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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


SCHELER

(1874 — 1928)

 

PHENOMENOLOGY

Max Scheler was born in Munich of a Jewish mother and a Protestant father. He studied philosophy at the University of Jena under the idealist 'philosopher of life' Rudolf Eucken, and became a Privatdozent there in 1901. He returned to Munich in 1907 and came under the influence of Brentano and Husserl, but in 1910 he retired to follow the life of an independent scholar in Berlin. In 1917-18 he worked for the German Foreign Office as a diplomat. After the war he returned to teaching and was appointed professor of philosophy and sociology at Cologne. He also converted to Catholicism, but he gradually moved away from his commitment as he developed his own religious and philosophical concept of a 'cosmic becoming'. He moved to the University of Frankfurt shortly before his death.

 

METHODOLOGY/ KNOWLEDGE

[1] Scheler made full use of the phenomenological method and indeed went much further than Husserl in applying it to all aspects of human consciousness and focusing particularly on what he regarded as 'essential' to human personality, namely, feelings, and especially love, rather than just on reason or volition. Thus, in a sense, emotions are 'cognitive' and can be said to 'intend' their own objects [a]. In his later work [see Man's Situation in the Cosmos] he placed great emphasis on 'life philosophy' and man's being situated in nature and culture, arguing that this had been neglected by more cognitive and rationalist philosophies [b]. At the same time he sought to reconcile this with phenomenology's concern with Geist, that is, 'spirit' or 'mind'. He accepts that knowing is an intentional act towards an object, but he stresses that knowledge itself is to be interpreted in pragmatic or instrumentalist terms [c]. It must be understood in the context of the uses to which it is to be put rather than as an intellectual relationship between the knower and the world. Ideas brought into being by spirit through life's 'realizing conditions' [see 4c] do not always 'work'. Throughout his philosophical career [but especially in Sociology of Knowledge] he distinguished three kinds of knowledge, each with its own function:

(1) Scientific knowledge. This is knowledge of contingent particulars, and it is characterized by man's attempt to achieve control over the natural world and human society [d].

(2) 'Essential' knowledge. This is knowledge of 'essences', 'universals', or 'structures' of real or imagined things — categories of being,and requires the use of reason and the phenomenologist's eidetic reduction. Man's motive for seeking this kind of knowledge is love [e].

(3) Religious knowledge. This consists of knowledge of 'Absolute Being' or God and of man's 'salvation'. Man's aim is to achieve oneness with this 'ultimate ground' of reality. This union is to be achieved through a synthesis of scientific and essential knowledge; and Scheler allows that we can have direct experience of the Divine [f]. Similarly we can experience directly the feelings and moods of another person, perceivable in bodily events, although the 'intimate sphere' remains private and closed to our inspection. Indeed, he implies that it is through the prior giveness of others that we come to know our own selves [g].

 

PSYCHOLOGY/ PHILOSOPHY OF MAN

[2] Implicit in Scheler's account of three kinds of knowledge is a particular view of human 'psychology'. In his early period (1897-1920/22) he developed an extensive and subtle survey of feeling and value [see The Theory of Sympathy and Formalism in Ethics]. There are two key features of his phenomenological-reductive analysis of our mental life. Firstly, he rejected any sharp distinction between cognition and emotion; he supposed both feeling and reason to be functioning in the activity of the mind as a whole [a]. Secondly he argued that feelings are not just subjective states. They are intimately joined to values which are yet independent of them (as colours are of the things we see as coloured). Feelings thus have an objective aspect [b]; and it is these that can provide a foundation for formal principles such as those of a categorical imperative.

In his later work [Man's Situation in the Cosmos] he traced four stages in the evolutionary development of life in the "biopsychological world": (i) an unconscious vital impulse or life force — this manifests itself in all forms of life culminating in man; (ii) instinctual behaviour, innate and functional, which is found in higher forms of life above the plants; (iii) associative behaviour, or memory, which is 'conditioned, modifiable through learning, which is exhibited in animals and particularly in man; and (iv) practical intelligence [c], which again is characteristic of the higher animals and especially man.

