Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Amazing May 9

The First Movement in Existentialism

The birth of the existentialist movement may be traced back to Berlin, Germany, 1841. In the winter of that year Schelling gave his famous series of lectures in the University of that City. His audience included many notable philosophers Kierkegaard, Engels and Bakunin among many others. His intention was to question the great rationalist structure thrown onto philosophy by Hegel. Many were disappointed that he had not done so to their satisfaction. However, whatever their misgivings, that was the turning point which gave birth to existentialism. Kierkegaard went back to Denmark and published his Philosophical Fragments in 1844, the first of many books from his pen. Karl Marx also wrote several books between 1844 and 1845 wherein he castigated “abstract truth” for being an “ideology,” and again he also used Rene Descartes as a whipping boy.

The Second Movement

However, the existential movement then went into a period of slumber for some 40 or so years and woke up in the 1880s with the work of Dilthey, and most especially with Friedrich Nietzsche, the “philosophy of life” movement and also with the work of Bergson.

The Third Movement

After the shattering shock of World War 1 the writings of Kierkegaard and the early Marx were rediscovered. Also the serious challenges to modern culture outlined in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche could no longer be covered over. Then the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl added much backbone to this third wave of the existential movement. It was his ideas that gave Heidegger, Jaspers and others the relevant tools they needed to undercut the subject-object cleavage which had been a stumbling block in science as well as philosophy. It is also interesting to note as May points out that there is an obvious similarity between existentialism with the process philosophies of Whitehead and in the works on pragmatism by William James in the USA.

Finally, Martin Heidegger is generally taken as the fountainhead of present day existential thought with his seminal book being and Time at the forefront of this drive. Other notable scholars that May mentions are Jean-Paul Sartre and Gabriel Marcel in France, Nicolas Berdyaev, Ortega y Gasset and Unamuno in Spain. Then he mentions his great friend, the theologian and scholar, Paul Tillich who wrote the famous book, “The Courage to Be” which May reckons to be the best and most cogent presentation in English of existentialism as an approach to actual living.

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