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Summary Article: Scheler, Max (1874-1928) from Encyclopedia of Time: Science, Philosophy, Theology, & Culture

Max Scheler was among the most prominent and widely discussed philosophers of the German-speaking world in the early decades of the 20th century. Though Scheler did not explicitly outline a specific philosophy of time, the concept of “timelines” of life and being is important for his phenomenological and anthropological work and needs to be understood in the context of the general development of his thinking.

The Life

Born within a predominantly Jewish family background (his mother was orthodox Jewish, his father had converted from Protestantism to Judaism), Max Scheler developed an interest in Catholicism in his youth in Munich and formally became a member of the Catholic Church in 1899 at the age of 25.

After briefly studying medicine and psychology at the universities of Munich and Berlin, where he also studied under Wilhelm Dilthey and Georg Simmel, he changed to philosophy, which he continued to study in Jena. At the University of Jena he studied mainly under the philosopher and Nobel Prize winner (for literature) Rudolf Eucken (father of the later influential economist Walter Eucken). There Scheler also finished his Ph.D. and taught from 1900 to 1906. During that time he met Edmund Husserl and came in contact with the philosophical thought of the phenomenological circles, to which he became more closely connected after 1907 in Munich, where he had moved after a private crisis that forced him to leave the University of Jena in 1906. From 1907 to 1910 Scheler taught in Munich and was in close contact with phenomenological thinkers Alexander Pfaender, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Theodor Lipps, and others. After Scheler lost his position in Munich, he gave private lectures in Göttingen, where Edith Stein was among his students, and worked later for the German government. During that time Scheler published some of his major works, including Phenomenology and Theory of Sympathy and Formalism in ethics and Conformai ethics of Values. Defending a value ethic and a view on humankind as characteristically related to a theistic-understood God (and creator), Scheler became one of the most influential Catholic intellectuals. After World War I the mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, later chancellor of Germany, was involved in Scheler's appointment as professor of philosophy and sociology at the refounded University of Cologne, where he taught beginning in 1919. In that time a major shift took place in Scheler's thinking; he turned from the Christian and Catholic tradition, denied the concept of a personal creator-god, and developed the idea of a god in the process of becoming, for which humankind is crucial (highly important for that concept is his famous Man's Place in the Universe, in which Scheler outlines his late anthropology). In 1928 he accepted a new position in Frankfurt but died early in that year. His work was actively suppressed under the Nazi regime, but in the postwar period it underwent a revival and has been translated into many languages.

The Work

Scheler did not explicitly outline a specific theory of time in his oeuvre, so that his comprehension of time needs to be understood in the context of the general development of his thinking. Despite the discontinuities in his thinking, Scheler emphasizes that the understanding of anthropology is the steady center of his interest and his philosophy. In his first important period he holds a specific phenomenological view, which leads him to an understanding of man as primarily an ens amans, a loving being, characterized by his ordo amoris, or order of love, that directs him to the sphere of values. This core dimension of human existence follows his ownintelligible“logic of the heart.” Prior to all other forms of cognition is the perception of value in a specific act of feeling (wertnehmen). Scheler distinguishes five strictly hierarchical ranks of values: (1) an absolute sphere of holiness; (2) a sphere of values of person, culture; (3) ethics, vital values; (4) values of utility; and (5) values of sensual pleasure. His ethical concept is based on the ethical good being realized by a creative process of intending the realization of higher values as preferred to values of the lower spheres, whereas evil results from a “disorder of preferences,” mistaking lower values for the sphere of the absolute. In its leaning and orientation to the realization of value, human life is a werde-sein (“being in becoming”) and the experience of time is primarily the medium of a process of becoming, developing, and growing. In his later period Scheler embedded his concept in the idea of a great “drama,” in which a value-connected but originally powerless spirit forms and directs the vital Drang (urge, impulsion), both being original aspects of the ground of being. This process of Durchdringung (penetration) of spirit and vital Drang is the evolution of a yet unfinished, “becoming deity,” which can be observed in the spiritual development of humanity.

In this context of his late philosophy, Scheler speaks of “absolute time” as the origin of the phenomenon of timeliness, which is given with this evolutionary character of being as a cosmic “becoming.” The concept of absolute time results from this evolutive constitution of being (as werde-sein) as a “space” for the process of development. Measurable, objective time, the “clock-time” of our day-to-day understanding, derives from the experienced phenomenon of “absolute time” by an act of extending the tendency to self-alteration and resistance against it to a general concept of reality.

See also

Anthropology, Husserl, Edmund, Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Simmel, Georg, Time, Phenomenology of, Values and Time


  • Frings, M. S. ( (1997).). The mind of Max Scheler. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press.
  • Spader, P. ( (2002).). Scheler's ethical personalism: Its logic, development, and promise. New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Jung, Harald
    Copyright © 2009 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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