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Rethinking Existentialism

26 September 2018

New book from Professor of Philosophy

Cardiff philosopher Jonathan Webber argues for an entirely new interpretation of some of the most famous and widely read books of the twentieth century.

Since it was first coined in 1945, the term ‘existentialism’ has been used to describe a baffling range of theories, novels, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, and music.

In a break with this wide-ranging application of the term, Professor Webber argues that we need to return to the texts that first gave the word its meaning and read those afresh, without trying to make them fit into this wider and poorly defined category.

Offering an original analysis of classic literary and philosophical works by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frantz Fanon, Rethinking Existentialism develops a new account of existentialism in critical contrast with central works by Albert Camus, Sigmund Freud, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Professor Webber said: “If we return to the original texts, we find that existentialism is the ethical theory that human freedom is the foundation of all other value. We also find that Simone de Beauvoir’s contribution has been severely underestimated. She has provided the most plausible theory of what human freedom is and the crucial argument for it being the foundation of all other value.”

Webber argues that Beauvoir and Sartre initially disagreed over the structure of human freedom in 1943, with Sartre accepting Beauvoir's view within a decade He also argues that it is Beauvoir who provides the most significant argument for the virtue of authenticity.

Today’s political concerns with gender and race are central to the book, which closes by drawing out implications of this new interpretation of existentialism for contemporary philosophy, psychology, and psychotherapy.

Jonathan Webber is Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University and President of the UK Sartre Society.

Launching in central Cardiff on 3 October, Rethinking Existentialism is published by Oxford University Press.