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Max Scheler

The renowned German phenomenologist Max Scheler (1874-1928) was well known for his penetrating insight into the thorny problems related to judging the moral rightness of human behavior and actions. Several of his major works were wholly dedicated to the task of creating ethical systems in which human behavioral tendencies could be evaluated. However, despite worldwide recognition as an expert on the subject of ethics, Scheler’s own prodigious history of moral transgression was common knowledge among the members of the philosopher’s circle of colleagues and associates.

Max Scheler

When confronted with the irrefutable fact of his troubling proclivity towards hedonism and its apparent opposition to the staunch system of morals and ethics that he advanced in his scholarly work, Scheler is reported to have replied that “the sign that points to Boston doesn’t have to go there.” In Scheler’s worldview, his ability to formulate and justify complex systems dictating how people should act in order to best maintain ethicality was in no way impeded by his own apparent unwillingness to adhere to such strict standards of behavior.

Although this anecdote may be apocryphal, it effectively serves to illustrate one of the most crucial points of divergence between the study of ethics in a broader philosophical sense and the distinct characteristics of a specifically Christian approach to ethics that follows the example set forth by Jesus Christ. In the realm of secular scholarship, ethicists often view behaviors and actions outside of a real-world context, speculating about potentialities and outcomes as if in an experimental test tube, as it were, completely separated from the consequences and influences of everyday life.

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