Edith Stein’s Knowledge and Faith, a collection of five philosophical essays (three of which are fragments), was written between the years of 1929 and 1941 after the Jewish woman’s conversion to Christianity. In 1942 Stein, then a Carmelite nun, was executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz.
The five documents in Knowledge and Faith are “Husserl and Aquinas: A Comparison,” “Knowledge, Truth, and Being” (a fragment), “Actual and Ideal Being” (a fragment), the foreword to “Finite and Eternal Being” (a fragment of a draft), and “Ways to Know God.” The first complete document presents similarities and differences between the ideas of Stein’s teacher Edmund Husserl (founder of phenomenology) and the medieval philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas. The second complete work, “Ways to Know God,” investigates the instructions given by Dionysius the Areopagite about the mystic’s path toward God.
Stein presents Husserl’s main theories about knowledge and consciousness in the first essay. He held that reality consists of objects, events, and ideas as they are understood by human consciousness alone. No other reality exists above or apart from human consciousness that cannot be accessed by human consciousness. In examining consciousness, philosophy aims to apply the same rigorous methods as science, with the goal of achieving perfect, complete knowledge. This knowledge is gained only by an intentional act of will and by careful, step-by-step analysis. Over time, humankind can know all there is to know, including the Logos (ultimate truth).
Thomas Aquinas would agree with Husserl, Stein believes, that human beings can come to understand the Word, or Logos, that supports all of creation. Stein notes disagreement between them, however, in how far Husserl’s method can take human thought toward ultimate truth. Aquinas would not accept that full knowledge can be achieved by means of an unending process of inquiry. Instead Aquinas thought divine knowledge is infinite; it embraces all knowledge. The extent of the knowledge humans can have on earth is limited by the finite character of their minds. Complete knowledge is possible only in the presence of God after death. Aquinas believed that...
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