Look Inside. Edited and with an Introduction by Gordon Marino Basic Writings of Existentialism, unique to the Modern Library, presents the writings of key nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers broadly united by their belief that because life has no inherent meaning humans can discover, we must determine meaning for ourselves. This anthology brings together into one volume the most influential and commonly taught works of existentialism. Readers new to existentialism have as reliable a guide as the subject matter permits. Those familiar with movement have an occasion for recollection and more.
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Readers new to existentialism have as reliable a guide as the subject matter permits. Those familiar with movement have an occasion for recollection and more. The key writers are included—Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky from the nineteenth century, and Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus from the twentieth century. Marino has a sharp eye for picking telling passages from often long and complex works. These fresh selections lay out the issues, from alienation to reconciliation, from despair to joyful wisdom, that make this world perspective so compelling.
A profound adventure awaits those readers ready to immerse themselves in this jewel of a book. Mooney, professor of philosophy and religion, Syracuse University.
As a professor of philosophy, I realize that it is not fashionable and, philosophically speaking, almost vulgar to begin an anthology with a confession, but existentialism is a much more personal form of philosophizing than any other. In fact, some of the existential philosophers whom you will shake hands with in this book insist on working from the first-person perspective.
If we were to do so and do it out of fear lest we be deceived, would we not then be deceived? We can, of course, be deceived in many way s. We can be deceived by believing what is untrue, but we certainly are also deceived by not believing what is true.
We can be deceived by appearances, but we can also be deceived by shrewdness, by the flattering conceit which is absolutely certain it cannot be deceived. Which deception is more dangerous? Whose recovery is more doubtful, that of one who does not see, or that of the person who sees and y et does not see? What is more difficult—to awaken someone who is sleeping or to awaken someone who awake, is dreaming that he is awake? Which is sadder, the sight that promptly and unconditionally moves one to tears, the sight of someone unhappily deceived in love, or the sight that in a certain sense could tempt laughter, the sight of the self-deceived, whose fatuous conceit of not being deceived would indeed be ridiculous and laughable if the ridiculousness of it were not an even stronger expression for horror, since it shows that he is unworthy of tears.
Today, orthodoxy has it that sudden psychological changes are chemical in nature, but there was a time when we still believed that an idea, or an interpretation of your experience, could turn the page of that experience.
The famously depressive Dane went on to draw a distinction between despair and depression that has been paved over in the present age. I was a graduate student in philosophy on leave from the university when I had this initial encounter with existentialism. It was the late seventies, a period in which most philosophy departments were controlled by the analytic tradition.
Analytic philosophy placed great stress on clarity, precision, and logical form. Topics that could not be rigorously defined—and that was just about everything meaningful—were dismissed as pseudo-problems. Most philosophical talk during this era was about the way we talk. If you wanted to discuss the nature of the self you would first have to spend a couple of decades discussing the way we discuss the self, or so it seemed to me and many of my fellow students.
It was, at the time, fashionable for analytic-type professors to begin a seminar by making a negative object lesson of one of the existentialists. I went into philosophy smitten with Socrates and the fantasy that intellectual reflection might actually make an important difference in my life. But much of the academic philosophy that I was muddling through as a graduate student was bloodless and far removed from both experience and wisdom.
Kierkegaard, however, flung open the window and convinced me that at least the existential movement resonated with the ancient view of philosophy as a way of life, as a guide for the perplexed. Like some of the films that young people admire today and assimilate into their self-understanding, existentialism does not dodge the fact that there is something disturbing going on in the basement of our cozy middle-class world.
While there is a long tradition in philosophy of believing that knowledge must be grounded in experience, existentialism tries to get at experience from the inside out. Kierkegaard is pressing the difference between an objective and a subjective perspective. He reflects on what it means to die. I know that Napoleon always carried poison with him, that Juliet took it. I know that the poet interprets death in a variety of moods to the point of verging on the comic.
I know what the clergy usually say…. So before I go on to world history, about which I still must always say: God knows if it actually does concern you; I think it would be better to consider this, lest existence mock me for having become so erudite that I had forgotten to understand what will happen to me and every human being sometime—sometime, but what am I saying! Suppose death were insidious enough to come tomorrow! Whereas other philosophers might have tried to formulate a general theory of personal identity, or perhaps a definition of death, Kierkegaard and then Martin Heidegger after him try to fathom the individual meaning of our mortality.
In short, existentialism works at the level of personal meaning in contrast to general theory. But our protests were in vain. In the end, we took the epithet that every one used for us and used it for our own purposes.
Now, one of the problems with defining existentialism is the fact that almost everyone who was labeled an existentialist went to great lengths to deny that he or she was an existentialist. Heidegger wrote an essay in which he denounced the suggestion that he was an existentialist as Sartre conceived of it. On the other hand, Sartre took up the banner and formulated an existential creed. Sartre, however, believes that it is obvious that God does not exist but claims that there is still at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger say s, human reality.
What is meant here by say ing that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself…. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence.
