Continuing from part one on “On the Ontological Mystery” (1933), we talk more about problems (the character of whose solution is pre-defined) vs. mysteries (the dense conundrums of experience like “How free is my will?” and “How is real intimacy possible?”). Re. the problem of evil: A theodicy like Leibniz’s treats this as a puzzle to be solved in terms of the logically possible will of God (allowing evil to optimize overall good). But for Marcel, this approach doesn’t take evil seriously enough: Once evil affects you directly, you feel its presence in a deep way, and this can’t merely be banished by abstract argumentation. This is the characteristic of mystery: We are not mere observers, but are directly involved, and this complicates the inquiry.
Instead of trying to unravel and solve mysteries, we just cope with them, and for Marcel, we do this through recollection, which is a meditative way of pulling oneself out of the circumstance we were formerly in the midst of so as to be able to examine it. He sees this as very different from the jarring character of abstraction.
As another example, what is love? To be a Freudian or other type of analyst who reduces love to libido, to survival mechanism, or anything like that, is to falsify what love as experience is.
What makes Marcel an existentialist? Like Kierkegaard, he talks about how despair and the recognition of absurdity can give rise to a leap to hope and faith. Unlike Sartre, there’s good reason for us to take this leap; Marcel’s existentialism doesn’t mean that the movement away from nihilism is entirely unmotivated, or free in a vertiginous sense. If you think carefully about your life, a key datum is “you are not your own” (a quote from the Apostle Paul), and once you realize this deeply, you won’t be tempted to kill yourself or otherwise fall into despair.
We also talk about Being (how much is Marcel just parroting Heidegger?), pride, creativity, faith (does Marcel help us understand Kierkegaard?), being present to another person (what are ways that therapists, for instance, might or might not meet Marcel’s requirements?), and how Christianity is actually involved with all of this.
Next Episode: We’re starting in on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and will follow St. John’s College reading list to do this over three episodes, the first of which will be on Book I (Α): 1–7 (980a21–988b22) and II (α): (993a30–995a20). We’re all reading the Joe Sachs translation.