 

METAPHYSICS/ RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY

[3] Scheler's more metaphysical and religious thought tends to be developed in his later period (1920-1928). Initially he was concerned to provide a defence of his conversion to Catholicism [On the Eternal in Man]. He talks of our experience as a 'sea of being' which the ego splits into 'subjective' and 'objective' realms. But underlying this experience is the 'Absolute', infinite spirit, the ground of being. This is rational but at the same time it manifests itself as an irrational force working through individual beings [a]. Phenomenological analysis of our consciousness reveals the a priori structure of a specifically religious dimension or 'sphere' in which Being-in-itself is exhibited as the 'numinous', possessing such attributes as holiness, personality, infinite goodness, power, and self-sufficiency. These can be articulated and communicated through the myths, dogmas, and rituals (prayer, acts of repentance, etc.) which originate from within ourselves. Our response as 'God-seekers' to these arises from the feelings of 'nothingness' and 'infinite dependence' we experience in the face of the Divine [b]. But we can choose to 'fill' this sphere in a variety of ways. We may opt for faith in God — our response being genuinely authentic if we experience and acknowledge Him. Or our experience can be empty — the worship of an 'idol', in which case our response is inauthentic. Alternatively we can adopt an agnostic position and leave the sphere open to nothingness.

Scheler gradually moved away from his Catholicism and came to espouse a more pantheistic position [see Man's Situation in the Cosmos]. He now regarded God, the world, and man as a unitary process of becoming in 'absolute' time. (By this he meant the time which is implicit in all natural processes of change and which is presupposed by time as measurable. It is thus not the Newtonian concept but a view more in line with that promoted by Einstein.) Within this unitary process Spirit realizes itself in ideas, but to do so it needs to work through history, geography, society, and so on, all of which are manifestations of the life-energy or impulsion. God is thus seen no longer a primal creator but as inseparable from the cosmic process, incomplete and undergoing change with it. Scheler says that "man reaches the consciousness that he is an ally and co-worker of God only in the process of his own development and self-knowledge" [Man's Situation, IV] [c].

[4] Scheler rejects all mind-body dualisms and accounts of man that purport to locate his 'essential nature' in a conscious thinking self, a pure reason, pure consciousness, or a transcendental ego. Man, differs from all other animals in his 'spirit'. By spirit he means not a substance but "a hierarchical structure of acts" [Man's Situation, III], which 'objectifies' both the 'psychic' and the 'physical' — the two aspects of the life process. As he says: "The intentions of the spirit intersect, as it were, with the temporal processes of life" [ibid.]. The dualism we encounter in man, for Scheler, is the non-pernicious antithesis between spirit and life [a]. Man's spirituality is manifested in his freedom to detach himself from both his inner psychophysical condition (exhibited in self-consciousness) and from the environment (exhibited in his attitude of objectivity towards it), and to restructure the natural world in terms of categories such as substance, causality, space and time. Implicit in this is man's awareness of reality as a consequence of the power of the environment to 'resist' his inner drives [b]. Scheler rejects views which either identify spirit with the 'rational idea (or form)' possessing its own original energy or creative power or which attribute all man's culture-producing activities to his capacity to repress his impulses. Instead, he argues that through the phenomenological reduction, which for him involves the inhibiting of inner drives and the redirection of the vital energy or impulsion (which does not belong to spirit itself), man's "fundamental characteristic" — his capacity "to isolate essence from existence" — can be exercised. In order to realize ideas spirit needs also to utilize the environment's material conditions [c], though the ideas are in consequence degraded, and the 'purity' of spirit lost.

Scheler's philosophical anthropology reflects also his later religious philosophy. He sees man as a spiritual 'unity of activity' with Ultimate Being. The emphasis is now on the concept of the person — understood as "the centre of action within a finite mode of being" [Man's Situation, II]. The individual spirit is unique and autonomous and is not a mere part of a wider spiritual totality [d]. While he is like other animals in that he can acquire scientific knowledge (and hence control of Nature), he is unique in his possession of reason and his capacity for knowledge of 'essences'. Scheler distinguished a private and a common aspect of the person. The common aspect is that which is possessed by oneself and others through shared experiences; and this is the basis of participation in social and institutional structures whether of church or state. However, he recognised that there are philosophies which have attempted to discover or explain the nature of man in ways other than the phenomenological. Thus the natural and the life sciences can contribute to knowledge of what it is to be man, though Scheler rejected any 'reductionist' analysis of man's 'idea' or spiritual nature. Mechanical and teleological explanations represent two modes of observing and describing the same psychophysical unity [Man's Situation, III]. There is therefore no incompatibility between physical causality and man's spiritual autonomy; and we do not have to invoke any noumenal substrate or dualist thesis [e]. Scheler's investigations into the interplay between the scientific and philosophical accounts of human existence led to his classification of different philosophical anthropologies: (1) man as a religious being; (2) man as a rational animal — homo sapiens; (3) man the tool-maker; (4) man as fallen being — egocentric and 'diseased'; (5) man as the 'superman'. [See also Sociology of Knowledge.]

