Stein’s Argument Tor The Existence of the Unconscious And Its Effect On Self-Awareness. 

Do others know us better than we know ourselves? According to Edith Stein in her work, “On the Problem of Empathy”, the answer is an absolute yes. Stein argues that we have unconscious behaviors that are observable purely through another’s observation. In contradiction, Franz Brentano argues in “Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint”, that there may be no unconscious mind setting forth these behaviors, but rather some thoughts are self-directed, or some thought’s directionality and inner perception are intended toward self-awareness, though this poses a regressional dilemma.

I agree with Stein in that the unconscious exists, and that through observing behavior we can make inferences that the causes of their past behaviors evidently influence present behavior as well. To support my thesis I use an article by Joel Voss and Ken Paller called “An Electrophysiological Signature of Unconscious Recognition

Memory”, that explores the unconscious’ ability to retain and retrieve memories through implicit and explicit memory retrieval. In objection to these points, a naysayer like Socrates may contradict this with the idea that we know ourselves best through deep self-examination, as observations by others are not always correct.

I argue against this as while others may possess incorrect assumptions of our character, that does not negate the usefulness of outside insight in developing a well-rounded sense of self. For the clarity of this essay, I will define inner perception in the same way as Brentano does, as the awareness of thinking. Intentionality is defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as the act of being deliberative and purposeful.

Get quality help now
Prof. Finch

Proficient in: Awareness

4.7 (346)

“ This writer never make an mistake for me always deliver long before due date. Am telling you man this writer is absolutely the best. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

This definition aligns with Brentano’s idea of thoughts typically containing some sense of intentionality as well as directionality. Directionality is defined by the same dictionary as of, relating to, or indicating the direction in space; though to make it correspond with intentionality in this essay I will define directionality as having deliberate intention in a mental phenomenon focused on any person including the self, place, or thing. Mental phenomena are the mental representations of thoughts, experiences, sensations, intentions, etc.;

Brentano would define mental phenomena as the perceived inner consciousness. Also discussed are implicit and explicit memories, the implicit memories are the memories we cannot easily retrieve but still manifest in unconscious behavior, while explicit memories are those that are easily retrievable and we are aware of consciously. Understanding the difference between the conscious and unconscious allows us to question if the unconscious exists. Once an individual tries to become aware of their unconscious, it becomes conscious. Self-awareness of unconscious thinking is not possible as that would make it conscious thinking. This creates the question that if there is an unconscious, how can we know it exists if we cannot see it, know it is happening, or be aware of it? As even Brentano explains that inner perception, being aware of thinking, can never be nor turn into inner observation. To answer the question, first and foremost we need to try to understand the thinking. Thinking, for clarity, will be referred to as a mental phenomenon, or the non-physical representation of feelings, objects, and intentions. Mental phenomena, as Brentano explains, are intentional and are objects of inner perception.

This can better be explained by intentionality as when one is thinking of or about something, and inner perception as they are aware they are thinking. Brentano suggests that to possibly try to understand consciousness and the possible lack of it, it would require not trying to observe the perceiving of the self, but rather the self-being aware of the directionality and intentionality aspect of thinking. Brentano explains there are two types of phenomena, mental and physical. The major difference between the two states as he explains is that mental phenomena are characterized by their intentionality, while physical phenomena lack just that. Directedness of thoughts can be understood as the focus, where the thought is going, or what the senses are observing in the moment. To perceive, interpret, or understand what the senses are observing, one will require the second half of the mental phenomena, inner perception.

Brentano further explains that inner perception is the next step to understanding mental phenomena. Inner perception is when one is aware of their perceptions, it goes along with identifying, being aware, or understanding what is being observed. The act of perceiving your thoughts, or in some cases thinking about what you may be unconscious of and trying to be aware of it. This inner perception does not do justice as thinking about what unconscious thoughts bring them into consciousness. This creates an infinite regress that will not find the solution. Brentano goes on to explain that perhaps instead of an infinite regress, it can be interpreted that there are two parts of mental phenomena. There is the conscious thoughts that we are aware of, that have direct intention, and can be perceived with self-awareness; and that there are also be mental phenomena that is unconscious, arguably self-directed but still perceivable with inner perception. The concept of self-directed thinking and inner perception can also be interpreted as self-examination.

