Blackwell Companions to Philosophy

This outstanding student reference series offers a comprehensive and authoritative survey of philosophy as a whole. Written by today’s leading philosophers, each volume provides lucid and engaging coverage of the key figures, terms, topics, and problems of the field. Taken together, the volumes provide the ideal basis for course use, representing an unparalleled work of reference for students and specialists alike.

Already published in the series:

1. The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, Second Edition
Edited by Nicholas Bunnin and Eric Tsui-James

2. A Companion to Ethics
Edited by Peter Singer

3. A Companion to Aesthetics
Edited by Stephen Davies, Kathleen Higgins, Robert Hopkins, Robert Stecker, and David E. Cooper

4. A Companion to Epistemology
Edited by Jonathan Dancy and Ernest Sosa

5. A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy (two-volume set), Second Edition
Edited by Robert E. Goodin and Philip Pettit

6. A Companion to Philosophy of Mind
Edited by Samuel Guttenplan

7. A Companion to Metaphysics
Edited by Jaegwon Kim and Ernest Sosa

8. A Companion to Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory
Edited by Dennis Patterson

9. A Companion to Philosophy of Religion
Edited by Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro

10. A Companion to the Philosophy of Language
Edited by Bob Hale and Crispin Wright

11. A Companion to World Philosophies
Edited by Eliot Deutsch and Ron Bontekoe

12. A Companion to Continental Philosophy
Edited by Simon Critchley and William Schroeder

13. A Companion to Feminist Philosophy
Edited by Alison M. Jaggar and Iris Marion Young

14. A Companion to Cognitive Science
Edited by William Bechtel and George Graham

15. A Companion to Bioethics
Edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer

16. A Companion to the Philosophers
Edited by Robert L. Arrington

17. A Companion to Business Ethics
Edited by Robert E. Frederick

18. A Companion to the Philosophy of Science
Edited by W. H. Newton-Smith

19. A Companion to Environmental Philosophy
Edited by Dale Jamieson

20. A Companion to Analytic Philosophy
Edited by A. P. Martinich and David Sosa

21. A Companion to Genethics
Edited by Justine Burley and John Harris

22. A Companion to Philosophical Logic
Edited by Dale Jacquette

23. A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy
Edited by Steven Nadler

24. A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages
Edited by Jorge J. E. Gracia and Timothy B. Noone

25. A Companion to African-American Philosophy
Edited by Tommy L. Lott and John P. Pittman

26. A Companion to Applied Ethics
Edited by R. G. Frey and Christopher Heath Wellman

27. A Companion to the Philosophy of Education
Edited by Randall Curren

28. A Companion to African Philosophy
Edited by Kwasi Wiredu

29. A Companion to Heidegger
Edited by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Mark A. Wrathall

30. A Companion to Rationalism
Edited by Alan Nelson

31. A Companion to Ancient Philosophy
Edited by Mary Louise Gill and Pierre Pellegrin

32. A Companion to Pragmatism
Edited by John R. Shook and Joseph Margolis

33. A Companion to Nietzsche
Edited by Keith Ansell Pearson

34. A Companion to Socrates
Edited by Sara Ahbel-Rappe and Rachana Kamtekar

35. A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism
Edited by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Mark A. Wrathall

36. A Companion to Kant
Edited by Graham Bird

37. A Companion to Plato
Edited by Hugh H. Benson

38. A Companion to Descartes
Edited by Janet Broughton and John Carriero

39. A Companion to the Philosophy of Biology
Edited by Sahotra Sarkar and Anya Plutynski

40. A Companion to Hume
Edited by Elizabeth S. Radcliffe

41. A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography
Edited by Aviezer Tucker

42. A Companion to Aristotle
Edited by Georgios Anagnostopoulos

43. A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology
Edited by Jan-Kyrre Berg Olsen, Stig Andur Pedersen and Vincent F. Hendricks

Also under contract:

A Companion to Philosophy of Literature, Edited by Garry L. Hagberg and Walter Jost

