Is there an “Order to Love”? Personalist Philosopher Max Scheler Thought So…(Part 1)

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It would seem that maybe one of the last things in the world that anyone would want in love, is order.  The idea of “order in love” seems to connote “routine,” “lack of spontaneity,” “predictablity,” “dispassionate,” “uncreative,” just plain “boring.”  So, why would Max Scheler, known as the founder of personalism and an expert on the philosophy of emotions and feelings propose that there is an “order to love” (“ordo amoris”), a sort of rationalism for the emotions?  Plus, even if this “order to love” did exist, as Scheler suggests, what good would it be even if one did come to learn what Scheler meant by it?

Well, according to Scheler, the ordo amoris is the root of all ethics.  Scheler says that “The study of this formation belongs to the most important problems of an intensive study of the moral being ‘man.'” [Selected Philosophical Essays Max Scheler. Ed. John Wild et al., Northwestern University Press: 1973, p.102]  In other words, the most important philosophizing  that the world needs to engage in is the ordo amoris.  Scheler says because, “…the highest thing of which a man is capable is to love things as much as possible as God loves them…”  This is the loftiest possible standard of love: infinite love.  He says, “the concept of ordo amoris…is the means whereby we can discover, behind the initially confusing facts of man’s morally relevant actions, behind his expressions, his wishes, customs, needs and spiritual achievements, the simplest structure of the most fundamental goals of the goal-directed core of the person, the basic ethical formula, so to speak, by which he exists and lives morally.”(p.102)  This “order of the heart” is the window into the soul of the person.

What Scheler says is a radical break from the trends of rationalism, empiricism and pragmatism of modern philosophy.  He says, “…[the] heart deserves to be called the core of man as a spiritual being much more than knowing and willing do.”(p.102)  This is very different from what other very important philosophers have said about man.  We can think of Aristotle’s statement that man is a “rational animal,” implying that it is his knowledge, his learnedness, his capacity for abstracting the universal from the particular that makes him a person.  However, according to Scheler, this is not the core or root of man’s being.  Rather, he says it isn’t knowing that is at the root of man’s being, but rather that the person“has a spiritual model of the primary source which secretly nourishes everything emanating from this man.”(p.102)  In other words, one might say that the person’s heart, his “order of love,” is the formal cause of his spirituality, therefore his personhood, directed toward the Final Cause which is also the First Cause.

This ordo amor is also a radical break from the German Romantic philosophers of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century who advocated a sort of mythical, nature-based spiritedness, a “will to power,” for example, the will, was the focal point of man’s personhood for many of them in this life, only.  Whereas, Scheler is not saying “spiritedness” in their sense at all, but instead he says, “The idea of a correct and true ordo amoris is, for us the idea of a strictly objective realm independent of man, the objective order of what is worthy of love in all things, something we can only recognize, but cannot “posit,” produce or make…It is not something we have to posit, but something we have to recognize.” (p.103)  This point that Scheler makes is important because what is inherent yet hidden and awaiting discovery in all things and in all persons is the moral order.  With this value ranking man is obliged to recognize its value, not posit, produce or make (because he cannot).  Such a value ranking, an inherentness of being, is something that persons need to recognize subjectively, individually.  This subjective aspect of the ordo amoris can be misled, disordered or confused by a person, which would need to be corrected and restored.  Well, how can it become disordered?

According to Scheler, a confused conception of the ordo amoris can come about when someone over emphasizes a “love of the self” over and above the “love for one’s own salvation.”(p.102)  He says that the disorder comes about when “we purposely see everything, even ourselves, through our ‘own’ yes only.  We refer every datum, even ourselves, to our sensuous states of feeling, without having a distinct and clear awareness that this is what we are doing.  Thus, we can, in clinging to these states of feeling, make even our highest spiritual capacities…the slaves of our body and its conditions.” (p.107)  In this way, Scheler states that “The sensualist is struck by the way the pleasure he gets from the objects of his enjoyment gives him less and less satisfaction while his driving impulse stays the same or itself increases as he flies more and more rapidly from one object to the next…”  He quotes Pascal who said that “Our heart is too spacious,” (p.102) meaning that although the person’s body and spirit both have the desire for the infinite, only the spirit has the capacity for this infinity.  A disordered ordo amoris can arise and frustrate the intemperate person’s heart because his pursuit of infinite bodily experiences cannot possibly be satisfied.  The consequence of this is devastating, Scheler says, “Our spirit finds itself in ‘metaphysical confusion’ when an object which belongs among those in any way and in any degree value-relative is loved in the manner appropriate only to objects of absolute value; that is when a man identifies the value of his spiritual personal core with the value of such an object to the extent that he stands to it basically in the relation of faith and worship, and thus falsely deifies it, or rather idolizes it.”(p.124)  For Scheler, a person that perceives a thing as value relative is the person who correctly perceives a thing according to its rank as a being and he understands the love due to that thing, its ordo amoris.  Whereas, the person who perceives a thing incorrectly metaphysically attributes ultimate, absolute value, to a thing that does not merit absolute value (such as a person who fanatically desires his team to win the World Cup in soccer).  As a consequence, this person incorrectly attributes too much value to a thing that is not its due while omitting the recognition and appreciation of what does have absolute value, such as God.

Whereas, when the ordo amoris is correctly perceived, Scheler maintains that the spiritual life is very different in the effects it receives from the pursuit of spiritual things correctly.  He says, “…the satisfaction of one who loves spiritual objects, whether things or persons, is always holding out new promise of satisfaction…In the highest case, that of love for a person, this movement develops the beloved person in the direction of ideality and perfection appropriate to him and does so, in principle, beyond limits.”(p.109)  He says this because “Every love is love for God, still incomplete, often slumbering or self-infatuated, often stopping, as it were on its way.”(p.109) He continues, “If a man loves a thing or a value…if he loves this or that formation in nature, if he loves a man as a friend…It means that in and through the action of this unity he joins the other object in affirming its tendency toward its proper perfection that he is active in assisting it, promoting it, blessing it.”(p.109)  In other words, the person contributes to the achievement of the destiny of all things and of all persons, which is to be united with God.  Just as the saying goes “Charity starts at home,” charity or love, begins with the obvious persons with whom we already live, those for whom we are most indebted for their agapeic love, our parents, or our spouse or children, family and friends.  This ordo amoris as charity properly ordered, is a self-donation of one’s true self  to others that doesn’t confuse or delude oneself or others about the a priori hierarchy of love in being and in the dignity of the person.

One thought on “Is there an “Order to Love”? Personalist Philosopher Max Scheler Thought So…(Part 1)

  1. Scheler’s idea that the heart deserves to be considered the core of man as a spiritual being is refreshing and very prevalent in our culture today. As mentioned, this contrast to Aristotle’s idea is important since many in prominent positions in society are trying to redefine personhood today. That the heart deserves to be considered the core emphasizes the need to respect all human life, even if someone is considered a “vegetable” and does not have the ability to think in the abstract or universal. This is wonderful!

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