Sociology Index

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Helmuth Plessner

Helmuth Plessner (1892 – 1985) was a German philosopher and sociologist, and a primary advocate of Philosophical Anthropology. Helmuth Plessner developed a philosophical biology and philosophical anthropology which amounted to a hermeneutics of nature. According to Helmuth Plessner, life expresses itself, and part of this expression is in terms of sentient lifeforms. In expressing itself through the human senses, it provides the material a priori constituents of perception.

According to Helmuth Plessner, formal qualities that make up our consciousness a priori — given as the conditions through which we experience things — conditions such as time, space, causality and number, and, indeed, the laws of physics, however we may then conceptualize them, are given to us both in our own physical nature, and in the physical nature of the environments we inhabit, through our growth from and interactions within these environments.

The three categories of nature's a priori and the "eccentricity" of human intentionality from Husserl and Scheler, Helmuth Plessner adapted the idea of the intentionality of consciousness away from the need for a transcendental ego or apperception and instead grounds it in the behavior of environmentally interactive organisms as a realizing of borders that represents the point where the impulses or growth of organisms meet with their environments, are realized in the act of self-positioning.

These are the scopes of action and understanding that define consciousness and which at the same time ground it in the material world of nature. In terms of plants, their self-expression is utterly open—their borders are defined by only very simple forms of feedback, and the plant has no ability to express intentional preferences regarding its environment; animals, on the other hand, are aware of their own borders and are constantly pressed back within them, thus exhibiting a closed kind of intentionality trapped by its own borders, this is the limit of their expression.

According to Helmuth Plessner, humans alternate between open and closed intentionality — we are these borders, but also, we have them, and the limits of these borders of human action, influence and being Plessner described as the eccentricity of human intentionality in its environmental relations and determination. For Helmuth Plessner, our own subjectivity can be understood in terms of the expressive a priori in nature, and our experience of and relationship to it.

The city of Wiesbaden has created an award in honor of Helmuth Plessner in 2014. It serves to promote and appreciate excellent scientists and intellectuals who have worked and work in reference to Helmuth Plessner. It is awarded every three years and is donated with 20,000 euros. The first prizewinner was Michael Tomasello.