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Continental Philosophy’s Existentialism and Phenomenology Essay

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Various identifiable schools of thought such as: existentialism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, deconstruction, and critical theory can be found within Continental philosophy. Existentialism and phenomenology can be traced back to the 19th century and to the pre-Socratics. A few of the main themes from existentialism are: ·Traditional and academic philosophy is sterile and remote from the concerns of real life. ·Philosophy must focus on the individual in her or hi confrontation with the world. ·The world is absurd, in the sense that no ultimate explanation can be given for why it is the way it is.

·Senselessness, emptiness, triviality, separation, and inability to communicate pervade human existence, giving birth to anxiety, dread, self-doubt, and despair. ·The individual confronts, as the most important fact of human existence, the necessity to choose how he or she is to live within this absurd and irrational world. Many of these themes were introduced by Arthur Schopenhauer, Soren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Kierkegaard emphasized the individual and especially the individual’s will and need to make important choices.

Georg Hegel rejected the concept of the “thing-in-itself” and held that all reality is the expression of thought or reason. Reality, for Hegel, is not a group of independent particulars or states of affairs, but rather like a coherent thought system such as mathematics it is an integrated whole in which each proposition is logically connected with all the rest. Where Hegel was abstract to a degree rarely found outside mathematics, Kierkgaard was concerned with how and what the individual actually chooses in the face of doubt and uncertainty.

One contributor to Continental philosophy was Friedrich Nietzche. Nietzche disagreed with all of Hegel’s theories of idealism. He believed the world is driven and determined by the will-to-power. He also believed we have no access to absolute truth and that there are not facts, only interpretations. There were several existentialists in the 19th and 20th centuries. Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gabriel Marcel and Simone de Beauvoir in France, Karl Jaspers in Switzerland, Martin Heidegger in Germany, Miguel de Unamuno and Jose Ortega y Gasset in Spain, and Nicola Abbagnano in Italy.

Two philosophers I want to discuss are Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Camus did not understand why the human race spent their lives in despair and grief but were always optimistic about living. He believed there is no ultimate reason that things are the way they are and that we must make choices and decide how to act in a valueless world and absurd world. This is called “existential predicament. ” Even though Camus asked himself, “Is there any reason not commit suicide? ” he regarded suicide as unacceptable.

Rebelling against the absurdity and tragedy of life would possibly give life meaning and value. Sartre was a man that thought God did not exist and that man was “abandoned. ” According to Sartre, the non-existence of God has four philosophical implications. First, there is no maker of man, so there is such thing as human nature. The person must produce his or her own essence, because no God created human beings in accordance with a divine concept. Second, since there is no God, there is no reason why things are the way they are not some other way.

A human being has “being-for-itself”, which means that a human being is a conscious subject that creates its own future. Third, man is “condemned to be free. ” Nothing forces us to do what we do, so therefore, we cannot excuse our actions by saying there were circumstances for what we did. Forth, there is no objective standard for values. Since it is a Godless world, we must come up with our own values. To Sartre, creating our own values is a great responsibility for mankind.

To find meaning in our lives, we must create our values by making authentic choices. Edmund Husserl was the first great phenomenologist. Phenomenology comes from structures found within conscious experience. Phenomena are the structures that manifest themselves on the assumptions and presuppositions of science. They are thought of as the way a thing is immediately experienced and the way it “is. ” Phenomenology is a way to explore the conscious experience with out making any metaphysical assumptions.

Husserl investigated phenomena without making assumptions about the world. This is called transcendental phenomenology. Martin Heidegger also wanted to see things without presumptions, but he was not convinced by Husserl’s theory of phenomena; he believed the source of seeing things this way was Being itself. Heidegger’s theory was that humans are caught up in their own ideas and Being has been reduced to a world of “objects” dominated by humans through their own logics. Humans are basically ignorant to the true nature of Being.

Emmanuel Levinas is mainly responsible for introducing phenomenology into France. He had an influence on many other philosophers. His theories centered on the sense of being aware of what and how we humans exist in the world. He believed, unlike Heidegger, that philosophy began with the experiences of our otherness, and God exists as an Absolute Otherness that can never be breached. He did not agree with the theory of Being because that would make the Other a mere object for consciousness.


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