Continental Philosophy Essay

Continental philosophy developed on the European continent as a result of the philosophy of Georg Hegel. Hegel built onto the ideas of Kant, and argued that everything is a construct of reason. He claimed that his system of philosophy was a

culmination of all previous philosophical thought. Hegel’s philosophy is referred to as Absolute Idealism, which basically gave meaning to every aspect of life, the world, and the cosmos; we further argued that everything is interconnected. He also argued that life, humans, and the world around us are rational. Much of what happened to philosophy in Europe was a direct result of the philosophies of Hegel. The result on the European continent was Existentialism and phenomenology.

One of the main themes of existentialism is that the world is irrational and absurd, or at the very least beyond total comprehension. Existentialist philosophers also believed that human existence is plagued by anxiety, dread, self-doubt, and despair, brought on by senselessness, emptiness, triviality, separation, and the inability to communicate. Existentialist philosophers argued that humans choose how he or she lives in this absurd and irrational world.

Existentialism can be thought of as the twentieth-century analogue of nineteenth-century romanticism. The two movements have in common the demand that the whole fabric of life be recognized and taken into account in our thinking and acting. As such they express a form of resistance to reductionist analyses of life and its meaning for human beings. But there are also significant differences. Existentialism is typically focused on individual human lives and the poignant inevitability of suffering and choice for each individual whereas romanticism tended to be more oriented to the whole of nature and saw human beings as a part of that wider picture. Furthermore, romanticism flourished before the wars and genocides of the twentieth century whereas existentialism is born amid those horrors.

The philosophical existentialists divide roughly between the atheistic and the religious. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is often considered to be the father of them all, but Friedrich Nietzsche is a crucial figure at the origins of the developing line of atheistic existentialism. Religious existentialists included both Jews such as Martin Buber (1878-1965) and Christians such as Paul Tillich (1886-1965). Other religious existentialists include Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel, and Karl Rahner. The atheistic existentialists include Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) though he denied that he was an existentialist, and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).

The philosophy of existentialism was a response to social ills of the times; the concept was also embraced by artists. Both Albert Campus and John-Paul Sartre were not only existentialist philosophers but also artists, writing novels, drama, and political statements. Both of the philosophers felt it was important to distribute their ideas and philosophies into society in the hope of having an influence on world events. Both were involved in the French Resistance during World War II against the German fascists. Both of them felt that; despite their shared believe that live is absurd, social action is necessary. They also felt that an understanding of current world events and political forces was essential.

Phenomenology is a philosophical movement based on the investigation of ‘phenomena’ rather than on the existence of anything outside of human consciousness. Phenomenology was founded in the early years of the 20th century by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl, who hoped to return philosophy to concrete experience and to reveal the essential structures of consciousness. In an amended form, Husserl's phenomenology was developed by his student Martin Heidegger, and became an important influence on existentialism and the modern tradition of hermeneutics.

Husserl desired to reaffirm Europe’s fleeting belief in the possibility of certainty by inventing a science that studies the structures that are the same for every being. To this end he developed transcendental phenomenology. It was the purpose of transcendental phenomenology to investigate phenomena without making assumptions about the world. Husserl referred to this form of investigation as phenomenological reduction. The purpose is to examine the meaning produced by pure impersonal consciousness and to describe the human life-world in terms of those things which all human beings share, essences.

Martin Heidegger is acknowledged to be one of the most original and important philosophers of the 20th century, but also the most controversial. He made contributions to many fields, such as phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, political theory, psychology theology, and postmodernism. His main concern was ontology or the study of being. In his fundamental treatise, Being and Time, he attempted to access being by means of phenomenological analysis of human existence in respect to its temporal and historical character. In his later works Heidegger had stressed the nihilism of modern technological society, and attempted to win western philosophical tradition back to the question of being. He placed an emphasis on language as the vehicle through which the question of being could be unfolded, and on the special role of poetry. His writings are notoriously difficult. Being and Time remains still his most influential work.

These two conversations or traditions of philosophy developed as a response to Hegelian idealism. This idea that everything is a construct of reason caused great thinkers to emerge to provide their ideas about the subject. Many of these great thinkers lived during times of turmoil, such as World War I, and World War II, it would have been hard to see that everything has a reason or logic behind it.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2007). Retrieved July 14, 2007, from

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