Existentialist Reformtation

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Sat Dec 25 11:19:46 MST 1999

George Pennefather wrote:
<<<James: That was certainly Max Weber's thesis in his *Protestant Ethic
and the Spirit of Capitalism*. For Weber it was precisely this anxiety that
he believed drove Calvinists and other Protestants into becoming
accumulators of capital. Although Calvin had taught that there were no
signs available to us in this life that could assure us whether we are part
of the Elect or not, believers would nevertheless still strive to find such
signs and in Weber's view the ones they hit upon were those of material
success achieved through hard work and ascetic self-denial. Thus Puritanism
was seen by Weber as a means for coping with this anxiety.

George: Some of your comments in this posting of yours were quite
interesting. If there is an intellectual connection between the European
Reformation and post-war existentialism perhaps we can sus out the
conditions that led to such a convergence of conceptions in two very
different periods.>>>

Sartre turned against the Hegelian conception of history (for dialectical
reason, he thought, leaves little room for human agency and individual
morality).  As with most modern Western moralists, Sartre, too, used Kant
-- whose philosophy was developed within the Protestant tradition --
against Hegel.

While Sartre was attracted to an account of the Master-Slave relation in
_The Phenomenology of Spirit_ (which exerted the strongest influence on
French intellectuals among all the texts by Hegel), he held that
self-consciousness confronting another consciousness is not to lead
dialectically to the social being of man.  Instead, Sartre insisted upon
the isolation and freedom of the abstract individual:

"In fact, if...the being of my consciousness is strictly irreducible to
knowledge, then I can not transcend my being toward a reciprocal and
universal relation in which I could see my being and that of others as
equivalent.  On the contrary, I must establish myself in my being and posit
the problem of the Other in terms of my being.  In a word the sole point of
departure is the interiority of the _cogito_" (Sartre, _Being and

Sartre's work is a good example of how and why starting with the
consciousness of the abstract individual leads to a dead end (for
Marxists), for the abstract individual as a point of departure already
implies the negation of history.  The same goes for postmodern circular
reasonings about "the subject."


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