Scheler, Max

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Scheler, Max



Max Scheler (1874-1928), German philosopher and sociologist, was born in Munich. His father came from an upper-middle-class Protestant family which can be traced to the sixteenth century; a number of his forebears had been clergymen and jurists in the city of Coburg. His mother was descended from a Jewish Orthodox family that had been settled in Franconia for many centuries. The clash of religious and cultural traditions in his home may account in part for the strains and tensions in his personality and work.

Scheler studied medicine and philosophy at the University of Jena. There, Rudolf Eucken, the Nobel prize-winning idealistic philosopher and defender of Protestant cultural liberalism, was his most prominent teacher. Scheler’s early work, beginning with his dissertation at Jena (1899), where he became a Privatdozent in 1901, clearly derived from Eucken. The distinctive aspects of Scheler’s thought became apparent only after he moved to the University of Munich in 1907. There he assimilated the phenomenological method: Franz Brentano, who had been Edmund Husserl’s teacher, continued to lecture there in Scheler’s day, and Scheler was also influenced by Husserl’s eminent disciples at the university. Although he was never an “orthodox” phenomenologist, his subsequent philosophizing moved within the orbit of Brentano’s and Husserl’s thought. [See the biography ofHusserl.]

In 1910 Scheler gave up his connection with the University of Munich and moved to Berlin to live as an academically unattached writer. His first major works were written in this Berlin period. Among his close intellectual companions in those days were Walther Rathenau and Werner Sombart. The outbreak of World War i marked a turning point in Scheler’s career. He threw himself with great ardor into the defense of the German cause. The articles and books in which he defended the “German war” with passionately nationalistic fervor brought him to the attention of a wider public than had noticed his more scholarly productions. In 1917 and 1918 he worked at various diplomatic and propagandist^ tasks for the German Foreign Office in Geneva and The Hague. During the war years Scheler, despite his intense nationalistic commitment to the “fatherland,” moved closer to a Christian position in the realm of ethics, becoming finally a Roman Catholic convert.

In 1919 Scheler accepted a call to the chair of philosophy and sociology at the University of Cologne. During the next five years he gradually developed his sociology of knowledge. About 1924 he began slowly to turn away from his previous commitment to Catholicism and eventually left the church. He then began to work on a comprehensive Anthropologie, in which he attempted to expound a kind of vitalistic pantheism that he had come to adopt. But he was not able to develop this new conception fully. He accepted a call from the University of Frankfurt in the beginning of 1928, but he died on May 19, 1928, at the age of 54, before assuming his new post.

Quite different strands of thought were woven into the texture of Scheler’s thought at different times in his intellectual development. He was ever open to new ideas and did not fear to contradict himself. As a consequence, he failed to achieve a full synthesis of his thought but was able to appeal by virtue of his own intellectual restlessness to the restless young intellectuals of the postwar period. An erratic man, he was always to be a somewhat disturbing figure to the more settled members of the academic community while he gained considerable influence among younger sociologists and philosophers. Although he did not found a “school,” he was a major intellectual pathsetter in pre-Nazi Germany as a social critic and moralist and as a sociologist and philosopher. Since World War n the vogue of phenomenology and existentialism in France has led to vigorous interest there in Scheler’s work. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, Scheler was until recently little known, except among scholars interested in the sociology of knowledge or among certain theologians and philosophers. The recent translation of certain of his writings has stimulated wider interest among social scientists.

Work in social psychology. Scheler’s major contributions to the social sciences lie in the domain of social psychology and the sociology of knowledge. His first major work, Ressentiment (1912), contains a comprehensive phenomenological description of this sentiment as well as an attempt to locate the res sentiment—laden man within the social structure. He developed the notion that certain social roles—the spinster, the mother—in—law, the priest, for example—predispose their occupants to ressentiment, an attitude arising from a sense of impotence in the face of the cumulative repression of feelings of hatred, envy, and desire for revenge. In contrast to Nietzsche, who coined the term, Scheler located the breeding ground of res—sentiment in the modern bourgeois and post—bourgeois world rather than in Christianity.

