Desiderio e realtà. Note sulla potenza e l'impotenza del volere secondo Scheler


  • Roberta Guccinelli



Roberta Guccinelli, Max Scheler, desiderio, realtà


Desire and reality. Notes on the ‘power of will’ and ‘weakness of will’ according to Scheler

My aim in this paper is to provide a phenomenological contribution to contemporary philosophical research on practical reason and emotions. Within this frame, I focus my attention on Scheler’s value realism, showing its relevance, both affective and cognitive, and its theoretical refinement, which enable it to avoid the narrow limits of a flat descriptivism and those that deontologism and consequentialism have traditionally ordered ethics to respect. So Scheler’s pioneering non-formal ethics of values can enter into lively dialogue with the most sophisticated current versions of axiological realism. In particular, I point out the role that wish, or desire in general, plays in Schelerian value realism and the importance that affective-conative life has, from this perspective, for the process of formation of the person. The problem at hand requires, therefore, elucidation, first, of the Schelerian concept (and quality) of value, to grasp the meaning of this peculiar kind of realism and to clear the ground of any potential prejudices or misunderstandings about it. The specific traits of Scheler’s value realism can be synthesized in four points, which are presented and discussed in detail:

  1. Values are facts, that is to say, values are not mere interpretations.
  2. They are non-independent of our mind.
  3. They are irreducible to non-value data.
  4. They motivate the individual that makes lived experience of them.

In its programmatic lines, however, this realism shares with the major part of cognitivist value models the claim to a true axiological knowledge, distinguishing itself, precisely for this reason, from other philosophical approaches to values, for example, emotivism or prescriptivism. Secondly, the inquiry is about desire. What is the ontological status of a desire? How do desires form themselves? In what measure do they affect our lives? Are our most secret desires or aspirations susceptible to moral judgement? These issues are confronted in the section of the paper dedicated specifically to investigating our emotions and passions, our dreams and fantasies. In this context, “desire” as wish is distinguished from “desire” as mere appetite or lust, precisely because it is individualized and less tightly bound to a generic species instinct. Wish is analyzed in its value structure and through a close comparison with conation and willing. A rather effective Schelerian example – the example of “a will that is not a power”, so to speak, or of the so-called will of a paralyzed person that will come to the rescue of a drowning person, when in actual fact he cannot will it – allows me to focus on a central phenomenon in Scheler’s reflection on the emotive and volitive life of persons: the “quasi-Nietzschean” phenomenon of the “power of will” [Willensmacht] and the “weakness of will” [Willensohnmacht]. It is a question of a being-able-to-do or of a not-being-able-to-do, a fundamental experience for understanding well the sense that wish has in this value realism. My hypothesis on the nature of desire, that is, the “hypothesis of the plasticity of desire”, formulated in these pages, discloses the genuine aspiration of desire, the desire for reality, and its ontological consistency, the reality of desire. In a certain sense, desire belies the traditional interpretation that renders it a mere lack (of reality).