Salta il menù
Many thinkers of ancient Greece shared the idea that those who devote themselves to philosophy are called upon to a change that involves their whole person. As it has been well highlighted by Pierre Hadot,1 according to this view, the purpose of philosophizing is a spiritual exercise that changes the personality of the philosopher, his way of living and not only his way of thinking. Philosophy is the result of the individual entire spiritual life, and it corresponds to “a transformation of our vision of the world and to a metamorphosis of our personality” so that the philosopher “re-places himself within the perspective of the Whole”2. This presupposes a conversion that is not an experience that happens once and produces definitive changes forever: it rather requires the practice of spiritual exercises, which must be taken up again and again3. For this reason, the philosopher is not the wise, but he who progress toward wisdom. Hadot argued that the idea of philosophy as a way of life was lost with medieval and modern philosophy, but in more recent times it has been rediscovered by philosophers such as Bergson, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger.4
The conversion to philosophy for ancient philosophers always included moral maturity. Philosophers, in other words, had to combine brilliant intellectual talents with the integrity of life. This raises an interesting philosophical question that remains topical even if applied to the philosophers of our times: does the fact of not possessing moral integrity prejudice the possibility of being an authentic philosopher? For example, plagiarism against studies made by others, the attempt to ruin the career of a competing researcher in order to favor one’s own protege, or the fact of ignoring the rules of blind peer review to select the papers to be published in a scientific journal, are unethical behaviors that sometimes happen in the academic world, even among scholars of philosophy. Must these facts lead us to conclude that their authors are not authentic philosophers, or can we believe that moral inconsistency is however compatible with being a true philosopher? In what follows, I will address the problem in the light of the thought of Plato and Max Scheler. Plato offered us the first detailed investigation of the essence of the philosopher and his education. Twenty-four centuries later, Scheler proposed again, but in the light of the phenomenological method, an analysis of the nature of the philosopher. Both included the question of the relationship between the activity of the philosopher and moral life. For this reason, I think that we can search for an answer to our question in their thought. In his essay The Nature of Philosophy and the moral Preconditions of philosophical Knowledge,5 Scheler argues that the question of “who is the philosopher?” precedes the question of “what is philosophy?”. There is a general prejudice in theory of knowledge, he says, namely the opinion that “it is easier to define a sphere of relevanceor a problem than to describe or descry the type of person who possesses genuine competence in the sphere and for that problem”. According to Scheler, on the contrary, the “method of determining a sphere of relevance by reference to the type of person is both more certain and less equivocal in its results than any other procedure”6. It is much easier for us to decide whether a man is a true artist and a true saint than to decide what art and religion are, therefore it must be much easier for us to decide what a philosopher is than to decide what philosophy is.
Scheler was not the first one to think in this way. At the beginning of Plato’s dialogue the Sophist, Theodorus introduces to Socrates a stranger from , as “a disciple of Parmenides and Zeno, and a true philosopher”7. A little while later Socrates asks the stranger to explain to whom the three terms sophist, statesman, and philosopher can be attributed.8 The stranger consents to this request and we see that the following dialogue is dedicated to defining who is the sophist and the other Platonic work Statesman – which is explicitly presented as a prosecution of the discussion held on the sophist – is an attempt to clarify the nature of the politician.9 But there is no trace of a third work, on the nature of philosopher. Scholars then speak of an unfinished trilogy that comprehends the Sophist, the Statesman and the third dialogue which was announced but never written, whose title was supposed to be Philosopher.10 The question then is: why did not Plato write this dialogue?11 If we take seriously what Plato says in his Seventh Letter and in Phaedrus on the primacy of oral language over writing,12 namely that according to him the most important things should not be written, we find a good answer to the question. The third dialogue had to be kept for oral teaching, in which one can write directly in the soul of the disciple. Even though Plato did not write the dialogue that he had announced, he is the first thinker in the history who made a deep investigation on the question of the philosopher, giving excellent contributions to the issue. We find insights about that in quite a few of the platonic works: for example, in Theaetetus, the philosopher has been compared to a midwife who helps souls in giving birth to the truth,13 in the Symposium and Phaedrus, he has been described as a lover, while in the Seventh Letter Plato mentions the long way the philosopher must follow if he wishes to attain the highest truths and the tragic destiny which can occur to the philosopher who commits himself to the political life.14 But the most significant text on the essence of the philosopher, his talents, mission, and education, has been inserted in the central Books of his masterpiece, the Republic. If there is a text in which Plato placed the content of the unwritten dialogue on the philosopher, that text is to be found here.15 At the end of the fifth Book Socrates says that “there might be a reform of the State if only one change were made, which is not a slight or easy though still a possible one”16. This change is that either the philosopher should become a king, or the kings and princes of this world must improve themselves within the spirit and power of philosophy. His interlocutor Glaucon asks for a foundation for this assertion, and as well as a definition. He wishes to know which kind of human being “ought to study philosophy and to be leaders in the State” and which human beings “are not born to be philosophers, and are meant to be followers rather than leaders”17. We see that Glaucon asks for a definition of the philosopher, rather than of philosophy. We can then say that both Scheler and Plato consider the understanding of who the philosopher is as a condition to understand what philosophy is. One may object that to call someone philosopher you already need to have some idea of what philosophy is. This is true, but these thinkers’ point of view is that being a philosopher is much more than being a man, who simply works in philosophy.
