Max Scheler and Philosophical Anthropology

By Weiss, Dennis M. | Philosophy Today, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Max Scheler and Philosophical Anthropology


Weiss, Dennis M., Philosophy Today


In his 1965 introduction to the thought of Max Scheler, Manfred Frings noted that Scheler belonged to a group of European thinkers, which included Heidegger, Husserl, and Nicolai Hartmann, whose message has remained almost unheard of in the United States.' Thirty years later, little has changed for Scheler. Despite his substantial influence on the development of contemporary European philosophy and the wide scope of subjects he treated, points that Frings noted in 1965, Scheler has not received the kind of attention accorded Husserl and, even more, Heidegger As early as 1961, Hans Meyerhoff notes in his introduction to Man's Place in Nature, "Max Scheler died in 1928 at the age of fifty-four. He was a major thinker in contemporary philosophy; yet he has been a kind of forgotten man, and unjustly so."3 Indeed, while there has been an increased interest in some aspects of Scheler's philosophy, witness the publication recently of a collection of selected writings, On Feeling, Knowing, and Valuing, what some have considered Scheler's greatest work, Man's Place in Nature, has been allowed to go out of print.4 In David Holbrook's 1987 historical survey of the philosophical anthropology movement, "A Hundred Years of Philosophical Anthropology," Scheler warrants only a few brief lines, despite being recognized as the founder of that discipline.5 Over the past several decades there has been a marked decline in Scheler scholarship until today few if any articles on his work are published. I believe that this represents a loss to philosophers and students of philosophy and in this article argue for a renewed interest in the work of Scheler.6

Scheler's philosophical career is generally divided into three periods according to his primary interests. The first period ends in 1912 and is characterized by his interest in Neo-Kantianism and ethics. From 1912 to about 1921 Scheler's work was characterized by his interest in phenomenology and his conversion to Catholicism. The last period ended in 1928 with Scheler's untimely death and is characterized by his dual interests in philosophical anthropology and the sociology of knowledge. It was during this period that Scheler wrote Man's Place, his attempt to answer the questions "What is man?" and "What is man's place in the nature of things?" Man's Place was written as an introduction to a planned and more comprehensive philosophical anthropology which Scheler was unable to complete prior to his death. The essays collected in Philosophical Perspectives were all composed during this period and reflect Scheler's anthropological interests. It was, according to his own testament, his interest in human nature that most preoccupied Scheler. "The questions `What is Man?' and `What is man's place in the nature of things?' have occupied me more deeply than any other philosophical question since the first awakening of my philosophical consciousness" (MP 3).

It is Scheler's work on philosophical anthropology that I wish to consider here. This work has had a considerable influence on the development of the philosophical anthropology movement and remains today of considerable import for any one interested in questions concerning human nature. It is the claim that there are sufficient grounds for renewing our acquaintance with Scheler's philosophical anthropology that I wish to defend in this article. I believe it is in fact worthwhile to bring Scheler's philosophical anthropology to the attention of contemporary philosophers, both in its own right and as a stimulus for a renewal of thought concerning human nature. In much contemporary philosophy over the past twenty years any discussion of human nature, philosophical anthropology, or humanism has been treated with an undeserved disdain. It may now be time to reconsider these issues.

A second concern of this article is with the kind of reception we ought to give Scheler's philosophical anthropology. Scheler's critical reception in the past has tended to be quite polarized, with critics either overlooking obvious shortcomings and praising him to a degree not warranted or dismissing his philosophical views as curious and of little import. …

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