Empathy is an “experience of foreign consciousness (Stein 1989, 11).” [emphasis added]
Just briefly, I want to explain the concept of experience because for one thing, it holds massive importance in the field of phenomenology, and another thing, it is crucial in the analysis of empathy. For Edith Stein, empathy is a sui generis experience.
“Experience, in a phenomenological sense, includes not only the relatively passive experiences of sensory perception, but also imagination, thought, emotion, desire, volition and action. In short, it includes everything that we live through or perform (Mastin).”
Phenomenologically speaking, then, experience is everything that happens interiorly in our life. When we’re thinking, sensing, desiring, deciding, this means that we are experiencing. It simply is part of our life.
If we employ the phenomenological reduction (a term that I’ll explain some other time), we’ll arrive at the fundamental structure of subject-experience-object. In this case, experience is our way of grasping the world (object). We have access to the world because we are an experiencing subject. Conversely, the world presents itself to us through experience. Experience, thus, is a fundamental part of our being-in-the-world.
So, experience is not an inward relation, even if it’s in the interior of one’s life. This means that it doesn’t exist solely for the subject, the one experiencing. Rather, it has an outward way of relation. A subject’s experience is always toward something. Thus, whenever we experience (i.e., thinking, sensing, desiring, etc.), it is always about something, an object. This is what is called intentionality, which I’ll tackle some other time.
Experience is mostly taken for granted. But if we analyze it, we’ll arrive at the recognition that it is a fundamental part of life, in which if it isn’t existing, we can’t relate with others, the environment, and the world.
Mastin, Luke. Phenomenology. The Basics of Philosophy. https://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_phenomenology.html (accessed June 8, 2019)
Stein, Edith. 1989. On the problem of empathy. The Collected Works of Edith Stein. 3rd Rev. ed. Translated by Waltraut Stein. Vol 3. Washington, DC: ICS Publications.