Editions Fario has published a fascinating volume of Günther Anders's early writings, in which he sketches the outlines of a philosophical anthropology.

* Lire en français. The English translation is provided by the editorial staff, who are solely responsible for any inaccuracies.

The proliferation of French translations of essays by Günther Anders (1902-1992) over the past twenty years confirms that interest in the German philosopher is far more than a mere fad. Since the early 2000s, Günther Anders has established himself as the obligatory interlocutor for all those striving to think about the present age, whether in relation to the ecological crisis, the arms race, the use of technology or any other threat weighing heavily on the future of humanity.

Günther Anders - whose real name is Günther Stern - appears in the guise of a prophet (which, incidentally, he theorized), and as such is more relevant than ever, not only because of the astonishing modernity of his subjects, but also because of his inimitable style, far removed from the disciplinary norms of academia, which gives his texts an almost literary quality. Since Anders means "otherwise" in German, we have to admit that the pseudonym is well chosen, since this thinker did everything differently from the others throughout his life.

But, as Pierre-François Moreau rightly said at the beginning of the volume of collective studies recently devoted to him, if we want to say that we'll do something differently, it's because we already have something to do in common, which will enable us to distance ourselves from the approach of others. Hence the immense importance of knowing Günther Anders's intellectual journey from the very beginning (his formative years, his decisive philosophical encounters, the names of the teachers who left their mark on him, the seminars he attended and, of course, his first writings) in order to better grasp his irreducible difference.

Editions Fario - Anders' official publisher in France, so to speak - has just made an invaluable contribution to this in-depth understanding of Anders' thought by bringing together his early writings in a volume of over 400 pages, which is a translation of the volume Die Weltfremdheit des Menschen. Schriften zur philosophischen Anthropologie, compiled by Henrike Gätjens and Christian Dries, and published by Editions C. H. Beck in 2018.

Fifty years of anthropological reflection

The volume brings together writings on philosophical anthropology from the Günther Anders collection, as well as texts previously published under the titles "Une interprétation de l’a posteriori" (An interpretation of the a posteriori) and "Pathologie de la liberté. Essai sur la non-identification" (Pathology of freedom. An essay on non-identification), of which, curiously, only the French translations by Emmanuel Lévinas and Paul Stephanopoli published in the mid-1930s in the journal Recherches philosophiques remain.

The first part of this edition, entitled "L'humain étranger au monde" (The human stranger to the world), focuses on the founding text of Anders's philosophical anthropology, the 1930 lecture "Die Wetlfremdheit des Menschen", and on the two aforementioned articles in which he extended this lecture during his Parisian exile.

The second part, entitled "Travaux préparatoires" (Preparatory Works), presents the main texts prior to the 1930 lecture, in which Anders is seen searching for himself and testing out his first ideas. From the mass of texts available, four dating from 1927, 1928 and 1929 have been selected: one whose guiding question revolves around instinct; the second (which Edouard Jolly helped to bring to light in his fine monograph published in 2019) on "sleep/wake positions"; the third on the relationship between situation and knowledge; and the fourth, which lays the foundations for a philosophy of the human, and more specifically foreshadows the 1930 conference.

The third part, entitled "Mélanges d’écrits anthropologiques" (Collection of Anthropological Writings), contains drafts and texts subsequent to the conference and the articles ; drafts that testify to Anders' continuing interest in philosophical anthropology. It is not the least asset of this volume to document this continuing interest, but also to illuminate the link between his early philosophy and his later project of a "philosophical anthropology in the age of technocracy" - a project which, in the age of the "obsolescence of man", has as its meaning the "obsolescence of philosophical anthropology".

To highlight this link, the editors of L'Humain étranger au monde have chosen to add to the German edition a chapter from Volume 2 of The Outdatedness of Human Beings (L'Obsolescence de l'homme), dating from 1979, which deals precisely with the outdatedness of our positive philosophical anthropology. This section ends with one of Anders's customary fantasies: a fake interview with himself by an American journalist, who discusses the inconsistency of wanting to save the human being when we know that nothing distinguishes him as a species alongside other species in one nature.

Between phenomenology and anthropology

Günther Anders began his philosophy studies in Hamburg in 1920, before moving on to Munich and then Berlin, each time for a semester. Here, he had the opportunity to follow the lessons of some of the most remarkable figures in the academic world of the time: Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945), Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) and Moritz Geiger (1880-1937), then Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967), Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) and, finally, Eduard Spranger (1882-1963).

