Journal of Philosophy of Life

An international peer-reviewed open access journal dedicated to the philosophy of life, death, and nature, supported by the Project of Philosophy and Contemporary Society, Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences, Waseda University


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Phenomenological Interpretations of Life
: Reductivist and Non-Reductivist Approaches in Heidegger, Scheler, Jonas, and Barbaras

Andrew Tyler Johnson

Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.10, No.1 (July 2020):17-37




This paper provides a critical introduction to the most important phenomenological treatments of life. Formally, we may characterize these treatments as either reductive or non-reductive according to how they situate life ontologically vis-à-vis specifically human life, what the tradition calls “existence.” Whereas reductive or “existentialist” accounts posit an experiential continuum, a single horizon of disclosure articulated by structures which are present to varying degrees commensurate with organizational complexity, non-reductive accounts understand life and existence as modes of being in their own right, as defined by regimes of disclosure which are different in kind. On my reading, the Heidegger of the 1920s, his student Hans Jonas, and more recently, the French phenomenologist Renaud Barbaras fall into the reductivist camp, while the later (post-1930) Heidegger and Max Scheler can be counted among the non-reductivists. After briefly sketching out the respective positions, I suggest arguments in favour of the non-reductivist approach.

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