 

ETHICS

[5] [See especially Formalism in Ethics and The Nature of Sympathy.] Ethical and aesthetic values for Scheler are cognitively and emotionally a priori, in so far as reason and emotion are preconditions of experience. So what are values? They are the universal and essential properties of objects by virtue of which we call them good. He distinguished five types — all located in what he called man's 'order of love' (ordo amoris) and each experienced in particular kinds of feelings [a]. In ascending order of quality they are: (1) sensory values, such as pleasant and unpleasant; (2) pragmatic values — needs and utility; (3) 'life' values, for example, nobility and 'ordinariness'; (4) mental or 'spiritual' values, subdivided into aesthetic, juridical, and cognitive (in relation to truth); and (5) religious values, especially the holy and the unholy.

The purpose of ethics for Scheler was (as in the case of knowledge) broadly utilitarian and pragmatic — to achieve authenticity, love and oneness with others and with God [b]. He contrasted what he saw as the authenticity and spontaneity of one's "ideal responsibility to be" (idealisches Seinsollen) with the artificial formality of the "ethical obligation to act" (ethisches Tunsollen). In achieving the former we genuinely encounter and respect the subjectivity of another person; and this transcends understanding, empathy, or even the feeling of "being at one" with him (Einsfhlen) [c]. In ascending from the qualitatively lower values to the highest we experience love, culminating in what Scheler called 'fulguration' (Aufblitzen) — the 'lightning flash or intuition of the loved object' value. Love is thus the foundation of religious ideals [d].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Scheler is of particular interest for his use of the phenomenological method to analyse values and religious feelings rather than just consciousness and experience in the Husserlian manner. His sociology of knowledge, which attempts to describe the relationships between distinct but interdependent spheres of the natural and human sciences, is also important, as is his contribution to philosophical anthropology in general. He has, however, been criticized for his concentration on emotion and action and for his 'pragmatic' approach to knowledge and ethics. It is argued that he has not paid sufficient attention to theory and intellectualizing. It is probably fair to say that while Scheler was right to reject the empty formalism of Kant's ethics, his own claim that values and emotions are revealed in subjective experience by phenomenological analysis and are 'objective' realities has not been satisfactorily demonstrated. As against this, he deserves credit for his attempts to overcome the traditional distinction between cognition and feeling by relating them within the context of the mind as a functioning unity.

 

READING

Scheler: Zur Phnomenologie und Theorie der Sympathie-Gefühl und von Liebe und Hass (1913) (Contributions to Phenomenology and Theory of Sympathy and of Love and Hate) (revised and reprinted as Wesen und Formen der Sympathie — see below); Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik, 2 vols (1913-16) (Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values: A New Attempt toward the Foundation of an Ethical Personalism, trans. M. S. Frings and R. L. Funk); Vom Ewigen im Menschen) (1921) (On the Eternal in Man, trans. B. Noble); Wesen und Formen der Sympathie (1923) (The Nature and Forms of Sympathy, trans. P. Heath); Versuche zu einer Soziologie des Wissens (1924) (Problems of a Sociology of Knowledge, trans. M. S. Frings) — later expanded as Die Wissenformen und die Gesellschaft (1926) (The Forms of Knowledge and Society); Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos (1928) (Man's Situation in the Cosmos [Nature], trans. and introd. H. Meyerhoff); A selection from his works is available in H. J. Bershady, On Feeling, Knowing, and Valuing: Selected Writings, and in Max Scheler: Selected Philosophical Essays, trans. D. R. Lachterman.

Studies:

Introductory

M. S. Frings, Max Scheler: A Concise Introduction into the World of a Great Thinker.

More advanced

M. D. Barber, Guardian of Dialogue. Max Scheler's Phenomenology, Sociology of Knowledge, and Philosophy of Love.

M. S. Frings, The Mind of Max Scheler.

E. Kelly, Structure and Diversity. Studies in the Phenomenological Philosophy of Max Scheler.

J. H. Nota, Max Scheler, the Man and his Work.

Collection of essays

M. S. Frings (ed.), Max Scheler (1874-1928): centennial essays.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Scheler

 

Note: Reference should also be made to the general influence of the religious philosophy of Blaise Pascal (1623-62) on Scheler's general philosophical thinking.

