Antonio Calcagno: Lived Experience from the Inside Out: Social and Political Philosophy in Edith Stein

Amie Zimmer

Lived Experience from the Inside Out: Social and Political Philosophy in Edith Stein Book Cover Lived Experience from the Inside Out: Social and Political Philosophy in Edith Stein
Antonio Calcagno
Duquesne University Press
Paperback $24.95

Reviewed by: Amie Zimmer (University of Oregon)

Antonio Calcagno’s marvelous book offers up a systematic account of the early philosophy of Edith Stein which counters an impulse toward a particular kind of systematicity in Stein scholarship, a ‘bad’ systematicity which has heretofore tended to create an arbitrary boundary line between Edith Stein’s early, phenomenological writings and her later works. The narrative that Calcagno spins is one that makes no such distinction between where ‘philosophy proper’ is happening in Stein’s genealogy by pointing solely to her early works. Rather, Calcagno’s enterprise is holistic in nature, as it seeks to uncover the underlying structures conditioning Stein’s philosophical movements in the social and political as both stemming from and distancing itself apart from her early phenomenological work. She does not start with phenomenology and then move into the social and political, but rather, moves into the social and political as a phenomenologist immanently committed to the lived experience of the social world. As Calcagno masterfully shows, what we must remain committed to from Stein’s early phenomenological work as we move into the political is her treatment of individual personhood, staying away from a conception of the political as merely the individual person writ large. Interestingly, in order to make the genealogical move, Calcagno must (somewhat ironically) show that the intersubjective reading of Steinian empathy— which seems much more amenable to a reading continuous with her social and political work— misses the eidetic variation, which “allows the I to verify what it experiences not only at the level of personal experience, but also at the more general and encompassing level of essence, ultimately yielding the essence or constitutive sense of what it is to be a human person.” (xiv) Thus the self-knowledge (opposed to solely intersubjective knowledge) that is arrived at in and through empathy is what establishes shared social structures.

The first chapter situates Stein’s social and political project, distinguishing between her earlier and later works by simultaneously drawing important connections between them. The second chapter takes on the traditional reading of Steinian empathy in order to establish the shared social structures of human experience. For Stein— and this is the line that Calcagno so faithfully follows— the social world hinges on both social psychology and the ‘phenomenological experience of certain social bonds.’ (xiv) Chapter three, then, shows how phenomenological experience is made possible by psychological structures which allow us to synthesize and communalize. The fourth and final chapter, an exploration of Stein’s theory of the state, is both an articulation of certain phenomenological insights cultivated along the way, as well as a marker of a political philosophy wholly apart from any discursive phenomenological apparatus.

Chapter one immediately situates Stein’s relationship with Husserl as one of difference: Stein was frustrated with Husserl’s transcendental idealism and his early departure from eidetic analysis. She always maintained the co-origination of self, world, and other subjects, even when Husserl himself did not come to this conclusion himself until the Cartesian Meditations. For Stein, meaning is always wholly dependent upon the actual existence of the world, the social world in particular. The epistemological stakes of the possibility for self-knowledge in empathy (laid out in great detail in chapter three) are grounded in the knowing of another’s mind in empathy.

Chapter two situates Stein’s treatment of empathy in the Einfühlung as both maintaining the traditional view (that empathy yields knowledge of other minds) and expanding its reach, by and through Calcagno’s position that empathy plays a foundational role in self-knowledge. Calcagno’s argument here is threefold: firstly, he seeks to establish empathy’s role in the cultivation of self-knowledge, particularly the kind of self-knowledge revelatory of establishing personhood. He secondly maintains that this self-knowledge is essential for all knowing; thirdly, and this argumentative prong leads us into the work of the second half of the book, empathy is a ‘low-level starting point’ which must be departed from in order to experience larger social and political objectivities and structures.

