Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 11:43 am
Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy
by: William Barrett
ISBN: 0-385-03138-6
Publisher: Anchor Books (1958)

OVERVIEW:

Irrational Man gives an overview of what constitutes existential philosophy, and served as an introduction to existential philosophy to the English speaking world-especially the United States. Barrett begins with an overview of the roots of existentialism beginning in Hebraism and Hellenism, then moves onto Christian sources in St. Thomas and St. Augustine, and then moves on to the rationalism and idealism of the Enlightenment that inspired the existential movement. Then Barrett looks into the thinking of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche that inspired future existential philosophers. Then an overview of the two main figures of German and French existentialism are examined-Heidegger and Sartre respectively.

PRO'S

  • The best overview of existentialist philosophy I have found. By looking into the culture and thinking that lead to the existential movement in Europe, the book grounds existentialism in history as a reaction to the spirit of the age
  • Excellent overviews of the existential thoughts of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre
  • Considering how difficult the primary texts are to comprehend, Barrett offers dense concepts in easy to understand language

CONS

  • The inclusion of only Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre may disappoint people looking for a more inclusive survey of existentialism
  • Like any secondary text, subjective bias can be found throughout the book
  • The book is rather short at under 300 pages considering it is an overview of a large movement

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The historical account that lead to existentialism by examining Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Baudelaire, Blake, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Picasso, Joyce, and Beckett.
  • The overview of Heidegger and Sartre. I found their work I have read extremely difficult, if not near impossible to understand, but thanks to this book I have an understanding of the major themes found in their work.

NOTABLE QUOTES:

"History has never allowed man to return to the past in any total sense. And our psychological problems cannot be solved by a regression to a past state in which they had not yet been brought into being. On the other hand, enlightened and progressive thinkers are equally blind when they fail to recognize that every major step forward by mankind entails some loss, the sacrifice of an older security and the creation and heightening of new tensions." (26)


"Intellectuals as a class suffer to the degree that they are cut off from the rest of mankind. But intellectuals are the embodiement of reason, and reason itself if cut off from the concrete life of ordinary mankind is bound to decay." (135)

"The will to power is weakness as well as strength, and the more it is cut off and isolated from the rest of the human personality, the more desperate, in its weakness, it can become." (137)

"Anyone who would stand face to face with life itself must also stand face to face with death, for death is an inescapable part of life." (143)

"Despite the increase in the rational ordering of life in modern times, men have not become the least bit more reasonable in the human sense of the word." (270)

"In giving the Furies their place, we may come to recognize that they are not such alien presences as we think in our moments of evading them. In fact, far from being alien, they are part of ourselves, like all gods and demons. The conspiracy to forget them, or to deny that they exist, thus turns out to be only one more contrivance in that vast and organized effort by modern society to flee from the self." (280)

My Rating(1-10): 8.2 - This book served as an excellent introductory text to existential philosophy. I thought the analysis of the roots of existentialism provided what other surveys lacked, and the overviews of the four featured philosophers helped understand primary texts. I was disappointed by the lack of other existentialists such as Karl Jaspers and Albert Camus, but considering the depth of analysis of those included, this is excusable. This book would have been even better with a couple hundred more pages, and the inclusion of more philosophers for analysis.
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GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 01:08 pm
@Theaetetus,
Nice review, I enjoy books that put the original works in a historical context, I plan to read this one.

Cheers,
Russ
0 Replies
 
Victor Eremita
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 03:55 pm
@Theaetetus,
Irrational Man is a great introductory survey, but it is starting to show its age. I find his analysis of Kierkegaard (WHO ELSE LOL) a bit outdated, given some excellent SK research in the 80s and 90s. At least it's much better than Walter Kaufmann's lousy existentialism book.
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 04:07 pm
@Victor Eremita,
I will take that under consideration
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Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 04:13 pm
@Theaetetus,
I agree that the book is may be out dated on its current scholarship (Heidegger's Being and Time had yet to be translated into English when it was written), but it is still a wonderful introductory survey. That is funny that you mention Kaufmann's book. Irrational Man and Kaufmann's books were the required reading for the existentialism class I took a couple of semesters back. The one thing that Kaufmann's book does provide is exerpts from primary sources. Of course, not all of the selections are representational of the work they are derived from, considering they are taken a little out of context, but the book serves a purpose. A poor attempt at a collection of original sources, but an attempt nonetheless. Unfortunately, there are not many other alternatives.
0 Replies
 
Victor Eremita
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 04:40 pm
@Theaetetus,
Kaufmann never understood Kierkegaard. Kaufmann's sickening misanalysis of Kierkegaard, Jaspers, and others makes me want to burn his books and replace it with Marino's Basic Writings, Cooper's Existentialism, and Solomon's Existentialism.

There are valid criticisms of Kierkegaard, but Kaufmann misses them all and uses common prejudices and attacks a strawman.
0 Replies
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 04:56 pm
@Theaetetus,
The only thinker Kaufmann really understood was Nietzsche because he spent his lifetime translating his work. I share your anger at Kaufmann in regards to his section on Ortega. That was garbage as well.

I wasn't aware that Solomon did an existentialism anthology. I think I may have to check that out sometime.
0 Replies
 
Victor Eremita
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 04:59 pm
@Theaetetus,
Then Kaufmann should stick with Nietzsche and leave the rest to experts. Sorry about this, this thread's about Barrett, not Kaufmann.
0 Replies
 
 

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