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Continental Philosophy Essay

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Continental Philosophy

Introduction to Philosophy

Continental Philosophy

Continental philosophy, so named because it was the dominant school of thought in continental Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, originated as a response Hegel’s idea of Absolute Idealism. Comprised of various schools of thought, continental philosophy is generally identified with one of two major traditions of modern Western philosophy, existentialism and phenomenology (Moore-Bruder, 2005, p. 160).

Absolute Idealism

The philosophy of Absolute Idealism is itself a response to Kant’s philosophy “that we can have knowledge only of the world of experience and can have no knowledge of things вЂ?as they are in themselvesвЂ™Ð²Ð‚Ñœ. Absolute Idealism encompasses the belief that “reality is the expression of infinite or absolute thought or consciousness” (Moore-Bruder, 2005, p. 143). Absolute Idealism tried to reach an integrated idea of all reality that gives meaning to every facet in correlation to the total. This optimistic idealism was thought by some to ignore the “human predicament”. For philosophers Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, the universe and its human occupants are rarely rational. They viewed Hegel’s idealism as too optimistic and an inadequate method of overcoming or combating despair (Moore-Bruder, 2005, p. 161). Their philosophies were further developed by others into what are now characterized as existentialism and phenomenology.


Existentialism, which mushroomed over continental Europe after World War I, stemmed from the proximity of the tribulations of life. Essentially, it is the analysis of the condition of man; existentialism characterizes the human existence using a collection of underlying themes and characteristics including despair, apprehension, fear, liberty, consciousness of death, and consciousness of existence. Existentialists declare that without confronting the disappointments, tragedies, hardships, or difficulties of life, humans can not find any value or meaning in life (Moore-Bruder, 2005).

Key contributors.

Existentialism is best represented by Camus and Sartre. The movement also considers SÐ"Ñ'ren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche to be important in the development of existentialism. Camus, an agnostic, asked, “Is there any reason not to commit suicide?” Camus believed that most people “spend their lives in or near despair in an absurd world” that incessantly thwarts the essential human needs of understanding and social warmth (Moore-Bruder, 2005, p. 166). Considering suicide unacceptable, Camus believed that only by fighting against the irrationality and tragedy of life can a person realize completion, social unity, and “a brief love of this earth” (Moore-Bruder, 2005, p. 169).

Sartre, an atheist, believed that humans are left on their own to create their own lives and that each individual is the product of what one makes of oneself. He believed there is no such common thread between humans as human nature or any defining thing that delineates what it is to be human. He also thought that there is no ultimate reason for why things are as they are, and not some other way. Furthermore, he alleged there is no divine plan which would explain or excuse one’s actions. He held that there exists no objective standard of values, that each person must establish his or her own values. To Sartre there was no reason behind human existence, neither individually or as a whole (Moore-Bruder, 2005, pp. 170-171).


Phenomenology considers the constitution of assorted kinds of experience varying from discernment, thought, recollection, imagination, feeling, yearning, and will to bodily awareness, personified action, and social activity. Phenomenology holds the perceptive understanding of phenomena (what presents itself in conscious experience) as its starting point and tries to derive the elemental characteristics of experiences and the fundamental nature of what is experienced. Phenomenology is the difference between the world that is experienced and the “real” world assumed by natural science,



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