Chapter 8: What Is Existentialism?
Because of our specifically theological interest we have neglected any investigation of those other ontologies and cosmologies whose formulations are antithetical to religious interests. These consist in various forms of materialism, naturalism, and phenomenalism, all of which appear to religious eyes to be reductionistic to some degree.
However, speculative philosophy, whether favorable or unfavorable to the claims of faith, no longer dominates the intellectual scene. It has come to seem pretentious and blind to the limitations of knowledge. Its practitioners have been on the defensive, in part from the time of Hume and Kant, more acutely in the twentieth century with the collapse of cosmological thinking in physics.
In Part II, we considered theological positions that are developed in strict intentional independence of the claims of speculative thought. They have recalled the church to its witness to the one revelation of God in Jesus Christ. They have insisted that this God is known only in his revelation and, hence, has nothing in common with the ideas about deity constructed by speculative thought.
Careful criticism of Brunner and Barth, however, has suggested that the program may not be a possible one. On the one hand, we cannot escape presuppositions that arise in a wider experience than our apprehension of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, our revealed knowledge of God seems to be relevant to a wider sphere of reality. If either of these points is correct, we cannot rid ourselves as theologians of involvement in philosophy as completely as some had hoped.
A third possibility seems to be to seek help from a philosophy that shares in the rejection of that kind of speculation characteristic of natural theology. In the twentieth-century collapse of idealism and naturalism, two major types of philosophy have arisen. These may be called, in very general terms, existentialism and analysis.
Both movements are now having great influence on Protestant theology. During the past forty years existentialism has undoubtedly affected theology more deeply, especially in Germany; hence, our primary attention will be devoted to it. Since analysis necessarily requires a given body of propositions to analyze, it cannot provide a basis for theology. Thus far it has been employed chiefly as clarificatory of the status and meaning of orthodox doctrines and of the kind of theology that was treated in Part 11. (Cf. Willem Frederik Zuurdeeg, An Analytic Philosophy of Religion; John Hick, Faith and Knowledge: A Modern Introduction to the Problem of Religious Knowledge; Antony Flew and Alasdair Macintyre, eds. New Essays in Philosophical Theology.)
In Part III we turn our attention to that contemporary theology which is rooted in existentialism, but before discussing theological existentialism it seems necessary to attempt an interpretation of existentialism in general as a major orientation in modern thought.
The term is widely used and frequently defined, but to most people it remains as confusing as ever. There can be little hope that this attempt at clarification will be more successful than others, but the effort must be made. To this end this chapter presents existentialism in two ways: first, historically, and then, as an ideal type. The historical presentation consists of a comment upon the decisive contribution of Nietzsche and of brief accounts of major aspects of the thought of four twentieth-century philosophers: Husserl, Sartre, Heidegger, and Buber. This list could be greatly extended, but these four accounts will be sufficient to indicate the range and variety of points of view loosely grouped under the heading of existentialism. Those themes which have emerged out of this wealth of creative thought and which tend to group themselves together as distinctively existentialist will then be presented in an effort to describe the ideal type that the term " existentialist " suggests.
By common consent the two greatest existentialist thinkers of the nineteenth century are Sören Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Since a summary of Kierkegaard’s position and its implications for theology was offered above in Chapter 5, it will not be repeated. We must also bear in mind his immense importance for the thinkers treated in Part III.
Kierkegaard affirmed the absolute otherness of God from man and from all that man’s objectifying reason can conceive. Nietzsche proclaimed that God is dead. These two views have in common the rejection of all popular, comfortable religion. Both recognize that the rational arguments by which faith has so often been supported are useless. Both understand that man’s ordinary moral values are wholly irrelevant to the experience of ultimate reality. Both perceive that the lives of churchmen and outsiders alike in fact deny the reality of God. But whereas for Kierkegaard this situation posed the challenge to recover authentic faith, for Nietzsche it required that men should face honestly and fearlessly the consequences of their atheism.
The vast majority of those who had abandoned belief in God went on living as though this made little difference. The ethics of humility and sacrifice, the special concern for the poor and the weak, and the ideal of equal rights for all men simply because they are men were supposed to be humanistic principles independent of belief in God. The moral law or the inherent value of human personality replaced God as the objective determinant of the meaning of individual existence.
The death of God proclaimed by Nietzsche should be understood much more comprehensively than as a denial of the existence of the God affirmed by the Christian church. Such denial might be made in the interests of classical philosophy, Indian mysticism, or even modern humanitarianism. What Nietzsche perceived to have ended for Western man was every understanding of the world in terms of supersensuous reality. (Martin Heidegger, "Nietzsche’s Wort, Gott ist tot,’’ Holzwege, p. 203.)
The finite world of particulars must henceforth be understood as the only source of meaning, the only sphere for thought and existence. This for Nietzsche is the essential meaning of nihilism. (Ibid. p. 205.)
On the basis of this nihilism Nietzsche with prophetic genius exposed all the illusions of his humanistic contemporaries. If God is dead, then there is no objective demand upon man whatsoever. He becomes his own god, and he must lay down for himself the end of his own existence. Man is what he makes himself and can find the meaning of existence only in this act of self-creation.
The acceptance of the death of God and the development of these consequences have characterized the dominant trends of twentieth-century existentialism. Hence, in many respects philosophical existentialism is more Nietzschean than Kierkegaardian, more nihilistic than Christian. Theological existentialism, by contrast, however much it may respect the brilliance of Nietzsche’s insight, must retain against him elements of Kierkegaard’s position. In the efforts of theological existentialists to come to terms with contemporary philosophical existentialism we will see the tensions introduced by the Nietzschean element in the latter.
Nevertheless, even theologians may recognize and employ the profound meaning of Nietzsche’s dictum. Martin Buber writes of the eclipse of God, and many recognize that we live in a post-Christian age. The whole understanding of theology in such a situation is radically altered.
Kierkegaard’s existentialism became profoundly influential in Protestant theology with the publication of Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans, especially the second edition in 1922. The whole tone and tenor of theological debate since then has been set against that background. Twentieth-century philosophical existentialism made a similar impact upon the philosophical community through the appearance in 1927 of Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit. Although Heidegger was aware of, and interested in, Barth’s work, the modern emergence of philosophical existentialism should be understood as relatively independent of the theological revival. At the same time, it posed a profound challenge to the existentialist theologians by presenting existentialism in a new and much more systematic fashion.
Mounier draws an interesting diagram of the historic development of existentialism in the form of a tree. (Emmanuel Mounier, Existentialist Philosophies, p. 3.) He shows Kierkegaard as the trunk of this tree. But across the top of the trunk, just before it branches, he writes the word "phenomenology." The founder of phenomenology was Edmund Husserl, who, ironically, was far from being an existentialist himself. He taught that philosophy must set aside the question of existence and concentrate entirely upon the realm of essences, of meanings, or of ideas. Philosophy must become an exact science of ideas.
