Empathy as a Response

Image by Ben Scherjon from Pixabay

“[In sensual empathy,] the bodily expressions of the other person draw me into her presence and by way of this process I not only attend to but also spontaneously follow her experiences through (Svenaeus 2018, 757).”

I want to briefly reflect on this supposed reality, that in empathy, the other person, through her bodily expressions, draws me to her. There is thus an invitation coming from the other person. It is a presupposition, then, that the other person is inviting me to share with her experience. Empathy is a kind of response to this kind of invitation.

In empathic experience, the other person asks me (not necessarily literally) to come and be with her. She invites me to experience what she is experiencing. She expresses that I should understand what she is feeling.

If I see my friend smiling, for example, and eager to talk about how blessed she is, I may understand that she is joyful. But even without her telling me to come to her, I would be drawn to share with her experience because of empathy. Through this “invitation,” I may thus follow her experience and may become joyful myself because she is joyful. I am responding to her experience.

The same thing happens if I see one of my friends crying in the corner. Without her seeing me, I am drawn to share with her experience. I may now come to her and ask, “What’s wrong?” Then she may open up to me about her problem. I am merely responding to the implicit invitation to come to her and understand what she is feeling.

Empathy, then, is a kind of response because I am responding to the other person’s invitation to share with her experience.

Svenaeus, Fredrik. 2018. “Edith Stein’s Phenomenology of Sensual and Emotional Empathy.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 17 (4). Springer Netherlands: 741–60. doi:10.1007/s11097-017-9544-9.


“Have a Matrix of Categories”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

“You must have a matrix of categories.” This is what my mentor told me when we met last Saturday.

Despite that we met an hour later than agreed because of miscommunication, at least I gained some insights from my mentor’s guidance. He asked for my progress, so I let him see the mind map I created, the “bits and pieces” of meanings of Edith Stein’s empathy, and the articles I already read and will have to read. I also told him that I was focused on re-reading Edith Stein’s On the Problem of Empathy.

He asked for clarification of terms. I satisfactorily answered some, but he rebuked me for my understanding of the other terms. He said that there are a lot of nuances carried by those terms. So, he strictly advised me to be exact in my understanding of those terms because Edith Stein used or understood those terms in a specific sense. For example, Edith Stein uses the word “perception,” but there is not one specific meaning for this term, for philosophers use this term in different senses. So, I must be exact by what Edith Stein means by perception when referring to empathy. Overall, then, I gained excellent guidance from my mentor.

For our next meeting, which is probably this Saturday, he said that I should present to him a matrix of categories. This is so that I will know exactly how empathy is to be understood in Steinian sense. For instance, because empathy is understood as a “cognition,” I must understand what exactly is cognition in Steinian sense, and what are its types. After knowing the meaning of cognition, I must know the similarities and dissimilarities of its types. Then, I must see where Edith Stein would put empathy on the categories (e.g., that empathy is a “sui generis” perception). My mentor told me to go on with this matrix, until I get a broad picture of what Edith Stein exactly means by empathy.

Time to read now!

What I’ve Understood So Far

Just a few minutes ago, I emailed my mentor a summary of what I have understood so far in my readings. Below is the content of the doc file I attached in the email. I will now await for his comments, insights and corrections.

Sir, so far, this is the summary of what I have read and understood in my readings. I have written in words what I have made in a mind map.

Empathy is an experience of another person’s experience. So, it is first of all an experience. Indeed it is a primordial experience (coming from the “I”) of a non-primordial experience.

Is the experience here a cognition or affection? The primordial experience is a cognition, rather than affection.

If it is a cognition, is the experience an imagination, contagion, simulation, inference, or a perception? Experience is a perception.

If it is a perception, is the experience an outer perception, inner perception, or a different kind of perception? Experience is a sui generis kind of perception. This means that what is perceived by the primordial experience is not physical, but rather the emotional states of another person.

