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Philosophical anthropology

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Title: Philosophical anthropology  
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Philosophical anthropology

Vitruvian Man or the perfect man by Leonardo da Vinci

Philosophical anthropology, sometimes called anthropological philosophy,[1][2] is a discipline dealing with questions of metaphysics and phenomenology of the human person, and interpersonal relationships.


  • History 1
    • Ancient Christian writers: Augustine of Hippo 1.1
    • Modern period 1.2
    • Philosophical anthropology as independent discipline 1.3
    • 1920s Germany 1.4
    • From the 1940s 1.5
  • Anthropology of interpersonal relationships 2
    • Michael D. Jackson's study of intersubjectivity 2.1
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • Further reading 6


Ancient Christian writers: Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo was one of the first Christian ancient Latin authors with a very clear anthropological vision, although it is not clear if he had any influence on Max Scheler, the founder of philosophical anthropology as an independent discipline, nor on any of the major philosophers that followed him. Augustine has been cited by Husserl and Heidegger as one of the early writers to inquire on time-consciousness and the role of seeing in the feeling of "Being-in-the-world".[3][4]

Augustine saw the human being as a perfect unity of two substances: soul and body.[5] He was much closer in this anthropological view to Aristotle than to Plato.[6][7] In his late treatise On Care to Be Had for the Dead sec. 5 (420 CE) he insisted that the body is essential part of the human person:

Augustine's favourite figure to describe body-soul unity is marriage: caro tua, coniux tua - your body is your wife.[9] Initially, the two elements were in perfect harmony. After the fall of humanity they are now experiencing dramatic combat between one another.

They are two categorically different things: the body is a three-dimensional object composed of the four elements, whereas the soul has no spatial dimensions.[10] Soul is a kind of substance, participating in reason, fit for ruling the body.[11] Augustine was not preoccupied, as Plato and Descartes were, with going too much into detail in his efforts to explain the metaphysics of the soul-body union. It sufficed for him to admit that they were metaphysically distinct. To be a human is to be a composite of soul and body, and that the soul is superior to the body. The latter statement is grounded in his hierarchical classification of things into those that merely exist, those that exist and live, and those that exist, live, and have intelligence or reason.[12][13]

According to N. Blasquez, Augustine's dualism of substances of the body and soul doesn't stop him from seeing the unity of body and soul as a substance itself.[7][14] Following Aristotle and other ancient philosophers, he defined man as a rational mortal animal - animal rationale mortale.[15][16]

Modern period

Philosophical anthropology as a kind of thought, before it was founded as a distinct philosophical discipline in the 1920s, emerged as post-medieval thought striving for emancipation from Christian religion and Aristotelic tradition.[17] The origin of this liberation, characteristic of modernity, has been the Cartesian skepticism formulated by Descartes in the first two of his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641).

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) taught the first lectures on anthropology in the European academic world. He specifically developed a conception of pragmatic anthropology, according to which the human being is studied as a free agent. At the same time, he conceived of his anthropology as an empirical, not a strictly philosophical discipline.[18] Both his philosophical and his anthropological work has been one of the influences in the field during the 19th and 20th century.[19][20] After Kant, Ludwig Feuerbach is sometimes considered the next most important influence and founder of anthropological philosophy.[21][22]

During the 19th century, an important contribution came from post-kantian German idealists like Fichte, Schelling and Hegel,[19] as well from Søren Kierkegaard. From the late 19th century till the early 20th century, influential contributors have been Friedrich Nietzsche, John Dewey and Rudolf Steiner.

Philosophical anthropology as independent discipline

Since its development in the 1920s, in the milieu of Germany Weimar culture, philosophical anthropology as been turned into a philosophical discipline, competing with the other traditional sub-disciplines of epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics.[23] It is the attempt to unify disparate ways of understanding behaviour of humans as both creatures of their social environments and creators of their own values. Although the majority of philosophers throughout the history of philosophy can be said to have a distinctive "anthropology" that undergirds their thought, philosophical anthropology itself, as a specific discipline in philosophy, arose within the later modern period as an outgrowth from developing methods in philosophy, such as phenomenology and existentialism. The former, which draws its energy from methodical reflection on human experience (first person perspective) as from the philosopher's own personal experience, naturally aided the emergence of philosophical explorations of human nature and the human condition.

