Jul 062012

Eduardo González Di Pierro, De la persona a la historia. Antropología fenomenológica y filosofia de la historia en Edith Stein. Morelia: Dríada, 2004; 215pp. ISBN 970-93504-7-1.

Review by Antonio Calcagno, King’s University College at Western University, Canada. Published in Symposium 16:2 (2012).

Eduardo González Di Pierro’s work is a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarly literature devoted to the philosophy of Edith Stein. Before arriving at Göttingen to study with Husserl and Reinach in 1913, Stein was enrolled in Psychology and History as well as German Literature at the University of Breslau. Her interest in history continued while at the Universities of Göttingen and Freiburg and it would be an understatement to claim that history played a significant role in Stein’s early phenomenological works.  But Stein’s later works, including Finite and Eternal Being, also display an astute awareness of the place and roles of history in discussing various kinds of philosophical problems. Di Pierro’s text is the first scholarly study I know that systematically traces the use and development of Stein’s views on history. One of the classic critiques levelled against early phenomenologists concerns their seeming lack of historical awareness. However, this is a misreading of the early phenomenological tradition. There is great sensitivity to the role of history in shaping our sense of things, as is evidenced by Stein’s work on values and politics, which Di Pierro nicely signals.

Di Pierro’s reading of Stein’s philosophical appropriation of history results in a very specific thesis: history, for Stein, not only helps us understand the nature of the human person as a unity of body, psyche and spirit but also as a social being who finds herself in the world.  Consciousness of history as well as the specific science of history allows us to see the validity of this claim, so says Di Pierro. (25–26) In fact, the author begins in the first chapter by immediately discussing the importance of the question of the constitution of the person for Stein. (31) Here, one sees the influence of Angela Ales Bello, a leading Husserl and Stein scholar, who was Di Pierro’s teacher and who has spent her scholarly life analysing and defending the centrality of the primacy of the person for both Husserl and Stein.

Di Pierro demonstrates how the structure of the human person is a central theme in Stein’s work, beginning with her work on empathy, to her work on the humanities and psychology, culminating in her Münster lectures, published as Der Aufbau der menschlichen Person (The Structure of the Human Person). He highlights the importance of the body, psyche and soul as the key components of Stein’s understanding of the person. The discussion of empathy or Einfühlung (34–38) is a classic point of departure for Stein’s phenomenology of the person. The distinction between inner and outer experience, one that Husserl makes in the first version of the Logical Investigations, is vital for the establishment of the realm of lived experience, consciousness, and the pure I. Stein’s discussion of empathy not only leads one to understand analogically the mind or feelings of another person, but this knowledge of others is used to understand oneself: one understands oneself as a modification of the other. It is the knowledge of self and others that allows Stein to give a general eidetic description. It is also within the treatment of empathy that we learn about the nature of our bodies as they manifest themselves to us in consciousness, linguistic expression and emotions. In his treatment of Stein’s discussion of pschye, as developed in her Beiträge, Di Pierro highlights two important facts about her position: Stein posits something like a soul, as does Husserl, that belongs to the psychic realm. Moreover, like the Stein scholar Philibert Secretan, he notes that she has a rich notion of a personality core or personal core (Persönlichkeitskern) that centres the life of psyche. (57) Finally, Di Pierro notes that, in Stein’s later writings, her notion of soul is expanded to include more traditional views of soul as immortal and as a point of encounter with God. (67)

Having established Stein’s view of the human person, Di Pierro moves in the second chapter to discuss the person’s relation to the natural sciences and the Geisteswissenschaften or human sciences. This chapter is important as the author examines a rich but largely unstudied text, namely, Stein’s Einführung in die Philosophie or Introduction to Philosophy, where she develops a sustained treatment of the connection between phenomenology and history. In particular, she, following Husserl, maintains that history must ground itself in phenomenology. What this means, practically speaking, is that history must become aware of the methodologies and tools it employs to arrive at its understanding of historical events and personages. This idea will be developed in the third chapter. The second chapter takes the notion of the human person developed in the first chapter and begins to show how it is to serve as the ground for all sciences: one cannot have genuine scientific understanding, if one is not aware of the operator and end of these sciences, namely, the human person. Di Pierro moves through Stein’s treatment of space and time, which relies heavily on the work of Einstein and Planck (81–82), in order to show how a formal conception of space and time also conditions our understanding of our own bodily space and the environment in which we dwell. There is a marked difference from earlier texts in the way Stein treats phenomenological objects in the Introduction. In the texts on empathy and the Beiträge, Stein gives traditional eidetic descriptions: one sees here the influence of both Reinach and Husserl. But by the time Stein writes the Introduction, she gives us a formal ontology of various phenomenological objects. One sees here the influence of the Munich school, other phenomenologists and, in particular, the influence of Hedwig Conrad-Martius, Jean Hering and Alexandre Koyré.  The Introduction was a text that took form in the mid to late 1920s and Stein kept revising it through the 1930s. One could say that the Introduction marks a change in Stein’s phenomenological method. That being said, the centrality of the person cannot be denied. One sees here Stein’s attempt to connect the sciences with phenomenology through formal ontology.  Di Pierro does a nice job explaining key elements in Stein’s formal ontology and how they relate to the person.

The last chapter is where the meat of the book can be found; it is also where we see Di Pierro elaborate Stein’s theory of history. He identifies five levels that refer to history, as Stein conceives it. First, there is history understood as a successive series or flows of successive events. Second, history is a description of a series of happenings: here we see Rickert’s influence; here questions of historiography come to the fore. Third, there is history understood as reflection or philosophy of history as practiced by thinkers like Vico and Saint Augustine. Fourth, there are the larger questions that touch upon the previous three levels, but Di Pierro sees this fourth sense of history as a distinct question, namely, What is history? (126–127) Finally, he shows how, in Stein’s later woks, one can find a theological understanding of history. Obviously, here we are dealing with questions of eschatology and soteriology. (148)

Di Pierro certainly succeeds in showing the relationship between history and the human person.  This is what the book intends to do.  I would also like to note that Di Pierro presents a nice synthesis of Stein’s views on history. This will be most useful to both phenomenologists and Stein scholars. One thing I would have liked to see, although there are references to it, but not in any developed or sustained way, is a treatment of how Stein stands vis-à-vis other philosophers and phenomenologists when it comes to history, such as Heidegger, Husserl or Dilthey. Di Pierro notes the sources and influences of these philosophers on Stein, but a broader dialogue with other philosophers of history would have made the text even richer. But perhaps I ask too much as this would require a more lengthy monograph. Finally, given Di Pierro’s fine analysis, I wonder if Stein’s views of history and their connection to the person and phenomenology have not already been taken up by other historical methodologies. In other words, I wonder what Stein’s analyses of history offer contemporary historians.  All in all, this is a fine book and I highly recommend it to those interested in the philosophy of history, the connection between history and phenomenology, and those interested in Stein studies.