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Gabriel Marcel

Univ. of Texas/Austin - Gabriel Marcel Collection
The Gabriel Marcel Society
Baylor University Marcel site
Marcel links page
Erratic Impact: Marcel
EpistemeLinks: Philosophy Resources on the Internet

Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) is a theistic existentialist as Kierkegaard is, but differs in his vision of what faith is. While Kierkegaard sees the "knight of infinite resignation" sacrificing community and earthly relationships in the journey to God, Marcel sees the opposite. Faith is not irrational; the individual is not in isolation. For Marcel, the community and relationship with others is vastly important, and in fact, is the medium through which faith is found and lived.

Since Marcel sees the human spirit in social context, one of his main concerns is the state of modern society and its effect on modern man. Like Percy, Marcel believes modern man is not at ease with himself - a stranger to himself - and one of the reasons for this is the loss of the "ontological" sense in the modern world. (In philosophy, ontology refers to the idea of "being.") Humans are no longer valued for their ontological worth; they are valued for their functional worth. Ontological value means that humans have value just by virtue of the fact that they exist, that they are born and live. There is simply a sacredness of being that is what gives dignity and worth to the individual. In modern society, however, man is valued not for the sacredness of his being, for the fact that he simply IS; he is valued instead for what he DOES. This is functional value. His worth is the same thing as his work - what he produces and contributes to the world. A functionalized world is one that emphasizes "process without a purpose, utilisation of means with no clearly defined end, a journey without a goal" (Keen 10). In a functionalized world, we are busy creatures filling up time with "productive" activities that have no real ontological purpose. With the loss of the ontological sense, there is a loss of a sense of mystery and wonder in life and the world.

The functional orientation to life is more concerned with "having" than "being." Sam Keen illustrates the polarities of these two different approaches to the world (14).


I-Thou relationships
Thought which stands
in the presence of....
Concrete thinking
Secondary reflection


I-It relationships
Thought which proceeds
by interrogation
Primary reflection

Marcel associates functional thinking with technological thinking. Like Heidegger, Marcel sees technology, in and of itself, as morally neutral. It is when technological thinking deteriorates into "technomania" and "technolatry" that there is a loss of the ontological sense. Technological thinking cause an anthropocentrist world view - a loss of humility, that is, a pride that man's technological products and scientific worldview are the answer to life and to all knowledge. Man himself then becomes the source of meaning and value to life. In addition, techology has created a loss of particularity and individuality and uniqueness and intimacy to real people and concrete places. We live in a society of mass production, standardized products, and uniform workers. The loss of concrete particular and unique identity results in a "spirit of abstraction." Like technology, abstraction itself can be useful -- it is necessary for reason and thought. It helps us to theorize and to order and understand the world. However, it becomes negative and dangerous when the concreteness from which it arises is lost. Keen explains:

When we forget that the enemy whom we may be forced to kill in war is an individual human being with hopes and fears, that the 'schizophrenic' is a unique person whom no diagnostic categories wholly fit, that a flower can be understood in scientific terms is also a thing of beauty existing in its own right, we yield to the fascination of abstraction and betray a contempt for concrete reality. (13-14)

Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor echo this idea of the importance of particularity (see "...to the gas chamber").

Work Cited

Keen, Sam. Gabriel Marcel. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1967.

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Copyright(c) 2002 by Karey Perkins / E-mail: karey1@charter.net