Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Existentialism: The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope

C. Stephen Evans, Existentialism: The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope. Probe Books, 1989. Third Edition. Originally published by IVP in 1971 by a slightly different title. 124 pages.

C. Stephen Evans is a professor of Philosophy of Baylor University at Waco, Texas.  I have read several of his books the past year because of my studies on Kierkegaard which I continue. My motivation for studying Kierkegaard is his influence on Walker Percy who I have been doing research on for the last few years. Evans is a noted authority on Kierkegaard. It was interesting reading this early book of Evans to see that many of its themes continue in the writings of Evans.

Existentialism is divided into five chapters. The chapters discusses the following themes: death, despair, morality, meaning, and alienation. The major authors covered in this work are Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, and Jean Paul Sartre. The author says that this book is a revision of his first book: Despair: A Moment or a Way of Life. The title means is despair a place we stop at or is it only temporal, like it was for Kierkegaard.

Evans in this book relates some of the themes of the existentialist writers. He compares the writers who saw despair as continual versus those who saw it was temporal. As the title states it, The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope. The author discusses the despair in the writings of the French Existentialists and asks is there an alternative response to these writers. These French writers emphasized the "despair of morality and the despair of meaning." The authors shows how Dostoevsky concluded that without God, morality is not possible. Camus tries to discover a morality without God. He does not think he is successful. Probably, Camus does not think he is successful. The other French Existentialist, Sartre, thinks the world is meaningless.

Evans thinks that to hope "is precisely to regard despair as only a moment in human existence" (65). This is the message presented by Gabriel Marcel and Soren Kierkegaard. Marcel finds meaning in life. The author notes, "An individual who chooses to hope is rescued from the moment of despair by the call of life. She is alive, and her life comes, as Thomas Howard has said,charged with the evidence of meaning" (66). The author believes that "the call of life" is greater than "the call of death." The author sees this in, for example, the refusal to commit suicide. The author concludes in the last chapter by responding to his question: "Despair: A Moment or a Way of Life?" The author believes that "each person must choose himself and , in choosing himself, choose a framework for existence. . . a way of life. He must find reasons for this framework that is satisfying to himself. He believes that we must "choose a framework and way of life that will enable me to see my life as meaningful. Which will we choose: despair or hope?

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