In his work on the Nature of Philosophy, Scheler frequently refers to Plato. He says that we have to “dwell awhile on the two basic definitions wherewith Plato opened the door to philosophy for all times and all men”. These definitions sound as follows: (1) Philosophy is “an integral movement of the inmost personal Self, such as is not within the capacity of the common-sense outlook or of any cognitive desire which is founded therein”; and, (2) the movement “is an Act, which in essence is a love with a special character”18. In other words, there is a mental attitude that underlies all philosophical thinking and this can be described as: “a love-determined movement of the inmost personal Self of a finite being toward participation in the essential reality of all possibles”19. Though this act of love is a personal act of the whole man, still we cannot forget, Scheler says, that “philosophy is knowing and the philosopher is one who knows”20. From the methodological point of view, then, every philosophy is intellectualistic. If this is denied, philosophy itself is denied.21 But according to Scheler that philosophy is knowing does not mean that its primal problem is knowledge. This view was derived from Descartes and his followers: due to them “the problem of knowing has displaced from the front rank the problem of the being of things in themselves”. Scheler writes that in judging whether a Plato, Aristotle, Descartes or other man is a “true philosopher”, one is to be guided by the idea of “a certain universally human pre-eminently intellectual basic attitude to things, an attitude of which we have … a mental image enabling us, to say whether an object conforms to or deviates from it”22. In saying this he has in mind one of the basic principles elaborated by modern phenomenology – that you can go back to things in themselves only when you get the proper attitude toward the objects of your investigation. Therefore, only he, who can assume the attitude of the philosopher can know philosophical objects. It seems to me that there are three main features in Plato’s idea of the philosopher’s attitude: a) the attitude involves an opening of the mind to the being in itself which requires a conversion of the whole man, b) only the man who is gifted by some rare qualities and receive a proper education can get to this opening and c) this opening implies an act of love. As regarding the opening of the mind to the being in itself, we said that in the fifth book of The Republic Glaucon asked for a definition of the philosopher. Socrates answers this request in a few steps. The first definition of the philosopher is based upon the following argument. Socrates takes for granted the fact that – according to the etymology of the Greek word philo-sophos – the philosopher is a lover of wisdom. He who loves any class of goods desires the whole class and not only a part of it. So, lovers of wine “are glad of any pretext of drinking any wine” and ambitious men are glad to command any kind of army and to be honoured by any kind of people. The philosopher then “is a lover, not of a part of wisdom only, but of the whole”23. And we have also to admit that he who dislikes learning is not a philosopher, “just as he who refuses his food is not hungry, and may be said to have a bad appetite and not a good one”. The philosopher, then, is he “who has a taste for every sort of knowledge and who is curious to learn and who is never satisfied”24.
This definition is considered as insufficient by Glaucon, because it is too extensive and it would follow that any kind of curious people, for instance, musical amateurs, should be named philosophers too. Thus, Socrates makes a second step: philosophers are “lovers of the vision of truth”25. Glaucon is still unsatisfied and claims a further explanation. Then Socrates recalls the theory of ideas and says that the lovers of sounds and sights have a sense of beautiful things, but are incapable of seeing or loving the essence of beauty: therefore, these lovers have no knowledge, but mere opinion. On the contrary, he “who recognizes the existence of beauty in itself and is able to distinguish the idea from the objects which participate in the idea” is awake, that is, he has knowledge.26 Therefore “those who love truth in each being are to be called philosophers and not lovers of opinion”27, and this implies to get at the things which are in the highest sense. The attitude of the philosopher for Plato consists in the opening of the mind to that which is eternal and perfect. As Scheler rightly saw, according to Plato what leads to this opening of the mind and makes the difference between philosophers and non-philosophers is a change of attitude toward reality. We find the best description of this change in the image of the cave, in the sixth Book of Republic. A group of human beings lives in an underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light. They have been there from their childhood and have their legs and necks chained. They can only see the shadows of the things carried by some men passing along a wall behind them, and the echo of the noises coming from outside. Suppose, says Plato, that one prisoner “is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck around and walk toward the light”28. To indicate this turn, Plato uses the word periagogé, the same that the Christians will use to mean conversion.29 As soon as he is liberated, the prisoner will suffer sharp pains, and then he will learn that all that he saw and heard before was an illusion.30 But then he will get a clearer vision and attain knowledge first of the image of the things and afterward of the things in themselves. Finally, he is forced into the vision of the sun itself.31 We can see that the movement of liberation involves: i) the cooperation of someone else who has a pedagogical task; ii) a conversion of the whole man; iii) an askesis of the philosopher from obscurity to full light, from chains and illusion to freedom and truth. To understand the content of this turn, we have to look at the qualities which according to Plato the true philosopher is supposed to possess. We find the most extensive description of them in the Sixth Book of the Republic. The first quality of the philosopher has been already discussed with the definitions in the fifth Book and will be confirmed in the image of the cave we just mentioned: “philosophical minds always love knowledge [science] of a sort which shows them the eternal substance not varying from generation and corruption” and “are lovers of all true being; there is no part whether greater or less, or more or less honourable, which they are willing to renounce”32. The second quality which philosophers must have is truthfulness: philosophers “will never intentionally receive into their mind falsehood, which is their detestation, and they will love the truth”33. Third, the love for truth runs all of the philosopher’s desires to wisdom and virtue. Therefore, the philosopher “will be absorbed in the pleasures of the soul and will hardly feel bodily pleasure”34. Then, he will be temperate and courageous; he won’t think much of human life and won’t account death fearful; he will also be harmoniously constituted, just, gentle, and sociable. We see that all these qualities are moral virtues. A fourth class of qualities philosophical nature must have is related to intellectual talents. The true philosopher has pleasure in learning, a good memory and a bright mind. In other words, according to Plato the philosopher embodies the highest human ideal, the man of perfect virtue, which can be described by the idiomatic phrase “handsome and brave” (καλς κγαθός).35 Such a perfect nature is “a rare plant which is seldom seen among men”36. But since “numberless and powerful causes tend to destroy these rare natures” and distract them from philosophy, the gifted soul needs a proper education.37 This training is supposed to take care both of the mind and the body.
