How Existentialist and Conservative Philosophers Think About Freedom

While the study of philosophy may seem more peripheral to everyday culture than ever in the 21st Century, the past hundred years saw a proliferation of schools of philosophical thought. None had the popular reach of existentialism, and few had greater impact on politics and debates on social issues than the various branches of conservatism - in many ways, the opposite of existentialism. On this month's edition of The Enright Files, conversations about, and with, existentialist and conservative philosophers.
French intellectuals Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre sitting in a cafe in Paris, 1970. (STF/AFP/Getty Images)
Listen to the full episode53:59

While the study of philosophy may seem more peripheral to everyday culture than ever in the 21st Century, the past hundred years saw a proliferation of schools of philosophical thought. None had the popular reach of existentialism, and few had greater impact on politics and debates on social issues than the various branches of conservatism - in many ways, the opposite of existentialism. On this month's edition of The Enright Files, conversations about, and with, existentialist and conservative philosophers.

The work of philosophers might seem to some people to be the ultimate in intellectual self-indulgence -- out of touch with, or outright irrelevant to the everyday living of life with its mundane struggles, quotidian rituals and little joys. So many angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Even if one accepts that philosophy is nothing less than the study of what it means to live and to live well and meaningfully, there's also the matter of trying to understand just what philosophers write.

As a shorthand to understanding philosophers, we apply labels to them: humanist, rationalist, postmodernist, liberal, positivist, existentialist, conservative, transcendentalist, phenomenologist and so on.

But defining any of those terms definitively is a tricky business and one that can lead to heated debates as only discussions of philosophy can. It's equally difficult to say that any of those or other labels or schools of philosophy will fully capture the thought of any major thinker in all its nuance, contradictions and complexity. Not that that stops us from trying.
 

Guests in this episode:

  • Sarah Bakewell, author of At the Existentialist Café; Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktail.
     
  • Claire Messud, acclaimed novelist and author of New York Review of Books article on Albert Camus.
     
  • Roger Scruton, English conservative philosopher and author of more than 30 books.



**The Enright Files is produced by Chris Wodskou

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