Edith Stein’s Phenomenology of Empathy, Education and Community: Lessons for Academic Collaboration
Costello, Gabriel J.
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The paper argues that any programme designed to achieve authentic academic collaboration in a scholarly community requires a firm philosophical grounding. Consequently the work is based in the field of Phenomenology, founded by Edmund Husserl, and regarded as one of the most important philosophical movements of the twentieth century. Edith Stein’s doctoral thesis “On the Problem of Empathy” was completed under Edmund Husserl in the University of Freiburg in 1916 and awarded “summa cum laude”. Her doctoral thesis analysed empathy in the context of the complete psycho-physical-spiritual person. However empathy differs fundamentally from concepts such as sympathy and is a two-way process. As a result, Stein proposes that empathy “proves to have yet another side as an aid to comprehending ourselves” since “people are generally inclined to ascribe to themselves better motives than they actually have and are not conscious of many of their emotional impulses at all”. This pertains to the problem identified by Scheler that inner perception “contains within it the possibility of deception”. As Stein’s work developed it became more and more focused on the human person, not as an isolated ontological individual, but relating to other people in a community. Stein also argued that there is an important link between empathy and knowledge. She states that “if we take the self as standard, we lock ourselves into the prison of our individuality. Others become riddles for us, or still worse, we remodel them into our image and so falsify historical truth”. Edith Stein developed her phenomenology of education “within the framework of the human person’s individual and social dimensions, with his/her cognitive, affective and moral aspects”. Education to her was not a matter of downloading encyclopaedic knowledge to a tabula rasa but an “orientation of the whole person towards the goal he or she is destined”. Finally, I argue, a scholarly community must not be inward looking and fall victim of solipsism but be open to other external communities. In this regard the paper will provide a case study of collaboration between the GMIT Engineering Department and the GMIT Enterprise Ireland Innovation Hub. One of its aims is to build up a sense of community among undergraduates and entrepreneurs.
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