Read 8. Existentialism and Christian Humanism.pdf - Lance R ichey E xistentialism and C hristian H um anism Josef Pieper\u2019s Critque of Sartre Revisited

Read 8. Existentialism and Christian Humanism.pdf - Lance R...

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L a n c e R i c h e y Existentialism and Christian Humanism Josef Pieper’s Critque of Sartre Revisited M o r e th a n perh aps any other Thomistic philosopher of his genera- tion, Josef Pieper (1904—1997) attempted to understand and engage (rather than caricature and evade) the early philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, especially Sartre’s famous definition of existentialism as the “belief that existence precedes essence.”1 Indeed, Pieper seems to have considered Sartre’s denial of any human nature that might serve as a “natural” limit on our freedom to be the supreme expression not merely of existentialism but of modernity itself. He returned repeatedly in his writings to Sartre’s denial of human nature, eventu- ally dedicating an entire essay, “Creatureliness and Human Nature: Reflections on the Philosophical Method of Jean-Paul Sartre,”2 to an examination of and reflection upon its (not entirely negative) sig- nificance for Christian philosophy. While Pieper’s analysis is based primarily on the famous 1943^ lecture Existentialism is a Humanism, which Sartre himself later dismissed as overly popular and simplis- tic, Pieper’s essay itself is a surprisingly insightful and even-handed attempt to comprehend and critique Sartre’s early thought from a Catholic and Thomistic perspective. In this article, I will examine Pieper’s essay and its enduring value for understanding Sartre. First, I will briefly examine and defend his LOGOS 18:3 SUMMER 2 oi£
34 LOGOS analysis of and disagreement with Sartre’s claim that “existence pre- cedes essence,” showing how— despite his severely limited textual basis— Pieper correctly identifies and engages the heart of Sartre’s early philosophy. Next, I will explore Pieper’s argument that Sartre, by connecting the existence of natures to that of a creating God, has not only grounded his philosophy deeply within the classical and Christian philosophical tradition, but also provided an oppor- tunity for Christians to rethink and deepen the notion of creation. Finally, I will turn to Pieper’s efforts to draw out some of the more radical implications of Sartre’s existentialism for our knowledge of the world, implications which Pieper recognized more clearly than many of Sartre’s own followers. Despite his disagreement, Pieper expresses these consequences of Sartre’s existentialism eloquently and offers them as a fundamental challenge to anyone who would defend Sartre’s project. In conclusion, I argue that Pieper’s critique, while hardly complete or conclusive, represents a serious effort by a Christian philosopher to comprehend and philosophically engage in good faith what Sartre called “all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position.” As such, his critical engagement with and assess- ment of Sartre’s philosophy deserves closer attention than it has yet received among either Sartrean or Christian philosophers.

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