Together with the mind’s opening to truth and the possession of all virtues, the third feature of Plato’s definition of the philosophical attitude is love. According to Plato love can have two meanings, expressed by the Greek terms Eros and filia. Plato speaks of the philosopher as a lover in the sense of Eros mostly in the Symposium and Phaedrus, and as a lover in the sense of friendship in the Lysis. The two meanings have in common the idea that love has an intermediate and binding function. In the Symposium, Plato tells us that as a son of the god Poros (Plenty) and Penia (Poverty) Love-Eros is a half-god, intermediate between the divine and the mortal, keen in the pursuit of wisdom: it is then identified with the philosopher. Neither gods are philosophers, for they are already wise, nor the ignorant is a philosopher, for he has no desire for wisdom: “Lovers of wisdom […] are those who are in a mean between the two”38. In a passage of the Lysis Plato also says that philosophers are neither good nor bad, since both the bad and the good do not love wisdom any more, the bad because it is completely unlike to good, whereas the good is already good.39 Here Plato shares the Greek view both of love as a desire for something which one lacks and of the coincidence between wisdom and moral goodness. As regarding love as filia, in the Lysis Plato says that friendship is love for good, and this moves us towards “some first principle of friendship or dearness which is not capable of being referred to any other, for the sake of which, as we maintain, all other things are dear, and, having there arrived, we shall stop”40. In the Gorgias, Plato also says that “he who is incapable of communion is also incapable of friendship” and “communion and friendship and orderliness and temperance and justice bind together heaven and earth and gods and men, and that this universe is therefore called Cosmos or order, not disorder or misrule”41. There is a communion which binds all things according to a measure, and this in virtue of the highest measure, which makes of the world a cosmos. We can say, then, that the philosopher’s love in the sense of filia is related to the participation to the structure of being, which is due to the relation of all things to the absolute. For Plato love as friendship (filia) is therefore both the strength which moves the philosopher to the absolute and the force which binds all things. But the force which moves the philosopher is also called Eros by Plato. Eros can be either good or bad, the good Eros has a divine origin, the bad one a human origin.42 According to Plato, there are bad and good philosophers, but only the latter – who, we know from the Sophist, have a divine origin – are true philosophers, the former mere usurpers. Authentic love, according to Plato, implies a necessary relation to the Good, since “there is nothing which men love but the good”43.better still, all men love nothing else than “the everlasting possession of the good”44.The philosopher’s love, then, is primarily to the Good itself. Furthermore, it is not enough to speak of the love of wisdom, but wisdom is in itself love, namely everlasting love for the good. Love is stimulated by beauty and this is the reason why it aims at wisdom, since “wisdom is a most beautiful thing, and Love is of the beautiful”45.The philosopher must learn to appreciate beauty in all thing, since beauty is how the good reveals itself in the world. Then by its nature love is also a desire for procreation, either of body or soul. It is not the love of the beautiful only, but it is also “the love of generation and of birth in beauty”, because “to the mortal creature, generation is a sort of eternity and immortality”46.And we know from the Theaetetus that the philosopher is a midwife which helps the souls to give birth to truth. Finally, we know in Phaedrus that love is a kind of madness, but “the madness of love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings”,47 namely, it has a divine origin. According to the image of the winged charioteer in Phaedrus, through this divine force, the soul can get to the highest truth and therefore to eternal happiness.
Scheler shares Plato’s view according to which the attitude of the philosopher a) aims at the participation in essential reality as his goal, and b) is an act of the whole man which presupposes some moral conditions and above all an act of love. On the other hand, Scheler thinks that the coming of Christ has been “the greatest [and more rich in consequences] experience of European humanity”48 which has determined a radical change of “the structure of experience of the world, of one’s neighbor, and of divinity”. For Scheler Christian philosophy has been at the beginning just “Greek philosophy with Christian ornamentation” and only with Augustine and his school do we find concerted efforts to turn the content of this experience into philosophical concepts. Scheler’s reference to Augustine, then, deeply affects his reading of Plato. As regarding the first feature of the philosopher’s attitude (a), Scheler says that Plato’s idea that in philosophy man seeks participation in Reality is a requirement lying in the true essence of philosophy, namely in its objective structure and intrinsic possibilities of knowing it. Scheler also follows Plato as much as he says that in seeking to lift himself up to participation in Reality, the philosopher aims at a direct union between his being and that Reality and this means to get his own self-perfection. There is indeed a strict relationship between the philosophical attitude and man’s attempt to transcend himself as a finite natural being. Whether the philosophical knowledge proceeding from the human subject is able to achieve the ultimate participation or not, this does not change the essence of the philosophical attitude. It rather depends upon the content of the primal essence of all essences. Since Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy defined the primal essence as an objectifiable entity and therefore a possible correlate of knowledge, these thinkers also regarded knowledge as the ultimate participation in Reality which man might attain through spontaneous acts of the mind. Then, the supreme form of human being was, according to them, the philosopher. For Scheler “in the Christian experience there occurred a radical reversal of the position of love and knowledge, value and being”49, which Augustine and the Augustinian tradition (Malebranche and Pascal) grasped as a primacy of love. This can be seen both in the structure of human faculties and in the essence of divinity. As regarding God, the complete change with the Christian era was that the primal Reality was thought and felt to consist in an endless activity of creative and merciful love. Thus, philosophy could no longer attain its purpose, which was cognitive participation in the absolute Reality, unless the inmost human personality first takes part in the primal entity inasmuch as it is the seat of love and action. Scheler even thinks that self-revelation of God and the answer of faith by man are necessary conditions for the knowledge of God’s personality and existence. Philosophy has, therefore, to acknowledge itself as the “handmaid of faith”, and the status of the “philosopher” or “wise man” has to take second place after that of the “saint”50. Even in Augustine’s view, love makes up the essence of God. Plato’s ideas are seen as the “thoughts of God”, exemplars for the creating will: creation is “out of love”, and “according to ideas”. Then, the love of God is the source of any relation to man and the world. The process of salvation begins with an act of redemption, whose consequence is a communication of knowledge, the revelation which is necessary for salvation. And this communication “is based on love of the communicator for the communicant”51. Moreover, religious knowledge “is no longer a spontaneous act of the individual but is transferred to the initial movement of God Himself, to the redeeming will of God and His self-revelation in Christ”52. In the Christian experience, love descended from God to man, and man is taken up into the essence of God.53 As regarding the attitude of the philosopher as an act of the whole man (b) according to Scheler “even in the minutest subsidiary problem of philosophy the whole man philosophizes”54. He, therefore, agrees with Plato’s idea that philosophical attitude presupposes some moral conditions. Still, his view depends upon the Christian idea of the relation between being and value, knowledge and love, which is quite different from Plato’s view.
