Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 4.0 Existential Philosophy

4.0 Existential Philosophy

Existential philosophy is in my opinion a philosophy which is concerned with human existence. There are many different schools of thought within existentialism, but all proponents share a common foundation; they ask questions about what characterizes human existence. The classical form of existential philosophy is in my opinion Kierkegaard’s existential dialectics, which investigates the conditions for and consequences of the different ways a human being can exist. Other existential philosophers I can mention are Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, among others (Lübcke 1993).

Existential philosophy can help us make sense of many of the complexities, contradictions and dilemmas in social welfare. Existentialism portrays humanity as seeking to make sense of the absurd existence which it has been thrown into, located within a context of structured inequalities and the oppression and alienation they produce. It is within such a context that social workers find themselves striving to help others, both on the individual and collective level. Existential philosophy places human freedom at the forefront of its attempts to understand the various dimensions of existence. Freedom is in my opinion grounded in complex social and political interactions; interactions which entail responsibility – each individual must acknowledge ownership of and the consequences of ones actions. This freedom is both a burden and the key to overcome a range of problems we meet in the course of a lived life. Existential philosophy comprises of praxis, reflection and action. As such, it offers, in my opinion, a basis for social work theory and practice by constructing a holistic framework which seeks to account for the many facets of social work.

Existentialism can be understood as comprising a number of different schools of thought, but my approach is not concerned with the many different factions which exist within it. Existentialism developed in the late 1940’s and was first and foremost influenced by Sartre. I choose to differentiate between existential philosophy and existentialism in this dissertation because it is more practical for my purposes to use existentialism in the more restricted sense inherent in existential philosophy.

Kierkegaard insisted in my opinion on the irreducibility of the subjective, personal dimension of human life. He characterized this in terms of the perspective of the existing individual or the Single One (Danish: Hiin Enkelte), and it is from this special use of the term existence – denoting a distinctively human mode of being – that existential philosophy gets its name. I choose therefore to denote this form of philosophy for existential philosophy and not existentialism, in order to show a distinction between Kierkegaard’s philosophy and that of among others Sartre (1948/1973) who is in my opinion the founder of existentialism even though he regards Kierkegaard as an existentialist and argues that Kierkegaard “is far and away the greatest as well as the first within existentialism” (1948/1973: 8). Other existentialists who should be mentioned are Friedrich Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser.
 Kaare T. Pettersen

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