (1) sensual feelings, (2) general feelings, and (3) moods.

Sensual feelings are feelings that come from sense experience. Stein would have this to say, “[S]ensual feelings are inseparable from their founding sensations. The pleasantness of a savory dish, the agony of a sensual pain, the comfort of a soft garment are noticed where the food is tasted, where the pain pierces, where the garment clings to the body’s surface (p.48).” In other words, sensual feelings are those what the individual feels when experiencing certain sensations. The individual, for example, may stare at a painting, astonished with its beauty. These feelings, thus, are specific to the senses.

General feelings are feelings “coming from the living body with an accelerating or hindering influence on the course of experience (p. 49).” These feelings come from and permeate the whole body. They are the vitality or sluggishness the individual feels in certain moments. One may be joyful over a story, but may at the same time feel sluggish due to sickness. One may also still feel lively (maybe after a sumptuous meal) even when one has a painful wound on the leg. General feelings, thus, are somatic (bodily) in nature.

Lastly, moods are feelings that are similar to general feelings but are non-somatic (psychical) in nature (p.49). They are feelings that the individual feels regardless of what one feels in the body. Cheerfulness and melancholy are what Stein states here. One example of this kind of feeling is when a person just feels cheerful even after a long day. Another would be when a person feels melancholy after receiving a depressing message from the wife. Moods, thus, color the life of the individual.

Stein gives an illustration as to the reciprocal relationship between general feelings and moods. She says, “[S]uppose I take a trip to recuperate and arrive at a sunny, pleasant spot. While looking at the view, I feel that a cheerful mood wants to take possession of me, but cannot prevail because I feel sluggish and tired. ‘I shall be cheerful here as soon as I have rested up,’ I say to myself (p.49).” The individual’s feelings may, thus, be “influenced” depending on the situation.

One important detail that I would like to take note is Stein’s observation about the psycho-physical relation at play in feelings (p.48-49). The soul and body have an influence on each other, which results in the different feelings of the individual. Stein observes that even though they come from the senses, sensual feelings also come from the “I.” Meaning to say, the “I” is the one expressing the feeling, given that sensation is a constituent of consciousness. A similar “fusion” also happens in general feelings and moods. With general feelings, when the “I” feels sluggish or lively, the whole body feels sluggish or lively too, or vice versa. And with moods, which is non-somatic (psychical), improvement or deterioration of a mood influences, or is influenced by, a general feeling (a somatic feeling). The living body, thus, is dynamic, catering to the reciprocating relationship of the soul and the body.

*All of the above is based on Edith Stein’s On the Problem of Empathy.

The Psycho-Physical Individual – Physical (Part 1 of 5)

Just a brief recap, the individual, for Edith Stein, is a psycho-physical individual. It is composed of the psychic, which is the unifying principle, making the individual a separate being. And it is also composed of the physical. In the individual, both are intrinsically tied to each other. Stein says, “[T]he soul is always necessarily a soul in a body (p. 41).”

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I will now attempt to analyze the physical aspect of the individual. Following Stein’s division, it will be sub-divided into five: (1) the givenness of the living body, (2) the living body and feelings, (3) soul and living body, psycho-physical causality, (4) the phenomenon of expression, and (5) will and living body. For this post, I will only analyze the first one, leaving the others to be analyzed in the succeeding posts.

The Givenness of the Living Body

Here, Edith Stein is trying to work out the relationship between the living body and the physical body of the individual. Outwardly perceived, the individual’s body is seen as merely physical. It has particular characteristics, like shape and size. In other words, it occupies space and goes through time. But the individual’s body is peculiarly special because it is also living. It is not just a thing comparable to a table or pen, but it is animated. Indeed, Stein says that the living body is an embodiment, that is, a soul in a body.

The inherent connection between the two lies in sensation. For Stein, “sensations are among the real constituents of consciousness… The sensation of pressure or pain or cold is just as absolutely given as the experience of judging, willing, perceiving, etc. (p. 42)” Meaning to say, it is part of the individual’s substantial unity of experience. But, Stein would point out that sensation is unique because it is localized, unlike the other acts (p. 42). It is localized, in the sense that it is found in the body and not in the “I.”

Because of sensation, the living body would now have various points of orientation. There would, then, be a spatial relationship among the “I,” sensation found in the living body, and the outside world. The distance between sensation and the “I” is close, very close indeed, albeit never in it. Different parts of the body can be said to be relatively near or far from the “I.” It depends on where the raw data enters (e.g., head for vision). Thus, the “I” is non-spatial and is always the zero point of orientation relative to the parts of the body.

But the unity of the “I” and sensation, forming the living body, makes the living body the zero point of orientation relative to objects outside of it. The individual would then be able to show that it is “here,” and the objects are “there.” The distance, then, of foreign objects can be said to be relatively close or far depending on their proximity to the living body of the individual. But Stein notes that sensation will always be the one nearer to the “I” than a foreign object, even if directly sensed (p.43).

Stein says, “For the living body is essentially constituted through sensations, sensations are real constituents of consciousness and, as such, belong to the ‘I.’ Thus how could there be a living body not the body of an ‘I’ (p. 48)!”

P.S. Everything above is based on Edith Stein’s On the Problem of Empathy.

P.P.S. This is not exhaustive. I omitted a lot from what Stein stated in this part of her book.