But in order to turn philosophy into an "eidetic science" Husserl was forced to develop systematically a method of inquiry that had until then been employed without critical, methodological self-consciousness. This method he called "phenomenology," and it is the phenomenological method that has subsequently been employed in the work of the major existentialists. Both Sartre and Heidegger studied under Husserl and both developed their own philosophic programs in relation to their teacher. Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit is dedicated to Husserl and appeared first in Husserl’s phenomenological yearbook. Although the later Heidegger can be called an existentialist only in a very loose sense, his whole development can be understood as determined by his commitment to phenomenology. (Heinrich Ott, Denken und Sein, pp. 45-52.) Sartre’s major work, Being and Nothingness, is subtitled "An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology," and in other works as well he writes explicitly as a phenomenologist. Hence, a brief exposition of Husserl’s phenomenology is essential.
Husserl was convinced that philosophy could attain scientific precision only if it limited itself to description, and for him, as well as for his pupils, the phenomenological method is understood as purely descriptive. But phenomenological description differs from ordinary empirical description in several ways. (For Husseri’s criticism of empiricism and naturalism, see ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, I, pp. 82-88.)
In the first place, ordinary empirical description is affected by an interpretive framework based on earlier experience. What we see in an entity is affected by what we suppose ourselves to know about it. Thus we may "see" the sun in terms of our knowledge that it is ninety-three million miles away and that the earth revolves around it. For many purposes the conditionedness of our "seeing" by our past experiences is unexceptionable, but it is disastrous for philosophy. This is because the function of philosophy is to clarify the fundamental assumptions underlying our knowledge, and it cannot, therefore, afford to be influenced by the conclusions of such knowledge. Phenomenology is that description which sets aside, or in Husserl’s words "brackets," all extraneous information or theory and sees the object just as it presents itself apart from all interpretation. (Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, Meditation 1.)
In the second place, ordinary empirical description understands itself as describing existent entities. But the existence of entities is already a theoretical interpretation that introduces the whole gamut of metaphysical speculation. Husserl, therefore, insists that we must bracket the existence of that which we describe. This does not mean that we describe it simply as a subjective impression. On the contrary, we do not experience it as such, and to describe it in this way would itself be a function of a speculative theory. We describe each entity precisely in terms of that objectivity with which it gives itself to us.
In the third place, ordinary empirical description takes its objects to be particulars as such and proceeds to generalizations about them. Phenomenology, on the other hand, takes its object to be forms, meanings, or ideas. It is not concerned with the contingent fact that event A caused event B to occur. But it may describe what is meant or intended by event, cause, or occurrence. To achieve such a description it must use examples, but what it seeks in the particular is that idea whose meaning it seeks to expose. Only by expounding the meaning of such primitive ideas can philosophy fulfill its function of clarifying the foundations of all knowledge.
In the fourth place, ordinary empirical description ignores the process of consciousness by which the object being described is experienced. Phenomenology, by contrast, understands each object as the "intentional" object of consciousness and, hence, must describe also the process of intending that constitutes the object as such. Every experience has content. In this sense there is no consciousness that is not the intention of some object. But the object is also such, only as the object of that intention. Hence, its objectivity is a function of the intending process. (For Husserl’s clarification of the relation of the how and the what of experience, see the discussion of noesis and noéma in Ideas I, Sec. III, Chs. III and IV.)
Husserl affirms that consciousness "constitutes" its objects. This does not mean that we can choose to constitute or not to constitute a stone when we attend to it. Its intended objectivity precludes this freedom on our part. But it does mean that everything we perceive in the object is a correlate of our way of perceiving. It is the how of experience that structures the world and in terms of which everything in that world must be understood as a correlate. This how is certainly supra-voluntary, but at the same time, it is a property or function of consciousness. More precisely it is this how of experiencing which in its most universal aspects comprises pure consciousness, the absolute subject of all experience. It is the analysis of this pure consciousness which constitutes the whole world of objects as its correlative sphere that is the supreme function of transcendental or pure phenomenology. (Ideas I, pp. 17-18, 253-254, 285,) It seems clear that for Husserl this transcendental subject and this alone ultimately exists.
That this position is an idealism is recognized by Husserl. (Ibid. pp. 18-19.) He calls it a transcendental phenomenological idealism and differentiates it from all other kinds of idealism. It leaves us with a view of the status of physical things that we can sustain only as long as we remain in the transcendental standpoint. They are the autonomously real objective correlates of pure consciousness. It is as such that we perceive, think, mean, or intend them, but it is only as intended that they have this autonomous objectivity. Hence, they are secondary in ontological status, dependent upon conscious intention, yet, as intended, objective to the intending consciousness. (Note how this dependent status is stressed in Ideas III, Ch. III.)
The position into which we come may seem not only idealistic but also solipsistic. It may seem that it is not only consciousness which constitutes the world but specifically my consciousness which constitutes my world. Husserl, however, was certain that this is not the case, or at least that it is true only in a very limited sense. Indeed, Husserl was sure that the objectivity which we intend is an objectivity to a plurality of consciousnesses, that apart from a community of perceivers our meaning is emptied of essential ingredients. Hence, he devoted extensive attention to our knowledge of other minds. (Cartesian Meditations, Meditation V; Ideas II, Part II.)
We must remember that for Husserl the question is never whether we know that there are other persons than ourselves. We ask only what we mean by such a thought. We can answer this question only by examining how we come to think of such persons. The process is mediated by our awareness of animated bodies other than, but like, our own. This leads us to posit that they are accompanied by a psyche like our own and, finally, that this functions like our own on the basis of an absolute, pure, and constituting consciousness.
It is important to note that the objectivity of the other consciousness differs from that of all other objects. It is given immediately, but it is given as radically independent of the process of my constituting it. It can have this independence because it is of the same order of being as my own consciousness. That consciousness and I together function as a we, and the intended objectivity of everything else becomes objectivity for this inter-subjective community of personal consciousness.
The full understanding of the "I" presupposes the intersubj- ective communion of persons. It seems to appear at four levels. There is the I-man, the psychophysical being that interacts with its environment. There is the purely psychological I introspectively observable as object. There is the spiritual I, the I that thinks, wills, and purposes. And there is the transcendental Ego, which can never be objectified but which is the unifying subject of the pure consciousness. The I-man and the psychological I are understood as subject to the causal laws of nature, whereas the acts of the spiritual I are motivated but not caused. That is, logical laws and past experiences provide the occasion for thinking or acting in a certain way, but they do not force this thought or action. The thought or action occurs only as a function of spiritual purposes and ends. The spiritual I is the seat of freedom. (Alfred Schutz, "Edmund Husseri’s Ideas Volume II," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 13, 1953, pp. 406-411.)
This account of Husserl’s thought provides only the barest indication of its complexity, rigor, and scope. It selects from the numerous available topics on the basis of the relevance of Husserl for theology and specifically for modern existentialism. Hence, it has focused on the general goal and method of phenomenology, on the one hand, and what I would call Husserl’s ontological position on the other. However, Husserl uses the term "ontology" in quite a different sense. Since both Heidegger and Sartre concern themselves with what they call ontology, it will be necessary in conclusion to indicate Husserl’s use of the term.
Husserl distinguishes "regions" of experienced objects. (ldeas I, pp. 64ff., 411 ff. There is also an ontology of values, but this is little discussed.) For example, in the external world as objectified we may distinguish three regions: that of material things, that of animated bodies, and that of the psyche. To each of these regions there corresponds a regional ontology. (Generally he refers only to regions of the "real" or empirically given. However, he also speaks of the realm of transcendental consciousness as a region. [ldeas I, p. 213.])
