Gabriel Marcel

Gabriel Honoré Marcel[a] (1889–1973) was a French philosopher, playwright, music critic and leading Christian existentialist. The author of over a dozen books and at least thirty plays, Marcel's work focused on the modern individual's struggle in a technologically dehumanizing society. Though often regarded as the first French existentialist, he dissociated himself from figures such as Jean-Paul Sartre, preferring the term philosophy of existence or neo-Socrateanism to define his own thought. The Mystery of Being is a well-known two-volume work authored by Marcel.

Gabriel Marcel
Gabriel Marcel (c. 1951)
Gabriel Honoré Marcel

7 December 1889
Died8 October 1973 (aged 83)
Paris, France
Alma materUniversity of Paris
Notable work
The Mystery of Being (1951)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas
"The Other" (autrui), concrete philosophy (philosophie concrète), being vs. having as opposing ways of defining the human person

Early life and education

Marcel was born on 7 December 1889 in Paris, France. His mother Laure Meyer, who was Jewish, died when he was young and he was brought up by his aunt and father, Henry Marcel. When he was eight he moved for a year where his father was minister plenipotentiary.[5]

Marcel completed his DES thesis[b] (diplôme d'études supérieures, roughly equivalent to an MA thesis) and obtained the agrégation in philosophy from the Sorbonne in 1910, at the unusually young age of 20. During the First World War he worked as head of the Information Service, organized by the Red Cross to convey news of injured soldiers to their families.[5] He taught in secondary schools, was a drama critic for various literary journals, and worked as an editor for Plon, the major French Catholic publisher.[6]

Marcel was the son of an agnostic,[5] and was himself an atheist until his conversion to Catholicism in 1929. Marcel was opposed to anti-Semitism and supported reaching out to non-Catholics.

He died 8 October 1973 in Paris.

Existential themes

He is often classified as one of the earliest existentialists, although he dreaded being placed in the same category as Jean-Paul Sartre; Marcel came to prefer the label neo-Socratic (possibly because of Søren Kierkegaard, the father of Christian existentialism, who was a neo-Socratic thinker himself). While Marcel recognized that human interaction often involved objective characterisation of "the other", he still asserted the possibility of "communion" – a state where both individuals can perceive each other's subjectivity.

In The Existential Background of Human Dignity, Marcel refers to a play he had written in 1913 entitled Le Palais de Sable, in order to provide an example of a person who was unable to treat others as subjects.

Roger Moirans, the central character of the play, is a politician, a conservative who is dedicated to defending the rights of Catholicism against free thought. He has set himself up as the champion of traditional monarchy and has just achieved a great success in the city council where he has attacked the secularism of public schools. It is natural enough that he should be opposed to the divorce of his daughter Therese, who wants to leave her unfaithful husband and start her life afresh. In this instance he proves himself virtually heartless; all his tenderness goes out to his second daughter, Clarisse, whom he takes to be spiritually very much like himself. But now Clarisse tells him that she has decided to take the veil and become a Carmelite. Moirans is horrified by the idea that this creature, so lovely, intelligent, and full of life, might go and bury herself in a convent and he decides to do his utmost to make her give up her intention... Clarisse is deeply shocked; her father now appears to her as an impostor, virtually as a deliberate fraud...[7]

In this case, Moirans is unable to treat either of his daughters as a subject, instead rejecting both because each does not conform to her objectified image in his mind. Marcel notes that such objectification "does no less than denude its object of the one thing which he has which is of value, and so it degrades him effectively."[8]

Another related major thread in Marcel was the struggle to protect one's subjectivity from annihilation by modern materialism and a technologically driven society. Marcel argued that scientific egoism replaces the "mystery" of being with a false scenario of human life composed of technical "problems" and "solutions". For Marcel, the human subject cannot exist in the technological world, instead being replaced by a human object. As he points out in Man Against Mass Society and other works, technology has a privileged authority with which it persuades the subject to accept his place as "he" in the internal dialogue of science; and as a result, man is convinced by science to rejoice in his own annihilation.[9]


For many years, Marcel hosted a weekly philosophy discussion group through which he met and influenced important younger French philosophers like Jean Wahl, Paul Ricœur, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Marcel was puzzled and disappointed that his reputation was almost entirely based on his philosophical treatises and not on his plays, which he wrote in the hope of appealing to a wider lay audience. He also influenced phenomenologist and Thomistic philosopher Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), who drew on Marcel's distinction between "being" and "having" in his critique of technological change.[10]

Main works

His major books are the Metaphysical Journal (1927), Being and Having (1933), Homo Viator (1945), Mystery of Being (1951), and Man Against Mass Society (1955). He gave the William James Lectures at Harvard in 1961–1962, which were subsequently published as The Existential Background of Human Dignity.