Empathy’s function as a structure of self-knowledge has been overlooked by philosophers, who privilege Stein’s discussion of the foreign other in the empathic relation as revelatory of structures of alterity, otherness, and an overcoming of Husserlian solipsism, thus missing the ways in which this account of intersubjectivity is reflexive back upon the ‘I’ for whom self-knowledge and self-constitution of the human person is built upon the ‘communal essence’ brought about through this empathic eidetics. Steinian empathy is neither a dartboard for the target of other minds, nor a transcendence of immanence in and through a ‘fully’ intersubjective experience. Calcagno’s reading of Stein against Lipps nicely problematizes both interpretations. Rather, as a unique perceptual act of consciousness, empathy yields both the ‘discovery’ of another subject and, most crucially, the ‘I’ that stands in the other subject’s place. As Calcagno tells us: “We can see that Stein is arguing that what allows me to be aware of the other’s pain is not so much the pain itself but my capacity to enter into the other subject’s place with my own mind. I literally enter into the feelings and lived experience of the other.” (35) Crucially, empathy has a structure of co-constitutive primordiality and non-primordiality: the other is experienced primordially as other, and yet the taking-place of the experience of the other must be understood non-primordially (i.e. when I experience the other’s pain, I don’t feel the pain on my body, but rather, experience it non-primordially as pain). At the same time, what empathy is most revealing of is an auto-affectivity of the ‘I,’ for which the givenness of an emotion or feeling enacts a givenness not only of ‘pain’ or ‘joy,’ but of the ‘I’ for whom that emotion or mood is then given: “For Stein, empathy does more than allow us to ‘transfer’ into the mind of the other; it also guarantees the non-reducibility of the world to my own experience.” (78) As Calcagno says: “When I experience a certain feeling, such as pain, the pain alone is not the only thing revealed. I, too, am in pain.” (98)

The lived body is crucial to Stein’s phenomenological account of transcendental personhood established here through empathy. While sensations are undeniable for Stein, they do not constitute one’s identity to the living body. They occupy a space ‘within,’ but not of. Calcagno’s treatment of the ‘sensation of feelings’ and ‘sensual feelings’ extends Stein’s discussion of sensations and impressions to a place in which certain embodied sensations do require an accompanying I-consciousness, thus establishing the role of the lived body beyond the base phenomenological considerations of the body as a zero point of spatialized and spatializing orientation in and with the world. Calcagno connects this to a crucial discussion of causality, pointing to the ways that Stein goes beyond contemporary behaviorist approaches to causality in favor of a bodily causality, a movement away from causality as a logical structure (à la Kant or Hegel) and toward a conception of causality as physically and psychically embodied. Something causes a to affect b, and it is the affectivity of the relation between cause and effect into which empathy intervenes; the affectivity of the relation distinguishes this particular form of Steinian causality. As Calcagno says: “A psychiatrist can perceive the effects of psychic trauma in the present life of her patient, but she can also empathize with her patient’s trauma in order to acquire a deeper understanding of what the patient is going through. Causality, and understanding how cause and effect work, Stein argues, is part of our psychic constitution and can clearly be seen in and through the lived body.” (83)

Stein’s movement toward love as the highest value allowing for the recognition of personhood proper in the other results in a simultaneous breakdown of empathy as the structure by which the other is apprehended. As Calcagno says: “In love, I cannot take the place of the other because the other is loved for who they are as a person.” In other words, empathy cannot reveal full personhood. Calcagno asks, rightly so, how the ‘I’, then, is supposed to recognize itself as a ‘full’ person in the Steinian sense. His clam is to say that the I’s capacity to self-reflect and personality-build, its ability to self-create through value (à la the influence of both Scheler and Nietzsche) is what ultimately fulfills this obligation. And yet the other is both revealed to me through love but not dependent on that love: “How, then, do I and the other actually relate?” Calcagno asks. (103) While acknowledging empathy’s structural breakdown in this moment, Calcagno points to the necessity of empathy to interact with other mental acts in order to stand in relation to both self-knowledge and knowledge of the other.

Chapter three moves us from the individual to the superindividual, turning to Stein’s Beiträge in order to develop a more robust account of Steinian intersubjectivity beyond the limitations of the empathic framework. As Calcagno makes clear in this chapter, this move is necessary if we are to both retain the import of her early phenomenological work for her social political work, and see the important loci of divergences between them. Empathy constitutes one ‘basic’ form of intersubjectivity through the body-psyche unity, through the analogizing of the experiences of others through the ‘I,’ but here we move forward and beyond. Calcagno’s turn to an account of Steinian sociality develops a fuller sense of intersubjectivity, and he skillfully traces the outward movement from the ego-centered account of empathy to the account of the superindividual. Calcagno’s analysis of the Beiträge zur philosophischen Begründung der Psychologie und der Gesiteswissenschaften (Philosophyo f Psychology and the Humanities) goes through Stein’s identification of the mass, society, and community as three forms of intersubjective life, of which community is identified as the highest. A community’s members are not replaceable nor interchangeable: one “consciously ‘lives’ with the other and is determined by the other’s vital movements.” (118) Thus, community does not imply a fusion, nor does it take us back to the account of the individual empathically experiencing the mind of the other, but rather, the essential relationship between individuals is reworked into one of consciously lived solidarity with others. The individual can experience life within the “superindividual subject,” which is to say that one can feel both (to use the Steinian example Calcagno draws on) a personal grief at the loss of a troop leader, and the communal, collective sadness of the troop itself as a grieving community. While Calcagno does account for the expected parallels between this example and Scheler’s strikingly similar one, more distance between the two figures would have proved very helpful for someone eager to parse out the two thinkers on this point.

