Upon Max Scheler’s death, May 19, 1928, Heidegger exclaimed before a series of lecture in Marburg: “Max Scheler is dead. We bow our heads before his destiny. Yet again, a way of philosophy falls into darkness.” And into darkness it did fall. Nevertheless, Heidegger praised his phenomenological contemporary as “the strongest philosophical force in modern Germany, nay, in contemporary Europe and in contemporary philosophy as such.”[1]

Ortega y Gasset said that Scheler was “the first man of genius, the Adam of the new Paradise” of phenomenology. [2]

Edith Stein once stated Scheler most exhibited the “phenomenon of genius” than anyone else she ever met.

But who is Max Scheler? One could place Scheler (1874-1928) historically as the phenomenologist “between” Husserl (1859-1938) and Heidegger (1889-1976). He was not a student of Husserl, but a contemporary; however, whereas his personal and professional relationship with Husserl gradually declined through the course of his career, his relationship with Heidegger (again, both personal and professional) only grew and became more fruitful.

This dynamic in both relationships was in large measure the result of Scheler’s break from Husserlian phenomenology, though he was initially captivated by the Logische Untersuchungen. Later, Scheler developed his own understanding of phenomenology — an understanding more closely related to Heidegger’s own description of phenomenology in the Introduction of Sein und Zeit, than it is to the “pure phenomenology” of Husserl’s Ideen.

Yet Scheler’s phenomenology was not simply Heidegger’s conception either. A distinctive mark of the opposition in conceptions between Schelerian phenomenology, on the one hand, and the Husserlian and Heideggerian brands on the other is how Scheler thought phenomenology could tread on any philosophical terrain, could take on any philosophical question, and should not be constrained by an anxiety concerning “certitude” or “ontology.” Naturally, these are important questions of Scheler, but not the only questions. Even Descartes made inferences of God and the external world based on his absolutely certain foundation Husserl, in contrast, remained trapped in issues of epistemology and could not emerge out of writing ever new introductions to phenomenology. Heidegger was better on this point than his “Master,” insofar as his project was a critique of consciousness in general, and phenomenology is a “science of the being of beings” (SZ, 37). Yet Heidegger himself also remained trapped, for he could not emerge from “fundamental ontology”; he could not see how we could ever raise above the ontological question of the meaning of being into more “ontic” concerns of philosophical anthropology, for example (which is where he criticizes Scheler).

For Scheler, “ontic” questions have not become stale by tradition, and he thought (to use the Heideggerian paradigm) that it is through questions of metaphysics, renewed in every age, that the meaning of being will come to light. Indeed, it did for Scheler, for every essence and existence has a value-being (wertsein). This is the meaning of Being for Scheler and upon this rich source and wellspring, his entire philosophy — epistemology, ethics, philosophical anthropology, metaphysics, etc. — is constructed.

Through these areas of philosophy, Scheler moves within a Weltanschauung of love and life. Love is the source of his epistemology and ethics, and the drive (Drang) of life is the foundation for his metaphysics, and the two meet (Geist und Drang) in anthropology. The personal being is a dialectical melding of spirit and drive–of love and life.

Unfortunately, his untimely death in 1928, at the height of his work in metaphysics and anthropology hindered him from completing some of his most important work, and also from taking a newly received position at the University of Frankfort — the home of the great critical theorists.

The work which would have come out of his time at Frankfort most likely would have been the significant piece keeping Scheler from falling into the phenomenological shadows. For it seems he would have been key in developing a connection between phenomenology and critical theory. A task, I argue, which would not have been as fruitful in the case of Husserl and Heidegger, given their reductive tendencies in phenomenology. Only with Scheler’s phenomenological attitude could this theory of intuition be coupled with social criticism.

[1] Heidegger, The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, “In memoriam Max Scheler,” trans. Michael Heim (Indiana University Press, 1984), pp. 50-52.

[2] Jose Ortega y Gasset, Obras Completas IV, 510.