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Philosophical anthropology is the attempt to unify disparate ways of understanding behaviour of humans as both creatures of their social environments and creators of their own values. Although the majority of philosophers throughout the history of philosophy can be said to have a distinctive "anthropology" that undergirds their thought, philosophical anthropology itself, as a specific discipline in philosophy, arose within the later modern period as an outgrowth from developing methods in philosophy, such as phenomenology and existentialism. The former, which draws its energy from methodical reflection on human experience (first person perspective) as from the philosopher's own personal experience, naturally aided the emergence of philosophical explorations of human nature and the human condition.

A large focus of this examination is a look at interpersonal relationships as well as the ontology that is in play during these relationships -- of which intersubjectivity is a major theme. Intersubjectivity is the study of how two individuals, subjects, whose experiences and interpretations of the world are radically different understand and relate to each other. Recently anthropology has begun to shift towards studies of intersubjectivity and other existential/phenomenological themes. Studies of language have also gained new prominence in philosophy and sociology due to language's close ties with the question of intersubjectivity.

Max Scheler, a German phenomenologist, is known for his highly developed philosophical anthropology which defines the human being not so much as a "rational animal" (as has traditionally been the case since Aristotle) but essentially as a loving being. He breaks down the traditional hylomorphic conception of the human person, and describes the personal being with a tripartite structure of lived body, soul, and spirit. Love and hatred are not psychological emotions, but spiritual, intentional acts of the person, which he categorises as "intentional feelings."

The academic Michael Jackson is another important philosophical anthropologist. His research and fieldwork concentrate on existential themes of "being in the world" (Dasein) as well as interpersonal relationships. His methodology challenges traditional anthropology due to its focus on first-person experience. In his most well known book, Minima Ethnographica which focuses on intersubjectivity and interpersonal relationships, he draws upon his ethnographic fieldwork in order to explore existential theory. In his latest book, Existential Anthropology, he explores the notion of control, stating that humans anthropomorphize inanimate objects around them in order to enter into an interpersonal relationship with them. In this way humans are able to feel as is they have control over situations that they cannot control because rather than treating the object as an object, they treat it as if it is a rational being capable of understanding their feelings and language. Good examples are prayer to gods to alleviate drought or to help a sick person or cursing at a computer that has ceased to function.

Among other important philosophical anthropologists are Søren Kierkegaard, Rene Girard, John Dewey, Ernst Cassirer, Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen, Paul Häberlin, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Pierre Bourdieu, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, Martin Buber, Eric Voegelin, Hans Jonas, and Hans-Eduard Hengstenberg.

See also

Further reading

  • Joseph Agassi, Towards a Rational Philosophical Anthropology. The Hague, 1977.
  • Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death. 1848.
  • Hans Köchler, Der innere Bezug von Anthropologie und Ontologie. Das Problem der Anthropologie im Denken Martin Heideggers. Hain: Meisenheim a.G., 1974.
  • Hans Köchler, "The Relation between Man and World. A Transcendental-anthropological Problem," in: Analecta Husserliana, Vol. 14 (1983), pp. 181–186.
  • Stanislaw Kowalczyk, An Outline of the Philosophical Anthropology. Frankfurt a.M. etc., 1991.
  • Michael Landmann, Philosophische Anthropologie. Menschliche Selbstdeutung in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Berlin, 3rd ed., 1969.
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale. Paris, 1958.
  • Karol Wojtyla, The Acting Person. Analecta Husserliana, Vol. X. Dordrecht/Boston, 1979.
  • Michael Jackson (anthropology), Minima Ethnographica and Existential Anthropology
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, l'Etre et le Néant
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty, la Phenomenologie de la Perception
  • Paul Ricoeur, Soi-meme comme un autre
  • Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis.
  • Jaques Derrida, l'Ecriture et la Difference
  • Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life. Chicago, 1966.
  • Joachim Fischer, Philosophische Anthropologie. Eine Denkrichtung des 20. Jahrhunderts. Freiburg, 2008.


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