This consists in the clarification of the system of primitive terms and relations, which are intuitively grasped as necessarily inhering in any object given in the region in question. For example, any material object must be spatial. Hence, it must conform to whatever characterizes space as such. Geometry is the a priori discipline that studies spatiality as such. Hence, geometry is one of the regional ontologies relative to material things. Pure sciences of time and motion would be others. (Alfred Schutz, "Edmund Husserl’s Ideas Volume III," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 13, 1953, p. 509.)
In addition to these regional ontologies there is the formal ontology that investigates the principles common to all regional ontologies and their regions. This is pure, formal logic, including mathesis universalis. (Ideas I, p. 67. Husserl also speaks of a formal axiology and praxis as parallel to formal logic. [Ibid. p. 400.] For the distinction between purely formal laws as logical and as ontological, see ibid. p. 409.) The establishment of the foundations of the ontologies is the task of phenomenology.
In Husserl’s use of ontology, it retains the meaning of the investigation of the structure of being, but Husserl does not apply it to the absolute existence of the transcendental consciousness. Hence, there are ontologies of the dependent realms only. Furthermore, the regional ontologies, that is, investigations of what an entity must be to function in that region, leave open the question of the relationship of different modes of being to one another. One might expect the formal ontology to identify what is common to being in any region, hence, what is common to being as being, but instead it treats only what is common to relations in any region. Hence, what are usually regarded as the ontological questions are not included by Husserl in this category but appear, when they appear at all, elsewhere.
Some of Husserl’s pupils and admirers were disturbed by the radically idealistic conclusion to which he came and undertook to use the phenomenological method against it. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a treatise on The Transcendence of the Ego, in which he argues in radical opposition to Husserl that the ego itself is also an intentional object constituted by consciousness rather than a transcendental subject presupposed by consciousness. (Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego, pp. 37 ff.) If so, we must reopen the question of the being of the intentional objects of consciousness, which Husserl had hoped that philosophy could avoid.
Sartre answers this question in terms of a fundamental dualism. (Most systematically developed in Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, "Introduction" and pp. 617-625). His analysis of consciousness, to which he had denied a substantial basis in an unexperienceable ego, reveals it as fundamentally negative in character. This negativity is not, of course, nonexistence or lack of efficacy. The point is rather that consciousness lacks all solidity, endurance, or capacity to sustain itself and that its function is always that of negating through questioning, distinguishing, and desiring. As soon as consciousness acquires a content, it becomes a part of the past and thereby is no longer consciousness. Consciousness is such only as it stands in front of the filled, and thereby fixed, past as an opening to be filled.
Over against this remarkable nothingness is being - that which simply is what it is. Being is in itself completely free of all negation, hence, of all differentiation. It is nontemporal and nonspatial, unchanging and completely full. It is only in the negating work of consciousness, therefore, that this being is fashioned into a world.
As a phenomenologist, Sartre undertakes to describe the structures of consciousness as it creates its world and yet always stands before being. He sees the very essence of consciousness in its freedom, which he takes more radically than any other major thinker in the Western tradition. (Wilfred Desan, The Tragic Finale, pp. 107, 160. Note, however, his qualifying comment on Sartre’s recent development, p. xvi.) Consciousness is freedom because it is nothingness, that is, because it is lack, absence, or nihilation of being. Since determinateness is a function of being, nothingness shares in it.
But freedom as a lack always aims toward being. Its goal is to achieve the concreteness and substantiality of being without losing the freedom of consciousness. (Being and Nothingness, pp. 265-266.) But in principle this goal is wholly unattainable. The human project is a failure, an absurdity. God also is to be understood in terms of this impossible combination of being and freedom -- the illusion by means of which men avoid facing the absurdity of their own aim. (Ibid. p. 566. See also Norman N. Greene, Jean-Paul Sartre: The Existentialist Ethic, Ch. V)
Although the absurd aim of uniting being and consciousness is common to all men, each man must be understood in terms of his particular fundamental project. (Being and Nothingness, p. 567; Greene, op. cit., Ch. III.) Each specific purpose and act has its meaning in the context of this more basic project. The aim of psychoanalysis is to lay bare this deeper meaning of acts. But Freudian psychoanalysis errs in two major respects. (Being and Nothingness, pp. 571 ff.) In the first place, it assumes that there is a common fundamental project for all men and erroneously interprets the meaning of acts in these terms rather than seeking their actual meaning for the particular individual in question. In the second place, it regards this fundamental project as an unconscious structure outside the scope of freedom and interprets consciousness as a function of this determinate being. Thereby it attributes even the resistance to therapy to the unconscious, ignoring the real responsibility of the free consciousness.
In other words, psychoanalysis operates in terms of an essentialism to which Sartre opposes existentialism. It treats the individual human person as an example of a species and supposes the individual to be but a special case of the interaction of laws that are independent of his choosing. In sharp contrast to this, Sartre calls for an analysis of each individual in terms of his own freely chosen project and demands that "laws" be understood only as generalizations from the real diversity of individual expressions of freedom.
Sartre does not suppose that our fundamental projects are chosen on the basis of rational deliberation or that we are able to articulate them verbally and thereby bring them to reflective consciousness. (Desan, op. cit., pp. 149-150; Greene, op. cit., pp. 30 ff.) Consciousness does not mean for him reflective knowledge, and freedom does not mean reflective decision. The consciousness that is nothingness, and therefore also freedom, is the primitive unreflective intending of a world. There are many aspects of this consciousness which are absent in that consciousness of being conscious which raises consciousness into the realm of availability for discourse. Hence, the affirmation that our fundamental projects are both conscious and freely chosen does not constitute as radical an opposition to Freudian psychoanalysis as it seems.
Nevertheless, the difference is important. Since our fundamental project in terms of which all more immediate aims are to be understood is freely chosen, it may also be freely changed. Conversion is a possibility with which we must always reckon. (Desan, op. cit., p. 106; Sartre, Being and Nothingness, pp. 573; also 496-504.) Furthermore, the individual who recognizes this freedom to be something quite different from what he is must accept radical responsibility for what he is. From this point of view Freudian psychoanalysis appears as the great evasion.
The ideas of conversion and responsibility point again to the implications of Sartre’s emphasis that consciousness always stands before being as the lack of being. This means that my consciousness always stands before my past. This peculiar relation necessitates a highly paradoxical account of selfhood. Sartre says that I am not what I am. By this he means that I am not as present consciousness the sum total or net product of what I have been in the past. The present consciousness takes up a relation to that past, but what relation it will take is not determined by the past. To conceal this fact from myself and to pretend to myself that I am only what my past has made me is to adopt a form of bad faith which Sartre calls sincerity. On the other hand, to suppose that one is something other than one’s past is equally an act of bad faith. (Being and Nothingness, pp. 62-64.)
