On Human Being: A Dispute between Edith Stein and Martin Heidegger

By Wilk, Rafal Kazimierz | Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

On Human Being: A Dispute between Edith Stein and Martin Heidegger


Wilk, Rafal Kazimierz, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture


1. Introduction

EDITH STEIN AND MARTIN HEIDEGGER traveled down separate paths in the same direction. There was much that united them. For example, they had the same teacher, Edmund Husserl, and both of them worked very closely with him. There was also much that divided them. Stein, as a woman and a Jew, was not allowed to lecture at a university. Nor was she allowed to present her thesis so as to gain her habilitation. By way of contrast, Heidegger succeeded as an academic teacher, even during the Nazi period in that he was a member of ruling party (NSDAP). He was appointed to the lofty position of rector at the University of Freiburg. In the same year in which Heidegger delivered his famous rector's address, Stein, because of her origin, was forced to resign from her work as a teacher in Munster. (1)

In fact, Stein was humiliated by Heidegger. She was encouraged by her habilitation director, Eugene Fink, to seek academic help from Heidegger. Initially Heidegger was friendly and offered encouragement. But then, on Stein's view, he said that it would be impractical for him to continue to help her and that she should seek help elsewhere. (2)

Heidegger's arrogant attitude toward Stein was also manifested on the occasion of Husserl's seventieth birthday. On this occasion friends of his were preparing a Festschrift, and Stein was invited to contribute. Her dissertation was titled Husserl and Aquinas: A Comparison. Her work, unfortunately, was published in an abridged and reedited version because Heidegger demanded a more "neutral" treatment of the subject Matter. (3) Another example may be helpful. Stein helped to put in order Husserl's manuscripts. Husserl did not have the time to review the work she had done. This is especially pertinent regarding his text on time-consciousness, "which she recognized as having particular significance for those making comparison with the thought of Bergson and Natorp." (4) These pages became the material for Husserl's lecture course on inner time-consciousness. They were prepared for publication by Stein, although Heidegger declared himself to be the editor. (5) These are only some of the disturbing examples from the lives of these two philosophers.

Quite apart from these personal considerations, there are theoretical connections between the two that deserve attention. For example, what was the conception of human nature found in the two philosophers? That is, what unites and what divides their anthropologies? These are the key questions to be explored in this short article. There are two texts of Stein in which she analyses Heidegger's thought. In the first text (Martin Heidegers Existentialphilosophie) one gets a glimpse of her view of Heidegger's anthropology. In the second text, however, a second level of discussion is found that is much deeper. As J. H. Nota has aptly noted, the very title of this main work of Stein, Endliches and Ewiges Sein: Versuch eines Aufstieges zum Sinn des Seins, shows that it refers to the main book of Heidegger, Sein and Zeit. (6) Thus we can say that Stein undertook the task of overcoming the thought of Heidegger, specifically his philosophical anthropology. Any adequate assessment of Heidegger's philosophical anthropology therefore should deal as well with Stein's critique.

2. An Outline of the Argument regarding Anthropology

Time plays a crucial role in human life. Roman Ingarden (a Polish student of Husserl and a friend of Stein) in his essay titled "Man and Time" begins with the words: "We all live in time, and we know it." (7) But what is experientially obvious may not be easy to explain. That is, the famous complaint of St. Augustine, that he understands time perfectly unless he is asked to explain it in words, is still valid. (8)

The time-dependent character of human existence became the foundation for the anthropological research of Stein as well as Heidegger. Time is radically important because it is a determinant of a human's conscious being As Stein notes, once one becomes conscious that he or she is a certain "I," he or she becomes aware, on the one hand, that his or her I is presently alive, presently existing, and, on the other hand, that he or she experiences that this I is constantly emerging from the past and entering into the future. …

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