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Mills, J. (2003). Existentialism and Psychoanalysis: From Antiquity to Postmodernism. Psychoanal. Rev., 90(3):269-279.

(2003). Psychoanalytic Review, 90(3):269-279

Existentialism and Psychoanalysis: From Antiquity to Postmodernism

Jon Mills

The term “existentialism” is so ambiguous that it has essentially become a meaningless word: It is associated with a number of disparate philosophical doctrines, social-political movements, and artistic sensibilities, such that it becomes slippery to pin down its core philosophical tenets to the degree that an undertaking of this kind would be no less rendered moot. We may nevertheless say that existentialism is a form of phenomenologi-cal philosophy that relies on certain reflective methods of studying human consciousness instantiated in the individual, society, and culture, which emerged as a popular general movement characteristic of twentieth-century European thought represented across many disciplines including literature, the humanities, and the social sciences.

Sartre is often heralded as the father of existentialism, but surely philosophical preoccupation with the question and meaning of human existence dates back to antiquity. In philosophy there is often a distinction made between the nature of “being,” a broad ontological category, and that of “existence,” what we generally confine to the study of human subjectivity. From the Platonic notion of the soul to medieval Aristotelian theology, to modern materialism and transcendental idealism, there has always been a primary fascination with the longings and mysteries of human experience.


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