(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In his introduction to The Philosophy of Existentialism, Gabriel Marcel describes the first three essays, which make up most of the book. The first, “On the Ontological Mystery,” gives the main outlines of Marcel’s own thinking. The second, “Existence and Human Freedom,” offers a critical discussion of the work of Jean-Paul Sartre. The third, “Testimony and Existentialism,” gives Marcel’s own perspective on existentialism. These three essays also appear in chronological order, since Marcel wrote them in 1933, January of 1946, and February of 1946, respectively. A fourth, short autobiographical piece, “An Essay in Autobiography,” published in 1947 in a collection of writings devoted to Marcel’s work, appears at the end. Thus, the four essays can be taken as representing the development of Gabriel Marcel’s thought and as his response to existentialist philosophy in its heyday in the late 1940’s.

“On the Ontological Mystery” poses a distinction between problems and mysteries. Problems are questions that are, at least in theory, resolvable. However, the ontological, which Marcel defines as the sense of being, is not a problem, but a mystery. Connected to the mystery of the sense of being is the sense of presence, the sense of one’s own presence and the sense of the presence of things and of something beyond oneself. Modern life, with its absorption in problems and in the technical means to solve problems, tends to overlook being and presence. The fascination with technology, in particular, tends to involve human beings in a pride in their own control of the world and to render them incapable of controlling their own control. Marcel suggests an association between the ontological mystery and Christianity, particularly Catholicism. The sense of presence, for example, can be understood as the religious experience of the Eucharist. However, Marcel maintains that openness to the irreducible fullness of existence may entail Christianity for those who live within the historical tradition of Christianity, but that no particular religious perspective is logically necessary for the recognition of the...

(The entire section is 873 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cooney, William, ed. Contributions of Gabriel Marcel to Philosophy: A Collection of Essays. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989. The essays are divided into four parts that look at Marcel’s thought in the context of his life, Marcel’s work in the theater, his thoughts on the nature of being, and the way Marcel and other existentialists approached the issues of death, hope, and God.

Moran, Denis P. Gabriel Marcel: Existentialist Philosopher, Dramatist, and Educator. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1992. Provides an intellectual biography of Marcel and examines the relationship of Marcel’s drama to his philosophy. The author then uses the concepts in Marcel’s work to discuss contemporary philosophies of education.

Schilpp, Paul Arthur, and Lewis Edwin Hahn. The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court Press, 1984. From the Library of Living Philosophers series, this volume offers twenty-two essays on Marcel’s philosophy written by major twentieth century thinkers. Each essay is followed by a response from Marcel himself. Also contains a bibliography of the writings of Gabriel Marcel. The book was composed during the last years of Marcel’s life.

Traub, Donald F. Toward a Fraternal Society: A Study of Gabriel Marcel’s Complete Approach to Being, Technology, and Intersubjectivity. New York: P. Lang, 1988. Examines what the author sees as Marcel’s experiential thinking as a means of achieving understanding among people and of creating a fraternal order in society.

Van Ewijk, Thomas J. M. Gabriel Marcel: An Introduction. Glen Rock, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1965. An introductory work intended to acquaint the general reader with the philosophical work of Marcel. Includes a biographical chapter. Other chapters are devoted to some of the main themes and concepts in Marcel’s work.