Works in English translation

  • 1948. The Philosophy of Existence. Manya Harari, trans. London: The Harvill Press. Later editions were titled The Philosophy of Existentialism.
  • 1949. Being and Having. Katherine Farrer, trans. Westminster, London: Dacre Press.
  • 1950. The Metaphysical Journal. Bernard Wall, trans. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company.
  • 1951. The Mystery of Being, Vol. 1, Reflection and Mystery. G. S. Fraser, trans. London: The Harvill Press.
  • 1951. The Mystery of Being, Vol. 2, Faith and Reality. René Hague, trans. London: The Harvill Press.
  • 1956. Royce's Metaphysics. Virginia and Gordon Ringer, trans. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company.
  • 1962. Man Against Mass Society. G. S. Fraser, trans. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company.
  • 1962. Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope. Emma Craufurd, trans. Harper & Brothers.
  • 1963. The Existential Background of Human Dignity. Harvard University Press.
  • 1964. Creative Fidelity. Translated, with an introduction, by Robert Rosthal. Farrar, Strauss and Company.
  • 1967. Presence and Immortality. Michael A. Machado, trans. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
  • 1967. Problematic Man. Brian Thompson, trans. New York: Herder and Herder.
  • 1973. Tragic Wisdom and Beyond. Stephen Jolin and Peter McCormick, trans. Publication of the Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, ed. John Wild. Northwestern University Press.
  • 1998. Gabriel Marcel's Perspectives on The Broken World: The Broken World, a Four-Act Play, Followed by Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery. Katharine Rose Hanley, trans. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
  • 2002. Awakenings Peter Rogers, trans. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
  • 2004. Ghostly Mysteries: Existential Drama: A Mystery of Love & The Posthumous Joke. Katharine Rose Hanley, trans. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
  • 2008. A Path to Peace: Fresh Hope for the World. Dramatic Explorations: Five Plays by Gabriel Marcel: The Heart of Others/Dot the I/The Double Expertise/The Lantern/Colombyre or The Torch of Peace. Katharine Rose Hanley, trans. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
  • 2009. Thou Shall Not Die. Compiled by Anne Marcel. Katharine Rose Hanley, trans. South Bank: St Augustine's Press.

See also


  1. ^ Pronounced /mɑːrˈsɛl/; French: [ɡa.bʁi.jɛl ɔ.nɔ.ʁe maʁ.sɛl].
  2. ^ The title of his 1910 thesis was Coleridge et Schelling (Coleridge and Schelling). It was published in 1971 (see Jeanne Parain-Vial, Gabriel Marcel: un veilleur et un éveilleur, L'Âge d'Homme, 1989, p. 12).


  1. ^ Paul T. Brockelman, Existential Phenomenology and the World of Ordinary Experience: An Introduction, University Press of America, 1980, p. 3.
  2. ^ Spiegelberg, Herbert and Schuhmann, Karl (1982). The Phenomenological Movement. Springer. pp. 438–439, 448–449.
  3. ^ Jon Bartley Stewart, Kierkegaard and Existentialism, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2011, p. 204.
  4. ^ A. Wadge, The Influence of Royce on the philosophy of Gabriel Marcel, Master's thesis, Durham University, 1972.
  5. ^ a b c Marcel, Gabriel (1947). The Philosophy of Existentialism. Manya Harari. Paris: Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-0901-5.
  6. ^ Gabriel (-Honoré) Marcel, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy'
  7. ^ The Existential Background of Human Dignity, pp. 31–32.
  8. ^ Homo Viator, p. 23.
  9. ^ Ballard, Edward G. (1967). "Gabriel Marcel: The Mystery of Being". In Schrader, George Alfred, Jr. (ed.). Existential Philosophers: Kierkegaard to Merleau-Ponty. Toronto: McGraw-Hill. p. 227
  10. ^ Jeffreys, Derek S. (2007), "'A Deep Amazement at Man's Worth and Dignity': Technology and the Person in Redemptor hominis", in Perry, Tim (ed.), The Legacy of John Paul II: An Evangelical Assessment, InterVarsity Press, pp. 37–56

Further reading

External links

1889 in France

Events from the year 1889 in France.

