Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gabriel Marcel Reader

A Gabriel Marcel Reader
Gabriel Marcel and Brendan Sweetman, St. Augustine’s Press, 2011, 163 pp., ISBN 978-1-58731-326-4, $24.00 (paper).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Shaffett, John E. Catholic Library World, 82(3): 222-223 (March 2012).

In A Gabriel Marcel Reader, Brendan Sweetman makes available the thought of Gabriel Marcel from many of his key philosophical writings, including The Mystery of Being, Homo Viator, and the Metaphysical Journal. Marcel (1883-1973), a French existentialist philosopher, was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. Marcel influenced many modern writers, including Paul Ricoeur and Walker Percy. Some of the major themes in his writings were humans as wayfarers, the importance of the human person, and a critique of modern rationalism.
A Gabriel Marcel Reader is edited and introduced by Brendan Sweetman who is Professor of Philosophy at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri, is also president of the Gabriel Marcel Society. Sweetman authored The Vision of Gabriel Marcel (2008). Sweetman intends A Gabriel Marcel Reader to be an introduction to the major ideas of Marcel: The “Nature of Philosophy,” epistemology, the “human person,” and others. In the introduction, Sweetman introduces the reader to the main ideas of Marcel’s thought. For example, he says that Marcel’s thought can be considered existentialist because Marcel “accepts that philosophy begins with concrete human experience; he gives concrete human experience an ontological priority when doing philosophy over a purely reflective approach that emphasizes abstract logical arguments and conceptual analysis of philosophical questions, usually divorced from concrete lived experience of the human person” (3).
The Marcel Reader is divided into seven chapters plus an introduction. Each chapter contains a commentary or reader guide preceding the selections. These are helpful in putting the selections in context and familiarizing the reader with the main ideas Marcel discusses in the selections. These selections do a good job in communicating many of the significant themes in the writings of Marcel. For example, the difference between mystery and a problem is significantly discussed in multiple sections. In recognizing a mystery, our whole being is involved. Marcel says “to assert the meta-problematical  is to assert it as indubitably real, as a thing I cannot doubt without falling into contradiction” (30). When we see something as a problem, we are thinking of techniques to solve the problem. We are cutting ourselves off from the mystery of being.  Another similar idea is thinking of knowledge as an encounter with “presence.” Marcel says that “presence involves a reciprocity which is excluded from any relation of subject to object or of subject to subject-object” (42). It is like when Walker Percy says that science explains everything but the scientist.
There are many more significant ideas in this collection of Marcel’s writings. It is a good introduction to the writings of Marcel with helpful guidance from a scholar well-versed in the writings of Marcel. The thought of Marcel is just as relevant to post-modern culture as in his own time.

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