In The Nature of Sympathy (1913), Scheler presented a detailed description of this feeling state. Here he wedded the phenomenological method to the Pascalian endeavor to outline a “logic of the heart.” Scheler attempted to uncover eternal uniformities in feelings and emotions and to show that these, far from being the blind results of mechanistically operating associations, are actually means of knowing which reveal, through their in—tentionality, the situation of man in the universe and the ethical a prioris of a distinct realm of eternal values. As in much of his later work, Scheler defended the thesis that values exist independently of the men who make the evaluations and justified his resolute opposition to all pragmatist, naturalist, or positivist theories of value. Polemics against such philosophical currents, more especially against Kantianism and Neo—Kantianism, form a major part of Scheler’s work. His Formal—ismus in der Ethik . . , first published in 1916 but written before the war (Gesammelte Werke, vol. 2)contains the most elaborate development of his anti—Kantian polemics as well as ethical speculations and sociological considerations that anticipate many of his later sociological ideas. On the Eternal in Man (1921) is the fullest exposition of Scheler’s religious thought and also contains germs of his later sociological views.

The sociology of knowledge. Scheler’s contribution to the sociology of knowledge is to be found in his “Probleme einer Soziologie des Wissens” (1924), two years later expanded in Die Wissensformen und die Gesellschaft (Gesammelte Werke, vol. 8). He attempted to synthesize a Platonic doctrine of eternal immutability of a world of value essences with a comprehensive relativism. He described how different groups of men have striven, each in its socially and historically limited way, to grasp aspects of the eternal sphere of value essences. The infinite variety of subjective a prioris, the fact that different groups, or periods, or individual types elaborate their own forms of knowledge, meant to Scheler that men are striving to attain the value essences in different ways at different times rather than that the immutability of these very essences is limited. Real factors (such as biological, political, or economic constellations) favor or oppose the actualization of ideal factors (for example, moral, religious, or intellectual values), but they can never determine their content. They can only act as “sluice gates of the spirit.” Scheler rejected Comte’s “law of three stages” and stressed that religious, metaphysical, and scientific knowledge do not succeed each other in regular progression but rather coexist in every age, rooted though they are in the conditions of life of different groups of men and different human types. Yet Scheler found a grain of truth in Comte’s dogmatic assertion that there are stages in human history in the sense that in different periods different substructural elements determine the predominant cultural outlook of the age. At the dawn of history, “blood”that is, racial and vital factors chiefly controlled cultural life. After the emergence of the state, political factors moved to the foreground. With the bourgeois age, economic factors have achieved unquestioned predominance. While earlier periods accorded preeminence to religious and metaphysical types of knowledge, the bourgeois age is primarily the age of the scientist.

Scheler’s world view has a deeply aristocratic cast. The idea of hierarchy is central to it, and the equalitarian tendencies of the modern age were therefore deeply abhorrent to him. His doctrine of moral values is hierarchical: pleasure values, those concerning the pleasant or unpleasant, are inferior to vital values, those promoting well—being and health, while these are again inferior to spiritual values; the highest values, however, are of a religious or sacred character. To such a hierarchy of values corresponds a hierarchy of men representing them. The saint incarnates the sacred values at the very top of the hierarchy; the genius stands for the spiritual values; the hero stands for the vital values; even in the lowest world, that of pleasure, “artists of consumption” are needed to guide our uncertain taste.

