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January 11, 2020
Zephyr Institute

Teleology and Transcendence

A master class led by Fr. Anselm Ramelow O.P. (Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology)
Teleology and Transcendence

Time & Location

January 11, 2020
Zephyr Institute


Before his passing, German philosopher Robert Spaemann (1927-2018) was considered “one of the most important living thinkers in Europe today” (Oxford University Press). This master class led by Fr. Anselm Ramelow O.P., a former doctoral student of Spaemann’s and a scholar of his work, provided an introduction to Spaemann’s thought in its teleological and transcendent context. Participants discussed Spaemann’s understanding of teleology and transcendence vis-à-vis being, nature, freedom, personhood, and intersubjectivity. They also considered his contributions to bioethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of technology.


Fr. Anselm Ramelow O.P. is Professor of Philosophy and Philosophy Department Chair at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA. He holds a Ph.D in Philosophy from the University of Munich. At Munich, he studied with Robert Spaemann, and wrote a dissertation titled Gott, Freiheit, Weltenwahl. Die Metaphysik der Willensfreiheit zwischen Antonio Perez, S. J. (1599-1649) und G.W. Leibniz (1646-1716), investigating the concept of “the best of all possible worlds. In 2018, he published the first comprehensive, article-length overview of Robert Spaemanns thought in Communio. He regularly teaches courses on modern philosophy and theology, covering Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Heidegger, phenomenology, and the linguistic turn in philosophy and theology.


Metaphysics and Ontology (2:00–3:00 p.m.)
as Transcendence
Nature and Violence

Personhood and Solipsism (3:15–4:15 p.m.)
Self-Transcendence, Happiness and Solipsism
Stepping Beyond Oneself: Personhood


Ethics and History (4:30–5:30 p.m.)
True Self-Transcendence, False Wholes and Parts
History as Self-Preservation and Transcendence

Dinner 5:30 p.m.


  • Anselm Ramelow, “Teleology and Transcendence: The Thought of Robert Spaemann,” Communio 45 (Fall-Winter 2018), 567-612

  • Robert Spaemann, “Is Every Human Being a Person?,” The Thomist 60.3 (July 1996), 463-474

  • Robert Spaemann, “What does it mean to say that ‘Art imitates nature’?,” A Robert Spaemann Reader: Philosophical Essays on Nature, God, and the Human Person, ed. and trans. D.C. Schindler and Jeanne Heffernan Schindler, Oxford University Press, 2015

  • Robert Spaemann, “How Could You Do What You Did?,” Communio 36 (Winter 2009), 643-651

  • Robert Spaemann and Holger Zaborowski, “An animal that can promise and forgive,” Communio 34 (Winter 2007), 511-521

Photo: Monastery of Vatopaidi, Mount Athos

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Professor of Philosophy and Philosophy Department Chair, Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

Related Publications

A Robert Spaemann Reader: Philosophical Essays on Nature, God, and the Human Person (Oxford University Press, 2015)
A Robert Spaemann Reader: Philosophical Essays on Nature, God, and the Human Person (Oxford University Press, 2015)

“The German philosopher Robert Spaemann is one of the most important living thinkers in Europe today. This volume presents a selection of essays that span his career, from his first published academic essay on the origin of sociology (1953) to his more recent work in anthropology and the philosophy of religion. Spaemann is best known for his work on topical questions in ethics, politics, and education, but the light he casts on these questions derives from his more fundamental studies in metaphysics, the philosophy of nature, anthropology, and the philosophy of religion. At the core of the essays contained in this book is the concept of nature and the notion of the human person. Both are best understood, according to Spaemann, in light of the metaphysics and anthropology found in the classical and Christian tradition, which provides an account of the intelligibility and integrity of things and beings in the world that safeguards their value against the modern threat of reductionism and fragmentation. A Robert Spaemann Reader shows that Spaemann's profound intellectual formation in this tradition yields penetrating insights into a wide range of subjects, including God, education, art, human action, freedom, evolution, politics, and human dignity.” –Oxford University Press

“Teleology and Transcendence: The Thought of Robert Spaemann” (Communio 45.3-4, Fall-Winter 2018)
“Teleology and Transcendence: The Thought of Robert Spaemann” (Communio 45.3-4, Fall-Winter 2018)

“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. He felt that there was never a place in his life that he could call his home.” –Fr. Anselm Ramelow O.P.

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