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Continental Philosophy Essay

When beginning the study of philosophy it is hard to believe that there are so many components involved with one subject. But in reality philosophy is really a broad term for many subtopics; as is the case when discussing continental philosophy, which is the philosophical tradition of continental Europe including phenomenology and existentialism. It all began with Absolute Idealism supported by such philosophers as Fichte and Hegel. It was during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that immense amounts of historical changes taking place in the world were showing in the philosophical movements of that time period.

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel begins the historical analysis of continental philosophy since it all begins with his theories. Though Hegel’s philosophies have been described as difficult his theories form the foundation for what is now known as Hegelian idealism. His theory has four main themes. The first is dependant on the “Absolute” and states that the “Absolute” is that which is most real and true and which can also think for itself.

The second is based on idealism and he speaks of the objective world being an “expression of infinite thought” (Moore & Bruder 2005) and that each individuals mind thought processes actually are reflections on themselves. The third theory is based on reality. For Hegel this was not an easy concept. To try to make it easier to understand our book tries to describe it as being similar to mathematics in that everything is coherently connected to another. So in order for something to be completely true it is dependant on all its parts to make it so.

Then the forth theory is known as “The Absolute” and is the “sum total of reality; is a system of conceptual triads . . . the entire system of thought and reality . . . is an integrated whole in which each proposition is logically interconnected with the rest” (2005). As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth century what seemed to transpire in philosophy was a direct result of Hegel himself. The response to Hegelian idealism in Europe became known as Continental philosophy which includes the two branches of thought that will be explored, existentialism and phenomenology.

Existentialism is a philosophical movement with its main emphasis on individual existence, freedom, and choice. Existentialism became popularized in the 1900’s. Mainly due to what was happening during World War II, many of the popular existentialists were affected by the traumatic world events of that time period. Albert Camus was profoundly affected by World War II and this was depicted throughout his many writings. According to our reading he saw much suffering and despair prior to the war even starting. He eventually became active in social reform and was a member of the communist party for a brief period of time.

Even though he will forever be connected to the world of existentialism, he never accepted that to be true. Regardless of his beliefs to whether or not he was an existentialist his thought process has been forever linked. Considered to be a literary genius of his time he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. During the war, Camus published a number of works which have become associated with his principle thought processes on the “absurd”: his idea is mainly that it is impossible to make rational sense of one’s experience, and human life is made meaningless by mortality.

World War II brought Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre together. Sartre is arguably the most famous existentialist. Unlike Camus, Sartre was an atheist. His main beliefs revolve around the fact that there is in fact no God. For Existentialists like Sartre, the absence of God has a much larger significance than the metaphysics of creation: Without God there is no purpose, no value, and no meaning in the world. Phenomenology is the second branch of Continental philosophy that has historical connections to Hegelian idealism and thus existentialism. Phenomenology is the direct result of Edmund Husserl’s philosophies.

According to Husserl, the goal of philosophy was to describe the data of consciousness without bias or prejudice, ignoring all metaphysical and scientific theories in order to accurately describe and analyze the data gathered by human senses and the mind. “Phenomenology, in theory, simply explores conscious experience without making any metaphysical assumptions” (2005). Martin Heidegger was another popular phenomenologist of the twentieth century. He was inspired by Husserl’s works. “Heidegger, too, was convinced that it was necessary to look at things with fresh eyes, unshrouded by the presuppositions of the present and past” (2005).

According to him humans are actually “ignorant” to everything, what he called the “true nature of Being” (2005). It all goes back to Socrates and our inner search for something. In reality however Heidegger and Socrates philosophies are not similar in anyway. To define humans as animals capable of rational thinking is for Heidegger a distorted anthropology. He is not concerned with destroying logic, the ability to formulate analogies, or to display ratios. His mission is to preserve the fragile tendencies of spontaneous thought processes. By so doing Heidegger sees himself as presenting the phenomenal world.

Continental philosophy is a form of philosophy that broadens the gap across the continents. It was the form of philosophy that took place in continental Europe during the twentieth century. It was during that time that the main philosophers of that time were being influenced by the terror and violence that was surrounding them thanks in part due to World War II. This influential time saw the rise in existentialism and phenomenology. References Moore, B. N. & Bruder, K. (2005). Philosophy: The power of ideas (6th ed. ). Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.


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