1920s Germany

Max Scheler, from 1900 till 1920 had been a follower of Husserl's phenomenology, the hegemonic form of philosophy in Germany at the time. Scheler sought to apply Husserl's phenomenological approach to different topics. From 1920 Scheler laid the foundation for philosophical anthropology as a philosophical discipline, competing with phenomenology and other philosophic disciplines. Husserl and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), were the two most authoritative philosophers in Germany at the time, and their criticism to philosophical anthropology and Scheler have had a major impact on the discipline.

Scheler defined the human being not so much as a "rational animal" (as has traditionally been the case since Aristotle) but essentially as a loving being. He breaks down the traditional hylomorphic conception of the human person, and describes the personal being with a tripartite structure of lived body, soul, and spirit. Love and hatred are not psychological emotions, but spiritual, intentional acts of the person, which he categorises as "intentional feelings." Scheler based his philosophical anthropology in a Christian metaphysics of the spirit.[24] Helmuth Plessner will later emancipate philosophical anthropology from Christianity.[24]

Helmuth Plessner and Arnold Gehlen have been influenced by Scheler, and they are the three major representatives of philosophical anthropology as a movement.

From the 1940s

Ernst Cassirer, a neo-Kantian philosopher, has been the most influential source for the definition and development of the field from the 1940s till the 1960s.[25] Particularly influential has been Cassirer's description of man as a symbolic animal,[25] which has been reprised in the 1960s by Gilbert Durand, scholar of symbolic anthropology and the imaginary.

In 1953, future pope Karol Wojtyla, based his dissertation thesis on Max Scheler, limiting himself to the works Scheler wrote before rejecting Catholicism and the Judeo-Christian tradition in 1920. Wojtyla used Scheler as an example that phenomenology could be reconciled with Catholicism.[26] Some authors have argued that Wojtyla influenced philosophical anthropology.[27]

In the 20th century, other important contributors and influences to philosophical anthropology have been Eric Voegelin (1901–1985), Hans Jonas (1903–1993), Josef Pieper (1904–1997), Hans-Eduard Hengstenberg (1904–1998), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), Joseph Maréchal (1878–1944), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961), Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005), René Girard (1923–), Alasdair MacIntyre (1929–), Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002), Hans Blumenberg, Jacques Derrida (1930–2004)and Emerich Coreth (1919–2006).

Anthropology of interpersonal relationships

A large focus of philosophical anthropology is also interpersonal relationships, as an attempt to unify disparate ways of understanding the behaviour of humans as both creatures of their social environments and creators of their own values. It analyses also the ontology that is in play in human relationships — of which intersubjectivity is a major theme. Intersubjectivity is the study of how two individuals, subjects, whose experiences and interpretations of the world are radically different understand and relate to each other.

Recently anthropology has begun to shift towards studies of intersubjectivity and other existential/phenomenological themes. Studies of language have also gained new prominence in philosophy and sociology due to language's close ties with the question of intersubjectivity.

Michael D. Jackson's study of intersubjectivity

The academic Michael D. Jackson is another important philosophical anthropologist. His research and fieldwork concentrate on existential themes of "being in the world" (Dasein) as well as interpersonal relationships. His methodology challenges traditional anthropology due to its focus on first-person experience. In his most well known book, Minima Ethnographica which focuses on intersubjectivity and interpersonal relationships, he draws upon his ethnographic fieldwork in order to explore existential theory.

In his latest book, Existential Anthropology, he explores the notion of control, stating that humans anthropomorphize inanimate objects around them in order to enter into an interpersonal relationship with them. In this way humans are able to feel as if they have control over situations that they cannot control because rather than treating the object as an object, they treat it as if it is a rational being capable of understanding their feelings and language. Good examples are prayer to gods to alleviate drought or to help a sick person or cursing at a computer that has ceased to function.

