Monday, June 29, 2015

On the Eternal in Man

On the Eternal in Man by Max Scheler, translated by Bernard Noble, 448 pages

Max Scheler is not a well-known philosopher, despite being admired by thinkers as influential and diverse as Martin Heidegger and St John Paul II.

This book is composed of five complementary but distinct texts.  The first, "Repentance and Rebirth", consists of an analysis of guilt and repentance.  For Scheler, repentance is not oppression by guilt, but liberation from guilt.  It is repression which is true enslavement by guilt.  In this contrast, conversion is revealed as a necessary part of a human life.  In the course of his analysis, Scheler develops a phenomenology of time which reveals the past and future bound up inextricably in the present.  In the second text, "The Nature of Philosophy and the Moral Preconditions of Philosophical Knowledge", Scheler attempts to establish the autonomy of philosophy as, above all, the science of Being, rather than the backstop of epistemology - if philosophy is the handmaid of theology, she is queen of the sciences, if not, she is Science's slave.

The central work takes up half of the book's total length.  In "Problems of Religion", rejecting both neo-Scholastic and neo-Kantian approaches, Scheler conducts an analysis of the nature of metaphysics, natural theology, and revealed theology, and sketches an outline of natural theology.  Much of the text is taken up with criticism of other approaches to natural theology, particularly those of Kant, Schleiermacher, Fichte, and Comte.  Central to Scheler's insights is the primacy of the divine love over the role of God as Logos, as revealed in Creation.

The final two works were written and published just as the First World War ground to an end.  "Christian Love and the Twentieth Century" seeks a Christian understanding of the roots of the war and a program for recovery.  Scheler sees bourgeois individualism and nationalism as having long ago replaced Christianity as the moral center of Western life, aided by indifference on the part of Christians to the public sphere.  Only by reclaiming the social aspects of Christianity - inextricable from a religion of love - can Christians reclaim their homelands.  "The Reconstruction of European Culture" proposes a political solution to the threat of repeated war - Scheler's vision of an united Europe with Germany as its center of gravity, able to stand up to both Russia and the US, with a federal system that allows for local communities and regions to exercise considerable autonomy within the central framework, which resembles in many respects the ideal of the European Union.

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