Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2011


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Marie L. Baird

Committee Member

Aimee Light

Committee Member

Anna Floerke Scheid


Edith Stein, Emmanuel Levinas, Empathy, Ethics, Liberation theology, Solidarity


What does it mean to be a human person? How do we enact our humanity? These are the questions that run like a thread throughout this project. Eschewing Hamlet's famous question - To be or not to be? - this dissertation situates itself within the postmodern context, exploring the work of Emmanuel Levinas and his ethical presentation of the human person. Here we find the human person not concerned with his or her own state of being, but rather turning toward the other in ethical responsibility. However, Levinas' work presents us with a peculiar problem - this ethical encounter does not take place in the "real time" of justice, politics, work, and play. It is an anarchical encounter taking place in an immemorial past of which we can only sense a trace. Thus, to render his work accessible to our daily lives, I place Levinas' thought in dialogue with Edith Stein's understanding of the concept of empathy. I argue that the empathetic encounter with the other person is a turn to the other that avoids the reductive tendencies found in the ontological traditions of the West. This encounter allows and even demands that we enact our humanity from within the type of ethical context which Levinas insists makes us human. Furthermore, it is in this ethical-empathetic encounter with the other that one can be in relationship with God. We will see how this turn to the other is prayer, hence relationship with God, and lived spirituality. In conclusion, I argue that solidarity with others, especially with those who suffer and particularly with those who suffer from injustice, is the natural outcome of this ethical-empathetic enactment of the human person. Here we refer to the writings of Pope John Paul II, philosopher-theologian Józef Tischner, and the tradition of Latin American Liberation Theology to explore the concept of solidarity within the Catholic social justice tradition.