Max Scheler (August 22, 1874 - May 19, 1928) was a German philosopher known for his work in phenomenology, ethics, and philosophical anthropology. Scheler applied phenomenology, developed by Edmund Husserl, to the field of ethics and established phenomenological ethics. Scheler was called by Jose Ortega y Gasset "the first man of the philosophical paradise." Scheler argued that the human “heart,” or seat of love, accounted for the essence of human existence, rather than ego, reason, will, or the ability to receive sensory data. Like Blaise Pascal, Scheler declared that feelings and love have their own form of logic, different from the logic of reason. The reality of values preceded knowing. Values could only be felt, just as color can only be seen, and not thought. Reason could only organize values in a hierarchy after they had been experienced. Scheler developed a theory of value, in which values were ranked in a five-tier hierarchy. Ethics were based on a person’s pre-rational inclination towards certain values. Whenever a person preferred a value of a lower rank to a higher rank, or a disvalue to a value, the result was a “disorder of the heart.”
In 1954, Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, defended his doctoral thesis, titled An Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethics on the Basis of the System of Max Scheler.
Max Scheler was born in Munich, Germany, on August 22, 1874, to a Lutheran father and an orthodox Jewish mother. As an adolescent, he turned to Catholicism, probably because of its conception of love; during his forties he became increasingly non-committal.
Scheler studied medicine in Munich and Berlin, and philosophy and sociology under 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. His adviser was Rudolf Eucken, a 1908 Nobel Prize winner for literature and a correspondent of William James. Throughout his life, Scheler retained a strong interest in the philosophy of American Pragmatism.
From 1900 to 1906, Scheler taught at the University of Jena. In 1902, he met the renowned phenomenologist E. Husserl for the first time in Halle. Scheler was never a student of Husserl's, and their relationship remained strained, but he was influenced by Husserl’s ideas. Later, Scheler was in contact with several of Husserl's disciples during his years (1907–10) as a professor at Munich. Scheler was somewhat critical of Husserl’s Logical Investigations (1900) and Ideas I (1913), and he also harbored reservations about Being and Time, by Heidegger, whom he also met at various times.
From 1907-1910, Scheler taught at the University of Munich. There he joined the Phenomenological Circle which had formed around M. Beck, Th. Conrad, J. Daubert, M. Geiger, D. v. Hildebrand, Th. Lipps, and A. Pfaender. A personal matter put him in an unfair position between the predominantly Catholic university and the local socialist media, and resulted in the loss of his Munich teaching position in 1910.
From 1910 to 1911, Scheler lectured at the Philosophical Society of Goettingen, and made other and renewed acquaintances there with Th. Conrad, H. Conrad-Martius, M. Geiger, J. Hering, R. Ingarden, D. von Hildebrand, E. Husserl, A. Koyre, and H. Reinach. Edith Stein was one of his students. Scheler unwittingly influenced Catholic thinkers to this day, including Stein and Pope John Paul II, who wrote his Habilitation and many articles on Scheler's philosophy.
After his first marriage had ended in divorce, Scheler married Märit Furtwaengler, the sister of the noted conductor, in 1912. During World War I (1914-1918) Scheler was drafted, but discharged because of astigmatism of the eyes. In 1919, he became professor of philosophy and sociology at the University of Cologne, where he stayed until 1928. Early that year, he accepted a new position at the University of Frankfurt, and looked forward to meeting Ernst Cassirer, Karl Mannheim, Rudolf Otto, and R. Wilhelm, to whom he sometimes referred in his writings. In 1927, at a conference arranged by Graf Keyserling in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, Scheler delivered a lengthy lecture, entitled Man's Particular Place (Die Sonderstellung des Menschen), published later in a much abbreviated form as Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos (Man's Situation in the Cosmos). His well known oratory style and delivery captivated his audience for almost four hours. Toward the end of his life, many invitations were extended to him, including some from China, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States. His health kept him landlocked, however, as his doctor advised him against travel, and he had to cancel his reservations on the Star Line.
