Chris's Reviews > Existentialism

Existentialism by Robert C. Solomon
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Mar 28, 12

Read from December 01, 2011 to March 28, 2012

I really enjoyed this collection of excerpts from existentialist writings. I liked that it opened my eyes to the different kind of thinkers within this tradition: liked some, loathed some. It gathered from about 26 writers from Kierkegaard to Arthur Miller, and concentrated more heavily on the more well-known contributors like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus, and Sartre. I came to this book having read some from this philosophical emphasis, but I wasn’t disappointed in the selections which helped me to broaden my understanding of different expressions of the ideas as well as lesser known authors which have contributed to its progress (or lack there-of).

Some broadly assume that existentialism is an expression of egoism or solipsism that offers no value system, or ultimately leads down the path to a philosophical ‘catatonic immobility’. Not so. That is mostly a misunderstanding of the uninformed. It, in fact, has been developed as a system, or as ideological tools rather, to help one redefine and reform one’s values, and conceptualize truth and meaning in the face of the increasing dereliction and obsolescence of old meanings and ideas in each new age. It is not wholesale ‘relativism’, as some would like to think, but a grounded sense of conviction and purpose within a growing awareness, individually and globally, of the relative nature of people’s perception of reality. Subjectivity is the dominant focus of existentialism because it brings me first, then others, into the center of my concern; and freedom and responsibility of the individual become the core values.

I definitely come away from this wanting to read more of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Jaspers, Hesse, Marcel, …and DEFINITELY Sartre above all the rest. Sartre has so many profound things to say, and I love his emphasis on human responsibility. Not sure I can stomach his Nausea, but we shall see, because it’s going on my reading list along with some of his others. I can’t get away from some of his words:

“What happens to me happens through me…Moreover everything which happens to me is mine.”
“To live [in any given situation] is to choose myself through it and to choose it through my choice of myself.”
“Everything which happens to us can be considered as a chance.”


I will say, however, that reading this expanded selection from different types of existentialist authors makes me a bit more cautious in labeling myself broadly and unreservedly as an ‘existentialist’. That label might be in need of some qualification depending on who is talking and who they are talking to.

The point of this book, and one of the reasons I’ll never read it again but benefited from it regardless, is that it was as good as it was bad. I was introduced to authors that I grew to love, but some that I was glad to be finished with once-and-for-all. The contrast was enlightening.
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