See also


  1. ^ Fikentscher (2004) pp.74, 89
  2. ^ Cassirer (1944)
  3. ^ Husserl, Edmund. Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness. Tr. James S. Churchill. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1964, 21.
  4. ^ Heidegger, Being and Time Trs. Macquarrie & Robinson. New York: Harpers, 1964. 171. Articulating on how "Being-in-the-world" is described through thinking about seeing, wrote: "The remarkable priority of 'seeing' was noticed particularly by Augustine, in connection with his Interpretation of concupiscentia." Heidegger, quoting the Confessions: "Seeing belongs properly to the eyes. But we even use this word 'seeing' for the other senses when we devote them to cognizing... We not only say, 'See how that shines', ... 'but we even say, 'See how that sounds'".
  5. ^ Gianni (1965), pp. 148–149
  6. ^ Hendrics (1954), p. 291.
  7. ^ a b Massuti, p.98.
  8. ^ De cura pro mortuis gerenda CSEL 41, 627[13–22]; PL 40, 595: Nullo modo ipsa spernenda sunt corpora. (...)Haec enim non ad ornamentum vel adiutorium, quod adhibetur extrinsecus, sed ad ipsam naturam hominis pertinent; Contra Faustum, 22.27; PL 44,418.
  9. ^ Enarrationes in psalmos, 143, 6; CCL 40, 2077 [46] – 2078 [74]); De utilitate ieiunii, 4, 4–5; CCL 46, 234–235.
  10. ^ De quantitate animae 1.2; 5.9
  11. ^ De quantitate animae 13.12: Substantia quaedam rationis particeps, regendo corpori accomodata.
  12. ^ On the free will (De libero arbitrio) 2.3.7-6.13
  13. ^ Mann, p. 141–142
  14. ^ El concepto del substantia segun san Agustin, pp. 305–350.
  15. ^ De ordine, II, 11.31; CCL 29, 124 [18]; PL 32,1009; De quantitate animae, 25, 47–49; CSEL 89, 190–194; PL 32, 1062–1063
  16. ^ Couturier (1954), p. 543
  17. ^ Apostolopoulou, Georgia The Problem of Religion in Helmuth Plessner's Philosophical Anthropology, in Reimer, A. James and Siebert, Rudolf J. (1992) The Influence of the Frankfurt school on contemporary theology: critical theory and the future of religion, pp.42-66. Quotation from p.49:
  18. ^ Thomas Sturm, Kant und die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Paderborn: Mentis, 2009).
  19. ^ a b Grolier (1981) The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 21 p. 768
  20. ^ a b Martin Buber (1943) Das Problem des Menschen (The Problem of Man)
  21. ^ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Poolla Tirupati Raju (1966) The concept of man: a study in comparative philosophy p. 490
  22. ^ Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, Richard F. Gustafson (1996) Russian religious thought p. 140 quotatoin:
  23. ^ Fischer (2006) p.64, quotation:
  24. ^ a b Wilkoszewska, Krystyna (2004) Deconstruction and reconstruction: the Central European Pragmatist Forum, Volume 2, p.129
  25. ^ a b Schilpp (1967, editor) The philosophy of Martin Buber p.73 quotation:
  26. ^ Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka Phenomenology world-wide p.487
  27. ^  


  • Agaësse, Paul SJ (2004). L'anthropologie chrétienne selon saint Augustin : image, liberté, péché et grâce. Paris: Médiasèvres. p. 197.  
  • Blasquez, N, El concepto del substantia segun san Agustin, "Augustinus" 14 (1969), pp. 305–350; 15 (1970), pp. 369–383; 16 (1971), pp. 69–79.
  • Cassirer, Ernst (1944) An Essay On Man
  • Couturier Charles SJ, (1954) La structure métaphysique de l'homme d'après saint Augustin, in: Augustinus Magister, Congrès International Augustinien. Communications, Paris, vol. 1, pp. 543–550
  • Donceel, Joseph F., Philosophical Anthropology, New York: Sheed&Ward 1967.
  • Gilson, Étienne, (1955) History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, (2nd ed., reprinted 1985), London: Sheed & Ward, pp. 829, ISBN 0-7220-4114-4.
  • Fischer, Joachim (2006) Der Identitätskern der Philosophischen Anthropologie (Scheler, Plessner, Gehlen) in Krüger, Hans-Peter and Lindemann, Gesa (2006) Philosophische Anthropologie im 21. Jahrhundert
  • Fikentscher, Wolfgang (2004) Modes of thought: a study in the anthropology of law and religion
  • Gianni, A., (1965) Il problema antropologico, Roma .
  • Hendrics, E. (1954) Platonisches und Biblisches Denken bei Augustinus, in: Augustinus Magister, Congrès International Augustinien. Communications, Paris, vol. 1.
  • Karpp, Heinrich (1950). Probleme altchristlicher Anthropologie. Biblische Anthropologie und philosophische Psychologie bei den Kirchen-vatern des dritten Jahrhunderts. Gütersloh: G. Bertelsmann Verlag. 
  • Lucas Lucas, Ramon, Man Incarnate Spirit, a Philosophy of Man Compendium, USA: Circle Press, 2005.
  • Mann, W.E., Inner-Life Ethics, in:The Augustinian Tradition. Philosophical Traditions. G. B. Matthews (ed.). Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press. 1999. pp. 138–152.  
  • Masutti, Egidio, (1989), Il problema del corpo in San Agostino, Roma: Borla, p. 230, ISBN 88-263-0701-6
  • Mondin, Battista, Philosophical Anthropology, Man: an Impossible Project?, Rome: Urbaniana University Press, 1991.
  • Thomas Sturm, Kant und die Wissenschaften vom Menschen. Paderborn: Mentis, 2009. ISBN 3897856085, 9783897856080

