Max Scheler

Max Scheler
Max Scheler
Full name Max Scheler
Born August 22, 1874(1874-08-22)
Died May 19, 1928(1928-05-19) (aged 53)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Continental Philosophy
School Phenomenology
Main interests History of ideas, Value theory, Ethics, Philosophical anthropology, Consciousness studies, Cultural criticism, Sociology, Religion
Notable ideas value rankings, emotional intuition, value-based ethics, ressentiment

Max Scheler (August 22, 1874, Munich – May 19, 1928, Frankfurt am Main) was a German philosopher known for his work in phenomenology, ethics, and philosophical anthropology. Scheler developed further the philosophical method of the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, and was called by José Ortega y Gasset "the first man of the philosophical paradise." After his demise in 1928, Heidegger affirmed, with Ortega y Gasset, that all philosophers of the century were indebted to Scheler and praised him as "the strongest philosophical force in modern Germany, nay, in contemporary Europe and in contemporary philosophy as such."[1] In 1954, Karol Wojtyła, later Pope John Paul II, defended his doctoral thesis on "An Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethics on the Basis of the System of Max Scheler."



From Munich to Cologne (1874-1919)

Max Scheler was born in Munich, Germany, August 22, 1874, to a Lutheran father and an Orthodox Jewish mother. As an adolescent, he turned to Catholicism, likely because of its conception of love, although he became increasingly non-committal around 1921. After 1921 he disassociated himself in public from Catholicism.

Scheler studied medicine in Munich and Berlin, both philosophy and sociology under Wilhelm Dilthey and Georg Simmel in 1895. He received his doctorate in 1897 and his associate professorship (habilitation thesis) in 1899 at the University of Jena, where his advisor was Rudolf Eucken, and where he became Privatdozent in 1901. Throughout his life, Scheler entertained a strong interest in the philosophy of American pragmatism (Eucken corresponded with William James).

He taught at Jena from 1900 to 1906. From 1907 to 1910, he taught at the University of Munich, where his study of Edmund Husserl's phenomenology deepened. Scheler had first met Husserl at the Halle in 1902. At Munich, Husserl's own teacher Franz Brentano was still lecturing, and Scheler joined the Phenomenological Circle in Munich, centred around M. Beck, Th. Conrad, J. Daubert, M. Geiger, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Theodor Lipps, and A. Pfaender. Scheler was never a student of Husserl's and overall, their relationship remained strained. Scheler, in later years, was rather critical of the "master's" Logical Investigations (1900/01) and Ideas I (1913), and he also was to harbour reservations about Being and Time by Martin Heidegger. Due to personal matters he was caught up in the conflict between the predominantly Catholic university and the local socialist media, which led to the loss of his Munich teaching position in 1910. From 1910 to 1911, Scheler briefly lectured at the Philosophical Society of Göttingen, where he made and renewed acquaintances with Theodore Conrad, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, Moritz Geiger, Jean Hering, Roman Ingarden, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Husserl, Alexandre Koyré, and Adolf Reinach. Edith Stein was one of his students, impressed by him "way beyond philosophy".[citation needed]. Thereafter, he moved to Berlin as an unattached writer and grew close to Walther Rathenau and Werner Sombart.

Scheler has exercised a notable influence on Catholic circles to this day, including his student Stein and Pope John Paul II who wrote his Habilitation and many articles on Scheler's philosophy. Along with other Munich phenomenologists such as Reinach, Pfänder and Geiger, he co-founded in 1912 the famous Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, with Husserl as main editor.

While his first marriage had ended in divorce, Scheler married Märit Furtwängler in 1912, who was the sister of the noted conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. During World War I (1914–1918), Scheler was initially drafted but later discharged because of astigmia of the eyes. He was passionately devoted to the defence of both war and Germany's cause during the conflict. His conversion to Catholicism dates to this period.