A Companion to Schopenhauer, Edited by Bart Vandenabeele

A Companion to Relativism, Edited by Steven D. Hales



The Eidetic Reduction

The Transcendental Reduction

The Phenomenological Reduction

Illustration of Kierkegaard’s Definition of the Self

The Self (Heart) in The Brothers Karamazov

Fork and Spoon

David Bailly (1650): Vanitas Still Life with Portrait

Jacques de Gheyn the Elder (1603): Vanitas Still Life

Pieter Claesz (c.1633): Still Life with Römer and Tazza

Attributed to Pieter Claesz (1634): Vanitas Still Life

Clara Peeters (1612): Ceremonial Cups and Flowers in a Jug (detail)

David Bailly (1651): Vanitas Still Life with Portrait of a Young Painter

Notes on Contributors

Daniel Andler holds doctoral degrees in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley and Paris. He is now Professor of Philosophy of Science and Epistemology at the Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV). He was for many years co-director and then director of the Centre de Recherche en Épistémologie Appliquée (CREA), the École Polytechnique, and CNRS, Paris. He heads the new Department of Cognitive Studies at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and is founding President of the Société de Philosophie des Sciences. He has published extensively on the foundations of cognitive science, and is co-author of a two-volume work in the philosophy of science, Philosophie des sciences(2002). He is currently working on a couple of connected book projects, one focusing on knowledge, the other on mind.

William Blattner is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. He is the author of Heidegger’s Temporal Idealism (1999) and is currently working on a Reader’s Guide to “Being and Time” and Pragmatist Confrontations: Heidegger, Dewey, and the Primacy of Practice.

Manuel Bremer teaches philosophy at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany. His English publications include the books Information and Information Flow (2004) and Introduction to Paraconsistent Logics (2005), as well as papers on analytical philosophy of language and epistemology. Since 1998 he has been a member of the Centre for the Study of Logic, Language and Information at the University of Düsseldorf.

Andreas Brenner is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Basel, Switzerland. His publications include: Ökologie-Ethik (1996), Lexikon der Lebenskunst (2002), Tiere beschreiben (2003), and Bioethik und Biophänomen (forthcoming, 2006).

John B. Brough is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Georgetown University. He has translated Edmund Husserl’s On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness Internal Time (1991) and Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory (2005), and is the co-editor of The Many Faces of Time (2000). He has written several essays on Husserl’s phenomenology of time, as well as a number of papers on phenomenological aesthetics.

Taylor Carman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Barnard College, Columbia University. He has written articles on topics in phenomenology and is author of Heidegger’s Analytic: Interpretation, Discourse, and Authenticity in “Being and Time” (2003) and coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty (2005). He is currently writing books on Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger.

Steven Crowell is Mullen Professor of Philosophy and Professor of German Studies at Rice University. He is the author of Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths Toward Transcendental Phenomenology (2001), the editor of The Prism of the Self: Philosophical Essays in Honor of Maurice Natanson (1995), and co-editor of the New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy.

Craig DeLancey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York, Oswego. His publications include Passionate Engines: What Emotions Reveal about Mind and Artificial Intelligence (2002).

Hubert L. Dreyfus is Professor of Philosophy in the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. His publications include What Computers (Still) Can’t Do (3rd edn, 1992), Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Division I of Heidegger’s Being and Time (1991), Mind over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer (with Stuart Dreyfus, 1987), and On the Internet (2001).

Dagfinn Føllesdal is C. I. Lewis Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University. His publications include Husserl und Frege (1958), Referential Opacity and Modal Logic (1961 and 2004), and The Philosophy of W. V. Quine (editor, 5 vols., 2001).

Shaun Gallagher is Professor and Chair of Philosophy and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Central Florida. He is co-editor of the interdisciplinary journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. His most recent book, How the Body Shapes the Mind, was published in 2005. His previous books include Hermeneutics and Education (1992) and The Inordinance of Time (1998).

