Posts Tagged ‘University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’

Empathy, Intuition, and the Abortion or Life Decision

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

St. Edith Stein’s (1891-1942) 1916 dissertation, Zum Problem der Einfühlung, On the Problem of Empathy, written after she spent much of 1915 as a wartime Red Cross nurse, qualified her as only the second German woman to earn a doctorate in philosophy. Stein’s dissertation is said to be one among “Ten Neglected Philosophical Classics” in a forthcoming chapter by Kris McDaniel in an Oxford University Press volume edited by Eric Schliesser.

Although commonly associated with therapeutic communication, “empathy” is a recently made-up word, introduced into German as “Einfühlung,” or “in-feeling” by Johann Gottfried von Herder in aesthetics in 1774, in the late 1800s into German medicine and psychiatry by Theodor Lipps, and into English by American psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener as “empathy” just prior to WWI.

The English word “empathy” is so new that we can actually date its first recorded public use by then Cornell U. Professor Titchener to a presentation he gave at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign circa 1908-1909 (Titchener, E. B. (1909). Introspection and empathy. Lectures on the experimental psychology of the thought-processes. New York, The MacMillan Company).

In her 1916 analysis, Stein sorted through several of our common psychological conceptions of empathy that have since come down to us through the sciences and popular culture, and narrowed in on those aspects of empathy that would be philosophical useful, using the phenomenological method she learned from her teacher Edmund Husserl, to address the question of how one mind knows another. This problem was essential for understanding how human persons are “constituted,” a philosophical term roughly meaning composed to the extent that they can be known:

“‘Constitution’ is a term that Stein inherits from Husserl, who uses it systematically to mean the way things appear as one (for me, for us).” Lebech, M. (2015). “Lebech, M. (2015). The philosophy of Edith Stein : from phenomenology to metaphysics. Oxford, Peter Lang. Pg. xi”

Stein focused in her reduction to a knowledge of another that is close to intuition:

“Empathy is a kind of act of perceiving [eine Art erfahrender Akte] sui generis. . . . Empathy, as we have examined and sought to describe, is the experience of foreign consciousness in general, irrespective of the kind of the experiencing subject or of the subject whose consciouness is experienced.” Stein, E. (1989). On the problem of empathy. Washington DC, ICS Publications, Pg. 11

“Two-sidedness to the essence of empathic acts – the experience of our own announcing another one.” Ibid., Pg. 19

R.W. Meneses and M. Larkin (2012) summarized Stein’s approach to empathy to three levels, the first level of which is pertinent to this discussion:

“In short, the first level, direct perception, is about the direct, non-mediated (e.g. by expressive behaviour or aprioristic knowledge) co-givenness of another person’s present embodied, embedded, minded experience.
Here, one immediately ‘sees’ the foreign experience.” Meneses, R. W. and M. Larkin (2012). “Edith Stein and the Contemporary Psychological Study of Empathy.” Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 43(2): 151-184. Pg. 175.

In an earlier page, Meneses and Larkin focused on the intuitive aspect of Stein’s early stage of empathy:

“Here, for the first time, that which was directly intuitively given about the other’s experience (during direct perception and/or experiential projection) is represented, in awareness, as a mental object. That is, the content of the intuition is mentalized, becoming, in awareness, an intellectual idea about the foreign experience. This is most transparent when Stein states that, at this level, empathy can be seen as an intuitive idea about another’s experience. Before this level, empathy is not an idea, or a representation, but intuition only (p. 20).” Meneses and Larkin (2012, pg. 173).

Intuiting the existence of another person may be the first step in the constitution of a person. The philosophical problem of the constitution of the human person thus can be directly related to the morality of the abortion decision: Is the fetus or baby a human being or human person? How do we know this?

The earliest stage of “Steinian” empathy, involving intuition, leads us to a new perspective on the abortion decision: When does the parent first intuit–prior to physically sensing or intellectually knowing–the existence of another, of a child growing in the womb? This is a different question from enumerating the stages of growth of the baby within the womb.

While the mind of a fetus or baby in the womb cannot be readily empathically experienced by another, his or her existence can be empathically intuited, a first step in the constitution of the newly-developing human being.

This initial intuition of the life of another may therefore ground the abortion decision: if one intuits the existence of another within the mother, this one who values human life will immediately take precautions to preserve this human life.

An important first question in the abortion-or-life decision thus becomes: When did I first intuit the child’s existence?

As I have written earlier, the abortion and euthanasia decisions are those in which doubt about the existence of life now lead not to caution, but to deadly force. But in almost every other human endeavor, even modern warfare, doubt about the danger to life leads to prudent caution for life-preservation instead.

Abortion ideology, in order to radically refute Freud’s dictum that “Biology is destiny,” chooses immediate deadly force instead of prudent, non-violent problem-solving and compassionate continuing commitment.