Let’s consider first theoretical knowledge in general. The basic Christian experience shows us a primacy of love, “not only over knowledge, but also over willing and striving”. In other words, the most basic tendency of the human spirit is the act of taking an interest of what is valuable, and this act is essentially linked to the acts of love and hate. Therefore, these acts are the most primary acts that ground all other acts: “love first moves knowledge, and then, mediated by knowledge, love is enabled to move striving and willing”55. Without an interest in something, there can be no sensation, no representation, no memory of this something. And our representation and perception follow the direction of our interest (love and hate). Finally, any increase of intuition or meaning depends upon an increase of our interest in the object.56 We should consider that, according to Scheler, in human experience value qualities are received as data before any value-free side of the object. Therefore, “any value-free or value neuter entity is in the first place such for us by virtue of a more or less artificial abstraction, whereby we set aside the value-quality which is given not merely together with but before the object”57. No information of a neuter entity can become the content of a perception, memory or expectation, unless we have been given beforehand the value quality of the entity. In any progress of knowledge – says Scheler – the objects “must first be loved or hated before they may be intellectually known, analyzed and judged”58. In other words, there is a priority of value over entity as objects of perception. But this does not mean to state an intrinsic priority of value over being, since we are speaking of the way by which man knows. Scheler opposes the ancients as regarding the idea that positive value itself is not just a mere degree of being, though the highest degree, and says that all instances of the perception and cognition of values need not to be regarded as a mere function of the cognition of object.59 Nevertheless, he thinks that Socrates and Plato were right in believing that there is a relationship between antecedent conduct and value-illusion. Certain wrong practical ways of life “draw down our sense of values and relative worth and thereby lead us into blindness of values or illusions of value-perception”. On the other hand, “good conduct comprises not only the willed thing’s objective goodness but also the clear perception of its objectively based value-primacy as best”. Therefore, “theoretical knowledge of things – as distinct from all grasp of values via emotional acts (intimations, preferences, loving) – is contingent on some relevant practical moral condition”60. Once we understand that the antecedent conduct motivates value-illusion, we can see – says Scheler − the importance of authority and education. Through them, the human being can be trained to will and act in such a way that these motives of illusion are removed from his value insight, if he is at all to attain a true value-insight and thereafter will and act following its dictates. As Plato, Scheler also strongly maintained that a man has first to learn in a so to say blind way to will and act rightly and well, objectively speaking, before he is in a position to see good intuitively as good and intuitively to will and actualize what is good. When we consider this view in its relationship to the philosopher, we see that for Scheler the conversion of the philosopher is mainly directed to the overcoming of his natural worldview (Weltanschauung). In the natural Weltanschauung “the subject takes the environing world of the moment, or all possible human-environmental worlds, to be the world-being”. Therefore, when he says that the attitude of the philosopher has a moral nature, Scheler mainly means that a combination of moral acts is needed to get rid of the pragmatic attitude natural to all common-sense view and to make possible contact with the realm of the true entity. While for Husserl the philosophical attitude is a consequence of an epistemological technique of “bracketing” and “reduction”, for Scheler it is a moral stance.61 Scheler believes that the conversion is related to some specific feature of the philosopher – namely the conversion from the pragmatic attitude and the turn from the knowledge of relative being to the knowledge of absolute being.
Scheler says that there are three basic moral acts then that lead to philosophical cognition: the whole spiritual person must love the absolute value and being; the natural self and ego must be humbled; self-mastery must be achieved.62 Scheler adds in a footnote that “in principle these acts can be performed in all possible grades of human being”, therefore any person can attain the object of philosophy, as much as it performs the philosophical attitude. The third moral act, self-mastery, leads us from inadequate knowledge, toward full adequacy of cognitive insight. Thus “as a means for restraining and objectifying the instinctual impulses” this act counteracts natural concupiscence and is the “moral condition of adequate perception of objects in the cosmic sphere”. Since, as opposed to philosophy, science moves in the sphere of contingency, even when it seeks the universal laws of nature, it requires only self-mastery as a moral precondition for its knowledge. Its basic ethos is neither love nor humility, but self-domination for the sake of potential world-mastery. The basic ethos of the philosopher, on the contrary, is love and self-mastery guides him only as a heuristic principle, as a means to attain knowledge of essences. We can consider the issue of the role of love for the philosopher in two senses, as a general loving attitude in philosophical knowledge as such, and as a specific love for absolute reality. Since love and hate are the most fundamental emotional acts through which we experience the world of values, embracing all other kinds as interest, feeling of, preference, etc., “they also constitute the common roots of our practical and theoretical behavior”63. Scheler’s view differs from all doctrines of the primacy of will or intellect, since it asserts “a primacy of love and hate not only over all forms of volition but over all forms of 'representation' and judgment”64. Scheler then criticizes that which he calls a specifically bourgeois judgment, namely that “love makes one blind” and therefore “that all true knowledge of the world can rest only on holding back the emotions and simultaneously ignoring differences in value of the objects known”. Modern thinkers state a conflict between amateur and expert. On the contrary, we should recover, as Pascal and a few others did, the idea that “love first discloses objects”65.
