Philosophical anthropology between naturalism and idealism. An inquiry into the alternative conception of philosophy by Scheler, Plessner and Gehlen in 1900-1940 Germany

Begin - Einde 
2023 - 2027 (lopend)
Vakgroep Wijsbegeerte en Moraalwetenschap



The emergence of ‘Philosophical Anthropology’ at the beginning of the 20th century is symptomatic of its time in several ways. First of all, the term can refer either to a subdiscipline of philosophy, or to a new approach to philosophy. This double meaning captures the conflict between the university faculties (philosophy, medicine, biology, sociology …) at play when Philosophical Anthropology, i.e., the new approach to philosophy, was launched. The emergence of new scientific disciplines (ecology, biology, sociology, anthropology and psychiatry) shook the boundaries of these faculties. The founders of Philosophical Anthropology, Scheler and Plessner, and “cum grano salis” (Arlt 2001, 69) Gehlen, were in the middle of the turmoil and considered the question of the human being to be the unifying point of departure of all the sciences at that time. Scheler and Plessner separately published fundamental work about their new approach in 1928, which is generally considered the birth year of Philosophical Anthropology as a new paradigm in philosophy (Fischer 2009; Arlt 2001; …). They aimed to found a new approach that was neither naturalistic, nor idealistic. More specifically, they wanted to avoid reducing the problem of their time, i.e., the question of the human being, to either a naturalistic, or idealistic reading. Because, as Plessner explicitly states in his preface to the second edition of Die Stufen des Organischen und der Mensch (1928), when one reasons from either one of these realms to the other, one falls into a “double truth” (1928, 40). That is, one would lose the everyday experience of unity, i.e., ‘pre-problematic intuition’ (Ibid.). Consequently, the authors sought to find common ground in order to comprehend and justify experience. At the same time, they wanted to give a foundation that was capable of comprehending both the natural, as well as the human sciences. In search for their common ground, Plessner, Gehlen and Scheler, albeit to different degrees, saw the notion of ‘life’ as the starting point through which the specific place of the human could be determined.

Thus, Philosophical Anthropology ought to be considered as an extension to what is called Lebensphilosophie. The underlying hypotheses of this research project are: 1) that the rise of the ‘problem of the human’ is embedded in the scientific developments of that time; 2) that Philosophical Anthropology contains a normative idea on the place of philosophy in relation to other sciences; 3) that philosophical anthropology, in its attempt to formulate a new approach to philosophy, simultaneously formulates a new positive account of ‘the human’ (and the way in which we can study it scientifically).