Michael Allen Gillespie is the Jerry G. and Patricia Crawford Hubbard Professor of Political Science and Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He works on modern continental theory and the history of philosophy. He is the author of Hegel, Heidegger and the Ground of History (1984) and Nihilism before Nietzsche (1995). He also co-edited Nietzsche’s New Seas: Explorations in Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Politics (1988) and has written articles on Montaigne, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. He is the Director of the Gerst Program in Political, Economic, and Humanistic Studies.

Peter Eli Gordon is Professor of History at Harvard University. He is the author of Rosenzweig and Heidegger: Between Judaism and German Philosophy (2003), as well as a variety of essays on topics in both modern European intellectual history and Jewish thought. He is currently writing a book on the Davos encounter between Heidegger and Cassirer.

Charles Guignon is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Florida, Tampa. He is the author of Heidegger and the Problem of Knowledge (1983) and On Being Authentic (2004), co-author of Re-envisioning Psychology (1999), and has edited or co-edited a number of books, including The Good Life (1999), Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor (1993), Existentialism: Basic Writings (2001), and The Existentialists (2004).

Béatrice Han-Pile is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Essex, England. Her publications include Foucault’s Critical Project: Between the Transcendental and the Historical (2002) and numerous articles on Nietzsche, Foucault, and Heidegger. She is currently working on a book entitled Transcendence without Religion.

Sara Heinämaa is Senior Lecturer of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She also works as Professor of Humanist Women’s Studies at the Centre for Women Studies and Gender Research, University of Oslo, Norway. She has published several articles in phenomenology, focusing on the problems of the method, embodiment, and sexuality. Her latest publications include Toward a Phenomenology of Sexual Difference: Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Beauvoir (2004), and the collection Metaphysics, Facticity, Interpretation (2003), co-edited with Dan Zahavi and Hans Ruin.

Piotr Hoffman studied philosophy in Poland and France. He taught philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and is now Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno. His most recent book is Freedom, Equality, Power: The Ontological Consequences of the Political Philosophies of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau (1999).

David Couzens Hoy is Professor of Philosophy and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His most recent book is Critical Resistance: From Poststructuralism to Post-Critique (2004). In addition to writing The Critical Circle (1978) and editing the Blackwell anthology, Foucault: A Critical Reader (1986), for Blackwell’s Great Debates in Philosophy series, he also debated Thomas McCarthy in their book, Critical Theory (1994).

Martin Jay is Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his publications are The Dialectical Imagination (1973 and 1996), Marxism and Totality (1984), Adorno (1984), Permanent Exiles (1985), Fin-desiècle Socialism (1989), Force Fields (1993), Downcast Eyes (1993), Cultural Semantics (1998), Refractions of Violence (2003), and Songs of Experience (2005).

Shunsuke Kadowaki is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tokyo, Komaba, Japan. He is the author of three books (in Japanese): Contemporary Philosophy (1996), Phenomenology of the “Space of Reasons”: A Critique of Representational Intentionality (2002), and Husserl: How is the Mind Connected to the World? (2004).

Dieter Lohmar is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cologne, Germany. His publications include Phänomenologie der Mathematik (1989), Erfahrung und kategoriales Denken (1998), and a commentary on Edmund Husserl’s “Formale und Transzendentale Logik” (2000).

Clancy Martin earned his PhD from the University of Texas, Austin in 2003 and is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He has published many articles on ethics and nineteenth-century European philosophy and existentialism, and he has written or edited several books in ethics, including, most recently, Honest Work (2005).

Wayne M. Martin is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Essex, England. He is the author of Idealism and Objectivity: Understanding Fichte’s Jena Project (1997) and Theories of Judgment: Psychology, Logic, Phenomenology (2005), and is the General Editor of Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.

J. N. Mohanty is Professor of Philosophy at Temple University. His publications in the field of phenomenology include Husserl and Frege (1983), Phenomenology: Between Essentialism and Transcendental Philosophy (1997), Logic, Truth and the Modalities: From a Phenomenological Perspective (1999), and The Self and Its Other: Philosophical Essays (2003).