To the hierarchy of values and of men embodying them there corresponds a hierarchy of forms of sociation. The lowest form is the simple horde, in which emotional contagion and unconscious imitation constitute the only bond. In the vital community, on the other hand, in the family or tribe as well as in classes or professions, conscious solidarity binds the participants. As against the horde, the social here prevails over the individual; each member can easily be substituted for any other. In the third type of sociation, Tonnies’ Gesellschaft, superficial contractual bonds between individuals replace supra—individual goals that are consciously supported. Finally, at the apex of the hierarchy, the Gesamtperson, the “complex collective personality,” represents a type of sociation in which a quintessential solidarity binds the members in a community of love. This last form, of which the church and the nation are central examples, is eminently superior to all others; within it alone can the higher values be realized.

To posit equality between persons and so to level essential differences of value was, to Scheler, the chief aberration of the modern age. His full—scale attack against the post—Christian world, his rejection of liberalism, altruism, humanitarianism, and democracy can best be understood as resulting from his conviction that the modern world with its leveling tendencies has undermined the objective hierarchy of men and values. His cultural criticism hence proceeds from a profoundly elitist point of view. The modern social scientist will of necessity have to sift Scheler’s very real contributions to sociology and social psychology from the antidemocratic ideology in which they are all too often embedded.

Lewis A. Coser

[For the historical context of Scheler’s work, seeKnowledge, sociology ofr; and the biographies ofComte; Husserl; Kant; Tönnies. For discussion of the subsequent influence of Scheler’s ideas, seeExpressive behavior; Perception, article onperson perception; Personality, political; Phenomenology; Sympathy and empathy; and the biography ofMannheim.]


1899 Beitrdge zur Feststellung der Beziehungen zwischen den logischen und ethischen Prinzipien. Jena: Vopelius. → Inaugural dissertation, University of Jena.

(1912) 1961 Ressentiment. Edited with an introduction by Lewis A. Coser. New York: Free Press. → First published as Über Ressentiment und moralisches Werturteil. The second German edition appears on pages 33—147 of Volume 3 of Scheler’s Gesammelte Werke under the title “Das Ressentiment im Aufbau der Moralen."

(1913) 1954 The Nature of Sympathy. Translated by Peter Heath, with an introduction by Werner Stark. London: Routledge. → First published as Zur Phdnomenologie und Theorie der Sympathiegefiihle und von Liebe und Hass. The second German edition was published as Wesen und Formen der Sympathie.

(1921) 1961 On the Eternal in Man. Translated by Bernard Noble. New York: Harper. → First published as Vom Ewigen im Menschen.

1924 Probleme einer Soziologie des Wissens. Pages 5—146 in Max Scheler (editor), Versuche zu einer Soziologie des Wissens. Munich and Leipzig: Duncker Hum—blot.

(1927) 1961 Man’s Place in Nature. Translated with an introduction by Hans Meyerhoff. New York: Farrar; Boston: Beacon. → First published in German in Volume 8 of Der Leuchter.

(1929) 1958 Philosophical Perspectives. Translated by Oscar A. Haac. Boston: Beacon Press. → First published as Philosophische Weltanschauung.

Gesammelte Werke. Vols. 1. Bern (Switzerland): Francke, 1954— . → Thirteen volumes are projected, of which the following have appeared: Volume 2: Der Formal—ismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik: Neuer Versuch der Grundlegung eines ethischen Per—sonalismus (1913—1916) 1954. Fourth edition, revised. Volume 3: Vom Umsturz der Werte: Abhand—lungen und Aufsdtze (1911—1914) 1955. Fourth edition, revised. Volume 5: Vom Ewigen im Menschen (1921) 1954. Fourth edition, revised. Volume 6: Schriften zur Soziologie und Weltanschauungslehre (1923—1924) 1963. Second edition, revised. Volume 8: Die Wissensformen und die Gesellschaft (1926) 1960. Second edition, revised. Volume 10: Schriften aus dem Nachlass (1933) 1957. Second edition, revised and enlarged.


Becker, Howard; and Dahlke, Helmut Otto 1942 Max Scheler’s Sociology of Knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 2:310—322.

Coser, Lewis A.; and Holdheim, William W. 1961 Max Scheler: An Introduction. New York: Free Press.

