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Two women, faces together, one woman's arms forming frame.


When [empathy] arises before me ... it faces me as an object (such as the sadness I “read in another’s face”)...the content, having pulled me into it, is no longer really an object. I am now no longer turned to the content but to the object of it, am at the subject of the content in the original subjects’s place.

Edith Stein (1916)

‘Empathy’ does not first constitute being-with; only on the basis of being-with does ‘empathy’ become possible...

Martin Heidegger (1926)


Stein is proposing, in her book on empathy, that our togetherness is more fundamental than our individuality, The photographer taking a photograph into a mirror. For more on the self and what the individual is. that it is out of our social sense that the person arises, and she is doing so a decade before Heidegger was to make a similar suggestion. Empathy, she believes, reveals that this is so. Her proposal is that a single experience (a joy, a joke) may have two subjects - be the experience of two people. And in this way the self emerges, An image which should puzzle at first glance. On the problem of how we come to know anything. and not the other way around. The mirrored walls of the Narenjestan in Shiraz. Neuropsychology and the creation of the self. There is joy here and it is felt by both of us. It is the joy (object) which I see through another person (subject) that pulls me into it, so making me another of its subjects. This is not me seeing your joy and then feeling joy for you, that is sympathy. Nor is it me working out that joy is going on, that is understanding - intellectualization without feeling. Empathy: two people, Two friends warming by a match. Aristotle’s aphorism for friendship comes so close to empathy. one joy.

Edith Stein’s book On the Problem of Empathy was the publication of her Ph.D. thesis, her point is complex and related to her more general concerns, so in extracting these sentences her exactness is inevitably diluted. The quote is taken from page 9 of the 1970 English translation published by Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague. Leading up to this point she has been proposing that the structure of memory is rather similar to that of empathy. In memory there is me (subject) now, remembering (facing) a fall I had (object) in the past, that fall (same object) also had a subject, but as I can see that me falling, it is a different subject, so there is one fall but two subjects. As I remember the fall I may then again take up the place of the me when the fall happened, I am “in the original subject’s place”. Heidegger made his point on page 125 of Being and Time.

Two women at a local cafe (the right-hand person was the proprietress) in Tĩnh Gia, northern Vietnam.

Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 2nd October 2021

Murphy on duty to this site