Ann V. Murphy is currently NewSouth Global Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Her background is in twentieth-century French philosophy, phenomenology, political philosophy, and feminist theory. Her current research focuses on violence, vulnerability, and embodiment. She has published on Beauvoir, Irigaray, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, and Levinas.

Frederick A. Olafson is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University of California–San Diego.

Matthew Ratcliffe is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Durham, England. He has published numerous articles on phenomenology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. Most of his recent work is concerned with intersubjectivity and the phenomenology of feeling.

François-David Sebbah is Maître de Conférences at the Université de Technologie de Compiègne (TSH-COSTECH). Formerly a program director at the Collège International de Philosophie, Sebbah is currently on the editorial boards of the academic journals Alter, Intellectica, and Cahiers d’Études Lévinassiennes. He is the author of the books Lévinas: Ambiguïtés de l’altérité (2000) and L’épreuve de la limite: Derrida, Henry, Lévinas et la phénoménologie (2001), as well as some twenty articles, mostly on contemporary French phenomenologists and/or the uses, effects, and extensions of phenomenology.

David Sherman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Montana, Missoula. Journals in which his articles have appeared include Philosophy Today, Telos, Philosophy & Social Criticism, The Philosophical Forum, and Philosophy and Literature, and he is the co-editor of the Blackwell Guide to Continental Philosophy (2003).

Charles Siewert is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of The Significance of Consciousness (1998) and a number of articles on the philosophy of mind and its relationship to phenomenology.

Robert C. Solomon is Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Philosophy and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and past President of the International Society for Research on Emotions. He is the author of over forty books including The Passions (1993), In the Spirit of Hegel (1983), About Love (1988), A Passion for Justice (1995), Up the University (with Jon Solomon, 1993), A Short History of Philosophy (1996), Ethics and Excellence (1992), A Passion for Wisdom (1997), A Better Way to Think About Business, The Joy of Philosophy (both 1999), What Nietzsche Really Said (with Kathleen M. Higgins, 2000), Spirituality for the Skeptic, Living with Nietzsche (2003), and Not Passion’s Slave (2003) and In Defense of Sentimentality (2004), vols. I and II of a three-volume series, The Passionate Life.

Fredrik Svenaeus is Associate Professor of Philosophy in the Department for Health and Society, University of Linköping, Sweden. He has published one book in English: The Hermeneutics of Medicine and the Phenomenology of Health: Steps Towards a Philosophy of Medical Practice (2001). Currently he is working in a research project on phenomenology and new medical technologies.

Iain Thomson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education (2005) and has published more than a dozen articles on Heidegger and other leading figures in phenomenology and existential philosophy. He is currently writing a book on Heidegger’s phenomenology of death and its impact on contemporary continental philosophy.

Udo Tietz is Professor of Philosophy in Marburg, Germany. His publications include Sprache und Verstehen in analytischer und hermeneutischer Sicht (1995), Hans-Georg Gadamer zur Einführung (1999, 2001, 2004), Hinter den Spiegeln. Beiträge zur Philosophie von Richard Rorty (Mithg. 2000), Ontologie und Dialektik. Heidegger und Adorno über das Sein, das Nichtidentische, das Urteil und die Kopula (2002), Die Grenzen des Wir. Eine Theorie der Gemeinschaft (2002), Hegel für Eilige (2004), Vernunft und Verstehen. Perspektiven einer integrativen Hermeneutik (2004), Heidegger (2005), and various essays on the theory of rationality, the philosophy of language, phenomenology, critical theory, and social philosophy.

Mark van Atten is Researcher for the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at the Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (IHPST), Paris, France.

Frederick J. Wertz is Professor and Chair of Psychology at Fordham University, editor of the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, and a former President of the American Psychological Association’s Society of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology and Division of Humanistic Psychology. He has published works in phenomenological psychology, many on qualitative research methods, and edited the volumes The Humanistic Movement: Recovering the Person in Psychology (1994) and Qualitative Research in Psychology (1987).

