Scheler’s Hierarchy

Posted: October 18, 2011 in Culture, Education, Philosophy

Most educated folks know about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

As I continue my (glacially slow) progress through The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist, I was intrigued to read about a different hierarchy — that of value modalities — developed by the German phenomenological philosopher Max Scheler:

McGilchrist notes that Scheler anticipates the left brain/right brain division of labor The Master and His Emissary adopts as the foundation of its main thesis. McGilchrist’s description of the phenomenological tradition in philosophy makes clear admission that the tools of philosophy are inadequate to account for the fullness of human experience, thus the rise of phenomenology. So it may also be worth observing that whereas Maslow’s hierarchy begins with the needs of the body and progresses to the needs of the mind or self (the enumeration weighted heavily towards abstract needs after physical needs have been met), Scheler’s hierarchy appears to be concerned primarily with mental states. Scheler’s hierarchy also relates closely to his Stratification of Emotional Life, which might best be understood through psychology and philosophy despite emotional life being experienced in the body, making emotion as much sensual as mental.

McGilchrist reminds the reader repeatedly that all of experience is grounded in the body, or the sensorium, despite the apparent existence of purely mental phenomena. I used to believe that unification of the rational and irrational was needed to repair the divided self, where the former was unfairly privileged over the latter following the Enlightenment. I’m coming around to the opinion that the true dichotomy in need of bridging is the mind and the body. Scheler’s hierarchy and philosophy in general point to how we use the mind to mediate, narrate, explain, and understand experience. In short, we’re trying to live in our heads, not our bodies, and are given to distrusting the viscera, the preverbal, the unconscious, and the passions not only because they’re irrational but because they’re too powerful, too intrinsic, and therefore unavoidable. Predictability and controllability are scientific and mechanistic, very much in keeping with the soulless ethics of the modern world, but we nonetheless exist as embodied beings despite whatever mental landscape or virtual world we create for ourselves. Scheler and the other phenomenologists sensed the growing disconnect, the divided self, but could only deepen it by withdrawing into their heads and philosophical formulations.

  1. rg the lg says:

    Trying to live in our heads …
    The growing disconnect … the idea of the wild, sanitized, even in so called wilderness areas because we fear …
    Others … especially those most like us.
    Hyper-hustlers fearful of the hustle we make of / at / to / with ourselves …

  2. […] Values are the premises — valid or not — underpinning a belief-system. Based on these premises, our rational self can, and often does, build a logical chain of reasoning — or “rationalization” — with which to defend its belief. This logic might be unassailable in and of itself, if one accepts the premises. Yet the logic fails if its founding premise is faulty — it’s the old GIGO concept from the IT world (“Garbage In — Garbage Out”).Caption: (Image courtesy of The Spiral Staircase.) […]

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