Dupuy, Maurice 1959 La philosophic de Max Scheler: Son Evolution et son unite. 2 vols. Paris: Presses Uni—versitaires de France.

Gurvitch, Georges D. (1930) 1949 L’intuitionnisme emotionnel de Max Scheler. Pages 67—152 in Georges Gurvitch, Les tendances actuelles de la philosophic allemande: E. Husserl, M. Scheler, E. Lask, N. Hart—mann, M. Heidegger. Paris: Vrin.

Kanthack, Katharina 1948 Max Scheler: Zur Krisis der Ehrfurcht. Berlin and Hannover: Minerva.

McGill, V. J. 1942 Scheler’s Theory of Sympathy and Love. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 2: 273—291. — The entire issue is devoted to Scheler.

Mannheim, Karl (1925) 1952 Sociology of Knowledge From the Standpoint of Modern Phenomenology (Max Scheler). Pages 154—179 in Karl Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. — Contains a discussion of the differences between Mannheim’s and Scheler’s approaches to the sociology of knowledge. First published in German.

Stabk, Werner 1958 The Sociology of Knowledge: An Essay in Aid of a Deeper Understanding of the History of Ideas. London: Routledge; Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Staude, John R. 1967 Max Scheler: An Intellectual Portrait. New York: Free Press.

Scheler, Max

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Philosopher, early proponent of phenomenology;b. Munich, Aug. 22, 1874; d. Frankfurt am Main, May 19, 1928. Scheler's father was Protestant, his mother Jewish. At age 14 he was baptized into the Catholic Church, but there was little direct religious influence upon his formative years. He studied in turn at the universities of Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg, and Jena. At the university in Berlin he was influenced by W. dilthey in the history of philosophy and the philosophy of vitalism, by Carl Stumpf in descriptive psychology, and by Georg Simmel (18581918) in the study of social forms. At Jena, Scheler studied Kant under Otto Liebmann (18401912), and there he met his most influential teacher, Rudolf Eucken (18461926). Eucken introduced Scheler to St. Augustine and Pascal and to "the philosophy of the spirit."

Teaching. Scheler's Jena dissertation of 1897, published in 1899, upheld the thesis that logic and ethics were irreducible to each other. Also in 1889 he submitted as his Habilitationsschrift the work entitled Die transzendentale und die psychologische Methode, in which he attempted to move away from Kant and psychology to a "study of spirit." Then, in 1901, he met Edmund husserl for the first time at Halle. They immediately formed a close and fruitful intellectual bond. Upon returning to the University of Munich in 1907, Scheler joined the so-called Munich Circle of phenomenologists; later, forced to leave Munich, he went to Göttingen to be near Husserl and the members of Göttingen Circle. While in Göttingen, Scheler delivered occasional lectures on problems of ethics and began a number of independent phenomenological investigations (published posthumously in 1933) on death, shame, freedom, the idea of God, and epistemology.

At this time Husserl and Scheler worked together in founding and editing the Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung. Volume 1, part 2, of the Jahrbuch was Scheler's major work, Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik (191316). This is both a summa of much of Scheler's thought and a concrete application of his method of phenomenology to discredit the formalistic ethics of Kant, to describe the given hierarchical scale of values, and to define and describe the ethical meaning of person.

During World War I Scheler served in the German Foreign Office and published a series of books on the war experience. In 1916 he was received back into the Church and for the next six years, his "Catholic period," his writings strongly reflected his Catholic faith. Vom Ewigen im Menschen (Leipzig 1921), the fruit and climax of his Catholic years, was his major work in the philosophy of religion.