Robert Wicks is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His publications include Hegel’s Theory of Aesthetic Judgment (1994), Nietzsche (2002), and Modern French Philosophy (2003). His most recent work is on the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.

Mark A. Wrathall is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Riverside. He is the author of Heidegger on Truth, Language, and History (2009) and How to Read Heidegger (2005). He has edited a number of volumes, including Religion after Metaphysics (2003), and Appropriating Heidegger (with James Falconer, 2000).

Julian Young is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His publications include Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Religion (2006), Schopenhauer (2004), The Death of God and the Meaning of Life (2003), Heidegger’s Later Philosophy (2003), Heidegger’s Philosophy of Art (2002), and Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism (1997). He is currently working on a philosophical biography of Nietzsche.


We owe thanks to many who have assisted with various aspects of the planning of this volume and the preparation of this manuscript, including James Faulconer, Catherine Curtis, Amy Wrathall, Jeffrey Johnson, Daniel Wood, Ariane Uhlin, and Enoch Lambert.

Chapter 30 is a shortened and revised version of Iain Thomson, “Ontology and ethics at the intersection of phenomenology and environmental philosophy,” Inquiry, 47, 4 (2004), pp. 380–412. By permission of Taylor & Francis.

Extract from “Dream Objects” in Midpoint and Other Poems by John Updike, copyright © 1969 and renewed 1997 by John Updike. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.


A Brief Introduction to Phenomenology and Existentialism


Phenomenology and existentialism are two of the most influential movements in twentieth-century philosophy. During the heyday of existentialism in the middle decades of the twentieth century, there were heated disputes about whether the movements belonged together or were even compatible with one another. Herbert Spiegel-berg, for example, argued that, while phenomenology and existentialism are independent movements, they are compatible in principle and, indeed, that they have “at least enough affinity for fruitful cooperation” (1960: 70). Asher Moore, by contrast, saw the relationship between existentialism and phenomenology as an “unholy alliance,” and argued that phenomenology was “unfit . . . for existential inquiry” because it necessarily had to overlook individual existence in its search for universal structures (1967: 408, 409).

Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre were the two figures crucial to this debate – crucial in the sense that each could, with right, be claimed by both phenomenology and existentialism. In fact, they disagreed on the subject of the relationship between existentialism and phenomenology. Heidegger always thought of his work as true to the genuine spirit of phenomenology (although he stopped referring to his work as “phenomenological” in order to distance himself from Husserlian phenomenology). He was dismissive, however, of existentialism, contending that it was a continuation of the errors of modernism (Heidegger 2000: 225). Heidegger concluded in 1966, perhaps unrealistically, that “it is hardly necessary anymore today to expressly observe that my thought deals neither with existentialism nor with existence-philosophy” (Heidegger 1986: 649–50). Despite his rejection of twentieth-century existentialism, Heidegger’s work carried on the existential tradition of thought as it had been developed by the nineteenth-century progenitors of existentialism, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and also was tremendously influential on the later development of existentialism. Heidegger’s standing in the existential tradition is secured by his exploration of the existential structure of Dasein or human being, his historicized account of essences, his critique of the banality of conformist everyday life, and his reflections on guilt, anxiety, death, and authenticity.

Sartre, on the other hand, embraced the label of existentialism, arguing that it was “the least scandalous, the most austere of doctrines” (1947: 15). Existentialism, he claimed, was “a doctrine which makes human life possible and, in addition, declares that every truth and every action implies a human setting and a human subjectivity” (1947: 12). At the same time, Sartre saw his existentialism as fundamentally grounded in a phenomenological approach. He gave Being and Nothingness the subtitle “A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology.” And in The Transcendence of the Ego, he wrote of phenomenology that “for centuries we have not felt in philosophy so realistic a current. The phenomenologists have plunged man back into the world; they have given full measure to man’s agonies and sufferings, and also to his rebellions” (1962: 105).