Empathy thus has its object the emotional states of another person. In other words, what is being perceived are feelings. These feelings are non-primordial in nature since they are not mine, but rather the other person’s.

Feelings have four dimensions. These are depth, reach, duration, and intensity. In depth, there are five different kinds of feelings of the other person. These are sensual feelings, general feelings, moods, spiritual feelings, and sentiments.

Only the spiritual feelings (emotions) and sentiments disclose the value systems of the other person. Spiritual feelings disclose world values, while sentiments disclose personal values.

Empathy has three levels. First level is called awareness, where I see or apprehend the person before me. This is done through the senses. The second level is called focus, where I am moved to follow the person’s emotional experience. And the third level is called comprehension, where I have a relatively complete understanding of the person’s emotional experience. Empathy, though, doesn’t have to include the three levels. I may stop on the first or second level, due to various circumstances (e.g. apathy on my part, busyness, or the other person doesn’t want to be disturbed).

Empathy has two types. The first type is sensual. The second type is emotional. Empathy always starts in the sensual type, grasping the other person’s body language. Emotional empathy may happen when I have reached the third level of empathy. The third level of empathy is said to be a springboard for emotional empathy.

I will have to read again and read more, sir. I might have misunderstood some of the concepts. I haven’t dwelt into detail the meaning of emotional empathy, the four dimensions of feelings and the kinds of feelings. I have to read about values and their connection to feelings and empathy, in general.



Finally, I’m enrolled for my thesis! This is the beginning of the end (Get the pun? Never mind. Just smile.).

Thankfully, the Finance department allowed me to pay less than the stated down payment. How could I pay it fully when the amount was huge! I didn’t have enough money for the amount. The secretary of the Philosophy department was even shocked. Just imagine that fully paying the down payment would mean settling 80% of my balance. She explained to me, though, that it’s because of Thesis Direction. Thankfully, Finance was considerate.

finally enrolled

I’m also grateful because I was able to meet with my mentor. We talked for two hours. He presented and explained to me a thesis book to let me see how a thesis is formed.

His advice to me is, for now, to read and explore the different concepts involved in Edith Stein’s empathy. He strongly suggested that I begin with the basic questions of “What is empathy?” and “What is a value?” He also reminded me to focus only on Edith Stein’s understanding of the concepts, consulting her works, and the works of people who specialize in her. My mentor told me to read, read, and read, so that I can discover a problem worth pursuing.

What a great day!

Husserl’s Tragedy (A Brief Reflection)

Source: Wikimedia

Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938) may be the founder of phenomenology, but one aspect of his life was that he felt sad and alone. And I find this unfortunate.

I read a portion of the book by Dermot Moran entitled Introduction to Phenomenology. The portion was about the life of Husserl and his development of phenomenology. While reading the last part of the chapter, I couldn’t help but feel for the founder of phenomenology. It was a short account of Husserl’s loneliness. It described how Husserl viewed himself as a “leader without followers.” This was so in his life because most of his students did not stick with him. They learned from him, but they diverged in their way of understanding phenomenology.

Moran (2000, 89) noted, “[H]e felt himself increasingly intellectually isolated, convinced that his work was being undermined and his discoveries credited to other philosophers.”

Though I can’t judge the whole situation, the fact was that Husserl was not happy. I can’t comment as to who’s at fault. It is already history.

This shows the reality of life that not everyone will be at your side, no matter the influence you have on them. It is not far from possibility that this will also happen to us. We may have influenced our family and friends by our ideas, decisions, and actions, but they also have their own way of settling things, which may not be favorable to us. So, I think the best way is to accept the possibility that one may be left alone in life. It would be hard, but this is a reality, and it should be accepted.

This is merely a brief reflection of Husserl’s life. I didn’t include the various information as to why he felt alone because it would take my time listing and explaining them. My reflection is just a glimpse of Husserl’s life.

