The early years of Scheler's philosophical career were spent in Jena, which at that time was dominated by idealism of the neo-Kantian variety. However the study of Husserl's Logical Investigations converted him to phenomenology, which he interpreted as essentially realist in character. In 1906 he moved to Munich and joined an already flourishing circle of phenomenologists. But in 1910 he became a private scholar, having had to resign his position in Munich for personal reasons. This situation lasted until his appointment to a Chair in Cologne in 1919. At the beginning of the First World War he wrote his The Genius of War and the German War, in which, like many other intellectuals including Husserl, he saw something positive in war, a kind of spiritual regeneration. After the war, however, he adopted a pacifist position. For a time he was a committed Catholic. However, he never had any time for official Church philosophy, drawing inspiration from Augustine rather than Aquinas. He later distanced himself from Catholicism and even from theism. He died at the height of his powers in 1928, shortly after his move to Frankfurt. His friend and admirer, Martin Heidegger, announcing his death to his own students in Marburg, described Scheler as the most powerful force in contemporary philosophy.
Scheler was not a typical academic philosopher. He was an elemental force, a kind of philosophical volcano. The sheer profusion of his ideas and the lack of any clearly defined unity makes summary difficult. For a large part of his career he described himself as a phenomenologist. What attracted him about Husserl's Logical Investigations was the attack on psychologism and the defence of the possibility of the intuition of essences. He was deeply hostile to the idealistic form which Husserl's phenomenology subsequently assumed. Scheler's phenomenological realism is distinctive in the epistemological priority it gives to feeling and emotion over 'theoretical' modes of consciousness. Perhaps the best example of Scheler's phenomenology at work is his Formalism in Ethics (1913), the work for which he will probably be best remembered. In this work he defends what would nowadays be called a form of moral realism. It is partly a negative work, designed to demonstrate the inadequacies of the most influential attempt to combat subjectivism and relativism, viz. Kantian ethics, that 'colossus of steel and bronze' as Scheler calls it. The formalism and consequent emptiness of Kantian ethics rests on a failure to distinguish between goods as things that are desired and aimed for and values. Kant is absolutely right in thinking that ethics with its unconditional requirements on conduct cannot be based on goods. But it does not follow that it cannot be based on values. It is a mistake to suppose that what is a priori concerns form only. Values are a priori and moreover exhibit a hierarchical order which is itself a priori. There is clearly some affinity here with the intuitionism of Moore and Ross (Scheler was familiar with the former). But whereas the apprehension of value is something essentially intellectual for these British intuitionists, for Scheler values are disclosed in feelings. The denial of cognitive significance to feelings, he thinks, rest on the mistaken view that feelings are simply internal occurrences, lacking intentional structure. It would be interesting to investigate, from a Schelerian perspective, how far Hume's subjectivism rests on an inadequate understanding of the nature of feeling.
Scheler also applied phenomenology to notable effect in the field of religion. In his On the Eternal in Man (1921), written when he was still a professing Catholic, he describes the essential structures of religious consciousness. Such phenomenological description embraces both the 'object' of such consciousness, as intended, and the various forms of religious 'act' which make