Original Books of
Existential Philosophy

selected and reviewed by James Leonard Park,
whose opinions and evaluations are in red.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

<>    Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is generally acknowledged
to be the founder of modern existential thinking.
But his writings are notoriously difficult to understand.
And there is no single book that sums up his thought.
Several of his best books are reviewed here:

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Being and Time 

(first German edition 1927)
Two translations into English:

John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson
(New York: Harper & Row, 1962)        589 pages
(Library of Congress call number: B3279.H48S43 1962a)

Joan Stambaugh
(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996)       487 pages
(ISBN: 0-7914-2677-7; hardcover)
(ISBN: 0-7914-2678-5; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: B3279.H48S43 1996)

     For many years, this book was said to be "untranslatable"
because of the extreme difficulty of Heidegger's language,
including the number of new expressions
and new uses of old words that he introduces.
The careful reader will benefit from reading both of these translations.
But if you must choose only one,
use the Macquarrie and Robinson version.

     John Macquarrie might be the foremost Heidegger scholar in the world.
The Macquarrie and Robinson translation conveys the meaning of Heidegger
into English better than the Stambaugh translation.
But the Stambaugh translation is easier to read in English
because she has avoided creating new technical expressions in English
for the more difficult of Heidegger's concepts.
However, some of Stambaugh's choices are simply puzzling.
For example, why is the expression
usually translated as "beings-in-the-world"
sometimes rendered by Stambaugh as "innerworldly beings"?

     No matter what translation one uses,
Heidegger remains a very difficult philosopher to read.
I recommend giving a careful reading only to those parts
that the reader finds meaningful.
The other parts can be left to the professional philosophers.
For example, some parts of this book
deal with the question of being as such,
which Heidegger says is central to his philosophy.
But here
Being and Time
is being reviewed as a book of existentialism.

     Now that I have read both translations carefully and aloud,
I have decided to adopt a new practice for my own references to
I have created my own paraphrases, drawing on both translations.
This practice makes Heidegger
more accessible to the English-speaking reader.
Scholars can read the German original
and all translations they find helpful.

<>    An example such a combined paraphrase
will be found in the following discussion of Heidegger's concept of Authenticity:

     The most important ideas for existentialism
explored in
Being & Time are:
existential anxiety as distinct from ordinary fears,
existential guilt as distinct from moral conscience,
being-towards-death or ontological anxiety
as distinct from the fact of biological death
and our fear of ceasing-to-be,
discovering ourselves as creatures conditioned by time:
the past, the present,
and—most important—the future we project.

     The beginning reader of Heidegger
should probably not try to read this book
by beginning at page one and attempting to read thru to the end.
Such an approach will probably cause you to give up too soon.
Read first the parts that seem most interesting to you.
These best parts are worth many readings in any case.
Then go back to pick up the parts your skipped
if you are still interested.

     If you can't understand Heidegger by reading him directly,
read some other books
about Heidegger first.
Once you have the proper orientation and conceptual framework,
you may find Heidegger a rich mine
of new insights into human existence.

     Heidegger will be studied and studied
as long as there are humans who can think.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

    French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness
is easier to understand than Heidegger's Being and Time.
And because Sartre also wrote plays, essays, and literary criticism,
there are many ways to approach his thought.
Being and Nothingness is a long book,
but the careful reader will find many hours of stimulating reading here.

James Leonard Park (1941-      )

    American existential philosopher James Park is still mostly unknown,
but his major work,
Our Existential Predicament:
Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety, & Death,
might eventually stand alongside
Being and Time (1927)
Being and Nothingness (1942)
as a major original contribution to existential thinking.
If so, it will be the first original book in existential philosophy in 50 years.
It has the distinct advantage over the books mentioned above
that it was written originally in English.
Therefore (for the reader of existential philosophy in English),
there are none of the translation and interpretation problems
encountered in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, & Sartre.

    Complete information about Our Existential Predicament:
Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety, & Death
will be found at this URL:

    Another book of existential philosophy by James Park is:
Becoming More Authentic:
The Positive Side of Existentialism
Besides explaining and illustrating this central concept of Existentialism,
this book deals with Authentic Existence as described by:
Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, & Maslow.

See a related bibliography:
Books on Authenticity.

    Since there are so few original books of existential philosophy,
here are two short essays on the Internet:

Becoming More Authentic:
The Positive Side of Existentialism

Looking for the Meaning of Life

Return to the EXISTENTIALISM page.

Explore another dimension of existentialism:
Existential Spirituality.

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