P.S. Edith Stein (1891–1942), one of Husserl’s earlier assistants, was one of those who rejected Husserl’s further developments of phenomenology. She espoused the realism side of phenomenology, rather than the idealism side.

Moran, D. (2000). Introduction to phenomenology. Routledge.

Not Yet Enrolled *Sigh*

AdDU gazebo area

I was unable to enroll today for my master’s thesis. The secretary of the Philosophy Department of the Ateneo de Davao University said that they are currently not offering the graduate course Thesis 1 for the upcoming 1st semester.

But she assured me that the department will offer it now because there’s at least me who will enroll. She told me that she will text me when the course is formally open for enrollment, which will probably be this week or next week.

Thankfully, the visit to the University was not a total waste. The thesis course will be opened. Hopefully, I won’t be the only one to enroll. I expect 3 of my friends also to enroll.

While there, I visited the chapel and prayed.

near the altar

Edith Stein’s Personal Experience

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Edith Stein. Jew by birth. Catholic by conversion. Philosopher. Martyr. Saint.

Instead of posting yet another biography of Edith Stein (a great resource can be found here), what I want to post is about how her philosophy, particularly her dissertation, was affected by her life’s experience. Indeed, at the background of her great work was her personal experience.

Are We Really Alone?
An online article caught my attention. The title is Edith Stein: Are We Really Alone? and was written by Jeffrey McLeod, PhD. I read the article and have gained some insights into the life of the saint. Early in the article, McLeod talked about how Edith Stein was a “rising star,” and how she, during a war, voluntarily served as a Red Cross nurse aid at a military hospital and a year after this service, wrote her dissertation. Further on, he talked about the saint’s philosophical view on empathy and the person.

“As a nurse, Edith Stein learned that we can know the inner experience of others directly. In her dissertation, based off this experience, she constructed a compelling response to modern skepticism (McLeod).”

McLeod is saying that Edith Stein’s philosophy was directly influenced by her service as a nurse aid. She didn’t write just for academic purposes. Instead, she wrote her dissertation with the inspiration and valuable insights of her service.

Edith Stein directly experienced the reality of human suffering. You can just imagine what she witnessed and went through in the hospital. There were certainly soldiers who were screaming in pain, who came with incomplete body parts, who lost so much blood, who were amputated, and who lost their consciousness. Just imagine her taking care of the sick and the wounded. Just imagine her witnessing the loss of life. She witnessed first-hand the pain, grief, suffering, and the brokenness of these soldiers.

Her dissertation On the Problem of Empathy was a product of this personal experience. She was perhaps asking how she could have a genuine experience of the patients. She certainly could feel their pain, grief, and suffering. How and why could she feel for the patients, she might have asked. The result, of course, was a phenomenological presentation of empathy as a genuine recognition of the other person’s experience, a counteraction against the prevalent view in her time that true knowledge is impossible.

Source: Wikimedia

Being Human
Grounding in the phenomenological analysis of empathy, Edith Stein explained how a person can gain direct knowledge of another person, how an “I” can truly know another “I.” For her, this experience of another person is not a logical inference, but a truly personal experience. So, instead of a self-absorbed ego, Edith Stein presented a self that can have a genuine relationship with another self, where care is possible. For Edith Stein, this is being human. The value of her work, then, is not limited to being an academic paper. Rather, it has an immense implication about the truth of the human person and the possibility of truly human socialization.

It is also notable that her work as a nurse was voluntary. This just shows that Edith Stein really had a heart for the sick and the wounded. Her dissertation was just an academic expression of her already good heart.

Edith Stein might be a gifted intellectual, but her life indicated a truly human side of her. She didn’t only voluntarily work as a nurse, she also incorporated her insights in her dissertation.

That is St. Edith Stein.

McLeod, Jeffrey. 2013. Edith stein: are we really alone? Catholic Stand. https://www.catholicstand.com/edith-stein-are-we-really-alone/ (accessed June 10, 2019)