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Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – November 6, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192804286
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192804280
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.4 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author


Thomas Flynn is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Philosophy at Emory University.

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Format: Paperback
Most introductions to Existentialism make either of a couple of mistakes: they either focus on the style rather than the substance of the thinkers subsumed under the label or they focus on the mood evoked. Anyone who has read much about the philosophy knows that it is all too easy to degenerate into a meditation on the angst of human existence. By centering their discussions on moods and attitudes rather than concrete philosophical positions, Existentialism as it emerges from far too many introductions become anything and everything, yet nothing at all. Not so with Flynn.

The book is broken into six (necessarily) short chapters. The first five justify the cost of the book. The last one, on "Existentialism in the 21st Century," is an unhappy addendum. It seeks to hint at ways that Existential thought can engage some of the ongoing philosophical debates that continue into the 21st century. But the various ideas are simply dealt with too briefly and the possibilities of engagement are more gestured at than explained. The intentions were good, but there simply wasn't enough room to produce more than an outline of a chapter. But the first five chapters are all lucid and sharply focused. The first chapter deals with the central tenet of all thinkers who can be considered Existentialists (it is important to remember that most "Existentialists" did not so consider themselves), that philosophy is a practical discipline, dealing with actual lived life, not an inhuman scienticity far removed from concrete human concerns. The second deals with what it means to become an individual and how that is achieved.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By David Charles on April 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
I am assuming that this would be a great book if you are a philosophy major (or at least a diligent student of philosophy). Otherwise, Flynn's prose is often so dense and complex that it needs further explanation to reach the clarity of an *introductory* text. Flynn also assumes that the reader can quickly grasp certain scholarly ideas, such as structuralism and phenomenology. So to me, this book appears to serve as a reaffirmation for those already initiated into the arguments and counter-arguments of existentialism. Perhaps I will return to it after I've done more reading and studying.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By James D. Sloan on December 12, 2007
Format: Kindle Edition
It has been years since I marked up a book as much as I did this one. This is so much more than an introduction to a subset of philosophy. It is a tour of the mind of man wrestling with the questions that inform our lives as we live them. This tour crackles with life at every turn. The intensity and import of the insights revealed simply leap from the page. I can't imagine any true seeker after knowledge and meaning failing to be moved by this book. I can imagine hardened cynics, stoics, and uber-sophisticated postmodernists failing to be moved (and what would move them, anyway?) -- they would probably prefer a treatment other than Flynn's. My takeaway on this book is that Flynn's version of existentialism has the power to serve as an antidote, perhaps as the antidote, to all that has gone wrong with postmodernism.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Suyo on September 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Despite this text's brevity, Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction is a rather weighty exploration of the moral content of Existentialism as a philosophical movement. Flynn discusses the work of Camus, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Jaspers, Nietzsche, Marcel, Merleau-Ponty, and de Beauvoir primarily to the end of contextualizing Existentialism in the 21st century and setting out to prove that the movement has a compelling degree of moral content that separates it from bourgeoisie intellectualism.

The text serves as a historical survey of Existentialism and its precursors to explore Existentialism's moral content and prove that Existentialism is consistent with the moral urgency and unity produced by World War II. Flynn explores how outside influences served to produce the greater body of Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus's work and how their work continues to influence academia today. Flynn takes a hard line to distinguish Existentialism from ivory-tower intellectualism and show that it is applicable and relevant in a Humanist sense.

Flynn ignores Existentialism as a literary movement for the most part and concentration on his narrow focus of Existentialism's moral content, an aim that's far more narrow in scope (but also results in more in depth exploration of ideas) than a simple "very short introduction" to Existentialism. With that in mind, the text's title is somewhat misleading. Likewise, this text is weighty and not exactly an easy read. Ultimately, however, it is a worthwhile text exploring where Existentialism, morality, and other 20th and 21st century philosophical ideas intersect.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Van Isle Rev on January 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
Thomas Flynn's Existentialism is part of Oxford University Press' "very short introduction" series. "Weighing in" at less than 150 pages, Flynn's volume is both short and incisive, providing an introduction to most of the key existentialist philosophers and an overview of most of the key existentialist themes. As a "non-philosopher", I found the book more than accessible; the only exception is the book's final chapter, "Existentialism in the 21st century," which would likely be of special interest to those with a more extensive background in contemporary trends in philosophy. Beyond that final chapter, my hunch is that Flynn's volume will be of special interest to those with minimal prior exposure to existentialist writing. For anyone in that camp, this small volume comes highly recommended.
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