The point is that as freedom, as consciousness, one is nothingness. That nothingness is not simply nonbeing but rather a form of being is indicated by the fact that Sartre also calls consciousness being-for-itself. In this characterization it is opposed to being-in-itself, which in opposition to nothingness was called simply being. But being-for-itself is distinguished also in a different way from being-for-others. Sartre notes that we are conscious of the fact that others objectify us, and this consciousness of our being for them profoundly affects our being for ourselves. (See especially Satre’s discussion of "The Look." (Being and Nothingness, Part III, Ch. I, Sec. IV.) However, the two never simply merge. Rather, they constitute a duality in terms of which much human experience is to be understood.
Sartre expounds the meaning of human relationships in terms of this duality of being-for-itself and being-for-others. His analyses are extraordinarily subtle and often persuasive. They share with the analyses based on the duality of being and nothingness the characteristic of always pointing up the futility and absurdity of man’s projects. Every relationship aims at an end which in the nature of the case cannot be achieved. (Cf. Desan’s summary of the possible relation with the other. Op. cit., pp. 84-91.)
In a brief presentation such as this it is inevitable that the structural elements of Sartre’s thought appear to predominate over the detailed phenomenological exposition. It must be understood, however, that in Sartre’s intention the structures emerge out of the phenomenological investigation. Indeed, the persuasiveness of his basic dualism depends primarily on the illuminating power of the phenomenological descriptions that involve it.
Sartre employs his skill as a phenomenologist primarily to expose the particularities of the individual consciousness. The universal structures of consciousness as such are recognized and brilliantly articulated, but they are presented more to show how they provide the basis for individual freedom than as decisively important in themselves. In this respect Sartre resembles Kierkegaard.
The philosophical project of Martin Heidegger provides an interesting contrast to that of Sartre. He overlaps extensively in his analysis of the structures of existence, but he does not employ these as a basis for studying the peculiarities of individuals. On the contrary, he regards the ontological analysis of existence as a means of raising the questions of the meaning of being. Whereas Sartre treats the duality of being and nothingness as fruitfully illuminating the diversity of human behavior, Heidegger studies man for the sake of recovering the meaning of being.
Husserl had understood the function of phenomenology as that of developing a series of regional ontologies, but he had not worked out a regional ontology of human existence as such and indeed rarely indicated that he conceived this as a region at all. This may be because the most important part of human existence as he understood it, the transcendental ego, transcends all regions. Heidegger, however, agrees with Sartre in denying that the ego is transcendental. It is a constituted object, not the subject of all constituting. Hence, he holds that it is the phenomenologically accessible existent self which intends and constitutes the world. This means that a regional ontology of human existence (Dasein) is possible and that it is the fundamental ontology underlying all others. As such it should prove a uniquely favored basis for recovering the meaning of being.
Although Heidegger made clear in the introduction to Sein und Zeit that the analysis of Dasein was to be a means toward reopening the question of being as such, (Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, Subsection 3. Where possible, references are given by subsections rather than by pages in the German edition, since an English translation is expected shortly. A partial, unpublished translation by Robert Trayhern, John Wild, Bert Dreyfus, and C. de Deugd has been of great help to me in my work with this book.) the body of the published work consists entirely in the analysis of the structures of Dasein, especially in relation to temporality. The impression long current was that Heidegger identified the structures of human existence, when it fulfills its own proper potentialities, with the structures of being that he sought. It was on the basis of this understanding that Heidegger was hailed as an existentialist philosopher and indeed as the greatest of this century.
Heidegger affirms that Dasein is always a being-in-the-world. (Ibid. Subsection 12.) By this he means that we cannot first identify Dasein as an entity that has its being in itself and then raise the question of its relation to other beings. Dasein is already, as Dasein, a being-in-the-world. The world in which Dasein is, however, is not a finite or infinite spatiotemporal extension conceived as in a scientific cosmology. Rather it is the experienced world as organized in relation to Dasein. Dasein and the world mutually imply each other without ontological priority on either side. "World" is the world of Dasein, and Dasein is being-in-the-world.
However, the being-in of Dasein can be analyzed separately from the worldliness of its world. When this is done two characteristics of Dasein stand out with special finality. These Heidegger calls Befindlichkeit (feeling) and Verstehen (understanding)
Befindlichkeit is that tonality of feeling which is given for every Dasein with its being. (Ibid. Subsection 29.) It is not chosen or intelligible in terms of some given goal. It is the sheer givenness of Dasein to itself. Heidegger calls this experience of givenness "thrown-ness. (Ibid. p. 135.)
Verstehen is that mode of its being in which Dasein always transcends itself. It is the projection of Dasein into the future in terms of its possibilities for realization. Dasein always understands itself as being-in-the-world in terms of potentially realizable ends. The entities in the world are what they are by virtue of the ends that they can serve, and the world in which Dasein finds itself is the final context of these ends. Thus it is as a project for the realization of certain ends that Dasein constitutes itself as being-in-the-world. (Ibid. Subsection 31.)
The ends at which Dasein aims may be either possibilities manifested in the entities in its world or possibilities which it finds in its own distinctive being. In the former case, we may describe Dasein as unauthentic, in the latter case, as authentic. (Ibid. p. 146.) These terms are intended by Heidegger as descriptive rather than normative, but in the total context of the book they do carry normative connotations.
In all our experience of the things in the world we experience ourselves as sharing them with other Daseins. We do not reason to the existence of these Daseins as Husserl had thought. We simply find them already with us in all our relations with things in the world. Hence, one characteristic of our being-in-the-world is our being-with-others in the world. Here again we find the double possibility of authenticity and unauthenticity.
On the one hand, it is possible that the other Daseins can be recognized in the full individuality of their personal being. On the other hand, and much more commonly, Dasein experiences the plurality of the others in their averageness, discounting their individuation. Reflexively, he understands himself as one like others. He then does what one does and thinks what one thinks. Dasein functions then simply as an impersonal one like others, thereby subordinating his own distinctive possibilities to the averageness of the others. (Ibid. Subsections 26-27.)
Heidegger believes that Western philosophy has understood time from the standpoint of physical objects and their changes. From this perspective the present as the presented status of objects is primary. The past is constituted by those present times which once were but no longer are, and the future by those which have not been but will be. Time then appears as an undifferentiated flow of presents.
There is a legitimate place for this physical conception of time, but it should not be conceived as primary. (Brock, "An Account of ‘Being and Time,’" in Heidegger, Existence and Being, p. 92.) Present, past, and future are primarily modes of the being of Dasein, not of the presented entities, and when they are perceived in these terms, their character is understood quite differently.
Past, present, and future are three dimensions or horizons of existing Dasein. Dasein exists in these three modes or ecstasies, and all other thinking about time has its ground in their co-existence in Dasein. In this context the future is the primary mode of time. This is because Dasein is a project toward the future. The future is Dasein in its mode of projected-ness, not a present which is not yet. The projection or future of Dasein determines the mode of pastness, or already-thereness, which always accompanies the project. This past is not that which was once present to Dasein and is no longer, but the thrown-ness of Dasein as appropriated by Dasein. The appropriation of the past in terms of the future results in the presentation, that is, present-making of the entities in the world. This is the present in terms of which public and measurable time is to be understood. But in the order of Dasein, which is time in its primary sense, the present is the third, not the first, mode of time. (Ibid. p. 93.)