On the other hand Scheler opposes Plato’s idea of love since he thinks that for Plato as well as for the Greeks in general, love is purely intellectual, “a transition from a lesser to a greater knowledge”, “the drive and longing of not-being for being, of the bad for the good”66. The relationship between love and knowledge depends upon the relationship between being and value, since for the Greek being is the greatest value.67 Accordingly, Plato reduced love to the striving of incomplete knowledge for the complete. This view has many consequences. This love involves only limited creativity. It creates, says Scheler, only in the sense of a desire for immortality, of a re-producing (in knowledge, in the work of art), of a remembering (doctrine of reminiscence)68. Then, for the Greek salvation is only self-salvation of the individual through knowledge. And divinity is only the object of love, but not in itself loving. Finally, the idea that love in intuitive knowledge of the unity in being is a kind of “egoism of the whole”, according to which the only independence of ad individual is that of being merely a part of the whole. Scheler opposes Augustine’s perspective to that of Plato. Augustine combined the doctrine of the human faculties – with the primacy of love over knowledge – and the doctrines of creation and revelation – with the primacy of revelation and redemption over man’s efforts to participate in essential reality. This affects the nature of the philosopher. Knowledge is a dialogue between man and the world, in which man – through the act of taking an interest – asks with love to the object “to speak” and the object answers with a “giving of itself” or a “self-revealing”. And in this revelation “the world comes to its full existence and value”69. There is a similarity – Scheler says – between human knowledge derived from love and redemption through Christ: as much as Christ leads people back to God, man can lead the things which are known with love and interest to their full existence and value. When plants, for instance, are looked at by humans, they are “redeemed” from their particular existence and closeness into themselves. Scheler finds an image of this point in that prayer which is not anymore a subjective, cognitive activity, but “includes the experience of the answer, of a 'self-giving, self-revealing' of the object that is viewed with love and interest”, and has become an “intimate conversation of the soul with God”70. We can see that also for Plato love and self-mastery are qualities of the philosopher, whereas humility is considered by Scheler as a specific Christian virtue. Nevertheless, Scheler states a relation between humility and that philosophical wonder, which we find in Greek philosophers. The first who defined philosophy as wonder was Plato, followed by Aristotle.71 Plato in Theaetetus says that “wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder”72. By describing the primal insights of any philosophical knowledge Scheler says that when we speak about “doubt about something”, we already postulate that there is something, that there is not nothing. And “the situation that there is not nothing is at one and the same time the object of the first and most direct self-evident insight and the object of the most intense, the ultimate philosophical wonder”73. According to Scheler, this wonder is an emotional response that cannot come to fruition until it has preceded by the “adoption of that humility which abolishes the taken-for-granted, self-evident character of being as a fundamental fact and even undermines it as an obvious fact”74. Therefore, insight into this first proposition depends on one’s having consciously lived in the undoubted objective possibility that there is nothing, so that the existence of any entity has seemed a “miraculous repealing” of that possibility, “an eternally astonishing roofing of the abyss of absolute nothing”75.
The second insight concerns the difference between entities which are only by virtue of a dependence on another entity, and entities which are in an absolute way. The absolute entity is the entity through which every relative entity has and holds its attributive being.76 The illumination of this second insight depends upon one’s awareness of both being and relative non-being in all contingent entities. Here again we see the role of the moral attitude, for any insight shall shine only upon he who “in the value-aspect of the world and of himself, is conscious that besides the relative 'pride' adherent to the being and positive value of everything there is a measure o peculiarly fitting 'humility', lying in its relative non-entity, hence negative value. And this man will be one whose love is clearly directed to what has absolute and positive value (the summum bonum) as to a special good divorced in his mind from all relative good”. In other words, there is a “natural pride” in man, which hinders clear perception both of the supreme positivity of the fact “there is something rather than nothing” and of the relative “nothingness” in things. This pride is a natural and instinctive self-overvaluation and self-confidence of existence which even lead to the denial of one’s own mortality: man is not aware of a time when he was not and will not be. And for Scheler “only when we have learned to marvel that we ourselves do not not-exist shall we also be able to receive the full illumination of the two insights and their primacy in self-evidence over all others”77. Whereas we agree with Scheler on the fact that humility is a Christian virtue,78 still here we also find an echo of that “know thyself” (gnothi seauton) which had been engraved on the front of Delphi’s temple and Socrates, the teacher of Plato, transformed into a philosophical principle.79 According to that, only the philosopher who acknowledges his nothingness can participate with the divine until he “holding converse with the divine order, becomes orderly and divine, as far as the nature of man allows”80. And this is still valid, even for those who think that the participation the philosopher can attain of the truth and the good is not the highest form of participation man can achieve. We can understand now why Scheler liked Plato’s statement that “only the soul of the philosopher or the soul of the lover” may acquire wings and that “the soul which has never seen the truth will not pass into the human form”81.
We can finally address the issue that we formulated at the beginning of this paper: in the light of Plato and Scheler’s understanding of the philosopher, should we deduce that the he who wishes to devote oneself to philosophy must possess moral integrity, otherwise he will betray his vocation? We do not claim that to define himself as a philosopher one needs to be morally immaculate and can never be wrong. To err is human. Rather, we want to investigate whether being a moral hypocrite is compatible with being a true philosopher and above all a moral philosopher.82 By hypocrite, we mean the one who acts against the ethical principles he considers valid, while at the same time he excuses his behavior and truly believes that his actions do not affect the good image he has of himself. The moral hypocrite is not indifferent to morality, rather he uses two different measures to judge one’s behavior and that of others: on the one hand, he expects his neighbor to conform to ethical standards, on the other hand, he justifies himself when he does not follow the rules. We wish to ask: can those who are not willing to live ethically still be defined as true philosophers? Before we attempt to answer, let us start by saying that we agree with the assumption that moral rectitude is a condition for the flourishing of the human being as a person, therefore the moral hypocrite fails to reach its human fullness. This thesis is already presupposed in the Socratic affirmation according to which it is better to suffer injustice than to do injustice because doing injustice makes man unjust and this is the worst thing that can happen to him. Since even philosophers are human beings, this applies to them as well. From what we have seen, also Plato and Scheler agree with this premise. However, the problem that interests us does not refer to the philosopher as a person, as a human being, but to the philosopher as a professional, precisely as a philosopher. We have seen that for Plato the philosopher must receive a long education and must acquire all the virtues. Thanks to these he achieves that spiritual conversion that allows him to know the highest truths and become similar to what is divine. According to Plato’s view, the moral hypocrite is incompatible with the philosopher, because he does not really possess the qualities required to be a true philosopher, but only simulates them. The moral hypocrite is a sophist, a usurper and not a philosopher. In the light of Scheler’s description of the philosophical attitude and its conditions, however, it seems that the answer to our question must be also negative. We have seen that for Scheler the moral upsurge of the whole man which is required to become a philosopher consists in the overcoming of the natural view of the world - which is relative and contingent -, to reach philosophical knowledge - which is of the absolute and essential. Scheler emphasizes the relationship between empathy and knowledge, to affirm the primacy of the knowledge of values over the knowledge of being. Then, he states that there is a link between the moral condition and the knowledge of values since the wrong course of life leads to blindness to values. Misconduct, therefore, should hinder conversion to philosophy. This rule should be valid to an eminent degree for the moral philosopher, who investigates what is the good. Nevertheless, it applies to every philosopher, because, as we have seen, for Scheler in any philosophical problem, the whole man philosophizes. Therefore, based on Scheler’s arguments we should conclude that being a hypocrite is incompatible with being a true philosopher.
