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Essay Paper on Continental Philosophy

According to traditional framework, existentialism and phenomenology can be interpreted as a response to Hegelian idealism and its reflection. The main figures in both trends are Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 –1980).

As a response to Hegelian idealism, phenomenology is above all a method, that in principle it may, as a neutral instrument, be utilized by a philosopher of any persuasion. “Phenomenology interests itself in the essential structures found within the stream of conscious experience—the stream of phenomena—as these structures manifest themselves independently of the assumptions and presuppositions of science”. Husserl’s theory of intersubjectivity, the nature of transcendental constitution, the entire question of ontology. Heidegger and then Emmanuel Levinas developed his theory. From Hegelian idealism they took the notion of ‘phenomena’ which helps to distinguish “the way something is immediately experienced and the way it “is”.

Similar to Husserl, Heidegger and Levinas underline that be a phenomenologist is to see the world in its givenness as perpetually and repeatedly bearing the universal in its slightest, most ephemeral aspects. But the essential here does not turn out to be a divinely ordered realm; it is instead the gift of subjectivity and the genius of consciousness. That each one of us constitutes for himself language and a coherent world is the miracle of man’s existence. Phenomenology seeks to disclose by description and analysis the miracle of daily life. For phenomenology is above all a way of seeing, a way of grasping the world and of articulating experience. Rather than some esoteric or mystical realm of essences, it is the common everyday reality with which the phenomenologist is ultimately concerned. Important as the phenomenological movement is on the Continent, it is far from being a univocal expression of orthodox philosophy. Even excepting the radical developments of Heidegger and Sartre, those phenomenologists who were the original students of Husserl are far from standing in agreement with each other on points of major significance.

The main concepts of Existentialism include: remote from the concerns of real life, irrationality of the world, absurdity, senselessness, emptiness of the world. The main contributors are Sartre and Camus, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Sartre sees in most of the major principles of phenomenology implicit clues to existential philosophy; he believes that he is carrying out the vital impulse of Husserl’s discoveries. This attitude and its consequences are at once suggestive and misleading. More than anything else, Sartre’s advances beyond Husserl illuminate the full range of insights achieved in traditional phenomenology. After the Sartre and Camus, these ideas were developed by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer who: ‘denied the rationality of the world and the people within it; inderlined triviality, and pettiness within human existence; their efforts to find a reason for not despairing entirely”.

The existentialist philosopher must above all describe the world in such a way that its meanings emerge. He cannot, obviously, describe the world as a whole. As a response to Hegelian idealism, thses philosophy states that an existentialist philosopher must take examples in as much detail as he can, and from these examples his intuition of significance will become clear. It is plain how close such a method is to the methods of the novelist or the short-story writer. For instance, Husserl’s original doctrine of the intentionality of consciousness is not “liberated” through Sartre’s radicalization; it merely includes the existential dimension as one of its possibilities; phenomenological reduction is not positively transposed in Sartre’s analysis, for the existential possibilities were there all along; and finally, Sartre’s rejection of the transcendental ego ignores its existential implications. Critics admit that as a response to Hegelian idealism, the employment of the Concrete Imagination was not an accidental feature of existentialism. For instance, Kierkegaard condemned abstract thought, and identified inwardness, the aim of philosophy, with Truth-for-the-thinker, and both with concrete thought. In so far as he was concerned with morality, he absolutely rejected the Kantian idea that true morality must consist in the establishment of general absolute rules. In sum, these philosophical trends rejected the main concepts of Hegelian idealism underlining the role of consciousness and irrational which has become an urgent demand of their time. It is impossible to speak of consciousness abstracted from its world of significance…

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