Cover image for Dictionary of existentialism
Dictionary of existentialism
Gordon, Ḥayim.
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xii, 539 pages ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Format :


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B819 .D455 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The area of philosophy defined as existentialism gained prominence after World War II. Among the more popular existentialist philosophers and writers are Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, and Fyodor Dostoyevski. Instead of focusing upon a particular aspect of human existence, existentialists focus on the whole being as he or she exists in the world. Rebelling against the rationalism proposed by such writers as Descartes and Hegel, existentialists reject the emphasis placed on the human being as primarily a thinking being. Freedom, they counter, is central to human existence. Correspondingly, human relations and experiences can not be reduced simply to thinking, as the whole being becomes involved with the processes. This dictionary provides, through alphabetically arranged entries, brief overviews of the tenets, philosophers, and writers of existentialism.

This reference book is intended as a tool to provide students and scholars with concise information on particular existentialist thinkers, writers, terms, and ideas. The alphabetical organization, coupled with cross references throughout the text, makes the work easily accessible to those looking up specific information and to those tracing interconnected ideas, philosophers, and writers. The bibliography identifies helpful resources for further study.

Author Notes

HAIM GORDON is Professor of Education at Ben Gurion University in Israel. His previous books with Greenwood include Make Room for Dreams: Spiritual Challenges to Zionism (1989), Naguib Mahfouz's Egypt: Existential Themes in His Writings (1990), Sartre and Evil: Guidelines for a Struggle , (with Rivca Gordon, 1995), and Fighting Evil: Unsung Heroes in the Novels of Graham Greene (1997).

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Existentialism, as characterized by editor Gordon, is a philosophical orientation emphasizing "the person as a whole being as he or she exists in the world," as well as being a rebellion against the rationalism of such philosophers as Descartes and Hegel. The approximately 150 entries in this dictionary refer repeatedly to the writings of thinkers as diverse in approach as Martin Buber, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Given the notorious difficulty of many of these writers, a dictionary of existentialism seems well warranted to the extent that it can summarize and elucidate. Gordon cites four purposes of the volume: to provide "a primary reference for scholars and students seeking information on particular thinkers, writers, terms, and ideas developed by, or linked to, existentialism"; to describe "the profound and original thinking of a few of the existentialists, while showing the significance of the topic for other thinkers"; to "show the different and even clashing approaches to a topic by existentialist writers"; and to point "to the influences of other thinkers on existentialist writers and the influence of existentialist thinkers upon each other." Entries range in length from a page or less (e.g., Bad faith, Demythologizing, Zarathustra) to seven or more (e.g., those for Nietzsche and Sartre) and are followed by short lists of primary works and bibliographies of other sources. To avoid excessive repetition, certain key works, such as Sartre's Being and Nothingness, which are relevant to perhaps a third or more of the dictionary's entries, are listed only in the 15-page selected bibliography and not after individual articles. Entries for terms and ideas typically open with generalized remarks followed by one or more paragraphs describing the relation of the ideas to particular thinkers. For those engaged in the study of philosophy, these entries will help illuminate difficult existentialist concepts. Occasionally, however, there are unilluminating passages such as the following in the entry on Heidegger: "The first element in the existential constitution of the there of Dasein is attunement. This analysis reveals FACTICITY as thrownness. Dasein is as being-attuned, as being always in one MOOD or another, even if in bored everydayness." Cross-references to terms or people with main entries in the dictionary are in all capital letters the first time they occur in other articles. The bibliography that follows the dictionary lists hundreds of titles. Also included is a list of the 65 contributors (primarily teachers of philosophy) and their affiliations. Of recent general philosophical reference works, perhaps only the massive Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy [RBB O 1 98] treats existentialist thinkers and concepts with something like the depth of this dictionary. The former, for instance, has a 17-page article and annotated bibliography on Nietzsche and a 4-page article and bibliography on existentialist thought in Latin America, which Gordon ignores. Dictionary of Existentialism, however, is more conveniently organized for those desiring information in strictly existentialist terms. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.

Choice Review

The philosophy that emphasizes how whole human beings exist in the world with "freedom" as the essential human trait is a major factor in 20th-century thought and culture. Existentialism's primary spokespersons (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Beauvoir) rebelled against or moved beyond rationalism and the concept of humans as primarily thinking beings. Gordon's dictionary is badly needed, since no substantial dictionaries or handbooks have appeared since the early 1970s, and those earlier dictionaries are limited. Gordon's entries vary in length from a half to several pages and include primary entries about thinkers, terms, and ideas developed by or linked to existentialism. Each entry emphasizes the original contributions of the philosopher, the influence a topic has had on other thinkers, and the different or clashing approaches to a topic by existentialist writers. The entries are informative yet concise, are written and signed by academic experts, provide brief lists of references, and have extensive cross-references printed in uppercase. The volume includes a lengthy general bibliography. Although the dictionary is comprehensive and extremely useful for students, the editor's "classic" approach to existentialism allows few entries about the impact of existential thought on such topics as science, technology, war, or deconstruction. This dictionary provides the thorough reference source that expands on texts like Diane Raymond's Existentialism and the Philosophical Tradition (1991). It is highly recommended for all academic collections, especially for undergraduates and advanced students investigating the influence of existentialism on culture and thinking. J. A. Adams-Volpe; SUNY at Buffalo

Table of Contents

Alphabetical Entries
Selected Bibliography