Without directly stating her belief in an unconscious mind or not, Stein makes a compelling case for the possibility of it. Stein explains that stimulation like scents, visual queues, feelings, etc. are triggers for the brain that can make memories and ideas move from the unconscious to the conscious. Though she does not claim to possess knowledge of where the thoughts or memories go once in the unconscious, they seemingly just disappear. She explains that in trying to figure out what may be within the unconscious through introspection may never be found without the help of another person. It is unconscious, and Brentano’s dilemma with trying to witness what one can not be physically aware of is almost solved with Stein’s explanation that observation by another can be a meaningful method of self-awareness.

From Stein’s perspective, it almost seems as though the past ceases to exist once the mental phenomena is not fresh in one’s mind anymore. Though, it happens that the past, or more precisely the behaviors in the past wait in the unconscious waiting for stimulation for it to be remembered. The argument she makes for this is that past itself can not cause behavior in the moment, since the past does not exist as a physical thing it itself as it is a mental phenomenon. Rather, the cause of the behaviors in the past is what is affecting the present now. To explain in an example, if a friend of many years behaves strangely while trying to get back into the dating scene after a lengthy, depressing break up: one can infer that the cause of the awkward behavior is stemming from the ending of the relationship in a less than pleasant way.

This inference has multiple conditions to it, knowing the person for many years, therefore, being familiar with their typical behaviors, possibly having been through a devastating break up so through empathy being able to relate to their situation directly. Alone, the newly-single friend may not be able to pinpoint why their dates have been going awry. Though their friend may be able to tell them that from their experiences, they can infer in their newly-single friend’s behavior that they are projecting problems from the breakup, or they aren’t ready to get back out there. The friend of the recent dumped example can show them that the past causes of their behaviors, the breakup, is affecting their present behaviors, trying to date again; unconscious behaviors brought about by past experiences.

The inference is the best explanation, as the past and present are fleeting moments of time. The past experience fell out of existence but can be stimulated through senses or mental phenomena to be remembered again. The cause of the past behaviors lives in the unconscious and accounts for behaviors, reactions, and ways of thinking. A thought experiment that would be that of Last Thursdayism, or the idea that everything in the world was created last Thursday by an omnipotent being. If we compared this idea, that every complex organism, animal, bacteria, etc. was created last week to the idea that these complex creatures were created over millions of years through evolutionary trial and error, we can come to the conclusion that the most correct answer is the one that requires less conditions to be possible.

This method of deciding by cutting down the possibilities to only those that pose the least amount of assumptions or conditions is known as occam’s razor. This method can also be implemented into Brentano’s argument of the unconscious. If the question is posed whether there is an unconscious mind or not, rather than trying to assume that there is only the conscious mind but it has a regressive tendency that we have yet to figure out a way out of, or there may be layers to the mind and we operate on one but are influenced by the other in subtle ways; the more plausible answer is the latter.

According to Stein, the unconscious is in accordance with the causes of past experiences influencing future or present behaviors. The past causes of behaviors reside in the unconscious, and in order to help us more efficiently manage situations, we unconsciously rely on the past to make effective decisions for the future. On occasion, we can realize past experiences affecting our present behavior, to relate back to an earlier example, we may use unconscious behaviors while operating in romantic relationships when things gets stressful. If an individual had a history with a partner that would yell or act out during a disagreement, in the next relationship that person may learn to react first with anger as the past behavior became the protocol for fights.

They may not necessarily mean to get angry, but the pattern of behavior developed from the first relationship may unconsciously seep into the next one and reacting with anger is their first, unconscious reaction. If their opposing partner noted to them in a calm tone that they are overreacting, it is just the occasional fight over spilled milk, and that perhaps they are just reflecting their past feelings and behaviors, their partner might in suit change their tone. It would take more self-examination to come to figure out that behavioral pattern, though having a partner or talking to a therapist about anger issues faster solves the insidious pattern of behaviors that stem from the unconscious influence present behavior with the past’s causes of behaviors.

I agree with Stein that there is an unconscious, and more likely than not there are pieces of the self that are not easy to ruminate upon by self-examination alone. She makes the case that past causes behaviors live in our unconscious but are played out through behaviors we do not notice. I think a point that can be made is that when attempting to better know ourselves through self-examination, all we can observe are the explicit memories we possess. With that said, much of our lives are lived out within the implicit memories, arguably most of our lives are ‘forgotten’ to the implicit memory, though they may very well be remembered but dormant in the unconscious. In an article by Joel Voss and Ken Paller, they explore the unconscious’ ability to retain and retrieve memories by differentiating between explicit and implicit memories. The major differentiation between the two being explicit is aware of this retrieval of the memory while in opposition the implicit is unconscious yet still influences behavior.

