Edith Stein and the Problem of Empathy: Locating Ascription and a Structural Relation to Picture Consciousness

Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 43 (2):178-194 (2012)
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The domain of phenomenological investigation delineated by the Husserlian term authentic empathy presents us with an immediate tension. On the one hand, authentic empathy is supposed to grant the subject access (in some sense that remains to be fully specified) to the Other’s experience. On the other hand, foundational phenomenological considerations pertaining to the apprehension of a foreign subjectivity determine that it is precisely a disjunction in subjective processes that is constitutive of the Other being other. In my approach to this problem, I seek, within the context of a reading of Edith Stein’s work 'On the Problem of Empathy', to clarify the place of ascription in authentic empathy, and to render more explicit a certain notion of “contiguity” that I take to be informing Stein’s understanding of the co-givenness of the Other’s mental life. I go on to argue that a resolution to the problem of empathy lies in the idea that the respective lived experiences of self and Other are, as a matter of descriptive fact, phenomenally connected by a relation of resemblance, and that, consonantly, the essential structure of authentic empathy is characterised in its mature phases by an homological relation to picture consciousness.

Author's Profile

Peter Shum
University of Warwick (PhD)


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