Agnostic existentialism

Agnostic existentialism is a type of existentialism which makes no claim to know whether there is a "greater picture"; rather, it simply asserts that the greatest truth is that which the individual chooses to act upon. It feels that to know the greater picture, whether there is one or not, is impossible, or impossible so far, or of little value. Like the Christian existentialist, the agnostic existentialist believes existence is subjective.

American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

The American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly is a peer-reviewed academic journal sponsored by the American Catholic Philosophical Association. It was founded in 1927 as The New Scholasticism and adopted its current title in 1990. The journal publishes articles and book reviews covering the entire range and history of Western philosophical thought. Contributions on non-Western philosophy are also published, especially if they shed light upon issues in the Western tradition. The journal is not committed to any particular school of philosophy and contributions variously employ analytical, phenomenological, Thomistic, historical, and other methods. Nevertheless, it typically prefers contributions on topics or thinkers that are of special interest to Catholic thought. Thus, almost every issue usually carries at least one article on Thomas Aquinas. Pieces on medieval thought are well represented as well, as are essays in the philosophy of religion and philosophical theology.

Every fourth issue of the journal is devoted to a philosopher, Catholic or not, who has exercised a significant influence on Western philosophy. Recent special issues have been devoted to Max Scheler, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Gabriel Marcel, Peter Abelard, and Edith Stein.

The editorial offices are currently located at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota). The journal's editor is David L. Clemenson.

Brendan Sweetman

Brendan Sweetman (born 25 August 1962 in Dublin, Ireland) is an Irish philosopher interested in philosophy of religion, contemporary European philosophy, and political philosophy. He is a specialist on the work of French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel. He holds the Sullivan Chair of Philosophy and is Professor of Philosophy at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

Catholic moral theology

Catholic moral theology is a major category of doctrine in the Catholic Church, equivalent to a religious ethics. Moral theology encompasses Roman Catholic social teaching, Catholic medical ethics, sexual ethics, and various doctrines on individual moral virtue and moral theory. It can be distinguished as dealing with "how one is to act", in contrast to dogmatic theology which proposes "what one is to believe".

Edvard Kovač

Fr. Edvard Kovač (born 1950) is a Slovenian theologian, philosopher and author. He is a member of the Order of Friars Minor and professor at the University of Ljubljana Theological Faculty and the Catholic University of Toulouse.Kovač is author of numerous published works and has twice been awarded the French Ordre du Mérite. In 2000 he received the Rožanc Award (the most prestigious Slovenian award for essayism) for his collection of essays Oddaljena bližina (The Distant Proximity).

His thought has been influenced by the Jewish theologians Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber, the Christian existentialism of Gabriel Marcel and by the French Nouvelle Théologie.

Emmanuel Mounier

Emmanuel Mounier (; French: [munje]; 1 April 1905 – 22 March 1950) was a French philosopher, theologian, teacher and essayist.

Henry Marcel

Henri-Camille Marcel called Henry Marcel, (25 November 1854 – 6 March 1926) was a 19th–20th-century French senior official, general administrator of the Bibliothèque nationale de France from 1905 to 1913.

In October 1903, he succeeded Henry Roujon at the head of the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts of Paris.

In 1905, he was appointed general administrator of the Bibliothèque nationale after Léopold Delisle.

In May 1913, he became head of the Réunion des musées nationaux, until 1919.

In February 1899, he married Laure Meyer (first daughter of banker Maurice Meyer) with whom he would have a son, philosopher and playwright Gabriel Marcel. After Laure's prematured death, he married Berthe Meyer, sister of the former.

Le Courrier français (1948–1950)

Le Courrier français was a French monthly journal that appeared from March 1948 to June 1950. It was published by royalist supporters of Henri, Count of Paris (1908–1999).

In successive years it took the names Le Courrier 48, Le Courrier 49 and Le Courrier 50.

The monarchist paper Ici France was launched in October 1946.

In May 1947 it became a 16-page weekly with abundant illustrations mainly concerning the royal family.