However, on this point, it may be interesting to consider, in addition to Scheler’s philosophical insights, also his life. As we have seen, Scheler thinks that there can be no philosophical knowledge without the moral conditions of self-mastery, humility, and love. First of all, even if Scheler states that self-mastery is necessary for attaining the philosophical genius, the witnesses from those who knew him personally agree that he did not possess this moral quality. Rather, he was overrun by the strength of his unbridled drives and by the tendency to come up with a justification for anything that he wanted. Scheler attributed this inability to dominate his instincts to the extremely permissive education he received as a child. To this it must be added, however, that Scheler did not fight this lack of control over his instincts and desires since he used to say that he “did not want to treat himself pedagogically”83. This intemperance caused him the health problems that led him to death at the age of 54. As far as humility is concerned, we learn from the testimonies that Scheler was humble in his relationship with others, for example, he wasn’t a boriose professor, he was always kind and respectful in his relationships, and he didn’t hold a grudge against the wrongs he suffered. However, he was also reluctant to recognize his own mistakes, because he became attached to the ideas that arose spontaneously in his mind and was ready to deny the reality of the facts even in the face of the most blatant evidence. Finally, Scheler points to love of the absolute as the third moral act of the philosophical attitude. He had a powerful desire to know, which dominated him in every event of his life. On the other hand, he had to fight with an unbridled thirst for novelty, which prevented him from analyzing his insights in depth and calm.84 Hildebrand adds that Scheler never did the work of philosophical analysis and his writings are full of erroneous citations, dubious interpretations, and imprecisions. Then, according to Hildebrand, Scheler was not moved by the genuine desire to possess the truth, but rather by an unquenchable thirst of new impressions. When he knew an object, he did not build a closer communion with it, allowing oneself to be penetrated by that thing. Rather, he became bored easily and to be stimulated by new impressions was more important for him, than the effort required to verify whether those impressions corresponded to reality.85
If we give credit to these sources, we must admit that there is a contradiction between what Scheler claims as a philosopher and his way of life. He was unable to overcome the contradiction, so he was trapped in a form of moral inconsistency. Some of the scholars we mentioned saw a decline in Scheler’s philosophy after 1921 when he moved away from the Catholic Church, and they attributed this decline also to this contradiction in life. Perhaps this was also due to a personality with psychic frailties. However, not even the most critical of his acquaintances have ever denied that he was a true philosophical genius.86 In her Autobiography, Edith Stein writes that “one’s first impression of Scheler was fascination” and that in no other person she has “ever encountered the phenomenon of genius as clearly”87. After Scheler’s death José Ortega y Gasset wrote that “the first man of genius, the Adam of the new Paradise […] was Max Scheler”, and also that he was “the thinker par excellence”, so that “Max Scheler’s death leaves Europe without the best mind it possessed”; however, he also noticed that “his work [was] characterized by the strangest pair of qualities: clarity and disorder”88. In his portrait of Scheler Dietrich con Hildebrand, writes that he was not simply a learned man, one who was like many others in that he had accomplished something in this or that area of philosophy, but rather that he was a phenomenon which broke out of the pattern of the usual teachers of philosophy and was a philosopher in a more full and authentic sense of the word a rich, living, spiritual personality.89
In the eulogy that Martin Heidegger spoke at the beginning of his lecture on Mai 21, 1928, at Philipps University in Marburg, two days after Scheler’s death, he said that he “was the strongest philosophical force in modern Germany, nay, in contemporary Europe and even in contemporary philosophy as such”90 and that “there is no one among today’s serious philosophers who is not essentially indebted to him, no one who could replace the living possibility for philosophy which passed away with him”91. And he added: “Decisive for and characteristic of Scheler’s nature was the totality of his questioning. Standing in the midst of the whole of beings, he had an unusual sensitivity for all the new possibilities and forces opening up. He had a peculiar irreprehensible drive always to think out and interpret things as a whole”92. John Oesterreicher writes that he was “avishly gifted”, but “his genius was his weakness”93. We can say, then, that his extraordinary talents were indeed destroyed by the lack of self-mastery, but precisely in the sense that this was at the origin of the health problems that caused his premature death. We leave the question open whether this intemperance diminished Scheler’s philosophical talent in the last years of his life.94 What we must consider, however, is that for Scheler, perhaps more than for most other philosophers, it was not possible to separate life from Philosophy. Nicolai Hartmann writes that “he did not need to convert life into an object first, not to philosophize about life: with him, philosophy flowed from the fullness of life from the beginning. Life and philosophizing were not two separate things to him”95. In Exemplars of Person and Leaders Scheler relates the genius to the possibility of being a model, a charismatic personality that influences others by attraction, without demanding obedience.96 Then he affirms that the philosophical genius is a particular type of genius, that realizes the category of values that are linked to knowledge.97 Scheler seems to think that the philosopher must be a model, someone who is followed in virtue of his personal qualities, as Socrates was for Plato. In the light of what he wrote, then, we should conclude that moral coherence, at least as regarding humility, love, and self-mastery, is a condition that allows the philosopher to fully exercise his cognitive abilities. This condition, however, should be combined with the natural talents that the philosopher must possess, which are mostly intellectual, but also with the education which trains the philosophical abilities. Scheler is proof of the fact that, if you are a philosophical genius, moral incoherence does not prevent excellent philosophical contributions from being made. However, in the light of Scheler’s thought itself, being a moral hypocrite is incompatible with being an authentic model.