Implicit memories are difficult to test for, so the methods the neuroscientists went about doing this was by measuring priming tests, or exposure to stimulus influences response to another stimulus, and methods that made no references to prior learning to see if hints of the implicit memory shined through. The tests conducted were that of matching numbers with kaleidoscope images, and for further conditions, the neuroscientists tested for attentive encoding, whereby they would distract a number of the people of the sample size to see if that impacted their explicit or implicit memory retrieval. Since it is a rather confusing test, there was room for those who guessed on some of the answers. The researchers concluded that recognition is a process within explicit memory, that highly accurate guesses were not associated with explicit memory nor the implicit, and that through differentiating between neural signatures there were decisions made that were neither parts of the recognition process nor signatures that would show the person is guessing, rather a distinct pattern while deciding that was interpreted to be recognition stemming from an unconscious memory, as they would describe the implicit memory to be.

In the same vein as Stein, the research by Voss and Paller explain the phenomenon of memories wherein they can pop in and out of consciousness, with a stimulus directly affecting them or not. Voss and Paller used neural imaging to prove what Stein was talking about: while conscious, it seems that there are unconscious thoughts that influence our day to day life, and through some sort of stimulus they rise from the horizon of the unconscious mind and find their way into the conscious present thought. Stein argues that to know ourselves best, we would require the observance and explanation of ourselves from an outside source to give us the truest insight into ourselves. Socrates would negate this argument, as he argues that we know ourselves better than anyone else, and true insight of who we simply require rigorous examining of the self. Socrates had many issues with the ignorance of the people of Greece, and in turn the many assumptions they’d make off of his negative reputation.

If he were to ask the people around him who he was, that answer would change depending on if they were a friend of his or an enemy he acquired through his sophistry. A friend of his would gladly tell him what he wants to hear, perhaps a truly close friend would be honest in telling him some of his faults, but more likely that not the friend may want to preserve the friendship, and telling someone their worst traits would not be the way to do that. Would that friend tell them all they want to hear necessarily be correct? Or, would the enemy of Socrates who only knew of his misgivings be closer to who he truly is? The answer is complicated. Frankly in that case, would it not be up to Socrates through self-examination to determine who he is, as these people only know him for his actions and the sides of his personality he decides to share with them.

It is fair to recognize that most people may be ignorant as to who we feel we are inside and may not be knowledgeable of past experiences. It is a matter of argument as to who we are in the first place, who we are as perceived by others is subjective. Though, to assume that others can not offer some kind of useful insight into who we are because they have a differing opinion of us than the one we built for ourselves would be incorrect. Socrates built a negative reputation for himself, and if he were to ask the people of Greece what they thought about him, more likely than not they may have had a negative opinion to coincide with his reputation.

Though, his friends may disagree with the majority and say that he is in fact a good-hearted fellow, with some annoying, gadfly-like tendencies. It is not a situation where it can be decided who is “right” as it is a matter of opinion whether or not he is a good person. Though what can be determined is if Socrates has any behaviors that result from a past experience, it can be observed by either friend or foe and from these observations they can infer much about Socrates, who he may be, or what he may have gone through. Accuracy is not necessarily the goal, self-awareness is, and if he has an unconscious attitude or behavior while doing his sophistry work he would most likely want to be aware of that and how he is perceived by others to better himself. Observations can be a powerful tool in creating a deeper understanding of the self and creating a window to the unconscious.

To truly know ourselves, it is useful to try and use self-examination as a starting point, though if the goal is to be as accurate as possible in being familiar with the self and behaviors that define the self, it is necessary to hear a second opinion or more. The second opinion allows for the observation and awareness of the behaviors unobservable through self-directed inner perception, our unconscious behaviors. More often than not, we perform behaviors unconsciously that can be interpreted by others as reflections of causes of past behaviors that seep into the present. Whether their inferences of these behaviors are correct or assumptions based on their past experiences, they are still useful in developing a well-rounded schema of one’s identity and in essence knowing, or at the very least understanding themself.

Cite this page

Stein’s Argument Tor The Existence of the Unconscious And Its Effect On Self-Awareness. . (2021, Dec 04). Retrieved from

Stein’s Argument Tor The Existence of the Unconscious And Its Effect On Self-Awareness. 
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7