It disappeared in November 1947.Le Courrier de la Mesnie decided to replace Ici France with the same formula and many of its staff. Le Courrier français was launched in March 1948, and was later renamed Courrier 48. The new monthly supported the Count of Paris but did not depend on him for financing.Courier 49 (No. 15) published a letter from Gabriel Marcel to Pierre Boutang on the detention of Charles Maurras.The chief editor was Maurice Colinon and the main contributors were Jacques Baulmier, René Chissey, Victor-Henry Debidour, Michel de Saint-Pierre, Maurice d’Olziac, Guy Coutant de Saisseval and François Chatel.

Occasional contributors included Daniel-Rops, Gabriel Marcel, Marcel de La Bigne de Villeneuve, Henri Pourrat, Louis Salleron, Henry Bordeaux, René Gillouin, Jean-François Gravier, Daniel Halévy, Jacques Isorni, Bertrand de Jouvenel, duc de Levis-Mirepoix, Joseph de Pesquidoux and Gustave Thibon.Le Courrier français was one of several ephemeral royalist publications, others being Force populaire, Le Nouveau Régime, Lys Rouge and L'Etandard.

The journal never had the stature of Ici France. It had smaller circulation, fewer pages and less distinguished contributors.

It ceased to appear in June 1950 after the return of the prince, and was never any help to him.

Library of Living Philosophers

The Library of Living Philosophers is a series of books conceived of and started by Paul Arthur Schilpp in 1939; Schilpp remained editor until 1981. The series has since been edited by Lewis Edwin Hahn (1981-2001), Randall Auxier (2001-2013), and Douglas R. Anderson (2013-2015). The Library of Living Philosophers is currently edited by Sarah Beardsworth (2015-present). Each volume is devoted to a single living philosopher of note, and contains, alongside an "intellectual autobiography" of its subject and a complete bibliography, a collection of critical and interpretive essays by several dozen contemporary philosophers on aspects of the subject's work, with responses by the subject. The Library was originally conceived as a means by which a philosopher could reply to his or her interpreters while still alive, hopefully resolving endless philosophical disputes about what someone "really meant." While its success in this line has been questionable—a reply, after all, can stand just as much in need of interpretation as an original essay—the series has become a noted philosophical resource and the site of much significant contemporary argument.

The series was published by Northwestern University from its inception through 1949; by Tudor Publishing Co. from 1952 to 1959; and since then by Open Court. The series is owned by Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Subjects of the Library, to date, are:

John Dewey (1939)

George Santayana (1940)

Alfred North Whitehead (1941)

G. E. Moore (1942)

Bertrand Russell (1944)

Ernst Cassirer (1949)

Albert Einstein (1949)

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1952)

Karl Jaspers (1957)

C. D. Broad (1959)

Rudolf Carnap (1963)

Martin Buber (1967)

C. I. Lewis (1968)

Karl Popper (1974)

Brand Blanshard (1980)

Jean-Paul Sartre (1981)

Gabriel Marcel (1984)

W. V. Quine (1986)

Georg Henrik von Wright (1989)

Charles Hartshorne (1991)

A. J. Ayer (1992)

Paul Ricoeur (1995)

Paul Weiss (1995)

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1997)

Roderick Chisholm (1997)

P. F. Strawson (1998)

Donald Davidson (1999)

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (2000)

Marjorie Grene (2002)

Jaakko Hintikka (2006)

Michael Dummett (2007)

Richard Rorty (2010)

Arthur Danto (2013)

Hilary Putnam (2015)

Umberto Eco (2017)Volumes projected on as of 2015: Martha C. Nussbaum, and Julia Kristeva

List of Catholic philosophers and theologians

This is a list of Catholic philosophers and theologians whose Catholicism is important to their works. The names are ordered by date of birth in order to give a rough sense of influence between thinkers.

Peter Kreeft

Peter John Kreeft (; born 1937) is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and The King's College. He is the author of over a hundred books on Christian philosophy, theology and apologetics. He also formulated, together with Ronald K. Tacelli, "Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God".

Phenomenology (philosophy)

Phenomenology (from Greek phainómenon "that which appears" and lógos "study") is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. It then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.

Phenomenology is not a unitary movement; rather, different authors share a common family resemblance but also with many significant differences. Gabriella Farina states:A unique and final definition of phenomenology is dangerous and perhaps even paradoxical as it lacks a thematic focus. In fact, it is not a doctrine, nor a philosophical school, but rather a style of thought, a method, an open and ever-renewed experience having different results, and this may disorient anyone wishing to define the meaning of phenomenology.Phenomenology, in Husserl's conception, is primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on and study of the structures of consciousness and the phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness. Phenomenology can be clearly differentiated from the Cartesian method of analysis which sees the world as objects, sets of objects, and objects acting and reacting upon one another.

