Unit 8 - Existentialism_Intros(1) - Introductions to...

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Introductions to Existentialism (from; Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre , by Walter Kaufman, Meridian, 1975, pp. 11-12) Existentialism is not a philosophy but a label for several widely different revolts against traditional philosophy. Most of the living “existentialists” ( my note: this is an old text – all the main proponents of existentialism are now dead ) have repudiated this label, and a bewildered outsider might well conclude that the only thing they have in common is a marked aversion for each other. To add to the confusion, many writers of the past have frequently been hailed as members of this movement, and it is extremely doubtful whether they would have appreciated the company to which they are consigned. In view of this, it might be argued that the label “existentialism” ought to be abandoned altogether. Certainly, existentialism is not a school of thought nor reducible to any set of tenets. The three writers who appear invariably on every list of “existentialists”—Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre—are not in agreement on essentials. Such alleged precursors as Pascal and Kierkegaard differed from all three men by being dedicated Christians; and Pascal was a Catholic of sorts while Kierkegaard was a Protestant’s Protestant. If, as is often done, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky are included in the fold, we must make room for an impassioned anti-Christian and an even more fanatical Greek-Orthodox Russian imperialist. By the time we consider adding Rilke, Kafka, and Camus, it becomes plain that one essential feature of shared by all these men is their perfervid individualism. The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever and especially of systems , and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life—that is the heart of existentialism. * * * (from: A Casebook on Existentialism , by William V. Spanos, Crowell, 1966, pp. 2-9) What specifically, then, is the existential attitude? Ultimately it is undefinable. Like the unicorn, whom legend endows with wondrous attributes, but whom the empirical eye has never calibrated, existentialism is a kind of poetry of the philosophical imagination, defying rational systematization. Unlike traditional philosophies, existentialism is not a philosophy of essences, defining nature—including human nature—and imposing abstract structures upon it. It is, rather, a philosophy of existence, which attempts to view man in his relationship to the universe in all its concrete plenitude—and problematic complexity. Thus no two existentialists would have the same vision of the human condition. Nevertheless the contemporary philosophical and literary existentialists, both atheistic (or humanistic) and theistic, address themselves to two broad alternatives facing a man in a world in which God is dead: (1) the institutionalized and collectivized life on the analogy of the machinery of technology toward which modern man is drifting and (2) Existentialism, Introductions , Page 1
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This note was uploaded on 11/22/2011 for the course PHILOSOPHY 101 taught by Professor Simonoswitch during the Spring '10 term at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

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Unit 8 - Existentialism_Intros(1) - Introductions to...

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