Being-in-a-Situation, and the Critique of Traditional Philosophy, in the Thought of Gabriel Marcel

Dissertation, University of Southern California (1992)

Brendan Sweetman
Rockhurst University
This is a study of Marcel's valuable and unique contribution to contemporary epistemology, which originated out of his existentialist critique of traditional Cartesian philosophy. Marcel argues that Descartes conceives the self as a discrete entity, distinct from the body, which "looks out" upon the external world, and apprehends it by means of clear and distinct ideas, ideas which can be understood without reference to the world. This view motivated Descartes's epistemological project, and the project of the tradition that followed. The existentialist critique, therefore, if successful, would be important. ;My aim is: to explicate and defend Marcel's understanding of the human subject as the basis for a critique of Cartesianism; and to establish that Marcel's view has radical implications for some central problems of traditional philosophy. ;In the first half of the study, I consider Marcel's view of the subject: the nature of human embodiment; the distinction between the realm of mystery , and the realm of problems ; and the ontological priority of the former over the latter. I explain and defend Marcel's claim that the individual subject's ideas always involve a body and a world which partly constitute their particular character. Marcel concludes from this that the "objective knowledge" of Cartesianism, including scientific knowledge, is founded on abstractions from the level of "being-in-a-situation" where we actually live, and must be understood in terms of this "situated involvement", not vice versa. ;The remainder of the study considers the implications of this conclusion for the traditional problems of: skepticism ; internal/external relations; necessary connections; identity; and the existence of God. ;Marcel's approach is unique because he avoids, unlike Heidegger , the problematic conclusion that mental content is not necessary at the ontologically basic level. He also avoids the conclusion that human understanding is merely interpretative, for he rejects the view that concepts are holistic. In short, he is one of the only philosophers to successfully attack atomism while at the same time avoiding monism
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