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Philosophical Anthropology

Since the 1990s there has been a renaissance of "philosophical anthropology." If you look at the philosophical anthropology, it might be necessary to go back to the 1920s: to the elaborated cognitive resources in German philosophy. 

There has to be differentiate two philosophical events: The emergence of the "Philosophical Anthropology" in the strict sense of the specific approach of philosophers like Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner and Arnold Gehlen; of thinkers in their environment (Karl Löwith, Erich Rothacker, and Adolf Portmann); and of further biological (Hans Driesch, Jakob von Uexküll, and Paul Alsberg) and philosophical authors (Friedrich Nietzsche, Wilhem Dilthey, and Henri Bergson). At the same time there has been established the "philosophical anthropology" as a special discipline in philosophy, in which various sciences and approaches are involved.
The website [Philosophical Anthropology] follows this differentiation: the potential duplication of German philosophy in the 1920s concerning the question of “man”. Our particularly interest is the very special approach "Philosophical Anthropology": the work of Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner and Arnold Gehlen.


I. The approach "Philosophical Anthropology"

"Philosophical Anthropology" in this sense is a specific approach in the 20th, which includes so different thinkers as Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner, and Arnold Gehlen. This group also include authors like Paul Alsberg, F.J.J. Buytendijk or Erich Rothacker, and - a little later - Adolf Portmann and Dieter Claessens; and in some respects, Peter Sloterdijk too.

The group is full of differences and rivalries, so that the allocation is sometimes controversial, and it always makes a difference whether one thinks Philosophical Anthropology from the point of Scheler, Plessner or Gehlen. There are plausible reasons to handle the philosophical differences between the authors as secondly. Under the title "Philosophical Anthropology" (with big “P”) there are seen the similarities between these thinkers (perhaps even a theory program). To recognize their specific approach concerning the question of “man” and all other questions of philosophy, thinkers and researchers could have been identified about their jointly difference against other approaches in philosophy - the neokantian thought,  phenomenology and hermeneutic philosophy, linguistic analysis approach, philosophy of existence, or naturalistic theories.

These thinkers are challenged of modernity: both in form of empirical science (especially Biology, but also Ethnology), as well as modernity in its social and political crisis phenomena's. They have unique categories and theorems in the intermingling of body, psyche, culture and social, from which Plessners category of "excentric positionality" [exzentrische Positionalität] is only the most prominent. A combination of these thinkers to a group base on their reflexive sight to the human "Nature": as living beings within the realm of other living beings, but in a special position. There are some parallels to the American pragmatic philosophy (James, Dewey, Mead).


II The discipline philosophical anthropology

Under "philosophical anthropology" in a broader sense one can simultaneously speak of a philosophical discipline: in addition to an in competing with other disciplines of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of language, ontology) as a key philosophical discipline.

These "philosophical anthropology" unfolds in various dimensions:

1st. philosophical anthropology as a philosophical discipline is related to several sciences: psychology, anthropology, biology, sociology, science and technology, cultural studies.

2nd. In this discipline philosophical anthropology different directions of thought are to found, besides the "Philosophical Anthropology" in the strict sense: life philosophy, phenomenology, culture, philosophy, structuralism, Historical Materialism etc.

3rd. The philosophical anthropology as a discipline gets critics from different directions: from Philosophy of Existence, Critical Theory, Analytic Philosophy, Poststructuralism, Theory of Social Systems.

4th. The discipline discovers its own history of relevant anthropological questions and conceptions, and important reference authors (Protagoras, Pico della Mirandola, Hobbes, Rousseau, Herder and Schiller, but also Feuerbach and Lotze, etc.) within the history of European philosophy. The discipline reconstructs the implicit anthropologies of different  cultures and epoches.

If this distinction between "Philosophy anthropology" in the strict sense (a specific approach or paradigm) and 'philosophical anthropology’ in a broad sense (a discipline) is right, it can be seen that under the new challenges of the renaissance of this philosophic thought both lines of discourse are revived. There is a revitalizing of "Philosophical anthropology" in the sense of Scheler, Plessner, and Gehlen. Secondly, it comes to new approaches within the discipline "philosophical anthropology." This renaissance of philosophical anthropology answers on a constellation of challenges, of which at least four are to mention: the promotion of biology, with the development of neurobiology; the development of computer technology, with their model of cognition, in which the human spirit is partially substituted; the relative weakening of the linguistic turn; and the fading of a specific philosophical project of modernity: the philosophy of history.

Literature in English: 

 Philosophical Anthropology and Contemporary German Thought. Themenheft von Iris. European Journal of Philosophy and Public Debate. N. 1 (April 2009):
Andrea Borsari: Notes on 'Philosophical Anthropology' and Contemporary German Thought, 113-130
Karl-Siegbert Rehberg: Philosophical Anthropology from the End of World War I to the 1940s and in a Current Perspective, 131-152
Joachim Fischer: Exploring the Core Identity of Philosophical Anthropology through the Works of Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner, and Arnold Gehlen, 153-170
Gunter Gebauer/Christoph Wulf: Afte the 'Death of Man': From Philosophical Anthropology to Historical Anthropology, 171-186
Axel Honneth: Problems of Ethical Pluralism: Arnold Gehlens's Anthropological Ethics, 187-194
Hans-Peter Krüger: The Public Nature of Human Beings. Parallels between Classical Pragmatisms and Helmuth Plessner's Philosophical Anthropology, 195-204
Franz Josef Wetz: Culture - A Testament to Indigence, 205-227