Camille Drach Hojaij: Stein and Empathic Fulfilment


Hector Warnes’ comment


        The concept of Empathy (Einfühlung) as written by Edith Stein in 1916 (her mentor was Edmund Husserl) is masterful as elaborated by Camille Drach Hojaij. Empathy is rooted in our neuro-biological evolutionary heritage and has been the subject of study by neuroscientists, ethologists, artists, psychoanalysts and philosophers. "Mirror neurons" allow individuals to imitate, to care for and to console the other particularly when there are bonds of familiarity, similarity, past experiences and learning (Preston and de Waal 2002).

        There are obvious impairments in the capacity for empathy in sociopaths and autistic spectrum disorders. Ethologists have shown that the capacity for empathy in chimpanzees is related to moral behavior. It constitutes the underpinnings of bonding and compassion hence it originates in the earliest mother-child symbiotic and separation (along with locomotion) in the baby. Individuals of many species are distressed by the disquietude of the mate in their group and tend to show caring behavior even at the risk of exposing themselves to harm.

        We are likely to respond to the distress of others when with identify with their predicament. The great French poet Arthur Rimbaud was alienated of his sense of self when he wrote: Je est un autre. Je pense: on devrait dire on me pense. In the realm of psychopathology there are all kinds of symptoms that may alter the capacity for empathy (or, on the contrary, may intensify it, such as a sense of oneness or merging with the other). We are aware of states of depersonalization, estrangement, altered states of consciousness, dissolution of ego boundaries, psychedelic drug experiences, a sense of deadness and emptiness, robotization of one's actions or feelings as seen occasionally with neuroleptic treatment, phantom limb phenomena, or when the patient feels that a part of the self is located in another person or that he/she has lost his/her sense of identity and so on.

        Psychoanalysts have explored this field and as the author puts it the "nonvisible" intuitive gestural side of perception (such as seeing the top of the table but implicitly assuming that the nonvisible is there, apperception.) The cognition of what is inside and what is outside the body, what is real and what is imaginary, what is memory and what is illusion, what is self and what is not self.

        Camille Drach Hojaij distinguished three stages in the experience of empathy:

1. The emergence of the lived body (the presence of the other's hidden profiles) followed by the emergence of the experience

2. Fulfilling Explication

3. Comprehensive Objectification of the explained experience.

        This is a profound phenomenological study that enlightens us on the basis of our capacity to relate to others, the intertwining of the body and the psyche, the recognition of alien egos and the experience of the occasional blurring of boundaries along with our ability to walk the "tightrope "and the "entanglements" of human and non-human interactions.



Preston SD, de Waal FB. Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases. Behav Brain Sci. 2002;25(1):1-20.


January 30, 2020