Max Scheler

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 Goettingen, where he made and renewed acquaintances with Theodore Conrad, H. Conrad-Martius, Moritz Geiger, J. Hering, Roman Ingarden, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Husserl, Alexandre Koyre, and H. 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 R. 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.

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