Hegelian idealism sparked a revolution in philosophical thought. According to our readings, The Power of Ideas, the response to Hegelian idealism on the European continent was quite different, and is known as Continental philosophy. Within Continental philosophy there are various schools of thought who include existentialism and phenomenology. This essay will describe the historical development of Continental philosophy’s existentialism and phenomenology as a response to Hegelian idealism.
Historically, both existentialism and phenomenology have roots that can be traced back to pre Socratic philosophies. “Each school of though has influenced the other to such an extent that two of the most famous and influential Continental philosophers of this century, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, are important figures in both movements”().
Existentialism has several main themes. First, existentialism believes the world is absurd and irrational and that no real explanation can be given for why it is the way it is. Also that philosophy is centralized to whatever experience every individual has with the world. “Traditional and academic philosophy is sterile and remote from the concerns of real life”(), Finally, every single individual chooses their own destiny and how they choose to live in this irrational world.
Hegelian idealism was opposed by many 19th century philosophers. Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Soren Kierkegaard were all opponents to these Hegelian beliefs. They believed it was impossible for an individual to find the purpose of their living. To them, the universe and everything in it is rarely rational, and any types of philosophies that attempt to make the universe rational are hopeless attempts to overcome pessimism and despair. Beginning with Soren Kierkegaard, lets explore some of the beliefs and views of these three influential philosophers as they relate to Hegelian idealism.
Soren Kierkegaard disagreed with Hegel’s system. Personally, Kierkegaard emphasized individuality and the will and need to make important choices. He placed emphasis of the individual’s capabilities to control their actions and choices and also that humans could only find respite through commitment to God and the infinite. This was the only thing that could save a person from despair. According to Kierkegaard, the purpose of philosophy was to speak to the anguished individual who is forced to live in an irrational world and to make decisions being in that world.
Arthur Schopenhauer was filled with pessimistic views on life and humanity. He believed that human’s capacity to reason was a result of any impulsive action as a way of rationalization. He also disagreed with Hegel’s system and developed a theory that will, physically manifesting all phenomena lead to accomplishment of everything.
Friedrich Nietzsche was influenced by the readings of Schopenhauer and also disagreed with Hegel’s idealism. However, he did disagree with Schopenhauer’s view on cosmic will. To Nietzsche, the world is driven by the will-to-power. He believed that Western society had become mundane. Basically, people had become too willing to do as they were told and were enslaved to the ideas of saying no to life and embracing lives devoid of joy. It was his personal beliefs that only the Superman was capable of escaping this trivial life. This Superman embraces the will-to-power and is able to create, rather than discover. God is dead according to Nietzsche. Only the meek and compassionate worship God as their source of values.