Whereas a table is a table is a table, humans have no preexisting essence and so define themselves. Though they may disagree about the details, the existentialists are linked by their commitment to the common themes of freedom, choice, authenticity, alienation, and rebellion. A distant teacher of Karl Marx, the German philosopher G. Hegel argued that our states of minds are conditioned by historical circumstances. While the existentialists and especially Kierkegaard were inclined to argue against Hegel, who with his unconditional faith in reason was the great wizard of philosophical systematizers, there can be no doubt that the roots of an existential approach were grounded during the Enlightenment, at a time when the faith of people turned in varying degrees from God to reason and humanity itself.
As the philosopher Charles Guignon drawing on the work of Max Weber has noted, the existential movement is a response to the disenchantment of the world, that is, to the sense that the history and social structure of the world are not God sanctioned.
The Lord is not out there as in a theater, watching and giving meaning to our every move. After two world wars, everyone was ready for a philosophy that could nod to the irrational elements in life; hence, perhaps the immense popularity of both psychoanalysis and existentialism after the abattoir of the twentieth century. Thanks in large part to the fame that Sartre and Camus achieved in the post—World War II years, existentialism took flame in America in the late forties and fifties.
Recognizing the influence that Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche worked on Heidegger and Heidegger on Sartre, the backward process of sanctification began. Scholars began to argue over whether or not this author or that was an existentialist.
Some historians of philosophy followed the lineage of existentialists back as far as St. Thomas Aquinas under the new rubric. Existentialism is an interdisciplinary movement that finds expression in three genres: philosophy, literature, and psychotherapy. As a purely philosophical movement, the taproot of existentialism can be traced to the phenomenological work of Edmund Husserl. In his search for certitude, Husserl tried to take philosophy back to the analysis of concrete experience.
While Heidegger was also drawing upon the work of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche both of whom became popular in Germany after World War I , his early work shows the impress of his teacher, Husserl.
Examples of existential phenomenology can be found in the selections from Being and Time Heidegger and Being and Nothingness Sartre. On the other hand, existentialism is a literary movement. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ralph Ellison, Camus, and Franz Kafka have all been classified as existentialists in part because of their profound influence on thinkers whom we have come to associate with existentialism, but also because they hammer out existential themes with existential presuppositions.
Of course some existentialists, namely Marcel, Unamuno, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus, wrote both novels and plays as well as philosophical tracts. Finally, the sixties saw the emergence of an existential school of psychology. The works of Rollo May, Viktor Frankl, and Ludwig Binswanger are the most representative of this movement, which focuses on helping the individual to own his or her own choices.
Existentialism has even found a presence on the silver screen. Before the curtain opens, a word of caution: Today we often connect the idea of education with an almost cozy notion of enlightenment and progress. Sometimes we forget that ideas can be dynamite.
Plato and his teacher Socrates taught us that anything that has the power to help also has the power to harm. Depending on your existential coordinates, the. Take for unnerving example the Nietzchean question, what exactly is the value of value? Or put another way, are Western morals salutary or debilitating?
Or again, for those cocksure of their faith, beware of Kierkegaard, who argues that Christians have made a point of forgetting what it really means to be a Christian. For Kierkegaard, most of the people who cross themselves at night and shake their heads over the poor nonbelievers are Christians in much the same way as country club members. In short, caveat emptor: The existentialists are not for people looking to read themselves to sleep.
A brilliant dialectician, the old man exercised an enormous influence on the life and work of his genial son. Kierkegaard entered the University of Copenhagen in , but it took more than a decade and the deathbed wishes of his father for him to finish his degree.
He passed his exams in and a year later completed his remarkable dissertation, On the Concept of Irony: With Constant Reference to Socrates.
In , when Kierkegaard was twenty-four, he met and fell in love with Regine Olsen. Three years later, they became engaged, but despite the loud protests of both his and her families, Kierkegaard broke off the relationship.
In his Journals, Kierkegaard gave two different explanations for the break. On the one hand, he claimed that he did not want to bring Regine into the severe melancholy that afflicted virtually his entire family, and on the other, he said that he did not think that he could be the religious author that he felt called to be and a husband at the same time. After emotionally struggling for more than a year, Regine became engaged and married another.
However, Kierkegaard would remain obsessed with her for the remainder of his days, even to the point of leaving her the little that he had upon his death. Kierkegaard started writing in earnest around the time of the break with Regine. From the early s until his death in , Kierkegaard poured forth an amazing number of works. Some were attributed to pseudonyms and were deemed to be part of what he termed his indirect authorship, e.
Others, such as the more straightforwardly religious tracts, e. Kierkegaard wrote during a tumultuous period in Danish history. The empire was rapidly shrinking, the economy was in shambles, and the state was involved in the peaceful but still difficult transition from a monarchy to a democracy.
At the same time, however, it was the golden age of art and literature in Denmark, and Kierkegaard was very much influenced by the Danish romantic poets and novelists of his day. He was a Lutheran, and it is easy to detect the presence of Martin Luther in his religious reflections.
Basic Writings of Existentialism
Readers new to existentialism have as reliable a guide as the subject matter permits. Those familiar with movement have an occasion for recollection and more. The key writers are included—Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky from the nineteenth century, and Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus from the twentieth century. Marino has a sharp eye for picking telling passages from often long and complex works.