Before saying any more about existentialism’s and phenomenology’s compatibility with and relevance to one another, we should briefly introduce the two movements.


The term “phenomenology” has been in common use in philosophy since Hegel’s monumental work, The Phenomenology of Mind (1807). During the nineteenth century, the word denoted a descriptive as opposed to a hypothetical–theoretical or analytic approach to a problem.

Phenomenology began as a discernible movement with Edmund Husserl’s (1859–1938) demand that philosophy take as its primary task the description of the structures of experience as they present themselves to consciousness. This description was meant to be carried out on the basis of what the “things themselves” demanded, without assuming or adopting the theoretical frameworks, assumptions, or vocabularies developed in the study of other domains (such as nature).

Husserl apparently began using the term in the 1890s in his lectures “Phänomenologie: ein Abschnitt in Brentanos Metaphysik (Klärung von Grundbegriffen)” (see Heidegger 1993: 13 n. 6). Franz Brentano (1838–1917) had a decisive influence on Husserl’s development of phenomenology owing to Brentano’s own descriptive approach to the study of psychic phenomena, and also through his arguments regarding the structure of consciousness. Also of influence was Wilhelm Dilthey’s (1833–1911) argument against naturalistic accounts of the psychic domain, and his attempt to develop a more descriptive approach to the human sciences.

In Husserl’s hands, “phenomenology” came to have a more precise, methodological sense (see Chapter 2). For Husserl, phenomenology is a study of the structures of consciousness (see Chapter 6), which proceeds by “bracketing” the objects outside of consciousness itself, so that one can proceed to reflect on and systematically describe the contents of the conscious mind in terms of their essential structures (see Chapters 8 and 9). This was a method, Husserl believed, which could ground our knowledge of the world in our lived experience, without in the process reducing the content of that knowledge to the contingent and subjective features of that experience (see Chapter 7).

On the basis of this method, Husserl believed, philosophy could be established as a rigorous science that could “clarify all species and forms of cognition” (Husserl 1964: 4), because it could discover the structures common to all mental acts. Following Brentano, Husserl saw intentionality, object-directedness, as the mark of the mental (see Chapter 5). Intentional acts, Husserl argued, have a meaningful structure through which the mind can be directed toward objects under aspects. Another essential structural feature of the mental, Husserl argued to great influence, was temporality (see Chapter 10).

Early followers of Husserl extended his work into a variety of domains – Max Scheler (1874–1928), for instance, into an examination of the essence of emotions and intuition; Roman Ingarden (1893–1970) into art and aesthetics; Edith Stein (1891–1942) into the nature of empathy; Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) into psychology. Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), Husserl’s most brilliant student and influential critic, along with Jaspers, moved phenomenology in a new direction.

Heidegger rejected Husserl’s focus on consciousness and, consequently, much of his basic phenomenological method. For Heidegger, the purpose of phenomenological description was not to discover the structures of consciousness, but to make manifest the structure of our everyday being-in-the-world. Because Heidegger’s interest was worldly relations rather than mental contents, he rejected both the usefulness of the phenomenological method as practiced by Husserl and the need for mental meanings to account for many if not most forms of intentional directedness. Indeed, Heidegger argued that the intentionality on which Husserl focused – the intentionality of discrete mental judgments and acts – is grounded in something more basic, the intentionality of a general background grasp of the world. Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–61) extended Heidegger’s account of being-in-the-world to a study of our bodily experience of the world in perception (see Chapter 3). Sartre as a phenomenologist shared Heidegger’s focus on existential, worldly relationships, but sought to account for those relationships in a Husserlian fashion by focusing on consciousness.