Heidegger understands the present as that which is presented to Dasein in the form of objects presented to a subject. Therefore, he denies that the present is the self-authenticating starting point for thought. However, it is clear that there is another sense of present in which it is prior to future and past, for it is that by which the future is apprehended as future and the past as past. We may call this "the now," or perhaps simply the existence of Dasein as such, that now which is already in advance of itself. We may then distinguish our use of the past according as we understand it as a succession of presentations or as a succession of actualized existential nows of Dasein.
It is in this sense, first, that Heidegger rejects objective history. The presentations to past Daseins divorced from the Daseins to which they were present are an empty topic for inquiry. The responsible historian confronts the past Daseins as they were in their existence. In dealing with these past realizations of potentialities, the historian finds, he does not create, his material. In this sense there is objectivity in the study of history.
However, Heidegger rejects the ideal of historical objectivity in a second sense as well. The recovery of past Daseins must inevitably be exceedingly selective. To fail to recognize this is not to escape selectivity hut only to deceive oneself and to be guided in one’s selectivity by random and uncriticized factors. The historian’s responsibility is to select in terms of relevance to future realization. He must find realization of potentialities in the past that challenge us today to realization of our potentialities. Hence, responsible historical work is guided by a projection of the future. At the same time the projection can be responsible only if it, in its turn, is formed by an awareness of the past. The past is recovered in terms of a projection into the future based on a prior recovery of the past. This is the circle within which the historian must proceed. (Ibid. pp. 102-111.)
The understanding of time in terms of what is presented is a manifestation of the unauthentic orientation of ourselves to the entities in the world. Unauthenticity appears in Heidegger’s analysis as the natural state of man, that toward which man tends except as some special force intervenes.
This tendency to orient ourselves in terms of the presented world is accentuated by the fact that the final and decisive possibility of Dasein is death. To live authentically is to live in terms of my own proper project, and this is ultimately to live toward death. (Heidegger Sein und Zeit, Subsection 53.) But the realization of this possibility of nonbeing causes me anguish and drives me to lose myself in the things of the world.
That authentic life is ontologically possible is clear, but it appears ontically or factually as a rather remote possibility. To show the ontic as well as ontological possibility of authentic existence Heidegger turns to analysis of the conditions of its attainment. (Ibid. Subsection 54.) These conditions he finds in the phenomena of conscience, guilt, and resolve. Conscience is the call of Dasein to itself in terms of its authentic possibilities. This call reveals the guilt of Dasein, that is, its not being what in its innermost possibilities it already is. The responsible acceptance of this guilt and the aim toward realization of authentic possibilities is resolve. (Ibid. Subsections 56, 58, 60. See also Brock "An Account of ‘Being and Time’" in Heidegger, Existence and Being, pp. 79-85.)
The development of Heidegger’s thought after Sein und Zeit is of great intrinsic interest. However, it points in many respects away from existentialism and has only recently begun to exercise significant influence on theology.
Heidegger turned away from the analysis of Dasein not because he repudiated what he had done but because he found that the question of the meaning of being must be asked more directly. Being must be understood as the being of whatever is and not as equivalent to human being. (Ott insists that the virtual identification of being with existence in Sein und Zeit was the fundamental weakness of the early Heidegger. [Op. cit., pp. 56-57.]) Since metaphysics is the traditional name for the investigation of being, Heidegger turned his attention in that direction. In this connection he pointed out that being can become a problem for man and thereby be rescued from forgetfulness only when man encounters nothingness as the possibility of every entity. (Heidegger immersed himself in the study of the Greeks, for whom being had thus become a problem and who provided the context for all Western thinking about being.
But Heidegger found that all metaphysical inquiry has identified the question of the being of entities with the question as to what constitutes them as entities. (Martin Heidegger, What Is Philosophy? pp. 58-59; An Introduction to Metaphysics, pp. 17-19; "Postscript" to "What Is Metaphysics?" Existence and Being, pp. 381-382; The Question of Being, p. 33; Ott, op. cit., pp. 92-93.) With this it pairs the question of the ground of all contingent entities in a supreme and necessary entity. (Martin Heidegger, Identität und Differenz, pp. 56-57; Ott, op. cit., p. 94.) This means to Heidegger that the authentic question of being as such has been lost to Western philosophy and hence to the whole of Western civilization. Heidegger sets himself the task of reopening the question of being through a more original questioning, thereby surpassing metaphysics.
When Heidegger speaks of more original questioning, we should understand him in terms of the phenomenological enterprise. The more original question is the one that sheds more of the incrustations of inherited interpretation. It is the one that succeeds in seeing its intentional object more perfectly as it is in its sheer givenness. We ask about the sunrise more originally, for example, when we free our vision of it from all that we have learned about the motions of the earth and the sun, about clouds and atmospheric conditions, even about colors and their aesthetic significance. To achieve this more original view of the sunrise is not the simply intellectual operation of consciously removing from our description those elements which are brought to it from our training. It is really to achieve a freeing of the experience itself from these interpretive intrusions.
In order to ask the question of the entities as such, all great metaphysicians have had to ask the question with great originality. They have had to overcome the common-sense view of the sheer self-evidence of the entities. Heidegger elaborates the necessity of experiencing in anxiety the possibility of the utter nullity of things to show how it becomes possible to ask the more original question. Only this experience makes possible real wonder at the sheer fact of the being of the entities. (In "What is Metaphysics?" Heidegger presents this as a way in which metaphysics becomes actualized. From a latter point of view it may be seen as the way in which metaphysics is surpassed.) Along with the poets who have unsystematically but profoundly achieved the more original visions of the world, the philosophers have formed the vision that constitutes the ground of all Western existence.
But Heidegger calls us to the still more original question. Entities are structures of being. All new understandings of the entities are in fact new visions of being itself. But they have not penetrated to the unmediated vision of being. Now, at the end of Western civilization and its metaphysics, we must penetrate to this original awareness of being as being in order to gain a fresh starting point.
There is no way in which Heidegger can directly tell us what being is. He can only try with utmost patience to awaken in us the awareness of being in such a way that we can share with him in its progressive understanding. We can talk about its relationships, however, and can say something negatively, if not positively, about it.
In the first place, it is clear that being itself precedes and is unaffected by the subject-object dichotomy. Heidegger never intended that we should understand Dasein as the subject of experience and the other entities as the objects. Yet it is only in his later writings that the radical meaning of Dasein as being-in-the-world becomes clear. Perhaps we should say from the perspective of the later works that Dasein is simply Da-sein, the "there" of being. And the being which is there is no more the being of the particular person involved than it is the being of all the things which appear in the D-asein. Indeed, in some of the later writings the language of Dasein and other entities disappears, presumably because it suggests too much the self-evident being of particular discriminable entities. We have instead only the actualization of being in the appearing of things, for whose appearing the human ingredient is only one indispensable element. This whole appearing of being is now the Da-sein of being, the being-there of being. (See Ott, op. cit., Ch. 8, for a profound exposition and for extensive quotations from some f the relavant works.)
In the second place, this makes evident the radical priority of being with respect to all entities, including Dasein, in so far as these terms continue to be usable at all. If we are to understand Dasein now, we must do so from the perspective of being. The reverse order, which characterized the early work of Heidegger, is radically abandoned. Man is removed from the center of the scene.