In 1919, he became professor of philosophy and sociology at the University of Cologne. He stayed there until 1928. Early that year, he accepted a new position at the University of Frankfurt. He looked forward to meeting here Ernst Cassirer, Karl Mannheim, Rudolph Otto and Richard Wilhelm, sometimes referred to in his writings. In 1927 at a conference in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, arranged by Hermann Keyserling, Scheler delivered a lengthy lecture, entitled 'Man's Particular Place' (Die Sonderstellung des Menschen), published later in much abbreviated form as Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos [literally: 'Man's Position in the Cosmos']. His well known oratorical style and delivery captivated his audience for about four hours.

Later life (1920-1928)

Toward the end of his life, many invitations were extended to him, among them those from China, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States. However, on the advice of his physician, he had to cancel reservations already made with Star Line.

At the time, Scheler increasingly focused on political development. He met the Russian emigrant-philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev in Berlin in 1923. Scheler was the only scholar of rank of the then German intelligentsia who gave warning in public speeches delivered as early as 1927 of the dangers of the growing Nazi movement and Marxism. 'Politics and Morals', 'The Idea of Eternal Peace and Pacifism' were subjects of talks he delivered in Berlin in 1927. His analyses of capitalism revealed it to be a calculating, globally growing 'mind-set', rather than an economic system. While economic capitalism may have had some roots in ascetic Calvinism (cf. Max Weber), its very mind-set, however, is argued by Scheler to have had its origin in modern, subconscious angst as expressed in increasing needs for financial and other securities, for protection and personal safeguards as well as for rational manageability of all entities. However, the subordination of the value of the individual person to this mind-set was sufficient reason for Max Scheler to denounce it and to outline and predict a whole new era of culture and values, which he called 'The World-Era of Adjustment'.

Scheler also advocated an international university to be set up in Switzerland and was at that time supportive of programs such as 'continuing education' and of what he seems to have been the first to call a 'United States of Europe'. He deplored the gap existing in Germany between power and mind, a gap which he regarded as the very source of an impending dictatorship and the greatest obstacle to the establishment of German democracy. Five years after his death, the Nazi dictatorship (1933–1945) suppressed Scheler's work.

Philosophical Contributions

Love and the "Phenomenological Attitude"

When the editors of Geisteswissenschaften invited Scheler (about 1913/14) to write on the then developing philosophical method of phenomenology, Scheler indicated a reservation concerning the task because he could only report his own viewpoint on phenomenology and there was no "phenomenological school" defined by universally accepted theses. There was only a circle of philosophers bound by a "common bearing and attitude toward philosophical problems."[2] Scheler never agreed with Husserl that phenomenology is a method in the strict sense, but rather "an attitude of spiritual seeing...something which otherwise remains hidden...."[2] Calling phenomenology a method fails to take seriously the phenomenological domain of original experience: the givenness of phenomenological facts (essences or values as a priori) "before they have been fixed by logic,"[2] and prior to assuming a set of criteria or symbols, as is the case in the empirical and human sciences as well as other (modern) philosophies which tailor their methods to those of the sciences.

Rather, that which is given in phenomenology "is given only in the seeing and experiencing act itself." The essences are never given to an 'outside' observer with no direct contact with the thing itself. Phenomenology is an engagement of phenomena, while simultaneously a waiting for its self-givenness; it is not a methodical procedure of observation as if its object is stationary. Thus, the particular attitude (Geisteshaltung, lit. "disposition of the spirit" or "spiritual posture") of the philosopher is crucial for the disclosure, or seeing, of phenomenological facts. This attitude is fundamentally a moral one, where the strength of philosophical inquiry rests upon the basis of love. Scheler describes the essence of philosophical thinking as "a love-determined movement of the inmost personal self of a finite being toward participation in the essential reality of all possibles." [3]

