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Neither puzzlement nor awe, neither a thirst for knowledge nor a craving for clarity has been the abiding inspiration for philosophy; the anxiety men feel from being hopelessly alienated from their world has.

Alienation and estrangement constitute the whole problematic of existentialism; it attempts to address questions of, amongst others, freedom, choice and responsibility. In contrast to Rene Descartes’ ontological view of what it means to be human – “I think; therefore I am” and taking the ‘I’ as an exterior object to be studied, existentialism claims it is an error to look at human existence as being enjoyed by ‘mere things’.

Human existence is above all said to be concerned with itself – it can reflect on it, try to transform it, even destroy it. Humans are such that their being is a question and an issue for them, as Heidegger would have it. Moreover, in the continuation of Kierkegaard’s idea that an existing individual is ‘constantly in the process of becoming’, Heidegger posits that it is not possible to give a complete account of the existence of an individual without a reference to what he is in the process of becoming; he or she can make sense of his present in terms of his or her future intentions. Thus, an individual is always already ‘ahead’ or ‘beyond’ whatever properties characterise him at any given time – he always already has a foot in the future and therefore never fully in the present; for heidegger he ‘ex-ists‘.

It is almost impossible to address what existentialism is without evoking phenomenology. In contrast to an empirical science which, following Descartes, would address the properties of things and objects ‘from the distance’ by neutralizing the observer, phenomenology is interested in revealing those essences which form the experience, the phenomenon. As part of its method is the requirement to ‘bracket off’ all prejudices that may potentially come in and spoil the ‘seeing’ that is involved in the phenomenological enterprise. Itself inspired by Descartes’ ‘methodological doubt’, it is interesting to notice a somewhat similar endeavour in psychoanalytic work when, as part of the analytical rule of free association, it is required of the patient to tell the analyst anything that pops into his mind without censoring himself.

Personally, reviewing Existentialism by Cooper has brought home the place Existentialism has in Lacanian psychoanalysis. Existentialism, with its working tool in phenomenology, is an essential building block in human sciences. Highly recommended reading by an academic who has known how to inspire me for more in its clear approach, layout and understanding.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (28 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631213236
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631213239

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