Last modified on 2 August 2012, at 21:28

William Barrett (philosopher)

The bomb reveals the dreadful and total contingency of human existence. Existentialism is the philosophy of the atomic age.

William Christopher Barrett (1913–1992) was a professor of philosophy at New York University from 1950 to 1979. He received his PhD at Columbia University. He was an editor of Partisan Review and later the literary critic of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. He was well known for writing philosophical works for nonexperts.

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Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (1958)Edit

  • We do not ask ourselves what the ultimate ideas behind our civilization are that have brought us into this danger; we do not search for the human face behind the bewildering array of instruments that man has forged; in a word, we do not dare to be philosophical.
    • Chapter One, The Advent of Existentialism, p. 3
  • Of all the non-European philosophers, William James probably best deserves to be an Existentialist.
    • Chapter One, The Advent of Existentialism, p. 16
  • The decline of religion in modern times means simply that religion is no longer the uncontested center and ruler of man's life, and that the Church is no longer the final and unquestioned home and asylum of his being.
    • Chapter Two, The Encounter With Nothingness, p. 20
  • Where feudalism is concrete and organic, with man dominated by the image of the land, capitalism is abstract and calculating in spirit, and severs man from the earth.
    • Chapter Two, The Encounter With Nothingness, p. 26
  • Journalism has become a great god of the period, and gods have a way of ruthlessly and demonically taking over there servitors.
    • Chapter Two, The Encounter With Nothingness, p. 27
  • Jaspers sees the historical meaning of existential philosophy as a struggle to awaken in the individual the possibilities of an authentic and genuine life, in the face of the great modern drift toward a standardized mass society.
    • Chapter Two, The Encounter With Nothingness, p. 28
  • A recognition of limits, of boundaries, may be the only thing that prevents power from dizzy collapse.
    • Chapter Two, The Encounter With Nothingness, p. 32
  • Anyone who attempts to gain a unified understanding of modern art as a whole is bound to suffer the uncomfortable sensation of having fallen into a thicket of brambles.
    • Chapter Three, The Testimony Of Modern Art, p. 37
  • The bomb reveals the dreadful and total contingency of human existence. Existentialism is the philosophy of the atomic age.
    • Chapter Three, The Testimony Of Modern Art, p. 57
  • Plato began his philosophic career as the result of a conversion. This is surely an existential beginning.
    • Chapter Four, Hebraism And Hellenism, p. 70
  • Faith can no more be described to a thoroughly rational mind than the idea of colors can be conveyed to a blind man.
    • Chapter Five, Christian sources, p. 82
  • Where Plato and Aristotle had asked the question, What is man?, St. Augustine (in the Confessions) asks, Who am I? — and this shift is decisive.
    • Chapter Five, Christian sources, p. 84
  • The instincts of man are so earth-bound that they shrewdly sense it whenever the approach of logic threatens them.
    • Chapter Five, Christian sources, p. 87
  • Poets are witnesses to Being before the philosophers are able to bring it into thought.
    • Chapter Five, Christian sources, p. 105
  • The will to power is weakness as well as strength, and the more it is cut off and isolated from the rest of the human personality, the more desperate, in its weakness, it can become.
    • Chapter Six, The Flight From Laputa, p. 121
  • The peasantry are wiser in their ignorance than the savants of St Petersburg in their learning.
    • Chapter Six, The Flight From Laputa, p. 128
  • The anguish of loss may be redeemed, but can never be mediated.
    • Chapter Seven, Kierkegard, p. 138
  • Nietzsche's life has all the characteristics of a psychological fatality.
    • Chapter Eight, Nietzsche, p. 164
  • Power as the pursuit of more power inevitably founders in the void that lies beyond itself.
    • Chapter Eight, Nietzsche, p. 181
  • Heidegger's philosophy is neither atheism nor theism, bit a description of the world from which God is absent.
    • Chapter Nine, Heidegger, p. 187
  • The essential freedom, the ultimate and final freedom that cannot be taken from a man, is to say No. This is the basic premise in Sartre's view of human freedom: freedom is in its very essence negative, though the negativity is also creative.
    • Chapter Ten, Sartre, p. 215
  • That existence has meaning, finally, only as the liberty to say No, and by saying No to create a world.
    • Chapter Ten, Sartre, p. 217
  • One does wish that Sartre would pause for a while to regroup his forces. The man really does write too much.
    • Chapter Ten, Sartre, p. 224
  • Now at the end, we come back to the beginning: to the situation of the world here and now, from which all understanding must start and to which it must return. In all existential thinking it is we ourselves, the questioners, who are ultimately in question.
    • Chapter Eleven, The Place Of The Furies, p. 237
  • As a teacher of philosophy, a very dubious profession in this country, I am in a position to observe how precarious a hold the intellect has upon American life; and this is not true merely of the great majority of students but of cultured people, of intellectuals, to whom here in America a philosophical idea is an alien and embarrassing thing. In their actual life Americans are not only a non-intellectual but an anti-intellectual people.
    • Chapter Eleven, The Place Of The Furies, p. 238

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