Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction

Written by:
Thomas Flynn
Narrated by:
Jay Snyder

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
June 2021
4 hours 52 minutes
One of the leading philosophical movements of the twentieth century, existentialism has had more impact on literature and the arts than any other school of thought. Focusing on the leading figures of existentialism, including Sartre, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Camus, Thomas Flynn offers a concise account of existentialism, explaining the key themes of individuality, free will, and personal responsibility, which marked the movement as a way of life, not just a way of thinking.

Flynn sets the philosophy of existentialism in context, from the early phenomenologists, to its rise in the 40s and 50s, and the connections with National Socialism, Communism, and Feminism. He identifies the original definition of 'existentialism,' which tends to be obscured by misappropriation, and highlights how the philosophy is still relevant in our world today.
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Phil G.

The book does a good job of covering existentialism, at least as far as I know. But to me it has some big flaws: - It's got a lot of unexplained philosophical jargon. Some is jargon specific to philosophy, like 'heteronomy'; most is common words or derivatives thereof, like 'horizon', 'nature', or 'totalizing', used without explanation of their special philosophical meaning. - It explains difficult ideas poorly. The writer's lack of concrete examples, and failure to point out terms that might be meaningless, like many of Heidegger's, conspires with the reader's quick pace, to make this audiobook difficult to listen to. The reader should have slowed down and used intonation appropriately to highlight the parts we must pay special attention to. - It punts on the most-difficult ideas, like "hermeneutics", "authenticity", or "being-in-the-world", which need much more explanation. - The author's defense of Heidegger's Nazism as an understandable mistake is no longer plausible (though it may have been in 2006 when this book was published). Heidegger remained an unrepentant Nazi all his life. - This last point is part of a larger problem: The book fails to address the political context. Romanticism, Idealism, existentialism, and phenomenology were so important in 20th century philosophy because King Frederick William III, the Nazis, and other authoritarians found this cluster of ideas so useful in destroying liberty and especially reason, allowing them to brainwash populations with whatever doctrine they felt was politically expedient. Meanwhile, philosophers who cared about getting reality right, such as the scientific philosophes of France before the Revolution, or the logical positivists in Germany and Austria, either fled, or were dismissed, exiled, or executed. Continental philosophy today is thus rooted mostly in the fascist/communist metaphysics of unreason and ethical relativism. Marcuse and Foucault both studied under Nazi professors and learned Nazi metaphysics, while Heidegger and Paul de Man were actual Nazis. Why do we allow the verdict of the Jacobins, the Kaisers, and the Nazis against positivism, reason, and science, and in favor of Hegelianism, romanticism, and relativism, to stand today? Why do we accept existentialism at its word when it speaks in the name of freedom, when it has such bloody and authoritarian origins?

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