Friday, 7 December 2012

Walser Addendum: Two Anthropologies

It may be that my reading of Walser in recent posts – with its reliance upon Simmel’s theory of depersonalization and then Jaspers’ projection of a hermeneutic of transcendence – is riven by a tension between two conflicting anthropologies, functionalist and transcendental. In his Karl Jaspers, Thornhill notes that whilst a functionalist anthropology ‘views human life as both produced, and adequately described, by its objective forms’, a transcendental anthropology such as Jaspers’ promotes the view that ‘the human being is most human, most existent, insofar as it is least material, and least bound by the objective forms (laws) of scientific rationality and social orientation’. Thornhill observes:

‘The constructive receptions of Kant which underpin the philosophies of Jaspers and Heidegger [...] describe an unbridgeable fissure at the centre of German existential thinking. On one side of this, Jaspers insists on the ethical difference of humanity from its forms. On the other side, Heidegger insists on its ethical adequacy to these. Jaspers’ philosophy is a morally transcendental anthropology, in which humanity interprets itself most truthfully in its unconditioned imperatives. This has later echoes in the neo-Kantian writings of Habermas. Heidegger, by contrast, provides the basis for a functionalist anthropology, anticipated already by Georg Simmel and Carl Schmitt, and echoed later by Arnold Gehlen, in which human life interprets itself as delivered unto its realized objective forms. Jaspers’ anthropology is strongly obligated to the remnants of idealism and transcendental subjectivism, and it creates a metaphysic of the person on the foundation of these. In Heidegger’s anthropology, in contrast, the transcendental subject, and its ethical derivates in practical reason, are replaced by a historicist metaphysic of the Volk, or of the functions which the Volk imposes upon its members.’

In my presentation of Simmel’s theory of depersonalization here it is unclear whether I am maintaining that Simmel critiques the functionalization of the human or (as Thornhill indicates) merely discerns it.

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