Jack Price – Adorno and Scheler on Action and Experience

Here is the latest of our recordings from The British Society for Phenomenology’s 2018 Annual Conference ‘The Theory and Practice of Phenomenology’. Jack Price is from Cardiff University / the University of Exeter, and the paper is titled ‘Adorno and Scheler on Action and Experience’.


Abstract: “T.W Adorno’s work includes sustained critical engagement with phenomenology. While sympathetic to the attempt to engage with the ‘heterogenous’ and with the world of objects, Adorno argues that traditional phenomenology ultimately fails: Husserl relies too much on constitutive subjectivity and is unable to break from idealism. Perhaps as a result, Adorno tends to pass over much of the work of Max Scheler. Despite this, this paper argues that Scheler’s materialist phenomenology could engage with Adorno’s critical theory to mutual benefit.


Adorno’s work speaks to phenomenological attempts to understand experience. Emphasising the limitations of concepts, the primacy of the object and the value of embodied affective experience, Adorno builds a broad social critique emphasising mediation and the need for moving beyond traditional conceptual thought. But Adorno’s methodological negativity means that his account of the role of embodied subjectivity tends to be laconic, working more as a counterblast to transcendental idealism than as an articulated alternative.


Scheler’s model of the human being is drawn from a twofold distinction between ‘life’ and ‘spirit’, in which ‘life’ represents pre-rational and instinctual drives and behaviours and ‘spirit’ the rational and self-reflective element. The human being is thus not a singular entity ruled by reason, but a creature of conflicting drives, passions, and interests of which reason is a late and by no means omnipotent part. This model of the human being, however, is situated at times quite abstractly. Scheler lacks the critical resources needed to thoroughly interrogate the role of subjectivity under contemporary social conditions.


Dialogue between the two could therefore be very productive. While tensions undeniably exist, Max Scheler’s work, when brought together with Adorno’s critique of constitutive subjectivity and contemporary society, could present a plausible and phenomenologically-minded account of human action and experience under the current social order.”


The British Society for Phenomenology’s Annual Conference took place at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, UK during July, 2018. It gathered together philosophers, literary scholars, phenomenologists, and practitioners exploring phenomenological theory and its practical application. It covered a broad range of areas and issues including the arts, ethics, medical humanities, mental health, education, technology, feminism, politics and political governance, with contributions throwing a new light on both traditional phenomenological thinkers and the themes associated with classical phenomenology. More information about the conference can be found at:



The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, conferences and other events, and its podcast. You can support the society by becoming a member, for which you will receive a subscription to our journal:


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