In the third place, being emerges as itself geschichtlich (Ibid. pp. 105 ff., 215 ff.) Our natural interpretation of this term would cause us to say that being is historical, and this need not be false. However, we must be very careful in using this English word. If we call being a historical phenomenon, we seem to make it a function of a human history, but Heidegger means just the reverse. Human history is a function of the way in which being appears. Being is geschichtlich, then, not because of its dependence on the human, but because in its appearing it is endlessly becoming something new. Being is not a static reality behind the flow of phenomena. It is the process of appearing in which it appears and is itself. Human history is a function of the way in which being presents itself in man’s initial conceptual structuring of the process that is being.
This historicity of being, which is at the same time the foundation of human history and historicity, determines the fatefulness of human existence. (Ibid. pp. 126-127.) Here Heidegger shows that the way in which original questioning is carried on and answered in any age is not simply a function of the skill of persons in practicing the phenomenological method. Being presents itself to men, or realizes itself in men, in terms of certain structures. These structures change, but they are not changed by voluntary decisions on the part of men. We do not willfully determine the fundamental vision of being in terms of which we do all our living and thinking. This is given for us and has consequences for us. We can choose only to be open to being as it gives itself to us or to conceal from ourselves the being by which we are. If we do the former, we think and live authentically. If we do the latter, we think and live unauthentically. (Ibid. pp. 160 ff.)
The fact that it is now possible for Heidegger and, following him, for us as well -- to ask the question of being more original is itself a fateful situation. (See, however Heidegger’s reservations as to our capacity to ask most originally the question of being. [Identität und Differenz, p. 71.]) It is because Western civilization is factually dead that we are freed of the fundamental objectifying structure of experience which constituted its apprehension of being. Our freedom and responsibility is to share in this openness to being as it now appears to those who have the authenticity to let it be as it is.
In concluding this discussion of Sartre and Heidegger, their respective attitudes with respect to God may be noted. Sartre is an avowed and emphatic atheist. He explains the origin of the idea of God in terms of the absurd project to unite being and freedom, and he shows that the idea of God is precisely the idea of such a union. Furthermore, he understands belief in God as largely antithetical to the full realization of freedom. Atheism is not only demanded by honest inquiry; it is also a liberating doctrine.
Heidegger, by contrast, denies that he is an atheist. This means not that he is a theist, but only that the question of God is not within the purview of his thought. Metaphysics points to God as the supreme being, but in doing so it conceals the question of being as such. Hence, just in this respect metaphysics must be surpassed. Furthermore, Heidegger emphatically insists that being is not God. If God is, he is an entity, not being as such. (Identität und Differenz, pp. 52-53, 70-71; What is Philosophy? pp. 57-59; Ott, op. cit., p. 139. Heidegger claims that his vision is more open to God, religiously speaking, than is the doctrine of God as necessary ground.) Whether such an entity exists is an ontic, not an ontological, question. But we must recognize that in our own day his existence is not effective for human life. (Heidegger asserts that in our day we should be silent about God (Identität und Differenz, p. 51) ; and that we are too late for God (Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens, p. 7) Both the ontological analysis and the ontic must now dispense with God.
One would not expect any existentialist theologian to follow Sartre’s atheism, but it is interesting to note that none of the three men treated in the subsequent chapters makes use of the small opening allowed by Heidegger. None of them takes the affirmation of God as an ontic affirmation in distinction from an ontological one. However, this possibility is not to be ruled out. (Ott, op. cit., p. 146.)
There are several other major thinkers whose thought should be included in any historical account of modern existentialism. One thinks especially of Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel, and Nicolas Berdyaev as well as such major literary figures as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kafka. But no pretense of completeness can or should be made in this introductory chapter, and for the present purposes the few men treated are generally sufficient.
However, in contemporary Protestantism one other philosopher has exercised a profound influence that, though often correlated with that of the existentialist thinkers treated above, remains quite distinctive. I refer to the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, who has given to the expression "I-Thou" the status of a major category in modern theology. We will conclude this historical presentation of existentialism with a brief indication of the central themes in Buber’s thought with reference to their relation to the work of the existentialists treated above.
The basic categories of Buber’s thought center around the distinction of the I-Thou relation and the I-It relation. (Martin Buber, I and Thou, pp. 3 ff.) This distinction is not to be identified with that between man’s relation to other men and his relation to things. Buber stresses that man may have an I-Thou relation with a tree or a poem and may have an I-It relation with a human being. (Ibid. pp. 7,9; Maurice S. Friedman, Martin Buber: the Life of Dialogue, pp. 57 ff.)
The I-Thou relation is any relation in which one is genuinely open to the concrete other as it is -- open to letting it present itself on its own terms rather than categorizing it for purposes of utility or personal security. (Friedman, op. cit., p. 170.) The I-It relation is any relation in which one imposes upon the other his own ends and meanings and in this sense reduces it to a mere object. Whenever one man exploits another he relates himself to that other as an It. On the other hand, the I-Thou relation can be fulfilled in relations with a person in a way in which it can never be fulfilled in relations with things. One may regard anything as a Thou, but only a person can in turn regard oneself as such. Full mutuality, therefore, appears only in the relation between persons. (Ibid. pp. 61, 170-171. Even here it is an ideal limit. [Buber, I and Thou, pp. 131-134.])
Although in one sense only the I-It relation objectifies that to which it is related, there is another sense of objectifying which Buber perceives as prerequisite to both the I-Thou and the I-It relations. This Buber calls the primal setting at a distance and regards as that peculiar human achievement which makes possible relationship of any sort. (Friedman, op. cit., pp. 82-84, 164-165. Note, however, that in his earlier work Buber tends to identify the I-Thou relation with a lack of distance. [I and Thou, pp 18-24.]) Relationship presupposes a prior separation of that which is related. Only because man can recognize the otherness of what is not himself can he perceive it as what it is in itself and relate himself to it.
This distancing of the other can pass over into its objectification in the sense of the I-It relation. But this is not the spontaneous consequence of distancing. Distancing first of all allows the other to be itself in the I-Thou relation. (Friedman, op. cit., p. 83.) This is primary also for the child. But as the I develops in the I-Thou relation it is brought into relationship, through the Thou, with a conceptually structured world of things. Necessarily man relates himself to this public world in the mode of the I-It relation. But the habits of using which develop in this relationship threaten to overcome the habits of openness of the I-Thou relationship. Thereby they become the source of evil in all human existence. (Ibid. pp. 62-64, 74, 101, 103, 113; Buber, I and Thou, p. 46.) We cannot avoid this evil by denial or flight, but we must take it up into a higher unity of good.
The I of the I-Thou relation is not the same as the I of the I-It relation. (Buber, I and Thou, pp. 62-65; Eclipse of God: Studies in the Relation Between Religion and Philosophy, p. 128.) The latter is simply the individual. Man is born as such. But the former is the person that each individual has the potentiality to become. (Friedman, op. cit., pp. 61, 68.) Personhood is a function of relations with persons as persons.