For more on St. Edith Stein’s concept of empathy and the constitution of self, please see this lecture by Oxford scholar Nikolas Prassas —

© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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Canceled Catholic Dorm Contract is a Loss to UIC and to Chicago

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

According to the Chicago neighborhood paper the Gazette on 5/2/14, after several years of trying to obtain City approval, the St. John Paul II Newman Center at UIC, due to City delays and perhaps some preservation and NIMBY opposition, lost the contract option for the property at 1352 S. Union St., which would have added another dorm to the UIC South Campus community–

http://www.gazettechicago.com/index/2014/05/uic-newman-center-loses-dorm-contract/

This is a great opportunity lost for the UIC campus, and for the City of Chicago. A corresponding Newman dorm at UIUC is a major part of the campus landscape, a draw for students nationally, and a contribution to the diversity of the university —

http://sjcnc.org/Facilities.aspx

That any bona fide entity ready and willing to invest in building and supporting a complementary dorm for the UIC community should fail to receive City approval does not bode well. Chicago is losing population, and therefore losing taxpayers and all that this loss means economically and socially. But a university draws population to a city, and strengthens a city as a creative center. Each opportunity lost to build a university community is another opportunity lost to further build a city.

There are many willing to stop projects and to interpose and to shape them, but there are very few willing to sponsor projects who are also capable of actually making them happen. Chicago is littered with decades-old ghost buildings and vacant properties with no funding to put them into use that serve as dingy daily rebukes to those who can stop projects, but who can’t build them. Chicago needs more builders, not more stoppers.

Perhaps another opportunity will arise. . .

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Why Research Universities Merit the “Freedom of the City”

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

What I shared with university colleagues on 5/6/12–

Colleague,

I’ve been thinking of implications of the various [Illinois] pension bills in the light of the larger question of the need for economic development in Chicago and in Illinois.

Yale economist Robert Shiller, the co-originator of the Case-Shiller housing index, recently made a dire prediction, that the housing market may not recover for a generation, meaning “in our lifetimes.”

The implications of this prediction, if correct, are profound. The political game of chasing around and announcing “jobs, jobs, jobs” may shortly be practically useless. Longer-term sources of economic growth besides tax incentive gimmicks to attract and retain businesses will have to be found.

Cities have historically grown and thrived because, as centers of commerce, they were in some sense free economic zones that became magnets of opportunity for both migrants and for entrepreneurs. But our generation of legislators, whether federal, state, and local, have somehow embraced bureaucracy and regulation as a solution, and are locking out opportunity.

By reducing constraints upon UIC’s [University of Illinois at Chicago] growth as an urban, state research university, Chicago and Illinois could become a greater research and educational magnet, drawing more scientists, more businesses, and more students, and rival Boston or LA within two or three generations, if we collectively make the right decisions to unshackle our research universities and institutes and let them grow and thrive. The “freedom of the city” must be extended to the University of Illinois (both UIC and UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]) and to partner institutions as research leaders.

In order for such a strategy to succeed, civic leaders who are alumni of NU and U Chicago will have to drop their elite snobbery and allow UIC to thrive as well, since UIC in the long term can “bring the big numbers” of both graduates and researchers to help Chicago and Illinois thrive. But even these three Chicago research universities are not enough to build a “rival Boston” strategy for this region.

That is why legislative action that drives away research talent, and the dollars that senior professors and principal investigators bring with them, is exactly the wrong economic development strategy for Illinois.

As long as state research universities are lumped into legislation covering all matter of non-research institutions, and subject to numerous unintended consequences and unpredictability, the state research university will not thrive to the extent that it could in Illinois. We already see talented colleagues voting on the expected results of such election-year legislation with their feet before the final votes are cast.

Infrastructure alone will not bring Illinois or Chicago back. We have to have a “somewhere” to where the roads and bridges lead. Because real estate will not be an answer for perhaps a generation, state and other research universities do help answer the question of “somewhere.” So let’s not sandbag research universities with bureaucratic disincentives for success, OK?

There are so many encouraging changes taking place at UIC, especially UIC College Prep–there should be dozens more such Chicago and Illinois high schools!–that I’m sad to see some of our colleagues go at this critical moment for UIC.

But we do have a great opportunity, even in these awful times for Illinois, to actually make the right legislative decisions to shape a better future.

Regulatory freedom for the Research Universities of Illinois is part of the answer. The sooner the University of Illinois, including UIUC and UIC, can be set apart with its own legislation freeing the development of research and the attraction and retention of talent from regulatory constraints, the better.

But who will take the lead in spreading this message? Who’s got the guts to do this in an election year?

Much easier to add more bureaucracy and to call it “reform.” Yet where is the economic development–which is what we really need–in that?

So far, the legislature has taken the safe DMV approach–more rules and more roads. But rules and roads leading to what?

Cordially,

Albert Schorsch, III

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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