Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

EXISTENTIALISM IN FRANCE SINCE THE LIBERATION

Robert Campbell*

In philosophy, especially since the end of the war, we have witnessed a general reaction against the systematizing mind, and perhaps even against science itself. It is probably because the passion for final and totalitarian truths has become so pervasive that the individual, threatened by the generality and abstraction which are shutting him in, is fighting a fight of the last hour against his imminent drowning in universal laws.

Therefore, existence (and particularly human existence) in philosophy has been suddenly provided with a new priority; it is no longer included in nature as a particular organ that would be accounted for by all that precedes it, as we may see in the traditional systems of Hegel and Spinoza. For present philosophies, existence is ever here, first of all ( Heidegger says ever already-here).1 It appears before everything; it precedes every "essence." We cannot reduce it to some other principle which would account for it; quite the contrary, it is existence itself which is absolute, and cannot be rationally deduced. It is irrational, or again, gratuitous and unjustified, full and opaque, chaotic and obscene: It IS: my cat, my child are here; these are existing beings; they are here, but we might conceive they might not be; that character of existence is called "contingency" and seems to be the utmost limit of every philosophical explanation.2

Every question concerning what could exist "beyond," that is, what could clear up the origin or the cause of existence is to be regarded as

____________________
*
Born in 1913. Agrégé de mathématiques, docteur ès-sciences, engaged in research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique. In addition to mathematical publications, author of Jean-Paul Sartre ou une littérature philosophique ( 1945), L'existentialisme ( 1947), and of critical literary essays in the review Paru ( 1947, 1948).
1
Here we may recall the use of the word "Dasein" in Jaspers and Heidegger philosophy.
2
Absolute or absurd! Absurd, irreducible! Nothing, not even a deep and secret madness of nature could explain it! ( Sartre, La nausée, p. 156).

-137-

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