In 1919 Scheler accepted the chair of philosophy and sociology at the University of Cologne, where he remained until 1928. By 1922 he began to give public evidence of a rather radical shift in metaphysics that led to a public repudiation of his Catholic faith. His final detailed statement in sociology, as well as his influential theories on the sociology of knowledge, appeared in Die Wissensformen und die Gesellschaft (Leipzig 1926). Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos (Darmstadt 1928) was Scheler's last exposition of his philosophical anthropology and his later views on the incomplete, evolving deity being realized in the spiritual acts of man. Five of his last short works were gathered together in Philosophische Weltanschauung (Bonn 1929). In the spring of 1928, he accepted a position at the University of Frankfurt am Main, where he died suddenly of a coronary stroke at the age of 54.

Critique. The personality of Scheler has usually been interjected into his thought. Though his thought is vigorous, rich, and seminal, it is described as unsystematic, changing, and contradictoryas fits his personality. However, there are strong lines of unity and inner consistency in Scheler's spirit and method of phenomenological philosophy as applied to man and metaphysics. For Scheler, the attributes of being itself are the metaphysical principles of life (Drang) and spirit (Geist). These principles come to climactic tensions in man, to the extreme degree that man becomes the very locus for the actual realization of God. Scheler's brand of phenomenology was in time publicly rejected by Husserl. Yet much of the early vitality of the phenomenological movementin its studies of values, emotions, ethics, sociology, and religionreceived its impetus from Max Scheler.

Bibliography: Works. Gesammelte Werke, ed. maria scheler (Bern 1954 ); The Nature of Sympathy, tr. p. heath (New Haven 1954); Ressentiment, ed. l. a. coser, tr. w. w. holdheim (New York 1961); On the Eternal in Man, tr. b. noble (New York 1961); Man's Place in Nature, tr. h. meyerhoff (Boston 1961); Philosophical Perspectives, tr. o. a. haac (Boston 1958). Literature. m. dupuy, La Philosophie de Max Scheler (Paris 1959); La Philosophie de la religion chez Max Scheler (Paris 1959). j. hessen, Max Scheler (Essen 1948). q. lauer, The Triumph of Subjectivity (New York 1958). p. muller, De la psychologie à l'anthropologie, à travers l'oeuvre de Max Scheler (Neuchâtel 1946). h. spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement, 2 v. (The Hague 1960).

[e. w. ranly]

Scheler, Max

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SCHELER, MAX (18741928). German philosopher. Scheler was born in Munich on August 29, 1874, and died, after a dramatic life filled with personal misfortunes, in Frankfurt on May 19, 1928. He taught philosophy at the universities of Jena, Munich, and Cologne.

His thought is divided into two periods. In the first, up to 1921, he concentrated on value ethics and the strata of human emotions; in the second, he was occupied with metaphysics, sociology, and philosophical anthropology. Both periods are characterized by numerous studies in religion, culminating in the thought of the "becoming" Deity that is realizing itself in human history.

The first period centered on three major works: Wesen und Formen der Sympathie (1913), Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik (19131916), and Vom Ewigen im Menschen (1921). It is characterized by Scheler's phenomenology and, extrinsically, by Roman Catholicism, to which he had been converted in his early life. Scheler's phenomenology is distinct from Husserl's in that (1) Scheler, unlike Husserl, did not conceive consciousness to be absolute but, rather, dependent on the "being of person," and also because (2) for Scheler all regions of consciousness through which entities are given in their particular nature (e.g., as animate or inanimate, etc.) are ultimately based in the region of the absolute, in which each person relates to what he holds to be absolute. This made Scheler the forerunner of phenomenology of religion.

In Vom Ewigen im Menschen and other works Scheler showed how this region of the absolute can be "filled" by various gods, fetishes, or even nihilism. Therefore, he posed a basic question: What is it that gives itself adequatelyand how does it accomplish thisin this region of the absolute of human consciousness? His answer: God as person. For Scheler, God is experienceable only through "love" of divine personhood, not through rational acts. Love itself is an emotive act and prior to perception and knowledge. Love reveals an order (ordo amoris) in which values are "felt." The highest value is the "holy." The human heart, as the seat of love, has its own "logic" (as Pascal held). In the heart, and not in knowledge, God as person is phenomenologically "given."