Relationship is finally fulfilled only in the encounter with ultimate reality as the eternal Thou. (I and Thou, p. 75, Eclipse of God, pp. 44-45.) But that Thou which is God can never be for us an It. (Eclipse of God, pp. 68, 128). Hence, in this age of the dominance of the I-It relation, God is eclipsed. (Ibid. p. 129.) Hence, also, God has nothing to do with the ultimate of philosophic discourse, which is based upon the objectifying thought of the I-It relationship. (Ibid. pp. 32, 45.) Furthermore, despite Buber’s early and continuing interests in both Western and Eastern mysticism, (Friedman, op. cit., p. 27.) the relationship with the eternal Thou must not be understood as union or absorption. It is not even a specifically religious relationship that takes man out of his concrete situation in the world. (Ibid. p. 50.) God is encountered as Thou when the world is encountered as Thou. (Ibid. p. 93.)
However, this does not mean that God is only another name for the Thou-quality of the world. (Martin Luria Diamond, Martin Buber, Jewish Existentialist, p. 40) God’s reality is prior to his realization in the world, (Friedman, op. cit. p. 39.) and our direction toward him is most fully achieved in prayer. (Ibid. p.136; Buber, Eclipse of God, p. 126.) It does mean that faith remains in the lived concreteness of life and seeks to realize God through the mutuality of genuine relationship.
Buber is fully aware of his divergences from the existentialists treated above. He deeply respects Kierkegaard and acknowledges his debt to him, (Friedman, op. cit., p.35. For Buber’s discussion of Kierkegaard see Eclipse of God, pp. 115-120; "The Question of the Single One," Between Man and Man, pp. 40-82. Additional references are given by Friedman, loc. cit.) but he opposes Kierkegaard’s preoccupation with man’s situation as a solitary existent before God. Certainly man’s relation to God is supremely important, but that relation must contain man’s relation to the world. To be related to God as Thou is to be open to the whole world as also Thou. (Friedman, op. cit. p. 54.) In our own day of the eclipse of God only total openness to our neighbor as Thou will enable us to address again the Eternal Thou. (Ibid. p. 147.)
Heidegger’s parallel preoccupation with the individual has led him in his early writings to identify man’s goal as living out of his own proper potentialities. He recognizes that this also affects man’s relations to his fellow man, but he sees the quality of these relations as derivative from the quality of individually achieved authentic existence. Buber reverses this order, pointing out that genuine life can be achieved only in the mutuality of real community. (For Buber’s discussion of Heidegger, see Eclipse of God, pp. 70-78; and "What Is Man?" Between Man and Man, pp. 163-181.)
Both Heidegger alid Buber speak of "making present," (Friedman, op. cit., pp. 82, 171.) but the evaluations that they attach to this function are strikingly different. Heidegger sees it as the process of objectifying that which is encountered in the world in terms of projected goals. It is necessary for many purposes, such as science and technology, but its predominance in thought has led to unauthenticity. This must be countered by recognizing the priority of relationship to the future and past within Dasein itself over this presenting of objects. Buber, on the other hand, sees the making present as the condition of authenticity. To make present is to render the entity free to be itself and to speak for itself. (There is another theme in Heidegger, developed in his later thought, in which he speaks of letting things be in opposition to imposing our conceptuality and purposes upon them. This brings him somewhat closer to Buber, but Heidegger still lacks any element of mutuality between persons.) It is the condition for encounter with things as they are, and especially for the relationship of I to Thou, through which alone the I becomes a person.
This divergence serves to focus the fundamental difference between Heidegger and Buber. The former seeks the goal and resources for fulfillment with the individual Dasein, whereas the latter insists that man can become himself only in relationship. They agree that we must not regard the relationship of subject to objectified thing as primary; but Heidegger replaces this with the primacy of the relation of Dasein to its own future, whereas Buber replaces it with another kind of relation to the other -- the I-Thou relation.
Sartre has discussed at much greater length than Heidegger man’s relation to other men. But his elaborate analysis has led to the conclusion that in the nature of the case the ideal community is radically unattainable. Buber does not minimize the difficulties involved or deny that failure is frequent. But he rejects Sartre’s approach of beginning with the analysis of the autonomous consciousness and only then proceeding to the question of relationship to other consciousnesses. Buber insists that persons become only in relationships, and that we must, therefore, begin with these relationships. The obstacles to full mutuality are ontic and not ontological; hence, they are subject to overcoming by man. (Friedman, op. cit., pp. 14-15. For Buber’s discussion of Sartre, see Eclipse of God, pp. 65-70.)
Although we may be inclined to identify existentialism as such with the radical individualism of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre, we should recognize that Buber is far from alone in his concern with the encounter or mutual presence of persons. Both Jaspers and Marcel have developed similar emphases quite independently. (Friedman, op. cit., p. 162, note.) Many of those Protestant thinkers most influenced by existentialism have appropriated existentialism with the focus on interpersonal relations to which Buber has given classical expression. Even Bultmann, who in so many ways remains closer to the Heidegger of Sein und Zeit than any other leading theologian, makes use of a concept of encounter that recalls Buber much more than Heidegger.
Since a number of the themes treated in the presentation of each of the men discussed above can be found also in others among them, the overlapping among these existentialists is greater than may appear. Nevertheless, their real differences are also great. If we added discussions of still other existentialists, the diversity would become still more impressive. Rather than thus add to the confusion, we will now turn from the historical account of individual thinkers and conclude this chapter with an attempt to present a "typical" existentialist position which, while not accurately describing the thought of any major thinker, may serve to clarify the kinds of ideas most commonly associated with the term. We will begin with a nontechnical exposition of the technical philosophic starting point of all existentialism -- namely, the doctrine that existence precedes essence.
Most philosophers have observed that what is given to man in his experience is a nexus of qualities structured in certain ways. Out of these qualities are made up all the objects of human knowledge, and the formal sciences of logic and mathematics deal with all the possible structural relations. Qualities and their relations are called forms or ideas by Plato, categories by Hegel.
Now the question is whether existence is itself one of the forms or categories along with the others. Hegel taught that it is. Hence, particular existent things, ourselves included, are exhaustively explainable in terms of the categories. Since the categories are the elements of impersonal thought or universal mind, and therefore subject to rational understanding, everything which is or can be is rational through and through.
Another philosophical tradition has held that existence as such is not one characteristic of an entity along with others, but something radically unique and prior to all characterizing. Thomas Aquinas taught this, and the idea is implicit in most substance philosophies. Indeed, it is almost universal in the common sense of the Western world since this common sense has been informed by Christianity. However, it is ignored by much technical philosophy and scientific thought. Indeed, whenever the analytic approach is paramount, it is endangered.