Husserl's conception of phenomenology has been criticized and developed not only by himself but also by students such as Edith Stein and Roman Ingarden, by hermeneutic philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, by existentialists such as Nicolai Hartmann, Gabriel Marcel, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and by other philosophers such as Max Scheler, Paul Ricoeur, Jean-Luc Marion, Michel Henry, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, and sociologists Alfred Schütz and Eric Voegelin.

Rachel Bespaloff

Rachel Bespaloff (1895-1949) was a Ukrainian-French philosopher.

The Mutineers of the Bounty

Mutineers of the Bounty (French: Les Révoltés de la Bounty) is a short story by Jules Verne. The story is based on British documents about the Mutiny on the Bounty and was published in 1879 together with the novel The Begum's Fortune (Les cinq cents millions de la Bégum), as a part of the series Les Voyages Extraordinaires (The Extraordinary Voyages).

Unlike many authors covering the topic, Verne concentrates on the deposed captain of the Bounty, William Bligh. After mutineers forced Bligh into the Bounty's 23-foot launch on 28 April 1789, he led loyal crew members on a 6,710 kilometer journey to safety, reaching Timor 47 days later.

The original text was written by Gabriel Marcel (1843–1909), a geographer from the National Library of France. Jules Verne’s work was proofreading. Verne bought the rights to the text for 300 francs.

The Mystery of Being

The Mystery of Being (French: Le Mystère de l'être) is a two-volume book of existential philosophy by Gabriel Marcel. The two volumes are, "Reflection and Mystery" and "Faith and Reality". First published in 1951, the book is a collection of Gifford Lectures given by Marcel while at the University of Aberdeen between 1949 and 1950.

The State of Siege

The State of Siege (French: L'État de siège) is the fourth play by Albert Camus.

Written in 1948, The State of Siege—the original sense is closer to state of emergency—is a play in three acts presenting the arrival of plague, personified by a young opportunist, in sleepy Cadiz and the subsequent creation of a totalitarian regime through the manipulation of fear. In a piece written in 1948, in reply to criticisms from Gabriel Marcel, Camus defended his decision to set the play in Spain, and not in Eastern Europe, citing the ongoing oppression in Spain, France's collusion in it, and the Catholic Church's abandonment of Spanish Christians. The piece was first performed in October 1948, and was initially received poorly by critics and public, who had eagerly awaited the work, but expected a dramatisation of Camus's novel The Plague. While the two share a common background, the treatments are entirely different in tone. Although Camus himself was pleased with the work, critics remained unimpressed.

The State of Siege has remained almost constantly in print in French, and since 1958 in an English translation by Stuart Gilbert—in Caligula and Three Other Plays—with a foreword by Camus.

Vincent Miceli

Vincent Peter Miceli, S.J. (1915 – June 2, 1991) was a Catholic priest, theologian, and philosopher.

Miceli was born in New York City, USA, in 1915, the ninth of ten children of Italian immigrants.While attending Cathedral High School and maintaining a 95.5 average he worked six days a week from 3-10pm delivering books. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1936 to pursue his studies and was ordained a priest in 1949. Fr Miceli received his STL from St Louis University in 1950 and his PhD from Fordham University in 1961. His doctoral dissertation was on the French Catholic existentialist, Gabriel Marcel.

Father Miceli is the author of several books: Ascent to Being (1961), The Gods of Atheism (1971), The Antichrist (1981), Women Priests and Other Fantasies (1985), The Roots of Violence (1989), and Rendezvous with God (1991).

Father Miceli also made appearances on the Good Morning America television show on ABC and the Crossfire show on CNN.

Father Miceli taught theology and philosophy at several universities including Gregorian University in Rome, Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, Loyola University New Orleans, and Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.

Xavier Tilliette

Xavier Tilliette (23 July 1921, Corbie, Somme – 10 December 2018, Paris) was a French philosopher, historian of philosophy, and theologian. A former student of Jean Wahl and of Vladimir Jankélévitch, he was a member of the Society of Jesus (1938) and professor emeritus at the Catholic Institute of Paris (1969), having taught also at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome (1972), the Lateran University, and the Centre Sèvres in Paris.

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