One of Scheler’s favorite students, Landsberg, in a seminar he taught in 1935 at the University of Barcelona, precisely on the nature of philosophical act according to Nietzsche and Scheler, said that “the philosopher is a man who, out of the love of truth, transforms his life into a series of experiences and dedicates himself through thought to the investigation of the meaning and unity of these experiences”98 He also added: “Knowledge of truth transforms our being and is a core of our personal life: the existential interpretation of knowledge and Philosophy itself. Man finds himself dissipated in the multiplicity of the world, and yet the tendency towards unity inevitably belongs to him. From dispersion in non-existence, one tends towards concentration in true existence, in truth. It is the philosophical man who, in the fullness of experience, seeks the unity of the mystery.99 Scheler was unable to turn this quest for unity into his way of life. Maybe that’s why those who knew him described him as always unhappy and restless. Maybe it was precisely the choice to elude the commitment to educate himself which was the reason for this dissatisfaction. Maybe Scheler was wrong in refusing himself to practice those spiritual exercises that Hadot defines as characteristic of the philosophical education of the antiquity and Plato described in great detail. Hadot writes:
“In all philosophical schools, the goal pursued in these exercises is self-realization and improvement. All scholars agree that man, before his philosophical conversion, is in a state of unhappy disquiet. Consumed by worries, torn by passions, he does not live a genuine life, nor is he truly himself. All schools also agree that man can be delivered from this state. He can accede to genuine life, improve himself, transform himself, and attain a state of perfection. It is precisely for this that spiritual exercises are intended. Their goal is a kind of self-formation, or paideia, which is to teach us to live, not in conformity with human prejudices and social conventions for social life is itself a product of the passions but in conformity with the nature of man, which is none other than reason”100.
Abstract. Plato and Max Scheler agree on the fact that the philosophical attitude requires some moral conditions. This paper investigates the question of whether moral hypocrite can be a true philosopher. The first part examines Plato’s position, for which the philosopher must possess all the virtues, so whoever is morally hypocritical is a false philosopher. In the second part, instead, Scheler’s thought is investigated, which was influenced both by Plato and by Christian philosophy. To answer the initial question, in Scheler’s case it is important to consider not only his contributions as a philosopher, but also his way of life: historical sources confirm that he was a philosophical genius, but only partly possessed the moral conditions that he claims to be required by the authentic philosopher. Yet for Scheler philosophy and life could not be considered separately. In conclusion, an attempt is made to reconcile this contradiction.
Copyright © 2019 Paola Premoli De Marchi
Paola Premoli De Marchi. «Can a moral hypocrite be a true philosopher? Scheler’s Reading to Plato» Dialegesthai. Rivista telematica di filosofia [in linea], anno 21 (2019) [inserito il 31 dicembre 2019], disponibile su World Wide Web: <https://mondodomani.org/dialegesthai/>, [61 KB], ISSN 1128-5478.
In his Philosophy as a Way of Life we read: “The concern with individual destiny and spiritual progress, the intransigent assertion of moral requirements, the call for meditation, the invitation to seek this inner peace that all the schools, even those of the skeptics, propose as the aim of philosophy, the feeling for the seriousness and grandeur of existence: this seems to me to be what has never been surpassed in ancient philosophy and what always remains alive”. (Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life. Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, Blackwell, Oxford 1995, p. 69).
“The philosophical act is not situated merely on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a conversion which turns our entire life upside down, changing the life of the person who goes through it. It raises the individual from an inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he attains self-consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom”. (Ibi, p. 83).
Max Scheler, “The Nature of Philosophy and the Moral Preconditions of Philosophical Knowledge”, in On the eternal in Man, translated by Bernard Noble, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick – London 2010, pp. 67-104.
Paola Premoli De Marchi, Chi è il filosofo? Platone e la questione del dialogo mancante, FrancoAngeli, Milano 2008, Engl. Transl. Who is the Philosopher? Plato and the Question of the Unwritten Dialogue, Emily Rielley Lyon (ed), e-book Kdp Amazon, 2014, Appendix.
On this question see Donald Davidson, “Plato’s Philosopher”, in Truth, Language and History, Clarendon Press, Oxford 2005, pp. 223-4; idem, “Dialectic and Dialogue”, in Truth, Language and History, Clarendon Press, Oxford 2005, pp. 251-259; Gottfried Stallbaum, Platonis Parmenides, T. Woelleri, Lipsia, 1848, Introduction; Egil A. Wyller, Der Späte Platon, Meiner, Hamburg 1970, pp. 7, 76, 92; Hans Leisegang, Platon, in Wissowa, Kroll and others (eds.), Realencyclopaedie der klassischen Altertumwissenschaft, Metzler, Stuttgart 1893-1978, vol. XX2, (1950), pp. 2355, 2493, 2502.; Karl Prächter, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie: Die Philosophie des Altertums, Mittler & Sohn, Berlin 1926, Basel 195313, p. 285 n. 1; Ettore Bignone, Platone, il Sofista e l’Uomo Politico, , Firenze 1934, Prefazione; Ulrich von Wilamowitz Moellendorf, Platon, sein Leben und Seine Werke, Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Berlino 1919/20, 1959 (5^ed.), vol. I, pp. 459-457; Francis M. Cornford, Plato’s Theory of Knowledge, Routledge, London 1935, p. 169; William K.. C. Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy V, Cambridge University Press 1965, p. 123; David Bostock, Plato’s Theaetetus, Clarendon, Oxford 1988, p. 10, note 16; Paul Friedländer, Plato, Princeton University Press 1969, vol. I, pp. 152-153; Julius Stenzel, Metaphysik des Altertums, München 1931, p. 140; Ernst M. Manasse, Platons Sophistes und Politikos. Das Problem der Wahrheit, S. Scholem, Berlin 1937, p. 172; Hans J. Krämer, Arete bei Platon und Aristoteles, Carl Winter, Heidelberg 1959, pp. 248, 317, 484; Giovanni Reale, Per una nuova interpretazione di Platone, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 1995, pp. 417-34; idem, Platone. Alla ricerca della sapienza segreta, Rizzoli, Milano 1998, pp. 327f.; Noburu Notomi, The Unity of Plato’s Sophist; between the sophist and the philosopher, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 25; Mary Louise Gill, “Method and Metaphysics in Plato’s Sophist and Statesman”, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005; idem, “Models in Plato’s Sophist and Stateman”, Journal of the International Plato Society, 6 (2006); Michael Frede, “The literary form of the Sophist”, in Christopher Gill e Mary Margaret McCabe, Form and Argument in Late Plato, Oxford University Press 1996, pp. 135-151, especially pp. 149-50; Auguste Diès, “Introduction to Platon, Parmenide”, in Platon. Oeuvres Complètes, Les Belles Lettres, Paris 1923, vol VIII, Part I, pp. xv-xvii; Léon Robin, Platon, F. Alcan, Paris 1935, p. 33.