The term "existentialism," however, is meaningful only when it is understood that the existence which precedes essence is first of all human existence. Materialism also affirms the priority of existence to essence, but its "existences" are nonhuman in character and indeed exclude the possibility of the existence of the distinctively human. Existentialism arose in a context in which this kind of materialism and even less dogmatic forms of naturalism had been excluded from consideration by Kantian idealism. Specifically it arose as a reaction to Hegel’s all-embracing rational idealism. Today it finds as its chief enemy scientism, whether the science which it universalizes regards itself as dealing empirically with existent matter or formally with logico-mathematical symbols. It especially opposes any implication that individual human existence is explicable either as a function of something subhuman or as an instance of the universal phenomenon -- humanity. We cannot deduce or explain the individual human existent by appeal to anything else whatsoever. It must be taken as an ultimate and all-important fact. What is meant by beginning with human existence is made clearer when we consider the difference between the inner and the outer view of man. If we view a man from outside through our sense organs, we observe certain structures of qualities. We can perceive also certain changes in position that are functionally related to his environment. We can hear him speak and note the relations of his words to his movements. We can study the insides of his body through X-rays, incisions, or the insertion of instruments through the apertures of his body, and we can discover cor- relations between the functionings of his nerves and organs, on the one hand, and his outer behavior, on the other. These are the techniques of objective study favored by science. When we view a man in this way it is easy to think of existence as one characteristic among others that are observed -- that characteristic which distinguishes this real person from an imaginary one. Quite opposite to this way of viewing man externally through the sense organs of another man is the way of viewing ourselves in our immediate givenness to ourselves. Here we find fears and hopes, anxieties and pur- poses, lust and love, not as observable behavior patterns but as moods and motives. Here we find, above all, the sheer irrational fact that we are. We cannot then think of this existence as merely one characteristic of our being along with others. It is primary and absolute and the prior basis of the possibility of all others. It is the presupposition of the effort to explain anything at all, whether externally or internally known, and we cannot in turn get outside of existence in order to explain it. In the sphere of external knowledge we can be relatively detached and objective. But this is true only because external knowledge is not ultimately of radical importance for us as individual existent beings. We can observe the functioning of other human organisms, for example, with minimal involvement, because how they function does not touch our own self-understanding as subjects. But we cannot approach with comparable detachment any investigation of the possibilities for inner existence. We can understand any way of being as a subject only by experiencing that way of being. We can understand what it means to love only by loving, what commitment means by being committed. Hence, the ideal of objectivity, with its accompanying spirit of detachment, precludes any real understanding of human existence. This indictment applies to most traditional philosophy, modern science, and much historiography, even where the object of investigation is man. Only the poet and the religious man have through the ages provided us with guidance in the understanding of man s real existence, and metaphysicians, scientists, and historians have generally contributed only as they were also poets and religious men.
Existential philosophy, therefore, repudiates all imitation of science in its method, and in so far as historians are influenced by its doctrines, they also abandon their earlier ideals. Thought that concerns itself with the objective, and that is therefore relatively detached in spirit, has, of course, practical value as is shown by the achievements of the natural sciences. But for man as man its role is altogether secondary. The subj ect of supreme concern to man is his own inner being, and this can be understood only as one is personally involved. Existentialists turn, therefore, to reflection upon their own interior life.
The objective approach to the study of men provides no place for freedom. Man’s behavior is exhaustively described and its regular patterns are noted. Residual irregularities are simply that and no more. But man in his own immediate self-awareness knows himself to be, at least in some respects, self-determining. He is free to make decisions, and even the decision not to decide is a decision of sorts.
When the decision not to decide predominates in a man’s life, then his existence is determined for him by hereditary and, especially, environmental forces. He becomes whatever others are or appear to be. Thus a person who does not exercise his freedom to think critically for himself is formed in his thoughts by whatever opinions are dominant in his environment. In his attitudes he reflects those of his companions. His purposes are whatever purposes are suggested to him. He is the conformist or the other-directed man.
In this abandonment of individuality and merging of himself into the crowd he seeks escape from responsibility and loneliness. But since he remains an existent, individual human being, he can never escape. He can only partially hide his responsibility and his loneliness from himself. The fact of death faces him with his final solitariness and causes him deep anxiety.
This futile fight from individuality is unauthentic existence. It is the curse of mass, industrial, secular society. It is that from which all existentialists call us. Even the unauthentic man has a kind of freedom. That is, he remains free to decide to be free. But so long as he does not exercise his freedom to be free, he is a product of external forces. Hence, he may be said to be only potentially free.
To assert or actualize one’s freedom is the central act of freedom by which one enters authentic existence. The authentic man acknowledges his responsibility for what he is and becomes. He recognizes the influence upon him of his past, but by that act of recognition he frees himself of its control. He can decide not to continue to be the self that has been produced by that past. He can decide, that is, to accept another mode of existence, another self-understanding, another ideal aim, than that which the past presses upon him.
The finally decisive limitation to his freedom is his fear of death. As long as he is unwilling to accept death, society and circumstances can place severe limits upon his choice of mode of existence. He can choose only among those ways of being which are tolerated by society. To actualize ones freedom wholly, one must overcome one’s bondage to continued life and accept fully the possibility of death.
At this point we must introduce the Nietzschean element in modern existentialism -- the awareness of "the death of God.’’ Apart from this, the primacy of the inner life and the realization of responsible freedom would hardly distinguish contemporary existentialism from the Christian life of prayer and service to God. The difference lies in the fact that in modern existentialism for the first time acute self-awareness has come into being in radical dissociation from prayer. That is, the existentialist is not uncovering for himself truth about himself known already to God. He is not examining his motives in the light of an absolute demand placed upon him by one who loves him wholly. On the contrary, he is examining his condition in the light of the absence of any other who knows him, loves him, or places a demand upon him.
The difference in the result is incalculable. For Christian piety the inner life is the one point at which man escapes from loneliness into full communion. Christian introspection is carried out in a context of meaning which is in no way brought into question. The problems that emerge center around sin and forgiveness. Truth about the self, not about the meaning of life, is sought in self-analysis. For the thoroughgoing existentialist, the death of God means the absolute aloneness of the existent individual and the absence of any given structure of meaning whatsoever. Hence, the question of sin and forgiveness in the Christian sense cannot even arise. The all-important quest is for meaning, and this quest is foredoomed to failure in so far as meaning is still conceived as something given for the individual. Since God, the objective source of meaning, is dead, the only possible source of meaning is the self. But the meaning determined by the self cannot be rationalized or justified. In the past, men have wondered whether the good exists for God or is only his arbitrary fiat. The existentialist now discovers that, for man without God, the good is man s own arbitrary fiat. Men create, they cannot discover, the principles by which they live.
Christian freedom is freedom to fulfill or not to fulfill the divine purpose for one’s life, but the freedom to set the end itself is God’s alone. Existentialist freedom is the inescapable necessity of choosing an end without reason or encompassing purpose -- simply as an act of freedom. The Christian knows himself responsible for his failure to fulfill God’s purpose, but he experiences no responsibility for the purpose as such. The existentialist finds himself, finite being as he is, in the lonely and sovereign role of God, the author of purposes. The anguish that is thus his lot has dimensions wholly unknown to faith.
This makes it clear that for the existentialist the achievement of authentic life is no guarantee of happiness. On the contrary, it is the acceptance without illusion of anguish and loneliness. Every effort to escape from this situation is a flight from human existence as such. Virtue and happiness are alike false goals. Only freedom remains.
Clearly, Christians cannot simply adopt existentialism in its atheistic form. Notwithstanding, they have been deeply influenced by it. In Chapters 9, 10, and 11 we will consider Bultmann, Tillich, and H. Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr as presenting diverse ways in which Christian theology may develop in relation to this movement. The intention in each case is to reject natural theology. Our guiding question will be whether this goal is achieved and whether a viable alternative is provided.