Continental Philosophy and Hegelian Idealism
Existentialism and phenomenology are two philosophical schools of thought that were developed as responses to Hegelian idealism. In sharp contrast to Hegelian idealism’s dependence on history and theism for the evolution of human existence, existentialism and phenomenology both espoused individual freedom and choice. Continental Philosophy and Hegelian Idealism This paper was intended to discuss the historical development of Continental Philosophy, particularly existentialism and phenomenology, as a response to Hegelian idealism.
Hegelian idealism believed in the progress of “world spirit” (human life, thought and culture) throughout history (Gaarder, 2002). However, some philosophers were against Hegelian idealism, arguing that it is the individual who is responsible for the outcome of his or her life (Gaarder, 2002). Hence, the conflict between continental philosophy and Hegelian idealism can be summarized as a clash between the presence of a higher being and individual existence as the sole basis of all logical reasoning. Responses to Hegelian Idealism
Although Hegel had many strong points to support his thoughts on idealism, his theories unleashed a wave of points and responses from “anti-idealism” philosophers. Two of the major responses to Hegelian idealism are existentialism and phenomenology. The thinkers who practiced these philosophical disciplines contested primarily Hegelian idealism’s overeliance on fate and the notion of the presence of a deity to guide human existence to its conclusion. For them, it is the individual who is the master of his or her own actuality (Jardin, 2008). Existentialism
Existentialism is a philosophical movement that is mainly based on concrete individual existence, subjectivity, individual freedom and choice (MSN Encarta, 2008). While it emerged during the 19th and 20th centuries, some of its key influences included the Bible and the life and ideas of the Greek philosopher Socrates. The Danish religious philosopher Soren Kierkegaard was considered to be the founder of modern existentialism (MSN Encarta, 2008). Kierkegaard believed that the concept of the truth is subjective – what may be true for some may not be true for others.
Hence, an individual must be prepared to defy social conventions for the sake of his or her “personal truths” (Gaarder, 2002). Kierkegaard further argued that people will evitably undergo suffering, dread, irrationality and despair because these are inevitable realities of the world. An individual will experience angst or despair through his or her decision to make choices (Jardin, 2008). For Kierkegaard, the only salvation from despair was his “personal truth” – the “leap of faith into a Christian way of life” (MSN Encarta, 2008).
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other hand, believed that facts are mere interpretations of reoccuring phenomena. In addition, the world is in a state of slavery because people allowed themselves to be controlled by negative elements such as fear and vengeance (Jardin, 2008). Proclaiming the “death of God,” Nietzsche also sought for the replacement of the Judeo-Christian concept of morality with a heroic pagan ideal (MSN Encarta, 2008).
For him, the ubermensch (“Superman”) was the only being who will be able to escape suffering and dread because he determined his own values instead of conforming to those of society or religion. The ubermensch, therefore, is motivated to live for his own advancement rather than for the concepts of a reward in Heaven or a punishent in Hell (Knowles, n. d. ). The French existentialist Jean-Paul Satre believed that the idea of humans having an innate “nature” is false. An individual creates his or her own “nature” through his or her own choices.
Furthermore, humans are alienated from the world because they are living meaningless lives – Satre argued that it is pointless to search for the meaning of life due to the inevitability of death. Although humans did not create themselves, they are held responsible for their actions the moment they are born. This observation led Satre to conclude that “man is condemned to be free” (Gaarder, 2002). Phenomenology Phenomenology is a 20th-century philosophical movement that analyzed various structures of consciousness through the first-person perspective (Smith, 2003).
Phenomenology was also adapted by some sociologists in their study of the relationship between states of individual consciousness and social life. In the sociological context, phenomenology tries to promote an understanding of how human awareness is involved in the generation of social actions, situations and worlds (Orleans, n. d. ). German philosopher Edmund Husserl is generally regarded as the founder of phenomenology. He invented the phenomenological reflection, which required the “reflection on the content of the mind to the exclusion of everything else” (MSN Encarta, 2008).
Simply put, a certain experience is analyzed as it presents itself to a person’s consciousness. The reflection must be free from the influences of other disciplines such as the natural sciences (MSN Encarta, 2008). Husserl discovered that particular experiences like remembering, desiring and preceiving had abstract contents that he called meanings. He argued that these meanings produced the essence of consciousness through intentionality, or the directing of a particular meaning towards an object under a certain aspect.
As the human mind can focus itself on both real and nonexistent objects, Husserl asserted that phenomenological reflection set aside the question as to whether the object contemplated upon existed or not (MSN Encarta, 2008). Husserl’s colleague, German philosopher Martin Heidegger, refuted his claims, saying that phenomenology should instead focus on the study of normal, everyday experiences. Heidegger believed in the structure of everydayness, which he viewed as “an interconnected system of equipment, social roles, and purposes” (MSN Encarta, 2008).
An individual’s identity is based on what he or she does, rendering a phenomenological reduction to his or her own private experience impossible. In addition, all human actions involve a direct grasp of objects, that is why there is no need of meanings that will account for intentionality. Accomplishing a given project is a more important form of intentionality than those that are derived from simply staring at or thinking about objects (MSN Encarta, 2008).
While Satre agreed with Husserl that consciousness is always directed at objects, the former rejected the latter’s theory regarding meanings. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, meanwhile, disregarded Satre’s argument that phenomenology describes people as pure, isolated and having a free consciousness. For Ponty, all forms of human knowledge can only be attained by an active and involved body. Through this assertion, Ponty “(generalized) Heidegger’s insights to include the analysis of perception” (MSN Encarta, 2008).
Conclusion The rational and individualistic nature of existentialism and phenomenology turned these into suitable alternatives for Hegelian idealism. In their own ways, they have proven that while believing in a higher being is good, it is still better to help oneself by having the initiative to make things happen and by being responsible for one’s actions. As a result, phenomenology and existentialism were adapted into other fields such as theology, sociology, psychology, psychiatry and literary criticism.In themselves, phenomenology and existentialism remain as two of the most important disciplines of Western philosophy.
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