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The Philsophy of Existence (1948)
On the Ontological Mystery
- Life in a world centred on function is liable to dispair because in reality the world is empty, it rings hollow; and if it resist this temptation it is only to the extent that there comes into plat from within it and in its favour certain hidden forces which are beyond its power to conceive or to recognise.
- Being is - or should be - necessary.
- When the pessimist Besme says in La Ville that nothing is, he means precisely this, that there is no experience that withstands the analytical test.
- Is there such a thing as being? What is it? etc. Yet immediately an abyss opens under my feet: I who ask these questions about being, how can I be sure that I exist?
Yet surely I, who formulate this problem should be able to remain outside it - before or beyond it? Clearly this is not so. The more I consider it the more I find that this problem tends inevitably to invade the proscenium from which it is excluded in theory: it is only by means of a fiction that Idealism in its traditional form seeks to maintain on the margin of being the consciousness which asserts or denies it.
- I am therefore led to assume or to recognise a form of participation which has the reality of a subject; this participation cannot be, by definition, an object of thought; it cannot serve as a solution - it appears beyond the realm of problems: it is metaproblematical.
- No doubt I shall be told: "In the immense majority of cases this is an illusion." But it is of the essence of hope to exlclude the consideration of cases; moreover, it can be shown that there exists an ascedning dialectic of hope, whereby hope rises to a plane which transcends the level of all possible empirical disproof - the plane of salvation as opposed to that of success in whatever form
- the world we live in permits - and may even seem to counsel - absolute dispair, yet it is only such a world that can give rise to an unconquerable hope.
- The great pessimists in the history of thought [...] have prepared our minds to understand that despair can be what it was for Nietzsche (though on an infra-ontological level and in a domain fraught with mortal dangers) the springboard to the loftiest affirmation.
- speaking metaphysically, the only genuine hope is hope in what does not depend on ourselves, hope springing from humility and not from pride.
- And yet it is clear that the normal development of a human being implies an increasingly precise and, as it were, automatic division between what concerns him and what does not, between things for which he is responsible and those for which he is not. Each one of us becomes the centre of a sort of mental space arranged in concentric zones of decreasing interest and participat ion. It is as though each one of us secreted a kind of shell which gradually hardened and imprisoned him; and this sclerosis is bound up with the hardening of the categories in accordance with which we conceive and evaluate the world.
Man Against Mass Society (1952)
- The dynamic element in my philosophy, taken as a whole, can be seen as an obstinate and untiring battle against the spirit of abstraction.
- p. 1
- No two beings, and no two situations, are really commensurable with each other. To become aware of this fact is to undergo a sort of crisis. But it is with this crisis in our moral awareness as a starting-point, that there becomes possible that cry from us towards the creative principle, and that demand by it on us, which each must answer in his own way.
- p. 25
- The past, when it is merely known historically (that is, as a subject for abstract study), somehow piles itself up outside our real lives. ... I think that one of the duties of a philosopher, if he shows himself worthy of his vocation today, is to attack quite directly those dissimulating forces which are all working toward what might be called the neutralization of the past; and whose conjoint effect consists in arousing in contemporary man a feeling of what I should like to call insulation in time.
- p. 39
- No philosopher would be willing to accept the idea of philosophy as a way of escape, but might there not be a question of the philosopher being in duty bound to refuse to accept a world, like our real world here, of disorder and crime where the values of the mind and spirit can no longer find a home?
- p. 116
- There can be no whole without a thought which grasps it as a whole; and this grasping of what is before the mind as a whole can be effected only by a sort of voluntary halt in a kind of progressive movement of thought.
- p. 123
- We are living in a world which seems to be founded on the refusal to reflect.
- p. 132
- We ought to be able to see more clearly just for what reason the mass-man is so easily turned into a fanatic. What I seem to myself to have grasped is this, that such permeability is due to the fact that man, that the individual, in order to belong to the mass, to be a mass-man, has had, as a preliminary, though without having had the least awareness of it, to divest himself of that substantial reality which was linked to his initial individuality or rather to the fact of his belonging to a small actual group. The incredibly sinister role of the press, the cinema, the radio, has consisted in passing that original reality through a pair of flattening rollers to substitute for it a superimposed pattern of ideas and images with no real roots in the deep being of the subject of this experiment.
- pp. 140-141
- The greatest merit of the critical spirit is that it tends to cure fanaticism, and it is logical enough that in our own fanatical times the critical spirit should tend to disappear.
- p. 143
- It would be relevant … to point out the sinister part played by speed, by belief in speed as a value, by, in a word, a kind of impatience that has had a profound effect in changing even the very rhythms of the life of the spirit for the worse.
- p. 144
- There are today an increasing number of people whose awareness is, in the strict sense of the phrase, without a focus; and the techniques which have transformed the framework of daily life for such people at such a prodigious pace – I am thinking particularly of the cinema and the radio – are making a most powerful contribution towards this defocalizing process. … The human creature under normal conditions finds his bearings in relation to other people, and also to physical objects, that are not only close to him in space but also linked to him by a feeling of intimacy. Of this feeling of intimacy, I would say that in itself it tends to create a focus for human awareness. One might go farther and speak of a kind of constellation, at once material and spiritual, which under normal conditions assembles itself around each human being. … This kind of constellation around the individual life is, in a great many countries, in process of dissolution.
- pp. 146-147