Beyond Existentialism

Beyond Existentialism

Beyond Existentialism

Beyond Existentialism

Excerpt

Existentialism may be regarded as the most characteristic expression of the fundamental thought and feeling of the most recent past. Though it originated in Europe, it has aroused the greatest interest throughout the civilized world. True, its more extreme formulations, which should be understood as a reaction against the way of life and thought which preceded it, aroused justifiable criticism. But even extremes may express legitimate concerns. Today we are sufficiently removed from the first great achievements of the existentialist movement to be able to distinguish its genuine insights from what merely depended on the situation of the time and to recognize its merits without jettisoning our whole intellectual inheritance.

Hegal once said that `philosophy is its time as expressed in thought', a statement which may be true of the outstanding philosophical ideas of an age. This implies the view that the events of the time are ultimately determined by ideas and hopes which are then reflected in philosophy. For example, the main elements of contemporary political life, individualism (democracy) and Marxism, originated in philosophy. Hence we ought to be deeply interested in our philosophical Zeitgeist in order to learn from our errors, and we should know the intellectual and spiritual elements of our time so as to be able to approach them with a clear ethos of our own.

In our view, the influence of the existentialist movement can be understood only as the aftermath of the two world wars, as an analysis of the basic mood engendered by these catastrophic events. If material possessions are lost in an instant, if friends and relatives are killed every day, the only thing left is oneself, one's own existence. And what sort of an existence is this? Today man has become a problem to himself, not only as suffering, but as a being capable of frightful atrocities. Add to this that immediately before the wars man's intellectual life had been infected by scepticism and relativism without providing an answer to the ultimate questions of human existence, and the scene is set for the appearance of existentialism.

This situation produced a revolt against all earlier forms of thought which proved to be insufficient and would have alienated men from themselves through their rational objectification, regardless of whether they concerned metaphysical theories or merely a positivistic reproduction of experienced reality. So it is not sur-

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