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).”

Image by Alexandra Haynak from Pixabay

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).”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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.


“All controversy over empathy is based on the implied assumption that foreign subjects and their experience are given to us (Stein 1989, 3).” [emphasis added]

As I read Edith Stein’s On the Problem of Empathy, one of the first things I noticed was the term given or givenness. Her dissertation is indeed full of the use of this term. So, it is truly crucial in her study of empathy. In fact, the quote above is the very first sentence of her dissertation (of chapter 2 because the historical chapter 1 was lost).

But I was not at all surprised that this term would appear in her dissertation. Edith Stein was a known follower of phenomenology, and her advisor was Edmund Husserl, himself, the founder of phenomenology. Besides, I know this phenomenological term because I encountered it already in the courses of Hermeneutics and Advanced Ethics. I just want to explain this term briefly.

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What does “givenness” mean?

In the field of phenomenology, givenness means the way things or circumstances are present to us. It implies that no choice is involved. One just found himself/herself in a specific situation. For example, I was born in a specific family. I’m brown-skinned. I’m Filipino. I’m Bisaya. I’m an introvert. I’m idealistic. These circumstances are circumstances I didn’t choose, but I have them. These are given to me.

This givenness is what makes me what I am and who I am. It determines my destiny here on earth (only partly though; freedom takes a crucial role too). It limits what I can achieve, but it also opens up many possibilities. Because of my idealistic personality, for example, I can think of some ideals and do them for my family and friends. I’m being friendly for I believe that the world would become a better place if all people are friends. This is what givenness can do to a person.

In the case of the above quote, it means that we just found ourselves with other people, along with their own experience. Without any special intervention or action, we just discover them, whom we can have a genuine relationship. They are already here with us. They are given to us.

Givenness may have a sense of being limiting and rigid, but it can nonetheless become a source of freedom and, indeed, meaning for us, humans.

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.