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Hey guys, been a lurker on these incredible forums for a while now. Just joined today. Excited to be here.

I’ve been curious about the traditional Catholic take on some parts of existential thought, and I see nothing posted here about it. I know a lot of it is rotten, but we got Hildebrand out of existential thought, a man of strong traditional convictions who fought to preserve the TLM during Vatican II and was a brilliant writer and Catholic philosopher. His insights on Aesthetics and Purity are so fresh. My favorite filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, a Russian Orthodox, is also considered an existentialist, and brings great insight into the experience of solitude, suffering, and time, (his films are very Eastern and monastic). He experiments with the medium of film as a utensil to manifest time, and thus portray prayer, suffering, experience, etc. Something unable to be done in such a way before film. His writings inspire me greatly, as I’m a sucker for film and aesthetics. 

Is there anything redemptive about any of existentialism? I worry that the existentialists are seductive because they’re good writers, unlike a lot of philosophy writers before them. But this branch of philosophy seems so broad, so it’s difficult to write it off as fundamentally wrong.

Colossians 2:
“Now this I say, that no man may deceive you by loftiness of words. ...
Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy, and vain deceit; according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ”
I'm no expert in existentialism, but the mere fact that it is a philosophy that emphasizes the will of the individual to make their own way screams Pelagianism to me.

I love Hildebrand, but I see him as an exception, not the rule. Generally, it seems existentialists tend to be more in the camp of nihilism than Christianity. But I could be wrong, just my two cents.
(02-16-2020, 11:37 PM)dante_angelico Wrote: [ -> ]Hey guys, been a lurker on these incredible forums for a while now. Just joined today. Excited to be here.

I’ve been curious about the traditional Catholic take on some parts of existential thought, and I see nothing posted here about it. I know a lot of it is rotten, but we got Hildebrand out of existential thought, a man of strong traditional convictions who fought to preserve the TLM during Vatican II and was a brilliant writer and Catholic philosopher. His insights on Aesthetics and Purity are so fresh. My favorite filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, a Russian Orthodox, is also considered an existentialist, and brings great insight into the experience of solitude, suffering, and time, (his films are very Eastern and monastic). He experiments with the medium of film as a utensil to manifest time, and thus portray prayer, suffering, experience, etc. Something unable to be done in such a way before film. His writings inspire me greatly, as I’m a sucker for film and aesthetics. 

Is there anything redemptive about any of existentialism? I worry that the existentialists are seductive because they’re good writers, unlike a lot of philosophy writers before them. But this branch of philosophy seems so broad, so it’s difficult to write it off as fundamentally wrong.

Colossians 2:
“Now this I say, that no man may deceive you by loftiness of words. ...
Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy, and vain deceit; according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ”
I can't speak for anyone else but I tend to think almost every philosophical thinker or school has at least a handful of insights.  Remember even Plato and Aristotle weren't correct on everything just to use one example. 

I've always kind of liked what I've read of Schopenhauer and in some respects even Kierkegaard  Hildebrand is good as well. I still have his book "Trojan Horse in the City of God". He had another one too, it was really insightful but it's name escapes me now... it's been years.  

Never heard of Tarkovsky but I'll have to check him out.
I think the utility of existentialism (as with any philosophical framework) depends on what one does with it in the day-to-day. Many philosophical considerations will be mostly irrelevant to daily struggles, but existentialism has the attraction of supposedly addressing those concerns.

I (sometimes) like Hildebrand, but I'm not sure that his particular flavor of existentialism and his traditional-ist convictions are strongly related. I think Hildebrand happened to not like the direction of changes in the Church after the '60s, and some of those changes were intelligible along phenomenological-existential lines, such as aesthetics and of course authenticity. There were many who reacted negatively to Vatican II changes that one may not have anticipated doing so based on their previous philosophical or theological convictions. Ratzinger is perhaps the best known example, but Bouyer is another.

As with any philosophical tradition, each addresses what it perceives to be the ignored problems of the day. It's almost impossible to conceive of existentialism developing in a pre-modern world, for example. Nietzsche, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Sartre all were responding to the problems posed to the individual identity in the light of modernity. On the Catholic side, Walker Percy actually does a bang-up job of it himself. From an existential perspective more strictly considered, I would think Percy is more relevant to a Catholic than Hildebrand. Percy is also more down to earth. Don't get me wrong though, I personally read Hildebrand more than Percy since he appeals to my personality more.

The problem with existentialism is...well, there are many, but I would point to several root issues: 1) authenticity cannot be the fundamental virtue of the individual. To do so ignores the Divine Law, which is always at a certain tension in the fallen world. The point of submission to this Law is a return to what one could—perhaps glibly—call a deeper sense of authenticity, returning to being made in the image and likeness of the Creator.

2) Existentialism addresses principally modern (and postmodern, which John Deely calls not truly postmodern but actually ultramodern) woes. But it does not explain why pre-modernity failed in the face modernization without borrowing outside resources. I think the holistic explanation can be done from other frameworks and in a better manner.

3) Ironically, and perhaps the most troubling criticism, is that the issues existentialism addresses ultimately are better explained in a framework other than existentialism. But by historical fact, it was the existentialists who developed these lines of thought.

When one discusses intentionality (a la the phenomenologists), for example, this discussion is couched in the context of transcending Cartesian and Kantian epistemological problems. But intentionality is a far richer concept within Scholasticism. It is also properly rooted in Scholasticism. I think Josef Pieper, Norris Clarke, Benedict Ashley, Maritain, Charles Taylor (although not a neo-scholastic), and John Deely get us much farther along than the phenomenologists can possibly do so, and they all admit they are just scratching the surface (because frankly, there is not enough academic interest from the Thomists. I'm looking at you, Dominicans!).

Intentionality, relationality, alienation, psychological structures, whether affectively or linguistically conceived and rooted, these fall under the Aristotelian-Thomistic category of relation, and we have yet to see how fecund this category is. Semiotics conceived along Scholastic lines (Semiotic Thomism) is one great example of this.

The problems of authenticity and individuality are indeed serious problems that need to be addressed on multiple fronts, especially pastoral. Existentialism, however, was a passing fad, and any traces of them today in a more popular level are so whitewashed as to make them practically unrecognizable or positively distasteful because of their subservience to generically liberal agenda. I'm thinking specifically of the appropriation of Martin Buber. I hear Buber tossed around so much now, that I'm sick of hearing about him even though he otherwise would be fine. It's like the hipsters. Once they became mainstream, they imploded.

I dunno, I think whatever one finds "seductive" or pleasing to read within philosophy really depends on where on is individually and temperamentally. I always feel invigorated reading the Spanish Scholastics, for example, but obviously that's not everyone's cup of tea. The problem is too many Catholic thinkers today are too swept up by the latest fads to actually return to some of these sources and creatively apply them to present problems.

Much more could be said, but that's for volume 2.

I am just one traditional Catholic, and my opinion is my own.