The movement and act of love is important for philosophy for two reasons: (1) If philosophy, as Scheler describes it, hearkening back to the Platonic tradition, is a participation in a "primal essence of all essences" (Urwesen), it follows that for this participation to be achieved one must incorporate within oneself the content or essential characteristic of the primal essence.[4] For Scheler, such a primal essence is most characterized according to love, thus the way to achieve the most direct and intimate participation is precisely to share in the movement of love. It is important to mention, however, that this primal essence is not an objectifiable entity whose possible correlate is knowledge; thus, even if philosophy is always concerned with knowing, as Scheler would concur, nevertheless, reason itself is not the proper participative faculty by which the greatest level of knowing is achieved. Only when reason and logic have behind them the movement of love and the proper moral preconditions can one achieve philosophical knowledge.[5] (2) Love is likewise important insofar as its essence is the condition for the possibility of the givenness of value-objects and especially the givenness of an object in terms of its highest possible value. Love is the movement which "brings about the continuous emergence of ever-higher value in the object--just as if it was streaming out from the object of its own accord, without any sort of exertion...on the part of the lover. ...true love open our spiritual eyes to ever-higher values in the object loved." [6] Hatred, on the other hand, is the closing off of oneself or closing ones eyes to the world of values. It is in the latter context that value-inversions or devaluations become prevalent, and are sometimes solidified as proper in societies. Furthermore, by calling love a movement, Scheler hopes to dispel the interpretation that love and hate are only reactions to felt values rather than the very ground for the possibility of value-givenness (or value-concealment). Scheler writes, "Love and hate are acts in which the value-realm accessible to the feelings of a either extended or narrowed."[7] Love and hate are to be distinguished from sensible and even psychical feelings; they are, instead, characterized by an intentional function (one always loves or hates something) and therefore must belong to the same anthropological sphere as theoretical consciousness and the acts of willing and thinking. Scheler, therefore calls love and hate, "spiritual feelings," and are the basis for an "emotive a priori" insofar as values, through love, are given in the same manner as are essences, through cognition. In short, love is a value-cognition, and insofar as it is determinative of the way in which a philosopher approaches the world, it is also indicative of a phenomenological attitude.

Material Value-Ethics

A fundamental aspect of Scheler's phenomenology is the extension of the realm of the a priori to include not only formal propositions, but material ones as well. Kant's identification of the a priori with the formal was a "fundamental error" which is the basis of his ethical formalism. Furthermore, Kant erroneously identified the realm of the non-formal (material) with sensible or empirical content. The heart of Scheler's criticism of Kant is within his theory of values. Values are given a priori, and are "feelable" phenomena. The intentional feeling of love discloses values insofar as love opens a person evermore to beings-of-value (Wertsein).

Additionally, values are not formal realities; they do not exist somewhere apart from the world and their bearers, and they only exist with a value-bearer, as a value-being. They are, therefore, part of the realm of a material a priori. Nevertheless, values can vary with respect to their bearers without there ever occurring an alteration in the object as bearer. E.g., the value of a specific work of art or specific religious articles may vary according to differences of culture and religion. However, this variation of values with respect to their bearers by no means amounts to the relativity of values as such, but only with respect to the particular value-bearer. As such, the values of culture are always spiritual irrespective of the objects that may bear this value, and values of the holy still remain the highest values regardless of their bearers. According to Scheler, the disclosure of the value-being of an object precedes representation. The axiological reality of values is given prior to knowing, but, upon being felt through value-feeling, can be known (as to their essential interconnections). Values and their corresponding disvalues are ranked according to their essential interconnections as follows:

  1. Values of the holy vs. disvalues of the unholy
  2. Values of the spirit (truth, beauty, vs. disvalues of their opposites)
  3. Values of life and the noble vs. disvalues of the vulgar
  4. Values of pleasure vs. disvalues of pain
  5. Values of utility vs. disvalues of the useless.[8]

Further essential interconnections apply with respect to a value's (disvalue's) existence or non-existence:

  1. The existence of a positive value is itself a positive value.
  2. The existence of a negative value (disvalue) is itself a negative value.
  3. The non-existence of a positive value is itself a negative value.
  4. The non-existence of a negative value is itself a positive value.[9]

And with respect to values of good and evil:

  1. Good is the value that is attached to the realization of a positive value in the sphere of willing.
  2. Evil is the value that is attached to the realization of a negative value in the sphere of willing.
  3. Good is the value that is attached to the realization of a higher value in the sphere of willing.
  4. Evil is the value that is attached to the realization of a lower value [at the expense of a higher one] in the sphere of willing.[9]

