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.)