The Relationship Between Continental Philosophy and Absolute Idealism

This essay will analyze the themes of the Continental philosophies of existentialism and phenomenology in response to Hegelian Absolute Idealism, which is included in chapters eight and seven respectively of Philosophy: The Power of Ideas, Sixth Edition. The relationship that Absolute Idealism (AI) has with these two Continental philosophies can be expressed in a simple algebraic equation, 2 + x = 4. The two represents AI, the four represents existentialism and phenomenology, and the x represents the relationship between the two philosophies. Now if I wanted to discover the value of x, then I would compare the two, AI, and the four, existentialism and phenomenology like this: x = 4 – 2. By understanding how AI and these two Continental philosophies relate the door will be unlocked to a more encompassing understanding of existentialism and phenomenology, or x =2.

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The difference between AI and these two Continental philosophies cannot be equated in one question, but a set of questions. However, the most important question to both philosophies is does reality exist as consciously perceived objects and events or is reality an absolute consciousness, in and of itself, that can be perceived through thought thinking of itself? A subsequent very important question would be whether the universe can be explained in one all-encompassing philosophical theory or whether the universe, as a whole, is unexplainable or unknowable.

Both of these questions have far-reaching implications even for us today. If, as existentialism and phenomenology assert, we create our subjective reality, then where is there a place for universal truths and unbending ethical standards? If the universe, as a whole, is unexplainable, then why should the human race spend so much time trying to develop a theory of everything? The consequences of the answers to these questions can change our very outlook on reality itself.

One of the most effective means of understanding the relationship between AI and existentialism and phenomenology is to look very closely at the people that formulated these philosophies. To that end let us start our inquisition, of sorts, with Soren Kierkegaard, an existentialist. Kierkegaard detested AI because of its abstract manner of looking at reality. He held that philosophy’s only true calling was to answer the question of human despair and dread. Friedrich Nietzsche, another existentialist, put forth the theory that a person determines their own reality through a term he called “will-to-power”. In Nietzsche’s philosophy, the individual determines their own morals and lives through acts of sheer will, rather than being part of some Absolute Consciousness. Another existentialist saw it this way: Sometimes in a marathon, it is not getting to the finish line that matters, but the actual race. Albert Camus believed that life was a struggle against the absurdity and tragic nature of reality. Even though the struggle could never fully be won, Camus hypothesized; it was the race that made all of the difference. As with the other two existential philosophers mentioned so far, Camus could not reconcile his “race against absurdity” with the idea of Absolute Idealism. Jean-Paul Sartre, maybe one of the greatest existential philosophers ever, postulated that “existence precedes essence”. Meaning that since there is no God, he thought, there is no essence of things; therefore, our individual, subjective selves must creator our own essence from which to live. Sartre stated in short that we are condemned to be free.

 All three of these Continental existentialists hold one thing in common: They believe that the individual human condition is the only true reality; that there is no Absolute Consciousness from which we can be a part of. 

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Now that the main existential philosophers have been firmly covered let us move on to the phenomenologist. Phenomenology developed out of the writings of Edmund Husserl. Phenomenology differs from existentialism in that existentialism is primarily concerned with the individual plight of mankind, but phenomenology is more concerned with objects and events as humankind perceives them without the use of any metaphysical assumptions. Another phenomenologist contemporary of Husserl was Martin Heidegger. Heidegger thought that the fundamental idea to return to was not necessarily phenomena themselves, but Being. Heidegger postulated that humans had gotten too wrapped up in their own ideas and had lost sight of Being itself. On the other hand, Emmanuel Levinas, who studied and critiqued Heidegger’s early writings, put forth the proposition that humanity needed to escape the clutches of Being. He suggested that Otherness is the only pursuit worth pursuing. By pursuing this Otherness, rather than pursuing Being, we can work our way backward to Being.

Existentialism and phenomenology, which constitute a great part of the Continental philosophies, offer many alternatives to Hegelian Absolute Reality. Collectively existentialism and phenomenology state that there is no absolute reality that governs our lives; rather we determine our own reality whether it be through will-to-power, Being, or Otherness. As such, these two Continental philosophies hold that there is not an all-encompassing theory of everything because ultimately we determine our own reality. So I guess the question would be, does x equal 2 for you? 


Bruder, K., & Moore, B. N. (2002). Philosophy: The power of ideas (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Paper Topic

Write a 700-1050-word analytical essay in which you describe the historical development of Continental philosophy’s existentialism and phenomenology as a response to Hegelian idealism. Pay special attention to the key contributors and principle issues of the time. Follow APA style guidelines, and post your essay as an attachment.


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