Goodness, however, is not simply "attached" to an act of willing, but originates ultimately within the disposition (Gesinnung) or "basic moral tenor" of the acting person. Accordingly:

  1. The criterion of 'good' consists in the agreement of a value intended, in the realization, with the value preferred, or in its disagreement with the value rejected.
  2. The criterion of 'evil' consists in the disagreement of a value intended, in the realization, with the value preferred, or in its agreement with the value rejected.[9]

One may note that most of the older ethical systems (Kantian formalism, theonomic ethics, nietzscheanism, hedonism, consequentialism, and platonism, for example) fall into axiological error by emphasizing one value-rank to the exclusion of the others. A novel aspect of Scheler's ethics is the importance of the "kairos" or call of the hour. Moral rules cannot guide the person to make ethical choices in difficult, existential life-choices. For Scheler, the very capacity to obey rules is rooted in the basic moral tenor of the person.

A disorder "of the heart" occurs whenever a person prefers a value of a lower rank to a higher rank, or a disvalue to a value.

The term Wertsein or value-being is used by Scheler in many contexts, but his untimely death prevented him from working out an axiological ontology. Another unique and controversial element of Scheler's axiology is the notion of the emotive a priori: values can only be felt, just as color can only be seen. Reason cannot think values; the mind can only order categories of value after lived experience has happened. For Scheler, the person is the locus of value-experience, a timeless act-being that acts into time. Scheler's appropriation of a value-based metaphysics renders his phenomenology quite different from the phenomenology of consciousness (Husserl, Sartre) or the existential analysis of the being-in-the-world of Dasein (Heidegger). Scheler's concept of the "lived body" was appropriated in the early work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Max Scheler extended the phenomenological method to include a reduction of the scientific method too, thus questioning the idea of Husserl that phenomenological philosophy should be pursued as a rigorous science. Natural and scientific attitudes (Einstellung) are both phenomenologically counterpositive and hence must be sublated in the advancement of the real phenomenological reduction which, in the eyes of Scheler, has more the shapes of an allround ascesis (Askese) rather than a mere logical procedure of suspending the existential judgments. The Wesenschau, according to Scheler, is an act of blowing up the Sosein limits of Sein A into the essential-ontological domain of Sein B, in short, an ontological participation of Sosenheiten, seeing the things as such (cf. the Buddhist concept of tathata, and the Christian theological quidditas).

Major works (English translations)

  • Philosophical Perspectives. translated by Oscar Haac. Boston: Beacon Press. 1958.  144 pages. (German title: Philosophische Weltanschauung.)
  • On the Eternal in Man. translated by Bernard Noble. London: SCM Press. 1960.  480 pages.
  • The Nature of Sympathy. translated by Peter Heath. New York: Archon Books. 1970.  274 pages. ISBN 0-208-01401-2.
  • Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values: A new attempt toward the foundation of an ethical personalism. translated by Manfred S. Frings and Roger L. Funk. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. 1973.  620 pages. ISBN 0-8101-0415-6. (Original German edition: Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik, 1913-16.)
  • Person and Self-value: three essays. edited and partially translated by Manfred S. Frings. Boston: Nijhoff. 1987.  201 pages. ISBN 90-247-3380-4.