Heidegger and Husserl both had a formative influence on many of the most prominent philosophers of the latter half of the twentieth century. These include Heidegger’s students Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002), who developed Heidegger’s philosophical hermeneutics, and Hannah Arendt (1906–75), whose work on politics and public ethics developed many of Heidegger’s insights into our being with one another in a shared public world. Emmanuel Levinas (1906–95), Michel Foucault (1926–84), Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), and Jürgen Habermas (1929–) have all been influenced by and, to some degree, defined their work by opposition to, the phenomenologies of Heidegger and Husserl.


Existentialism was self-consciously adopted as a label for a movement only in the twentieth century. But existentialist writers see themselves as carrying on a tradition that was first anticipated by Blaise Pascal’s (1623–62) rejection of Cartesian rationalism, which tried to define human being in terms of our rational capacities. Pascal saw human being as an essential paradox, a contradiction between mind and body. Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55), usually acknowledged as the founder of modern existentialism, shared Pascal’s sense for the inherent contradiction built into the human condition. Kierkegaard reacted to Hegel’s systematic and, purportedly, total account of human being and history in terms of rationality, arguing for the essential absurdity of human existence, and the need for a fundamentally irrational, but faithful and passionate commitment to a Christian form of life. Nietzsche (1844–1900) and Dostoevsky (1821–81) likewise criticized the philosophical tradition’s emphasis on rationality as undermining the passionate attachment to the world necessary to support a worthwhile life. Together, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche form the historical background to twentieth-century existentialism (see Chapter 11).

In the twentieth century, the existential approach to religion pioneered by Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky was developed by a surprising range of theologians and religious thinkers (see Chapter 13). These include, among others, Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973), Nicholas Berdyaev (1874–1948), Paul Tillich (1886–1965), Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976), Miguel de Unamuno (1865–1936), Lev Shestov (1865–1938), Karl Barth (1886–1968), and Martin Buber (1878–1965).

In the public imagination, however, twentieth-century existentialism was most well known in its atheist form as popularized by French thinkers like Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir (1908–86), and Albert Camus (1913–60) (see Chapter 14). This branch of existentialism was deeply influenced by Nietzsche’s proclamation of the “death of God,” his rejection of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and his consequent critique of traditional metaphysics and ethics.

Like the phenomenology of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre, existentialism as a movement starts its analysis with the existing individual – the individual engaged in a particular world with a characteristic form of life. Thus, an emphasis on the body (see Chapter 17) and on the affective rather than rational side of human being (see Chapter 16) are characteristic of existentialism. For existentialist thinkers, the focus is on uncovering what is unique to that individual, rather than treating her as a manifestation of a general type. Existentialists thus tend to be anti-essentialists, to deny that there are essential features or properties that determine the being of a thing. Many go further and insist that the world is not just lacking in essence, but absurd, and thus incapable of being made sense of (see Chapter 19). Indeed, existentialists like Sartre and Camus argue, human being itself is rendered meaningless and absurd by the inevitability of death (see Chapter 20).

With their focus on the individual and a denial of any meaningful sense of what constitutes an essential or absolute goal for human existence, existentialists emphasize human freedom and responsibility (see Chapter 18), and hold that the only goal consistent with that freedom and responsibility is to live authentically (see Chapter 15). Finally, existentialists tend to share an opposition to rationalism and empiricism alike, and often define themselves by their opposition to the main currents of modern philosophy.

Because existentialist analysis takes as its starting point an involved stance within an individual’s experience of the world, some of the most powerful works in existentialist thought have taken the form of novels, plays, or pseudonymous tracts. These forms are effective ways for an existentialist author to explore a way of being in the world from the inside, as it were. As a consequence, existentialism has been, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at least as influential in the literary arts as it has been in philosophy. Dostoevsky was, of course, primarily a writer of fiction, but many of Sartre’s, Beauvoir’s, and Camus’s most influential writings were also works of fiction. Camus received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957; Sartre was awarded (and refused) the prize in 1964. Literary figures influenced by existentialism, or recognized as existentialists in their own right, include novelists, playwrights, and poets.

