Scheler, Max Ferdinand°

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SCHELER, MAX FERDINAND ° (1874–1928), German philosopher and sociologist. Scheler was born in Munich. His father came from an upper middle-class Protestant family and his mother from an Orthodox Jewish family that had lived in Franconia for centuries. Scheler himself converted to Roman Catholicism during World War i.

Scheler studied philosophy at the University of Jena; there his most prominent teacher was the idealist philosopher Rudolf Eucken, whose ideas overshadowed Scheler's early work. He also taught at Jena from 1902 to 1907, when he left to teach at the University of Munich. After moving to Munich Scheler turned to phenomenology, and his subsequent work reflected the influence of Edmund *Husserl and Franz Brentano. In 1910 Scheler went to live in Berlin as an academically unattached writer and formed close friendships with Werner *Sombart and Walther *Rathenau. During World War i he became a fervent nationalist and defended the "German war" with passionate intensity. In 1919 he accepted a chair at the University of Cologne, where he developed his views in the sociology of knowledge and also reconsidered his religious views. As a result of the latter, he left the Roman Catholic Church and elaborated his own doctrine, which asserted a vitalistic pantheism.

Scheler was an eclectic thinker who wove many disparate strands of ideas into the texture of his own work. Moreover, he was always open to new ideas and was not afraid to contradict his own earlier ones. His major theological work, in which he attempted to fuse phenomenological approaches with Catholic doctrine is Vom Ewigen im Menschen (1921; On the Eternal in Man, 1960). His work in social psychology began with Ueber Ressentiment und moralisches Werturteil (1912; Ressentiment, 1960) and was further extended in his Zur Phaenomenologie der Sympathiegefuehle (1913; The Nature of Sympathy, 1954). In his last work Scheler attempted detailed phenomenological descriptions of different feeling states emulating the Pascalian endeavor to outline a "logic of the heart." He opposed his holistic psychology to the scientific and analytic psychological approach that prevailed in his day.

Scheler's major philosophical work, Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik (2 vols., 1913–16, 19212), represents an attempt to build a new ethic on the basis of phenomenology in opposition to Kantian ethical formalism. His major contribution to the sociology of knowledge, Die Wissensformen und die Gesellschaft (1926), aims at a reconciliation of the Platonic doctrine of the immutability of the world of values with the relativist approach to values found in many modern doctrines. Scheler argues that, though men in different periods and different social strata elaborate widely different forms and standards of knowledge, this simply means that they all strive, each in historically and socially determined ways, to grasp particular aspects of the eternal and immutable sphere of value essences.

A restless spirit, Scheler had wide appeal, especially to the youth, in the hectic and unsettled days of the Weimar Republic. His work had a major influence on French existentialism and phenomenology after World War ii. Only later did it become more widely known in England and America, where it attracted the attention not only of philosophers and sociologists but also of theologians. His writings were collected in Gesammelte Werke (10 vols., 1953–60).


M.S. Frings, Max Scheler. A Concise Introduction into the World of a Great Thinker (1965); Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (March 1942); M. Dupuy, Philosophie de Max Scheler, 2 vols. (1959); J.R. Staude, Max Scheler (Eng., 1967).

[Lewis A. Coser]

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Scheler, Max Ferdinand°

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