But in the 1920s, in Germany, the country's most attractive philosophical center was undoubtedly Freiburg, where Anders settled in 1923. It was here that he attended lectures by Husserl (1859-1938) and Heidegger (1889-1976). It was also under the direction of the former that he wrote his doctoral thesis, Die Rolle der Situationskategorie bei den "logischen Sätzen" (The Role of the Situation Category in "Logical Propositions"), in 1924.

After receiving his doctorate, Husserl asked him to become his secretary - an offer he declined, joining Heidegger in Marburg in 1925. There, he assiduously followed Heidegger's teachings, in the company of Arendt, Gadamer, Jonas, Löwith and Marcuse, and, like them, fell under the professor's irresistible spell, as he would confide again fifty years later:

"What fascinated me - and probably Marcuse too - and what will undoubtedly remain with Heidegger, is the breakthrough he seems to have achieved, more than two thousand years later, not only in metaphysics, but also in ontology. Indeed - and you're absolutely right - for three or four years I fell under the spell of his demonic spell."

In 1926, he became Max Scheler's assistant - a crucial encounter that was to play a decisive role in Anders's decades-long interest in philosophical anthropology.

Early publications

The birth of the anthropological movement in Germany coincides astonishingly with Günther Anders' formative years. The leading exponents of this new philosophical orientation were Max Scheler (1874-1928), Helmuth Plessner (1892-1985) and Arnold Gehlen (1904-1976). To put it succinctly, the aim of this undertaking was to answer the traditional question of all anthropology: how did man become human, how did he differentiate himself from other animals? But its novelty lies in the fact that it attempts to answer this question by drawing on empirical knowledge borrowed from the life sciences (biology, ethology, paleontology, etc.). At the heart of philosophical anthropology lies the description of a becoming, a movement, an advent of the human essence through nature.

Anders's first publication already makes a clear claim to this new philosophical orientation. Über das Haben. Sieben Kapitel zur Ontologie der Erkenntnis (On Having. Seven Chapters for an Ontology of Knowledge), published in 1928, is a collection of essays on the theme of authenticity, the phenomenological distinction between protention and potentiality, and a number of other topics. What makes these analyses particularly interesting in the context of late-1920s Germany is that, following in Scheler's footsteps, Anders is clearly endeavoring to give phenomenology a new kind of "anthropological" foundation.

In the article "Sur l'avoir" (On Having), which gives the collection its title, Anders considers "having" as a "specific dimension" of human existence, irreducible to both Husserl's transcendental egology and Heidegger's existential analysis of Dasein. The category of having is then conceived as constituting the specific difference of the human. The human is the animal that can "have": a body, objects and so on. In short, it is the animal that can have a world, as Laurent Perreau pertinently puts it.

The 1930 lecture on "L'humain étranger au monde" and the two articles "Une interprétation de l'a posteriori" and "Pathologie de la liberté", published in Alexandre Koyré's journal Recherches philosophiques, follow on from these early philosophical attempts.

Man is in the world, Anders says, like a stranger, in a way that animals can never be. Animals are so integrated into their world that it is given to them "a priori". Guided by its needs, the animal uses its "instinctive knowledge" to orient itself in a world where it finds everything it needs to be satisfied. Experience and hindsight are of no use. The animal's demand is always already met by nature's supply. In contrast, humans are less integrated into their environment, and therefore enjoy a form of relative independence.

As Christophe David writes in a fine article on Anders's relationship to philosophical anthropology, the human is in a "shared" relationship with the world:

"On the one hand, as an embodied natural being, he is part of the world; on the other, his need for experience shows that he is also alien to it, that he is also excluded from it. The specificity of man's relationship to the world lies in the fact that he is with it in a relationship of distanced inherence."

According to Anders, the origin of freedom is to be found in this relationship of distanced inherence: "The starting point of the problem of freedom is the fact that man, a stranger to the world, is detached from it and left to himself."

This already shows that Anders' thinking, from the time he began working on a philosophical anthropology, went far beyond the strict confines of anthropology to become a metaphysical meditation on freedom. While it would undoubtedly be a mistake to seek in these early texts the thoughts of the mature thinker, there is at least one unmistakable feature: the author of these already remarkable essays would soon explore other horizons and find a path of his own.