At that time Scheler increasingly focused on political development. He had met the Russian emigrant-philosopher N. Berdyaev in Berlin, in 1923. Scheler was the only scholar of rank in the German intelligentsia who warned in public speeches, as early as 1927, about the dangers of the both Marxism and the growing Nazi movement. Politics and Morals and The Idea of Eternal Peace and Pacifism were subjects of talks he delivered in Berlin during 1927. His analysis of capitalism revealed it to be a calculating, globally expanding "mind-set," rather than an economic system. While economic capitalism may have had some roots in ascetic Calvinism, Scheler detected its real motivation as a modern, sub-conscious insecurity expressed in an increasing need for financial and personal security, protection, safety, and rational manageability of all entities. Max Scheler denounced the subordination of the value of the individual to this global tendency, and predicted a new era of culture and values, which he called "The World-Era of Adjustment."
Scheler also advocated the establishment of an international university in Switzerland. He was supportive of programs such as "continuing education," and of what he seems to have first called a "United States of Europe." He deplored the gap existing in Germany between political power and mind, a gap which he considered to be the source of an impending dictatorship, and the greatest obstacle toward establishing a German democracy. Five years after his death, the Nazi dictatorship (1933-1945) suppressed Scheler's work.
After Scheler's death in 1928, Heidegger and Ortega y Gasset both noted that all philosophers of the century were indebted to Scheler. Many considered Scheler's sudden death to be an irreplaceable loss to European thought.
Max Scheler’s thought is usually divided into two periods of development. The first period, covered by Volumes 1 through 7 of his Collected Works, covers the years between his dissertation (1897) and the writing of On the Eternal in Man (1920-1922). During this time, Scheler applied his understanding of phenomenology to value-ethics, feelings, religion, politics, and related topics. During the second period, from 1920 through 1928, Scheler rejected the notion of a creator-God, and posited instead a process of a universal, cosmic becoming in absolute time, through increasingly inter-penetrating interaction between an uncreated vital energy, or “Impulsion,” and “Spirit,” which formed impulse into existence.
Scheler’s first two major works, The Nature of Sympathy and Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values, dealt with human feelings, love, and the nature of the person. He demonstrated that the ego, reason, and consciousness were all attributes of the human person and that there could be no pure ego, pure reason, or pure consciousness outside a human context. The human “heart,” or seat of love, accounted for the essence of human existence, rather than ego, reason, will, or the ability to receive sensory data. The human being was essentially a loving being (ens amans). Scheler described many types of feelings and showed that love was at their center. Like Blaise Pascal, Scheler declared that feelings and love have their own forms of logic, different from the logic of reason.
The center of Scheler's thought was his theory of value. According to Scheler, the value-being of an object preceded perception; the axiological reality of values exists prior to knowing. Values could only be felt, just as color can only be seen. Reason could not think values; the mind could only organize values in a hierarchy after they had been experienced. Values were independent of the things that caused them to be felt; a particular value could be experienced with a variety of objects. Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values contended that there were also moral values of good and evil that related directly to the person, and never to objects. The countless varieties of value experiences had a hidden order of their own, an order based on love ("ordo amoris"), quite different from an order created by reasoning. Scheler argued that values were objective, unchanging , a priori, and non-formal, and ranked them, and their opposites (“disvalues”), in a hierarchy of five levels:
Scheler’s ethics was based on what he called “pre-rational preferring,” or the person’s initial inclination towards certain values. A “disorder of the heart" occurred whenever a person preferred a value of a lower rank to a higher rank, or a disvalue to a value.
Since emotions and feelings can sometimes be insincere, inconsistent, or subject to deception, Scheler wrote a number of studies on value deceptions, including Ordo Amoris, The Idols of Self-Knowledge, Repentance and Re-Birth, and Ressentiment. Every person was both an individual and a part of a community with which he shared a common experience of value. Many people did not have the capacity to “feel” higher values and therefore could not participate in the types of community devoted to those values, but everyone should be allowed access to what they did value. Scheler believed that values could be better advanced by an aristocracy rather than a democracy.
On the Eternal in Man marked the bridge to his second period, during which Scheler turned towards metaphysics and the philosophy of science. Scheler defied the notion of a creator-God and instead suggested that Deity, Man, and World form one “becoming” process of unification, taking place in absolute time. Absolute time was a function of self-generating life and was inherent in all processes of self-regeneration, aging, and self-modification. The process of a universal, cosmic becoming took place through increasingly inter-penetrating interaction between an uncreated vital energy, or “Impulsion,” and “Spirit,” which directed impulse into existence and ideas. Both God and humanity were continually evolving towards completion and total unity.
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