“Edith Stein on the Concept of Life: Between Phenomenology, Aristotelian Forms, and Evolutionary Biology”

In this paper I will present Edith Stein’s ideas regarding life, inasmuch as life can be understood biologically and spiritually. In 1921 Stein decided to convert to Catholicism. Before her conversion, she focused her studies on the constitution of the human person strictly through a phenomenological approach, still in dialogue with psychological discussions of her time. After her encounter with Christianity, Stein incorporated features of Aquinas’ thought, together with other Christian and classic thinkers such as Augustine, Aristotle, and Plato. This incorporation led Stein to develop an understanding of human nature as immersed in the natural world. Thus, moving beyond her previous purely phenomenological considerations of an embodied ego, Stein developed a conception of the human nature as a microcosm that gathers all the different realms of the created world, understood as composed of different degrees of being. Thus, phenomenological notions such as Körper and Leib converge in Stein’s work with classic Christian thought. Through the analysis of her works The Structure of the Human Person and Finite and Eternal Being, my goal is to present her twofold understanding of life as material and spiritual life. According to Stein, both kinds of life are an internal movement carried out by an inner form: the Aristotelian soul. The difference, for Stein, between these kinds of life is that whereas purely material life is to be understood in terms of an inner movement, spiritual life implies an outward movement as well. Finally, I will present briefly how Stein engages with the problem of the evolutionary origin of species with her notion of form.