Six Existential Thinkers

Six Existential Thinkers, by H.J. Blackham (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952)


p. 46/2-8
on Karl Jaspers [The more or less obscure and fugitive sensations, perceptions, feelings, intuitions, intimations of the private consciousness, which are in part the raw material of public knowledge and in part are intractable to scientific method, and responsive to unpredictable manifestations of reality; and the uniquely personal self-determination of the free personality. These vitally important elements pass through the filter of the most resourceful and perfected science.]: Too wooly.


p. 62/36
[The will to affirm, even in the acceptance of final frustration, is essential …] Crudely, the will to affirm is evidence of God. The will to affirm, certainly, must not be ignored (as it tends to be in Sartre); but this is not the solution. The will to affirm, bhavata~hā, is evidence of avijjā or nescience; it is evidence, that is to say, of failure to understand what it is evidence of.


p. 69/16-21
on Gabriel Marcel [My own being, then, and the being in which I participate are not problems before me on which I can get to work, for I have no standing and no possible existence outside of Being, and the independent standing which seems to be given to the knowing subject in reflective consciousness is a mistake which further reflection corrects.]: This is the puthujjana’s vicious circle.


p. 87/10-13
on Martin Heidegger [Kierkegaard has profoundly influenced Protestant theology, and has influenced Jaspers and Heidegger, but it is as one of the developments of Husserl’s fruitful school of pure phenomenology that existentialism takes its place in contemporary technical philosophy.] See Husserl’s article, ‘Phenomenology,’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica.


p. 95/35-40
[… death does not strike me down, it is not an accident which happens to me, it is from the very beginning one of my own possibilities which I nurse within me. Indeed, it is my possibility eminently, because its realization is inevitable and will be realized by me in the most authentically personal way without any possibility of avoidance or substitution.] This will do if ‘my possibility’ does not imply (as it does in Sartre) that I can choose it. It is ‘my possibility’ since at any moment it is possible that it will happen to me.


p. 96/3-7
[… if I can die, I need not have existed, nobody need exist, personal existence is launched between nothingness and nothingness and it is nothingness that is real, everything is absurd, the impossibility of existence is possible, nothing is necessary.] Note that Karl Barth speaks of ‘God’s impossible possibility.’


p. 97/22-31
[The culpability which I fasten on myself is not the guilt of living inauthentically but the guilt of resolving to live authentically; it is original, for the Dasein, whatever it does, is itself the source of evil so soon as it assumes and accepts an existence of which it can never be master; it is culpable whatever it does so soon as it accepts and takes responsibility for a finite existence irretrievably determined and doomed. All particular faults and wrongs are metaphysically founded in this culpable nature of Dasein. When I accept with fully open eyes my existence as I find it to be, issuing from nothing into nothing, and I live it out in the light of that understanding, I make myself culpable.]: This is inadequate. A gratuitious act is not necessarily an evil act, and to accept responsibility for it is not necessarily to make oneself culpable. The root of evil, and therefore also guilt, is the conceit ‘I am’.


p. 97/33-34
[… to reject personal existence with the definitiveness of suicide or of Eastern nihilism.]: Mahāyāna? Things do not really exist: they are only thought to exist by the ignorent.—Prajñāpāramitā.


p. 102/36
[These meanings answer the questions what, what for, how, as, …]: What is the question ‘as?’


p. 104/9-11
[Nothing is not merely a notional negation, not-any-thing, and thus the counter-concept opposed to Being. It can be experienced and is itself the source of all forms of negation and negativity.] last 9 words u/l


p. 104/12-17
[The intelligible world constructed by personal existence, in which man feels safe and at home, the world of meanings, is nihilated and he is plunged back into the sheer ‘is-ness’ of what is, his ship on which he is riding and voyaging disappears in the night and he finds himself in the deep waters and tastes their saltness.]: See Sartre’s criticism of this in L’Être et le Néant, pp. 54-55. Heidegger’s Nothing is certainly the counterpart of the world, but not of meanings in the world. With the arahat, there is no more world (in this sense), but things remain meaningful or significant of other things.