The solidarity one experiences in a community is not an act of empathy; it endures as long as it endures, and can both grow in significance through a continuity of sense as equally as it can diminish from its status as a lived experience. In other words, “if the troop members do not feel a communal sadness at the loss of their leader, then there is no communal lived experience.” (121) The superindividual experience occurs within individual consciousness, and Calcagno is precise in distinguishing his discussion of the superindividual with any misinterpretation which might mistake this for the existence of a ‘communal pure I,’ of which there is no such thing. Communal lived experiences are constituted by intentionality, solidarity, we-intentionality (although not always), Sinnlichkeit, categorical acts (Kategoriale Akte) and dispositional acts(Gemütsakte). Calcagno explicates what he calls a ‘doubleness’ of the experiences of categorical and dispositional acts in particular, accounting for the ways in which all persons share the capacity for these acts, yet each individual act is localized in individual consciousness, formulating a precise conception of the ‘we’ as Calcagno mediates between the ‘phenomenological’ work done in the first half of the book, and the social-political nature of the second. The communal ‘life-force,’ however, is not inimicable to that of its members, which is to say that the individual (the impassioned political citizen, to rely on Calcagno’s example), much actively choose to ally herself with the community. The relationship between individual and community plays itself out in the sub-section, “The Ontic Structure of the Community.”

The fourth and final major chapter of the book is comprised of two essential claims: firstly, Calcagno claims that Stein’s political philosophy must be read on its own terms, which is to say read apart from the phenomenological proclivities of the author. Secondly, Calcagno argues that Stein’s theory of the state gives us a more meaningful conception of Stein’s account of the political itself. While Calcagno acknowledges that Stein’s early work on phenomenology and empathy can be made resonant with the work he treats here, Eine Untersuchung über den Staat (An Investigation Concerning the State), his project here in this final chapter is to situate the work on its own. The differences in methodological approaches and the argumentative nature of the political work specifically lend itself to a very different philosophical analysis. Stein argues for the superiority of the communal conception of the state which posits a sovereign state over and against the societal, contractarian account of statehood. Calcagno is very attuned to the ways that sovereign hits contemporary political ears and pays close attention to elaborating the Steinian position. He pushes back against Stein’s critiques of contract theory insofar as her critiques equivocate between the contractarian position and her own account of societal sociality. The work that Calcagno does to enact a separation between Stein’s phenomenological work and her political work begs an interesting question about the status of political phenomenology proper. For Klaus Held, for example, phenomenology is inherently political. While it is not the task of Calcagno’s project to develop a phenomenology of this nature, it begs interesting questions about the stakes of the ‘two’ projects as one. Ultimately, for Stein, the state must be experienced in a communal form if it is to be meaningful at all. Viewed as an object wholly outside of and against the individual would, as Calcagno illustrates via his construction of the contractarian critique, compromise the stability of the state itself. Calcagno argues for a particular relationality between sovereignty and the community, in which he advances two critiques of Stein’s political theory in order to suggest that the state is dependent both on its constituents, and its relationality to other states. Calcagno extends an analysis of the Husserlian Ich kann to Steinian sovereignty: thus the peculiar essence of the state is the “preservation and actualisation of the ‘I can’ on a collective level or for the community.” (181) Since the Ich kann is a formulation of phenomenological freedom and responsibility on the embodied and individuated level, then “if we are to speak of the state Ich kann…we must do so in a different frame of reference, that is, a collective autonomy geared at expressing the chosen, desired, and sometimes coerced sum of human relations.” (182)

It’s not surprising that Calcagno’s text was the recipient of the 2015 Ballard Prize for Phenomenology; the text is an excellent resource for any philosopher interested in the relationship between early phenomenology and social ontology, and provides a stunningly comprehensive and sophisticated account of Edith Stein’s early work. The book itself performatively enacts the very kind of inside out approach its title makes claims to, moving from an account of the empathic individual to the situation of the individual in larger social and political contexts. I would encourage readers to take an additional approach, that which moves from the outside in, heeding anyone on the outside of Stein scholarship to come in.

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