Saturday, May 9, 2009

Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue 1913-1922

By Alasdair MacIntyre, 195 pages, Roman Littlefield.

Alasdair MacIntyre's demanding examination of the early years of Saint Edith Stein, philosopher and Carmelite who was murdered by the Nazis, does more than just introduce her philosophical thought. It introduces the entire intellectual and German cultural environment out of which she came. One interesting note is Stein's support of Germany fighting World War One, which many German intellectuals regarded as a defense of Kultur against “French cynicism” and British commercialism.

More than simply analyzing the relevant philosophy, Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue paints the background of personalities with which Stein came into contact, such as the brilliant phenomenologist and personalist, Max Scheler:

Scheler “was not yet a Catholic, but already in 1913-1914 he was impressed by the Catholic conception of the universe and made Stein's mind aware of possibilities that she had not so far entertained. But she was repelled by Scheler himself. Scheler, while teaching at Munich between 1907 and 1910, had elaborated his own version of phenomenology and claimed sincerely and passionately that, insofar as his positions coincided with those of Husserl, they had been arrived at independently. Yet in fact Scheler had almost certainly become acquainted with Husserl's basic positions in conversations that had taken place much earlier.”

MacIntyre thus offers us an idea of the interactions among leading philosophical lights as well as the processes that led to their intellectual discoveries. The rest of the book deals with Stein's early career as a philosopher and her thought.


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