Plato, Phaedrus, trans. by Harold N. Fowler (1925), in Id. Plato in Twelve Volumes, cit., vol. 9, 274 D- 278 E; Seventh Letter, trans. by Robert G. Bury, in Id. Plato in Twelve Volumes, op. cit., 1966, vol. 7, 341 C, 344 D.
Regarding the difference between religious conversion and philosophical conversion, see Arthur Nock, Conversion. The Older and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustinus of Hippo, Oxford University Press 1933, chap. 11, pp. 164-186. For a phenomenological investigation of the philosophical conversion, see Mátyás Szalay, “Metanoia: a Phenomenological Analysis of the Philosophical Conversion”, in Radical Ortodoxy: Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Vol. 1 (September 2013), pp. 484-503.
Eric Voeglin describes Plato’s allegory of the Cave in the light of the suffering inflicted to the prisoner: “[in the Parable of the Cave] Plato lets the man who is fettered with his face to the wall be dragged up (helkein) by force to the light (Republic 515e). The accent lies on the violence suffered by the man in the Cave, on his passivity and even resistance to being turned around (periagoge), so that the ascent to light is less an action of seeking than a fate inflicted. If we accept this suffering of being dragged up as a realistic description of the movement, the parable evokes the passion of the Socrates who tells it; its being dragged up to the light by the God, his suffering the death for the light when he returns to let his fellowmen have their share in it; and his rising from the dead to live as the teller of the saving tale. Moreover, this passion of the parable evokes, if I may anticipate, the passion of conversion inflicted on the resisting Paul by Christ through the vision on the road to Damascus”. (Eric Voeglin, “The Gospel and Culture”, in Published Essays 1966-1985, The collected Works of E. Voeglin, vol 12, Lousiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London, 1990, p. 172-212, here p. 184f.).
Ibi., 515 D-516 C. Martin Heidegger interprets the conversion of the prisoner described by Plato as a liberation which is a result of the overcoming of a lack of education. He writes: “Liberation does not come about by the simple removal of the chains, and it does not consist in unbridled license; rather, it first begins as the continuous effort at accustoming one’s gaze to be fixed on the firm limits of things that stand fast in their visible form. Authentic liberation is the steadiness of being oriented toward that which appears in its visible form and which is the most unhidden in this appearing. Freedom exists only as the orientation that is structured in this way. But what is more, this orientation as a turning toward … alone fulfills the essence of paideia as a turning around. Thus the fulfillment of the essence of education can be achieved only in the region of, and on the basis of, the most unhidden, … i.e. the truest, i.e. truth in the proper sense. The essence of education is grounded in the essence of truth. But because the essence of paideia consists in the periagogé oles tes psyches, then insofar as it is such a turning around, it constantly remains an overcoming of apaideusia. Paideia includes within itself an essential relation to lack of education. And if, according to Plato’s own interpretation, the “allegory of the cave” is supposed to clarify the essence of παιδεία, then this clarification must also make manifest precisely this essential factor, the constant overcoming of lack of education” (Martin Heidegger, Plato’s Doctrine of Truth, in Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 155-182, here p. 170f.).
Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Personality of Max Scheler, p. 45. Hildebrand explains this belief as follows: “Scheler was not a scholar for whom philosophizing was merely his professional activity and who otherwise related to the world and the rest of life in an average, harmless way. What he grasped in his immediate experience of the world was not limited to things which are accessible to everyone, as is the case with many philosophers who rise above the intellectual level of the average man only in the philosophical analysis of this generally accessible material. Even in his immediate experience, his spiritual eyes grasped more, and more deeply meaningful things than others did” (Ibi, p. 46).
“His genius was his weakness […] He was indeed lavishly gifted; ideas came to him without labor. Flaming his mind like lightning, and it was this immense fecundity that persuaded him to neglect, even to disdain, intellectual toil. He would not spend the effort to verify his sources, to sift and weigh his thought, to examine and test them on every side, but rather moved on new problems”. (John M. Oesterreicher, Max Scheler and the Faith, in The Thomist, XIII, 2 (April 1950), pp. 135-203, here p. 139f). And he adds: “His want of discipline is all the more startling in its contrast with the virtues he knew necessary for the philosophical act. […] He saw, and saw again, and saw anew, where others passed blindly; inundated with impressions, he was always tempted to trust them too far, to surrender to them, and it was often their novelty that appealed to him, who in a way stayed always a child. His relationship with the world remained too much one of wonder; it was essentially knowing, learning it. But infinitely more is asked of us to rest and persevere in the known, to be permeated by truth and given to it lovingly, to mortify ourselves for its sake, to conform our wills and adjust our lives to the light we see. All this was difficult for Scheler, for in his early youth he had been indescribably spoiled: he had, as he said himself, never learned to will” (Ibi, p. 141).
Heidegger judges as follows the evolution of Scheler’s thought: “Were his changing views a sign of a lack of substance, of inner emptiness? But one recognizes here something which of course only a few could directly experience in day-and-night-long conversations and arguments with him – an obsession with philosophy, which he himself was unable to master and after which he had to follow, something which in the brokenness of contemporary existence often drove him to powerlessness and despair. But this obsession was his substance. And with every change, he remained loyal to this inner direction of his nature in always new approaches and endeavors. And this loyalty must have been the source from which sprang the childlike kindness he showed on occasion” (Martin Heidegger, In memoriam of Max Scheler, cit., p. 51).
Paul Ludwig Landsberg, Nietzsche y Scheler, cit., p. 98, English trans. of this passage in Javier Escribano, “Paul Ludwig Landsberg, a Knight Errant of the Spirit in Barcelona”, Journal of Catalan Intellectual History, 9-10 (2015), p. 18.
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