* * *

Let us return, then, to the issue of the compatibility of existentialism and phenomenology. To a large extent, the arguments over the issue have been rendered moot. With the benefit of few more years of historical distance, it no longer seems pressing to decide to what extent existentialism can be phenomenological, or whether phenomenology leads one inevitably to existentialist views on the self and the world. What is clear is that there is no merely accidental relationship between the two traditions. Indeed, the ultimate compatibility of the movements is resolved in practice. Both movements are now routinely drawn upon in addressing current concerns in the philosophy of mind and action (Chapters 21–25), cognitive science (Chapter 26) and psychology (Chapter 27), the philosophy of science and technology (Chapters 29 and 31), ethics broadly construed (Chapters 30, 34, and 35), politics (Chapter 36), history (Chapter 37), art (Chapter 38), and mathematics (Chapter 39).

The phenomenological and existential traditions have now largely merged into a common canon of works and ways of doing philosophy. If we had to try to summarize what these two traditions have in common, we could perhaps do no better than identify the following four approaches that they both share:

1 A concern with providing a description of human existence and the human world that reveals it as it is, without the distortion of any scientific presuppositions. This leads to:

2 A heightened awareness of the non-rational dimensions of human existence, including habits, non-conscious practices, moods, and passions.

3 A focus on the degree to which the world is cut to the measure of our intellect, and a willingness to consider the possibility that our concepts and categories fail to capture the world as it presents itself to us in experience.

4 A belief that what it is to be human cannot be reduced to any set of features about us (whether biological, sociological, anthropological, or logical). To be human is to transcend facticity.

Existentialism develops these concerns in a particular direction, coming to hold the following:

5 Everyday life is at best banal and at worst absurd and meaningless.

6 Anxiety in the face of death can disclose to us the banality or absurdity of life; hence, there is a constant motivation to flee from anxiety back into conformism and a reaffirmation of everyday life.

7 The most pressing philosophical task is to help us cope with anxiety and despair in such a way that we can affirm this life in all its absurdity.

8 The ideal human life will be authentic, that is, accept responsibility for the exercise of freedom.

* * *

The Organization of the Book

This book is divided into three main parts: Part I is devoted to phenomenology and Part II is devoted to existentialism. Each of these parts contains longer chapters devoted to the main movements of the respective traditions, and a number of shorter chapters highlighting some of the central concepts of the movement. In Part III we abandon the attempt to treat phenomenology and existentialism as movements in isolation from one another. Indeed, we abandon the effort to treat them as historical movements at all. Instead, we present chapters devoted to taking up contemporary problems, issues, and fields of philosophy from an existential and/or phenomenological perspective. Some of these chapters are more influenced by one movement or the other. As a whole, however, we believe that they demonstrate the continued vitality of phenomenology and existentialism.


These include Ivan Turgenev (1818–83), Franz Kafka (1883–1924), Hermann Hesse (1877–1962), André Malraux (1901–76), Walker Percy (1916–90), John Updike (1932–), Norman Mailer (1923–), and John Barth (1930–).

These include Samuel Beckett (1906–89), Eugène Ionesco (1912–94), and Arthur Miller (1915–2005).

Such as Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926).

References and Further Reading

Heidegger, M. (1986) Seminare. Gesamtausgabe vol. 15. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.

—— (1993) Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie [1919/20]. Gesamtausgabe vol. 58. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.

—— (2000) Vorträge und Aufsätze. Gesamtausgabe vol. 7. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.

Husserl, E. (1964) The Idea of Phenomenology (trans. W. P. Alston and G. Nakhnikian). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff (original work published 1907).

Moore, A. (1967) Existential Phenomenology. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 27, 408–14.

Sartre, J-P. (1947) Existentialism (trans. B. Frechtman). New York: Philosophical Library.

—— (1962) The Transcendence of the Ego (trans. F. Williams and R. Kirkpatrick). New York: Noonday Press.

Spiegelberg, H. (1960) Husserl’s Phenomenology and Existentialism. Journal of Philosophy, 57, 62–74.

Part I


Main Movements