Over the past decade there has been renewed interest in the thought of the Christian existentialist Gabriel Marcel. An English translation of his autobiographical final work Awakenings as well as a collection of his essays on music have recently been published by Marquette University Press.
Major philosophical works of his have been reprinted, the foremost among them being the two volume The Mystery of Being, a work in which Marcel discusses almost all of the major components of his thought and which he said contained an “approximate synthesis” of his ideas. Marcel was among the first to enunciate the distinction between intersubjective (I-thou) relations and subject to object (I-him/her) relations; the important difference between having and being and between problems and mysteries; the phenomena of the lived body and sensation; the concretely situated and dependent character of human existence as well as its supratemporal, transcendent dimension; the centrality of faith, hope, and love in human life, and our obscure and frequently unrecognized but, nevertheless, real experiences of an Absolute Thou and of our dead loved ones. However, Marcel’s philosophical writings, including The Mystery of Being, although innovative and insightful, are often not easily understood by even his most sympathetic readers—frequently because his discussions of issues are unsystematic and sketchy and his reasons in support of the conclusions he arrives at are so briefly presented.
This commentary offers a fuller explanation than Marcel himself does of many of the ideas and arguments he sets forth in The Mystery of Being. This is because it includes in its analysis of each chapter, his discussions of the same topics in other works he published. This chapter by chapter commentary is meant to be used along with Marcel’s own words in The Mystery of Being. It is written for those who, though attracted to his work, find it difficult to grasp. That is, the intended audience is not just scholars who have studied Marcel in depth but educated people who are interested in entering into the philosophical reflections of one of the major Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century.
Thomas Anderson is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the author of two books and editor of one on Jean-Paul Sartre in addition to numerous articles on Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard, and Gabriel Marcel. He was the founder and first president of the Gabriel Marcel Society in North America.