Winter 2011

Why Do We Need the Philosophy of Edith Stein?

Mette Lebech

"The science of the Cross involves the subject to the point of its own annihilation and abandonment into the meaning of being. The paradox is that this abandonment represents a foundation for knowledge."

It is a complex issue, need. How does one know what one needs? When we justify why we act and want and write the way we do, we often do so with reference to a need for something. That there is a legitimate recognized need for something makes a convincing argument. “Why do we need the philosophy of Edith Stein?” is a question asking for reasons as to why we should read Stein’s philosophy and spend time to come to know her work. It asks for the motives of her thought, for what is at stake in her philosophy.1

Stein is known primarily as a martyr and saint.2 That Stein’s saintliness has obscured her philosophy is partly due to the fact that saintliness of life perhaps is more important than the products of intellectual activity, but it is probably also due to the difficulty of her works and to the fact that she is a woman. Why would she need to write something so demanding, and why should we need to put in such effort to read it? Why would it not be enough for her to be a lovely woman and a saint? Why do we need her philosophy as well?


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1. I owe thanks to Prof. William Desmond, Dr. Haydn Gurmin, and Dr. Marianne Sawicki for many helpful comments on a previous draft of this paper.

2. Recent years, however, have seen a growing number of publications on Stein’s philosophy. They have also seen the near completion of the superb critical edition of her works (Edith Stein Gesamtausgabe [ESGA]), as well as translations into several languages: English (ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.), Italian, Spanish, Polish, Slovakian, and French. For secondary literature in English, see John Haydn Gurmin and Liz Meade’s “List of Secondary Philosophical Sources in English” available on the website of the International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith Stein (IASPES) (; also see there Rosalia Caruso’s bibliography of works in Italian. Bibliographies of works in German, Polish and French are being prepared. The unity of Stein’s philosophical purpose, the depth and honesty of her engagement with both contemporary and traditional thought, as well as her single-minded pursuit of meaning wherever it is found, deserve to be honored. Now that the Church has recognized Stein as a saint and a patroness of Europe, it might consider bestowing on her the title of Doctor of the Church. Stein does fit the criteria: she possesses insignis vitae sanctitas; she teaches, as I hope to show in the following, an eminens doctrina; only the ecclesiae declaratio would seem then to be lacking. Although no martyr has been declared doctor, perhaps because martyrs are ipso facto teachers of the Christian faith, giving the title to Stein would recognize her outstanding contribution to contemporary philosophy and its development, and perhaps help the world appreciate this contribution. Her title surely would be doctoressa scientiae crucis.