Further reading

  • Joseph Agassi, Towards a Rational Philosophical Anthropology. The Hague, 1977.
  • Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Chicago: The Great Books foundation 1959.
  • Martin Buber, I and Thou, New York: Scribners 1970.
  • Martin Buber, The Knowledge of Man: A Philosophy of the Interhuman, New York: Harper&Row 1965.
  • Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, New York: Macmillan 1965.
  • Albert Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, New York: Vintage Books 1956.
  • Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Chicago – London: Encyclopædia Britannica 1952.
  • Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, New York: Harper&Row 1965
  • Jacques Derrida, l'Ecriture et la Difference
  • Joachim Fischer, Philosophische Anthropologie. Eine Denkrichtung des 20. Jahrhunderts. Freiburg, 2008.
  • Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, New York: Basic Books 1975.
  • Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be, New York: Harper&Row 1976.
  • David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature
  • Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life. Chicago, 1966.
  • Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death. 1848.
  • Hans Köchler, Der innere Bezug von Anthropologie und Ontologie. Das Problem der Anthropologie im Denken Martin Heideggers. Hain: Meisenheim a.G., 1974.
  • Hans Köchler, "The Relation between Man and World. A Transcendental-anthropological Problem," in: Analecta Husserliana, Vol. 14 (1983), pp. 181–186.
  • Stanislaw Kowalczyk, An Outline of the Philosophical Anthropology. Frankfurt a.M. etc., 1991.
  • Michael Jackson (anthropology), Minima Ethnographica and Existential Anthropology
  • Michael Landmann, Philosophische Anthropologie. Menschliche Selbstdeutung in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Berlin, 3rd ed., 1969.
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale. Paris, 1958.
  • John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York: Dover Publication 1959 (vol. I-II).
  • Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study on Human Understanding, New York-London: Philosophical Library-Longmans 1958.
  • Alasdair MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals. 1999.
  • Gabriel Marcel, Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysics of Hope, London: Harper&Row, 1962.
  • Gabriel Marcel, Problematic Man, New York: Herder and Herder 1967.
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty, La Phenomenologie de la Perception
  • Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, Boston: Beacon Press 1966.
  • Jacques Maritain, Existence and Existent: An Essay on Christian Existentialism, Garden City: Image Books 1957.
  • Maurice Nédoncelle, Love and the Person, New York: Sheed & Ward 1966.
  • Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation. New York:Pantheon, 1958.
  • Josef Pieper, "Josef Pieper: An Anthology. San Francisco:Ignatius Press, 1989.
  • Josef Pieper, Death and Immortality. New York:Herder & Herder, 1969.
  • Josef Pieper, "Faith, Hope, Love". Ignatius Press; New edition, 1997.
  • Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance. Notre Dame, Ind., 1966.
  • Karl Rahner, Spirit in the World, New York: Herder and Herder, 1968.
  • Karl Rahner, Hearer of the Word
  • Karl Rahner, Hominisation: The Evolutionary Origin of Man as a Theological Problem, New York: Herder and Herder 1965.
  • Paul Ricoeur, Soi-meme comme un autre
  • Paul Ricoeur, Fallible Man: Philosophy of Will, Chicago: Henry Regnery Company 1967.
  • Paul Ricoeur, Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and Involuntary, Evanston: Northwestern University Press 1966.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology, New York: The Citadel Press 1956.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, New York: Haskell House Publisher 1948.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, New York: New Directions 1959.
  • Martti Olavi Siirala, Medicine in Metamorphosis Routledge 2003.
  • Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, Indianapolis: Hackett 1998.
  • Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis.
  • Karol Wojtyla, The Acting Person, Dordrecht-Boston: Reidel Publishing Company 1979.
  • Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, London-Glasgow: Collins, 1981.
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