Secondary references

  • Barber, Michael (1993). Guardian of Dialogue: Max Scheler's Phenomenology, Sociology of Knowledge, and Philosophy of Love. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.  205 pages. ISBN 0-8387-5228-4.
  • Deeken, Alfons (1974). Process and Permanence in Ethics: Max Scheler's Moral Philosophy. New York: Paulist Press.  282 pages. ISBN 0-8091-1800-9.
  • Frings, Manfred S. (1965). Max Scheler: A concise introduction to the world of a great thinker. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press.  223 pages.
  • Frings, Manfred S. (1969). Person und Dasein: Zur Frage der Ontologie des Wertseins. Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.  118 pages.
  • Frings, Manfred S., editor (1974). Max Scheler (1874-1928): centennial essays. The Hague: Nijhoff.  176 pages.
  • Kelly, Eugene (1977). Max Scheler. Chicago: Twayne Publishers.  203 pages. ISBN 0-8057-7707-5.
  • Kelly, Eugene (1997). Structure and Diversity: Studies in the Phenomenological Philosophy of Max Scheler. Boston: Kluwer.  247 pages. ISBN 0-7923-4492-8.
  • Nota, John H., S.J. (1983). Max Scheler: The Man and His Work. translated by Theodore Plantinga and John H. Nota.. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press.  213 pages. ISBN 0-8199-0852-5. (Original Dutch title: Max Scheler: De man en zijn werk)
  • Ranly, Ernest W. (1966). Scheler's Phenomenology of Community. The Hague: Marinus Nijhoff.  130 pages.

See also


  1. ^ Heidegger, The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, “In memoriam Max Scheler,” trans. Michael Heim (Indiana University Press, 1984), pp. 50-52.
  2. ^ a b c Max Scheler, Selected Philosophical Essays, "Phenomenology and the Theory of Cognition," trans. David Lachterman (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 137.
  3. ^ Max Scheler, On the Eternal in Man, "The Essence of Philosophy and the Moral Preconditions of Philosophical Knowledge" trans. Bernard Noble (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960), 74.
  4. ^ Max Scheler, On the Eternal in Man, "The Essence of Philosophy and the Moral Preconditions of Philosophical Knowledge" trans. Bernard Noble (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960), 75.
  5. ^ Max Scheler, On the Eternal in Man, "The Essence of Philosophy and the Moral Preconditions of Philosophical Knowledge" trans. Bernard Noble (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960), 77. Scheler criticizes Plato and Aristotle on precisely this point. He writes, "Since...their philosophy defined the primal essence as an objectifiable entity and therefore a possible correlate of knowledge, they had also to regard knowledge as the definitive, ultimate participation in reality which man might attain.... Accordingly they could not but see the highest and most perfect form of human being in the philosophos, the 'wise one'." On the Eternal in Man, 77.
  6. ^ Max Scheler, The Nature of Sympathy, trans. Peter Heath (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 57.
  7. ^ Max Scheler, Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values, trans. Manfred Frings and Robert Funk (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 261.
  8. ^ Max Scheler, Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values, trans. M. Frings and R. Funk (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 104-110. There has been confusion concerning whether Scheler ranks pleasure (the agreeable) as higher than utility or vice versa. The confusion started with Manfred Frings' interpretation that lists utility as a higher value than "sensible values" such as comfort and discomfort. (Cf. Frings, The Mind of Max Scheler, 29-30.) It seems Frings derives this interpretation from Scheler's stratification of feelings which has sensible feelings as the "lowest" type. However, Scheler's list of the rank of values in the Formalism is consistent with his stratification of feeling insofar as there Scheler does not even list utility values as their own place in the rank, that is utility is not a "self-value," but a "consecutive value" founded upon the self-value, agreeable. "...the 'useful' is a consecutive value with regard to the self-value of the agreeable" (104). Scheler's book, Ressentiment, however provides an even clearer statement that Frings is mistaken in his interpretation of Scheler's value-rank. Here, again, he notes that what is called useful is only derived from pleasure as the "basic value." But of course, "basic" does not mean "lowest." Scheler's meaning is clear: "It is true that enjoyment can and should be subordinated to higher values, such as vital values, spiritual values of culture, 'sacredness.' But subordinating it to utility is an absurdity, for this is a subordination of the end to the means. Nevertheless it has become a rule of modern morality that useful work is better than the enjoyment of pleasure. ... Here again, the propelling motive of the hard-working modern utilitarian is ressentiment against a superior capacity and art of enjoyment." Cf. Scheler, Ressentiment, trans. Lewis Coser et al. (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2003), 108. In short, to state that values of utility are higher than values of pleasure is a value-inversion consequent of the capitalistic mind-set which is precisely what Scheler is combating.
  9. ^ a b c Max Scheler, Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values, trans. M. Frings and R. Funk (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 26.

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