Lecture note 1.docx - Lecture on Existentialism and...

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Lecture on Existentialism and Existential Therapy Dr. Stephen Ticktin -Existentialism as a word and philosophy emerges on the Continent in the aftermath of the second world war. No-one knows who coined the word. Some say it was the French Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel who used the term to describe the philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre. Others claim it was a French journalist named Jean Wahl who wrote one of the earliest books on the subject. Eventually Jean Paul Sartre adopted the term and in 1946 gave his famous public address Existentialism and Humanism. -The word ‘existentialism’ is a misnomer because it is not an ism. It is not a unified body of thought or a rational systematic metaphysics or ethics in the tradition of Kant or Hegel. In fact it is a reaction against that kind of absolutist philosophy that focuses on the abstract, universal and necessary features of mankind and ignores the particular individual. What makes European existentialism so interesting in contradistinction to the Anglo-American tradition is that it is a philosophy about life. -So existentialism is more a style of philosophising but it does give vent to the metaphysical impulse. It is concerned with a branch of classical philosophy called ontology or the study of being and in particular the nature of human existence. Existentialists do focus on a number of key concepts and themes: anxiety, autonomy, authenticity, freedom and responsibility. However different existentialists place different emphases on them. Some existentialists are religious and others are atheists. Some focus on the individual and others focus on the relational aspects of human existence. -There are 2 philosophers in the 19th century who are considered precursors of modern 20th century existentialism. Both of them were rebels and prophets of their time. The first was Soren Kierkegaard who railed against the Lutheran church but in fact considered being a Christian the highest stage on life’s way. However he stressed that the bel 2 Although there are a myriad of existential philosophers I will focus on 2 namely Heidegger and Sartre. HEIDEGGER Martin
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Heidegger(1889-1976) was from a Catholic working class background and grew up in a small town in southwest Germany called Messkirch. He initially studied theology but switched to philosophy at the University of Freiburg after having read Aristotle’s Metaphysics. He felt that Aristotle had asked the big questions: First why is there something rather than nothing and secondly what is the nature of Being qua Being. So his main interest in philosophy was in ontology, a classical branch of metaphysics. He was not essentially writing ethics but it is possible to derive an ethics from his and Sartre’s writings. Such an attempt was made by Hazel Barnes, an American philosopher and translator of Sartre, who wrote a book called “Toward an Existentialist Ethics. Heidegger was initially a student of Husserl’s who had become the Professor of Philosophy in Freiburg in 1916. Initially he courted Husserl’s favour but by the time
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