Edith Stein on the History of the Phenomenology of Causality

In the Introduction to her treatise “Sentient Causality”, which can be found on pages three through five of Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities (Volume 7 of the Collected Works of Edith Stein), Edith Stein gives a beautiful account of the history of the phenomenology of causality [footnotes removed]:

The concept of cause today has not yet recovered from the blow that Hume’s devastating critique dealt to it (in spite of the skeptical contradiction in his method, which unraveled the concept of cause on the basis of a causal consideration). The mind of the Humean critique is to be detected in all modern treatments of the problem – in spite of Kant and the “definitive solution” customarily attributed to him.

And no wonder. Because what Hume was looking for and believed he conclusively proved unfindable – the phenomenon of causality – Kant has not exhibited either. Rather he obviously shares Hume’s view on  this point, and infers form the indemonstrability of causality, which he recognizes, the necessity of pursing the investigation on an entirely  different ground. Kant deduces causality as one of the conditions for the possibility of an exact science of nature. He shows that nature, in the sense of natural science, is not conceivable without causality. That is an incontestable consequence, but it doesn’t settle the causality problem and it doesn’t give a satisfying answer to Hume’s question.

 Hume can be overcome only on his own ground, or, more precisely, the ground on which he was trying to carry out his own considerations but which methodologically he himself was unable to secure sufficiently. He started out with nature as it present itself to the eyes of the naive contemplator. In this nature there’s one causative linkage, one necessary sequence of happening. He wanted to investigate consciousness of this linkage: what kind of consciousnesses it is and whether it is rational. All that kept him from finding the evident coherence that he sought was a half-baked theory of the nature of consciousness and especially of experience. It misled him on the conclusion as well, to explain away the phenomena from which he started out and without which his whole way of setting up the issue would become incomprehensible.

This question undoubtedly exposes a genuine epidemiological problem, but it’s not possible to give an answer with a treatment like Kant’s which has to do only with a natura formaliter spectata [nature viewed formally]. It is not concerned with the phenomena. The causality that it deuces is a form allowing itself to be filled in in many ways. It calls for only a necessary linkage in time; but what kind of linkage this is we can’t find out form a ‘Transcendental deduction in the Kantian sense. It takes a method of analysis and description of phenomena, that means, of objects in the whole fullness and concretion in which they present themselves to us, and of the consciousness corresponding to them.


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