The work entitled On the Eternal in Man by Max Scheler sets out to provide a phenomenological account of the ens a se, or that which exist external to this world, and which has come to exist on its own premises. Scheler warns the reader that none of his metaphysical views or theories can be found here, since these have been addressed in earlier works, most notably in his anti-neokantian works. He is anti-neokantian because Kant’s works are pervaded with a Protestant fixation on self-experience as well as on the reduction of humans to mere pieces of machinery instead of technicians themselves. Kant’s version, in short, is thoroughly megalomaniac, since it indeed claims to paint a ‘true’ metaphysical picture of the world. In this sense, Scheler’s work falls within the drawback to what is.
At the same time, as I hope to show in this summary, Scheler can be said to be self-contradictory to a degree that it is uncertain if he means that to go outside or beyond metaphysics – looking for the real God – must let go of a need to prevent self-contradiction. Obviously, the more-than 400 pages of text will not allow a summary to do much right to it by sketching the salient dichotomies in a few paragraphs. I must thus give up at the start of this text any attempt to even come close to the love for the objective world he conveys by way of self-contradiction.
It is eye-opening to read Scheler’s account of the State as master of “the economic individual, of all institutions and organizations making for the just distribution of wealth, but servant to the spirit, and in particular the servant of the soul and its individual goal in eternity”. Similar to Niklas Luhmann, he ‘criticizes’ the antagonistic criticism and world-hostility that his contemporaries in Positivism were adamant about, by emphasizing friendliness, devotion and love for the objective world. He adds quite convincingly that “philosophy (…) from Descartes to Kant, has been, with all its forms of ‘idealism’ and subjectivism, the exact opposite of the type of mind and spirit which is needed to lighten the future path. At God and at the world, which it conceived as only a thing to be shaped, worked, controlled by man, this philosophy blinked skeptical eyes” (Scheler, 1960: 447). Indeed, skepticism – even now – can be said to be as vibrant an overall attitude towards religion as in Descartes’ days. Scheler’s main point, therefore, may be to use a not-so scientific method for the approach of religion.
But the main thing that any reader will take away from this work is, besides a relentless love for Europe in the name of Germany, a kind of natural flowing of the pen. It is almost as though Scheler was moved himself when writing – and indeed August Brunner calls him “emphatically an intuitive” writer in the foreword. It is in the guise of such a writer that seemingly a pathway is opened that can show the reader how to take into his own spirit the neo-Platonic Augustinist experience of the essential experience of divinity. Because of this fact, I believe it goes too far to speak of a pure and direct application of the phenomenological method, especially in the way this method is currently understood.