In his second period, Scheler abandoned this form of theism, without however abandoning the primacy of love. He now conceived the deity as unperfected, becoming, and in strife with itself. He explained this process in terms of two opposite divine attributes: urge (Drang ) and spirit (Geist ). Scheler reached his conclusion about the deity through a "transcendental elongation" of humanity's own nature, that is, by setting humanity's own vital urge, which posits reality, in opposition to the human mind, which bestows ideas on reality. The vital urge is humanity's self-moving, self-energizing life center in which the deity's urge also pulsates. Without urge and drives the mind would remain "powerless" and "unreal." There is no mind unless it is "in function" with the self-propulsion of life. Hence, God's spirit also requires divine urge for its realization. The theater of this divine process is human and cosmic history, in which deity "becomes" as it struggles for its realization. Humanity is called upon to "co-struggle" with this divine becoming.

Scheler died without resolving the question whether or not the theogenetic process would ever reach completion. He held, however, that the uncreated process of the becoming of human, world, and deity had reached a "midpoint" toward both spiritualization and divinization of both humanity and life. In 1926, Scheler envisioned the future as a new, long, and perilous "world era of adjustment" between the too-intellectual and active West and the more passive East. The future, thought Scheler, would reflect gradual balance and less struggle between spirit and urge; history will become "less historical" as God ever more "becomes" in it.


The best introductory reading of Scheler's first period of philosophy of religion remains his own Vom Ewigen im Menschen, 6th ed., in his Gesammelte Werke, vol. 5 (Munich, 1968). The English translation by Bernard Noble, On the Eternal in Man (London and New York, 1960), is not always an acceptable rendition of the German original. It should be read in conjunction with part 2 of Scheler's Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik, 6th ed., vol. 2 of his Gesammelte Werke (Munich, 1980), translated as Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values (Evanston, Ill., 1973) by myself and Roger L. Funk. Scheler's Wesen und Formen der Sympathie (Bonn, 1931) has been translated by Peter Heath as The Nature of Sympathy (London, 1954). Recommended as general introductions are Process and Permanence in Ethics: Max Scheler's Moral Philosophy, by Alfons Deeken, S.J. (New York, 1974); and Max Scheler, by Eugene Keely (Boston, 1977); as well as my own book, Max Scheler: A Concise Introduction into the World of a Great Thinker (Pittsburgh, 1965). Scheler's thought of the second period is available in his Erkenntnislehre und Metaphysik, in his Gesammelte Werke, vol. 11 (Munich, 1979). Metaphysik des einen und absoluten Seins (Meisenheim am Glan, 1975) by Bernd Brenk, and my study "Gott und das Nichts: Zum Gedenken des fünfzigsten Todestages Max Schelers," Phänomenologische Forschungen 6/7 (1978): 118140. A list of currently available English translations of Scheler's works can be found in the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 9 (October 1978): 207208.

Manfred S. Frings (1987)

Scheler, Max

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Scheler, Max (1874–1928) Director of the Institute for Social Scientific Research and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cologne from 1919, Scheler was important in the development of phenomenology, the sociology of knowledge, and the sociology of culture. Under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche and Edmund Husserl, Scheler attempted to avoid the relativism of the sociology of knowledge by adopting an essentialist view of human nature in his philosophical anthropology, which was also shaped by his own Roman Catholic beliefs. He recognized the plurality and relativism of belief systems but argued that human nature was universal. For Karl Marx's ‘base/superstructure’ metaphor Scheler substituted a ‘life/spirit’ dichotomy. He held a pessimistic view of modern industrial society, which he saw as a corruption of genuine values. His principal works were Ressentiment (1912), The Nature of Sympathy (1913), Problems of a Sociology of Knowledge (1926), and Man's Place in Nature (1928). Scheler's contribution to the sociology of knowledge has been unwarrantably neglected.