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Friday, January 8, 2016

Max Scheler, Aristotle and JPII

Fr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P., a Thomist, explains my points in this post much more succinctly than I could.  Here's a quote of his that sums up my thoughts below: "The methodical presentation of the moral ethos that Aquinas gave was suspended upon the basic structures of human psychology."  I strongly recommend listening to his lecture on Virtue here before reading the rest.

In 1954 Wojtyla became professor of ethics at the University of Lublin in Poland.  His courses centered around St. Thomas Aquinas and Max Scheler, with much attention also given to Kant (in particular his personalistic norm).  Seeing as how Scheler was such an influence on JPII, here then is my assessment of Scheler in relation to Aristotle:

The fundamental concepts[1] of Max Scheler’s noölogical method are: “World of work” (Arbeitswelt) and “form of spiritual life” (Geistige Lebensform).

 If I were to re-state the above summary about Scheler’s work Die transcendbntale und die psychologische Methode, I would use the Benedictine “Ora et Labora” which may serve as a more familiar definition (λόγος)[2] of Scheler’s German verbiage.  Max Scheler’s use of “Lebensform”—literally “form of life”, closely equates to Aristotle’s εἶδος (or character formation) and St. Benedict’s Regula (or rule of life).  That is to say, Max Scheler observed two major influences on the human person: “work” and “form of life”.  Of these, I am most interested in the latter as it concerns the character (εἶδος) of unique persons.  However, interestingly enough, his identification of “work” closely aligns with Aristotle’s ἔργον and St. Benedict’s “labora”.

The reason why I refer to Regula Sancti Benedicti and Aristotle, is to provide a historical framework for Scheler’s modern attempt to synthesize philosophy and psychology in Die transcendbntale und die psychologische Methode.  After all, Scheler divides his work into three parts[3]: the first being the historical survey of philosophic method, the second devoted to Arbeitswelt, and the third to Geistige Lebensform (as opposed to mere psychological method).  As I have said, of these three, I want to focus most on the third in order to provide a reason/definition for why formation is necessary and indeed unavoidable for all human persons.  In other words, Scheler’s “form of life” occurs especially in the mind of every human person[4], whether he or she consciously participates in it or not (i.e. a conscious effort to grow in virtue {ἀρετή}).  I am not going to go into the extensive subjective questions Scheler raises with psychology or the interiority of the human person per se.  Instead, I simply intend to argue for a noölogical defense of the formation of the human person.

To simplify, it is often said of a unique and impressive person, “He or she is quite a character!”.  Such a reference is not to be confused with “caricature”, as in a larger-than-life or play-acting personality.  Rather, the use of the word character, or “building character” is in reference to the “form of life” that a person has undergone.  Aristotle understands this to be the result of the practice/function (ἔργον) of virtue (ἀρετή) or the lack thereof, i.e. virtue is either understood in human beings to be potential or actual and the fully formed human being has virtue actually[5].  Therefore, I am arguing that we recognize either a potentiality or an actuality of virtue in persons as “character building or formation”.  St. Benedict’s “Ora et Labora” adds a theological component somewhat lacking in Aristotle, and Scheler’s critique of the contemporary psychological method would agree with St. Benedict based on the following:

Scheler condemns the psychological method of starting from definite and original data such as ‘here and now given feelings’ as a pure fiction, and charges the method with confusing mere psychic existence with living Spirit as expressed in the concrete relations of society, in law, religion, etc., at any stage of culture[6].

In other words, Max Scheler converted to Catholicism in large part because he recognized the Geistige Lebensform he desired in the religion.  That is, his own decision making was based on his noölogical method as divided into his understanding and assessment of the historical, Arbeitswelt, and Geistige Lebensform.

John Paul II found in Scheler a suitable complement to Aquinas for developing much of his own philosophical thought.  Aquinas, of course, drew largely from Aristotle--which explains why I referred to him most often in the above.  When adding the virtues of faith, hope, and love to Aristotle’s more natural assessment, it is easy to begin to see the potential in the study of individuals’ own virtues inter-subjectively.  In other words, each person can gain a degree of understanding of the level of virtue that he or she has attained with self-knowledge.  Likewise, a person can determine how deficient a virtue is in his or her life, even in relation to God.  I have JPII and his predecessors to thank for such understanding.   

[1] Die transcendbntale und die psychologische Methode: Eine grundsützliche Erürterung zur philosophischen Methodik. Von Dr. Max F. Scheler. Leip zig : Verlag der Dürr'schen Buchhandlung. 1900. Pages, 178.The Monist, Vol. 12, No. 4 (July, 1902), pp. 633-634 Published by: Oxford University Press
[2] "In Aristotle’s view the thing defined by a definition of x is the FORM of x. Hence ‘the logos of x’ is often equivalent to ‘the form of x’."  All references to Aristotle taken from Terence Irwin and Gail Fine.  Nicomachean Ethics and Glossary.  Hackett Publishing: Cambridge 1995.
[3] W. B. Lane: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 10, No. 5 (Sep., 1901), pp. 568-570. Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review
[4]Verlag der Dürr'schen Buchhandlung.  “Mind, and therefore also its constituent ‘intellect,’ is at the beginning of the quest for its contents a perfectly problematic conception.”
[5] Terence Irwin and Gail Fine.  Nicomachean Ethics and Glossary.  Hackett Publishing: Cambridge 1995 "Form is the actuality that realizes the potentiality of the matter."
[6] W. B. Lane: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 10, No. 5 (Sep., 1901), pp. 568-570. Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review

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