Max Scheler's Critical Theory: the Idea of Critical Phenomenology

Dissertation, Duquesne University (2014)
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I explore the critical significance of the phenomenological notion of intuition. I argue that there is no meaning that is originally formal-conceptual. The meanings of concepts function as symbolic approximations to original nonconceptual, intuitive givens. However, the meaning content originally intuitively given in lived experience has a tendency to be lost in pursuit of universalizability and communicability of conceptual content. Over time, conceptual approximations lose their reference to the experience that had given them their meaning in the first place. The loss of an experiential reference makes for a vacuous set of concepts, giving way to ideologies, by which I mean the conscious prejudicial support for a set of ideas without the experiential, intuitive context that is necessary to see the value of those ideas. A critical phenomenology is a critique of ideological views by descriptively recovering the intuitive content whereby concepts can be adequately reevaluated. This main aim of this work is to establish the methodological features of critical phenomenology by responding to the objections made against phenomenology and intuition by Frankfurt School critical theorists. Scheler’s phenomenology is used as a way forward due to his far-reaching critique of reason and emphasis on the phenomenological intuition of value. Chapter 1 considers three Frankfurt School objections of Husserlian phenomenology, as (1) immanentist (Adorno), (2) idealist (Adorno), and (3) normatively empty (Habermas). Each fail to discern the subtle features of nonidentity with respect to Husserl’s notions of apperception and adumbrated phenomena. Chapter 2 shows how Scheler’s original view of the phenomenological attitude makes more explicit Husserl’s subtle dialectical elements. Adequate and inadequate givenness is interpreted with respect to one’s intentional orientation and the moral attitudes carried within the world, influencing the content of the given. Chapter 3 confronts the popular charge of idealism. Reality is a problem for phenomenology only to conscious modes of givenness. But through ecstatic modes of givenness (in resistances) Scheler’s phenomenology achieves an existential ground that is crucial for phenomenology to engage actually existing social structures and factors. Chapter 4 concerns the charge that phenomenology is normatively empty. That Scheler had developed a theory of value is not enough to rebut the charge but his view of value-givenness as an attitude informed by the act of loving, opens an awareness of the values disclosed by that attitude. Chapter 5 shows that Scheler’s sociology of knowledge, in contrast to Karl Mannheim’s interpretation, provides a unified picture of the interdependency of spirit and life needed for the realization of values in the world and society. Chapter 6 suggests a way of framing a phenomenological critique of ideology. Scheler points to the attitudinal factors of loving and hating to disclose systemic devaluation and overvaluation. This awareness arises (1) from noticing how individual valuation reflects social valuation, and (2) by being attuned to how one’s own intuitions contradict prevailing social valuation and thought, thereby opening a space for a critique of those patterns.
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