Mar 6, 2013

William Barrett Discussion of Existentialism -- Mostly Heidegger

There are a number of video resources out there on the web -- principally (or at least originally) on YouTube -- through which a person sufficiently inclined, and possessing a modicum of cultural and digital literacy, could obtain for themselves a fairly decent education in Philosophy.

As far as Existentialist philosophy(s) goes, there is quite a lot that an initial search on YouTube will turn up, but -- often the case with YouTube videos -- a good portion of the videos are lacking in certain respects.  Some of it is a bit too short to really tell you much you probably didn't already know.  Some of it is, quite frankly, rendered dull by the way it is shot or by the presence of the person speaking.  Some of it is simply off-base, erroneous, tendentious.  Still, there's also some good and even some excellent videos -- or video sequences -- to be found as well.

Existentialism saw its academic, and arguably also its cultural, heyday, back in the mid- to late-20th century   That's when one might see public -- and video-recorded -- discussions by important players at the time devoted to the various philosophers or ideas gathered under its rubric.  And so, we denizens of the present millennium get to enjoy -- brought back to new life by YouTubers -- such excellent explorations as Brian Magee's conversations with renowned philosophers, often bearing on other renowned philosophers.

One of those conversations takes William Barrett (the author of a long-classic work on Existentialism, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy) as the dialogue partner, in the process taking Heidegger and (to a lesser extent) Sartre as both reference points and additional participants in philosophical dialogue.

It's well worth going on to the other portions of the show episode:

Barrett does an excellent job, in my view, at conveying in quite simple-to-understand language, some of the key ideas of Existentialist philosophy, particularly as a response to some of the perceived dead-ends of other forms of modern thought -- I particularly like his handling of our experience of the world, ourselves, and other people, and his discussion of what attentive and reflective description contributes to our understanding of these.  There's also a particularly insightful discussion of the notion of "alienation" and its tendency to (alienatingly) become sucked into late modern culture, and turned into a superficial category

Perhaps the best part of the dialogue is towards the end, where Barrett contrasts Sartre against Heidegger, in many respects going against the grain of more popular existentialism-interpretation.


  1. I've seen several of these. The only thing bad about the series is that it was only one season long. Brian Magee does an excellent job of making the concersations informative and interesting.

    1. Yes, Magee is an excellent interviewer. Alas, there's not a lot of these kind of shows that last multiple seasons