Fall–Winter 2018

Teleology and Transcendence: The Thought of Robert Spaemann

Anselm Ramelow

It is only after the end of someone’s life that we can take a look at his life as a whole—Robert Spaemann did not think this possible during one’s lifetime. Nevertheless, even during one’s lifetime, every part of it is already informed by the viewpoint of an ungraspable whole into which it transcends itself. Now that Robert Spaemann’s life has come to an end, it can come into view as a whole, and we can try to identify some of the basic themes that unify its parts: “teleology” and “transcendence” offer themselves, and the critique of misguided attempts to replace them with a paradigm of self-preservation. Spaemann’s early life might have predisposed him toward self-transcendence, but also toward strong survival instincts. For both can be the result of the exposure and vulnerability to which orphans are subject. Spaemann lost his mother to illness at the age of nine, and his father shortly after that to the priesthood (or at least that is how it felt to him initially). He was handed around in the extended family in Swabia and Cologne, all the while experiencing the dangers of the Nazi period. He witnessed the war: during the bombing of Cologne in 1942 he helped carry his dead neighbors out of their houses, and toward the end he saw the annihilation of Dorsten, where he lived.1 He felt that there was never a place in his life that he could call his home.

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