German phenomenologist and sociologist Max Scheler accorded sympathy a central role in his philosophy, arguing that sympathy enables not only ethical behaviour, but also knowledge of animate and inanimate others. Influenced by Catholicism and especially St Francis, Scheler envisioned a broad, cosmic sympathy forming the hidden basis for all human values, with the “higher” religious, artistic, philosophic and other cultural values enabled by a more basic regard for non-human nature and insights gained from the human situation within the non-human world. Sympathy for the non-human is thus both integral and fundamental to the cultivation of other values in the development of both the human person and humanity in general. Scheler’s concept of sympathy is valuable for contemporary animal ethics because it insists on acknowledgement of and respect for difference as constitutive for the experience of sympathy. By thus allowing for sympathy to occur in the absence of complete knowledge of other subjectivities, Scheler’s phenomenology of sympathy eliminates the need for complete understanding of the consciousness of other animals as a prerequisite for interspecies sympathy. Despite their inability to completely inhabit non-human perspectives, humans can thus sympathize with other creatures. While Scheler is a foundational thinker and, to a large degree, maintains hierarchical structures contested by many contemporary animal theorists, he remains a valuable source for contemporary theory insofar as he acknowledges a “fundamental basis of connection” between species and affirms that all animal bodies are communicative. The occasioning of sympathy by gestural signification opens a path of insight that can increase human openness to non-human others.
Published in Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, Volume 7, Issue 2, 2007, pages 1-9.
Dillard-Wright, D. (2007). Sympathy and the non-human: Max Scheler's phenomenology of interrelation. Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, 7(2), 1-9.
© 2007 Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology
Permission for use per Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License