Basic Assumptions of Philosophical Anthropology

Philosophical anthropology is a branch of philosophy which examines interpersonal relationships and the nature of being human. It was developed as a specific response to the presuppositions of Aristotle, who viewed man as a rational animal, and Thomas Hobbes, who viewed man as a complex machine.

The founders of philosophical anthropology

Early groundwork in what would become philosophical anthropology was begun by Immanuel Kant. Philosophical anthropology became a specific discipline in the 1920s, mostly because of Max Scheler, who was among the first philosophers to define man as a loving being. The other main founders of the philosophical anthropology movement are Helmuth Plessner and Arnold Gehlen.

The assumption that man is a loving being

The basic assumption of philosophical anthropology is that man is more than the sum of his appetites and aversions. Scheler held that man had a triparite structure which consists of his lived body, his soul, and his spirit. The combination of these 3 elements is what makes human beings more than complex machines.

As defined by Edmund Husserl, the lived body is your personal experience of your body as the ability to interact with the world and act in the world. It is a duality which allows simultaneous experience and examination. It allows for changing your point of view by retaining the knowledge of seeing from one perspective while moving around to see from a different perspective.

Apperception is the lived body’s ability to perceive another person in relation to yourself while recognizing simultaneously that he is distinct from you. By building on personal experience and personal examination, you can use apperception to recognize the perceptions and emotions in another person. This is how empathy works.

Thus, this assumption is really based on the idea that people do have some sense of themselves through the lived body. They are self-aware actors rather than simply acted upon.

In Scheler’s work, the word “soul” is restored to its psychological sense as being almost the same as mind. In contrast, “spirit” refers to human aspects which are usually associated with the soul. This division means that Scheler can define emotions such as love and hatred as spiritual rather than psychological.

The purpose of the assumption

In Hobbes’ world, all human motivation and interaction is limited to the struggle for survival. Any emotions which are not based in nature are irrelevant, useless, or even counter to the social good, because what is good is defined in naturalistic terms. Thus, any human endeavor which does not have a practical use, such as art, has no purpose other than personal amusement.

Philosophical anthropology identifies this position as a naturalistic fallacy. Some philosophical anthropologists go further and claim that Hobbes’ position denies all higher elements of humanity, including ideals such as personal autonomy and liberty.