 

[1a] Phenomenological method and intentionality applied to all aspects of human consciousness — including feelings

   Husserl

   Sartre

[2c]

[1b]

 

[1b] 'Life philosophy' — man's situation in nature and culture

   Dilthey

   Bergson

Ortega y Gasset

Heidegger

[1a b]

[4a]

[1c]

[1c]

 

[1c] Knowing as intentional act; also pragmatic/ instrumentalist role

   Husserl

   James

   Dewey

[1c 7a]

[1b]

[2a]

 

  Three kinds of knowledge:    
[1d] i scientific — contingent particulars; control over nature/ society

   Nietzsche

   Dewey

[2b]

[1b]

[1e; cf. 2b] ii 'essential' — essences, universals, structures; requires eidetic reduction; love as motivation

   Augustine

   Husserl

[1i]

[2d]

[1f; cf. 3b] iii religious — knowledge of Absolute Being, the Divine ultimate ground or Oneness

   Augustine

   Schelling

[1h 2c 3a]

[6a]

 

[1g; cf. 5c] Direct knowledge of other persons' feelings/ moods in bodily events; 'givenness' of the other in knowledge of self

   Husserl

Heidegger

   Sartre

   Merleau-Ponty

[7b]

[2g]

[1c 4a]

[3f]

 

[2a] Inseparability of feeling and reason in mind as a whole    Dilthey [1a]

 

[2b; cf. 1e 5a] Feelings subjective states but also joined to objective values (foundation for formal principles)

   Kant

   Schopenhauer

   Brentano

   Husserl

[6a 6b]

[3f]

[4a]

[7c]

 

[2c] Development of life — four stages: vital impulse, instinct, association, practical intelligence

   Hume

   Schelling

   Schopenhauer

   Nietzsche

   Bergson

   Dewey

[1d]

[1e]

[1d 3a]

[1b]

[4a]

[2a]

 

[3a] Experience of subjective and objective realms grounded in Absolute Infinite Spirit, manifested in irrational force    Schelling [1e 3a 6a]

 

[3b; cf. 1f] Phenomenological analysis reveals religious sphere — the numinous; attributes of holiness, personality, etc.; feelings of nothingness and dependence

   Augustine

   Schleiermacher

[2c]

[1c]

 

[3c; cf. 4b] Pantheistic view of God, world, and man as unitary process of becoming in 'absolute' time; God undergoes change with cosmic process; man as co-worker

   Spinoza

   Kant

   Schelling

   James

   Husserl

   Bergson

   Whitehead

[2b]

[2b]

[6a]

[3c]

[6c]

[5a 6a]

[5b]

 

[4a; cf. 4d] Rejection of dualism; human nature not in transcendental ego, pure reason, etc.; spirit as structure of acts; only dualism is between spirit and life

   Descartes

   Kant

   Hegel

   Schelling

   James

   Husserl

[2a 3a g]

[3b]

[5e f]

[3b]

[2a b]

[5a 6a]

 

[4b; cf. 3c] Man's spirit shown in freedom of detachment from psychophysical condition and environment to order or 'restructure' world in object- categories (space, time, etc.); environmental 'resistance' gives sense of reality

   Kant

   Schelling

   Dilthey

   Husserl

Ortega y Gasset

Heidegger

[2b 2c 3d e 7a]

[2b]

[1c]

[5c]

[3a]

[2a d]

 

[4c] Rejection of spirit as rational idea/ energy and man's self-repression theories; vital energy redirected (phenomenological reduction) achieves isolation of essences from existence; spirit utilizes material and life conditions to realize ideas

   Plato

   Aristotle

   Hegel

   Schopenhauer

   Marx

   James

   Husserl

Heidegger

[1c 5b]

[13c 15b f]

[1c]

[3f]

[2d]

[2a b]

[2c]

[2a d]

 

[4d; cf. 3b c 4a] Man as spiritual centre/ unity of activity with divine and ultimate being, but not mere part of the whole; personality as fundamental concept

   Spinoza

   Kant

   Fichte

   Hegel

   Schelling

   James

   Bergson

Ortega y Gasset

[2g]

[3b]

[1a]

[5e f]

[3b 6a]

[2a b]

[6a]

[1b]

 

[4e; cf. 4a b] Natural and life sciences contribute to knowledge of man's nature; rejection of reductionist view of ideas/ spirit; mechanical and teleological explanations (and causality and autonomy) reconcilable in psycho-physical unity

   Kant

   Schelling

   Husserl

[5c 10b d]

[1c e 2c]

[8a]

 

[5a; cf. 2b 5b] Values (ethical and aesthetic) cognitively and emotionally a priori; basis of definition of 'good'; values in hierarchical 'order of love'

   Plato

   Kant

[4b]

[6a]

 

[5b; cf. 5a] Purpose of ethics pragmatic; to achieve authenticity, love, oneness with all

   Augustine

   Spinoza

   Kant

[8a]

[5c]

[6a]

 

[5c; cf. 1g 2b] Rejection of artificial formality of obligation to act; contrast with authenticity/ spontaneity of encounter with the 'other'; transcends empathy

   Kant

   Kierkegaard

   Husserl

   Jaspers

   Heidegger

   Sartre

[6d]

[1d]

[7b]

[1b 4b]

[6c]

[5a]

 

[5d] Love as foundation of religious ideals

   Plato

   Augustine

[4b]

[8a]