p. 111/21-22
on J.-P. Sartre [These two modes of being, consciousness and its object, the pour-soi and the en-soi, are not merely in contrast.]: Sartre’s fundamental mistake is to assume that the soi (self) of pour-soi and en-soi is unambiguous. It is not. In pour-soi, ‘soi’ means ‘oneself’, whereas in en-soi it means ‘itself’. The first is self as ‘subject’, the second is simply the self of ‘self-identity’. These are not the same.


p. 114/26-27
[Knowledge is necessarily intuition, the presence of consciousness to the object which it is not.]: A mistake. Consciousness is not present to the object which it is not; it is the presence of the object (which, of course, it is not). Otherwise, consciousness would be the subject. What, then, is the subject? Answer, no-thing is the subject—sabbe dhammā anattā. This is a costly error.


p. 127/11-13
[… (a possibility which raises a metaphysical problem beyond the scope of ontological description).]: In spite of his claim to steer midway between Realism and Idealism (cf p. 112) Sartre is sometimes something of an Epiphenomenalist—not openly, of course, but in his assumptions he will cheerfully allow that material circumstances can modify our intentions, but finds difficulty in understanding that our intentions can modify the material circumstances (the easiest example is a conversation between myself and another, where the (material) speech I hear affects my thoughts and my thoughts affect the (material) speech I utter); but it is because this is so that we can afford to ignore the word ‘circumstances’ (which implies an outside view) and speak of being ‘en situation’—which puts the account on Realism. There is no mention at all in his work of paranormal phenomena.


p. 129/24
[… ‘when I deliberate, the die is cast’.]: i.e. it is already cast.


p. 145/14-20
[… my consciousness of something and implicit awareness of this consciousness, which is the foundation of all, is not awareness of me and can never reach me; the pour-soi as pure flight and pursuit can never know itself as flight and pursuit, and therefore the principle which ingeniously furnishes the ontological description from within could never produce the reflective consciousness which carries out the description.] This criticism is just. Sartre rejects Spinoza’s infinite regression—idea, ideae, ideae—for no good reason, and is thenceforward unable to give a satisfactory account of reflexion.


p. 147/12-14
[Simone de Beauvoir … her Pour une Morale de l’Ambiguité …]: This book, when one comes to read it, is a disappointment: it is rhetoric, not philosophy, and takes us no further than Sartre.


p. 147/31-32
[‘The business of any morality is to consider human life as a match which can be won or lost, and to teach men how to win.’]: No, in the match of human life one is defeated in advance. The choice is between looking this fact in the face and running away from it, and in neither case does one escape defeat. At best one delays the inevitable decision. The only victory is to stop the match.


p. 148/4-6
[The natural order of this human existence is willed and becomes a moral order; he is no longer explained, he is justified: he justifies himself.]: To see that one is justified is not to justify oneself. One only justifies oneself in ceasing to be justified, which means ceasing to be, tout court. One is reflexively justified in seeing that one is immediately unjustified, certainly; but one is still unjustified. In other words, we again encounter an ambiguity. And to see this is only to generate a fresh ambiguity, and so on in an endless regression. Although, as it turns out later, this step is moral, it is not itself the foundation of morality, since it cannot transcend ambiguity. It is moral because it states the problem, which is ambiguity (and also because it favourably affects the immediate choice—the stronger the reflexion the less immoral the immediate action), and unless the problem is stated it cannot be transcended; and it is the transcending of ambiguity that is the foundation of morality.


p. 148/9-12
[Sartre proposes to clear the ruins and reconstruct a dogmatic humanism which understands and assumes the eternal human situation, offering a liberation of mankind which starts with a total knowledge of man by himself.]: This dogmatic humanism (or any other humanism) is not a liberation: it is merely a suspended sentence.