Gabriel Marcel 1889-1973
Marcel’s father died when he was four, raised by father and aunt.
Didn’t particularth enjoy school until encounter with philosophy.
influenced by 19 century forerunner of existential philosophy.
Converted to Roman Catholicism at age of 40, very influenced by Nietzsche as well as some catholic philosopher.
Regarded as a Christian existentialist. Didn’t like the term because Sartre coined it, and was a philosophy that
Marcel was not impressed by.
Wanted philosophy to begin with concrete lived experience, as the purpose is to understand human experience.
Phenomenological (phenomenology) thinker. (No abstractions) Working up from life to thought, and then down
from thought to life again. Reminds of John Dewey, we theorize in the basis of practice, and return to that realm
to cope with it in a more intelligent way.
Critical of newer forms of rationalist thought. Too many becoming abstraction worshippers.
Man against mass society 1951. P.27 How he begins chapter three “It can never be too strongly emphasized
that…depths of man’s being.” A contemporary sense of disquiet- worry, unease, anxiety. Something has gone
wrong in modern world. Engaging in similar kind of cultural analysis, similar diagnosis.
Ours is an age of disquiet- age of cultural, existential crisis (pertaining to our way of existence, way of being, and
the meaning of that way of life)
Human life has suffered some kind of profound loss, but what is the nature of that loss, and what is the remedy?
Opposition to the spirit of abstraction
One of the most important arguments he put forth.
Phenomenology- in contemporary philosophy it is primarily regarded as a movement that originates in Germany,
and extends as the 20 century unfolds into Europe, finally post-war further to North America. As a school of
philosophy, founder E. Husserl.
Phenomenology is a method. In short of description, or interpretation of our first lived experience of the world.
Method of firsthand description of our lived experience in the world. Try to bracket your theoretical ideas. If you
want to know something, and investigate it phenomenologically, describe what you see/experience while trying to
assume as little as you possibly can about that thing. Bracket pre-conceptions as you can.
Contrasts this method with the spirit of abstraction.
Pragmatism and positivism looked too rationalistic, were early on.
Philosophers become prisoners to their own abstractions; they are either false, or more often, over-simplified.
Knowledge can’t be reduced to a formula, or a method, or a set of rules and abstractions. Wants to preserve the
primacy of the concrete.
In metaphysics, a substance, the thing in itself that Kant argued wasn’t perceivable but ultimately real. Plato’s
forms, Aristotle’s essences, in each of these cases, the abstraction is asserted to be more real than what we
Democracy itself is an abstraction, the idea of the citizen. Notion of the self.
The problem is not the abstraction itself, but it is awarding to our abstractions the attribution of more reality to
them than the world as we actually experience it.
Concept of materialism. Reality is a system of matter in motion.
Marcel argues that it is experience itself that unveils what is actually real. There is nothing more ultimate than our
firsthand experience. Our task as philosophers is to describe what we see rather than create abstract concepts that
soar over the real world. Describe the phenomena as they occur.
Mathematical and logical concepts as transcendent to pure reason. New kind of idolatry, and he is not opposed to
math or logic, but he is opposed to idolizing it.
Has a horror of abstraction fetishism. Also a horror of violence, and suspects that these two things are connected.
The only authentic peacemaker- Christianity.
Marcel says he is not trying to persuade that Christianity is something you should believe in, he will bracket his
religious opinions. The whole line of argument in his book, he tells us, doesn’t depend on his religious views. So
Problem and mystery. Dewey had given us a model of intelligent thinking, where every line of investigation was
problem-solving. Marcel says there is more to it than that. Thinking does not always begin with a problem, but
sometimes with a mystery.
The concept of evil- what is evil? What is the solution? We often speak of it as a problem. But is it really one?
Clue as to how to answer a general question by making it concrete. Like what kind of a problem is evil? It is not a
problem at all, for it is a mystery. What a problem and a mystery is, bottom of page 67. Mystery is not something outside of me, it is part of my being, it belongs fundamentally to what I am. It is not a problem, and has no
Human life in general is a mystery. The more we go beneath the surfaces to understand the human condition, the
fewer problems and more mysteries we see. Not something that is subject to object, not something that you
confront that you can somehow get over. A problem is an object in a path, something I can get over, resolve.
Tues March 26 2:30-3:30 MCE323/ Thursday March 28 1:30-2:30 Watson 024
2000- 2500, go to outer limit. In philosophy, depth of analysis.
Critical argumentation or not. If you do critical argumentation- one criticism last third of the paper. Develop it in
Democracy and Education/Experience and Education
Cite in footnote or endnote/ only cite specific claim
Switch to Marcel’s technology.
Office hours April 1 2-3:30 watson 113
Problem and Mystery
Probably has Nietzsche in the back of his mind.
There is something rather troubling about the modern world, certain cultural things that have been centuries in the
making. There is a non-reflectiveness. By the time we get into the middle part of the 20 century, there is
shallowness in our culture. Does not glorify another culture or historical era. Absence of profundity. We no longer
have a sense of mystery, and not just in the religious sense.
What a mystery is not, is a problem. In the modern world when we think, we think in problem-solving terms.
There are the deeper things that we have to think about, where there is a problem to which there is no solution.
I.e. Human suffering, what am I to do about it? What are we to collectively do about it? Should not regard
suffering as a problem that demands a solution. The only inquiry or reflection we do takes form of a search for a
solution to obstacles in our path. There is no way around suffering. There are particular examples of suffering that
can have solutions, remedies. The other half of deeper kinds of suffering that humans experience cannot be
solved, there is nothing to do about it.
If I confront my mortality, not a very pleasant realisation. When I’m young and healthy I can put it out of mind.
We tend to say I don’t want to think about, it’s very easy to do this, until you are confronted with it. Then what do
you do? Someone you love dies. Suffering is part of the human condition-what is to be done about it? Sometimes
the answer is nothing, there is no solution to my personal mortality. All that I need to do is sit and cope with it in
the best way that I can. Often that is all that I can do. Suffering is a part of me, belongs to what I am, not a new
Love is a mystery as well, in the sense of the word. You can treat marital issues as a problem, but love itself is not
a problem. It can give rise to particular problems, particular friendships/relationships. It is part of the human
condition as well. The thing that I am questioning, the love is part of me. This is what makes a mystery a mystery-
the absence of space between the person doing the questioning, and the object. These mysteries define what the
human condition is, what I am.
By the time we get to the 20 century, when “God is dead,” we have lost the concept of mystery altogether, we
don’t even use this word much. The word itself is mostly used by religious believers, but they use it in an old,
superstitious way. We need to bring mystery into our conceptual framework, otherwise our worldview is flat.
A mystery is not something that hasn’t been solved yet, there is no solution coming.
Once the Gods have fled, we are left with a technological worldview, we lack the tools to reflect upon the deeper,
more important things in human life. How do I deal with my imminent death, if all of my thinking uses a
Marcel asks: not what is the way out, but what does it mean? What does my imminent death mean? What is the
meaning of suffering? Existential position, reformulating the question to what does it mean. We aren’t always
searching for solutions, but we also search for meaning.
How am I to search for meaning, what is the method? There is no method, no techniques to follow, etc. There is
not one way to face your mortality, but there are many ways to find meaning in that event. Not one rational way
to think about any mystery. Especially interested in the mystery of human freedom. The threats to freedom he thinks exists in the modern
world. Human freedom is a mystery, not a problem. He’s writing primarily as an existential thinker. Wants to
know what does it mean to exist as a human being?