Email this review


The subjectivism and radical individualism of existential philosophy are broadly and straightforwardly applied in this group of essays by a Northwestern University professor. Earle tries to give a theory of knowledge, positing the knower as possessed of a transcendental as well as existential self, while insisting that no self can be characterized in terms of ""human nature."" The book chirps along as if there were universal truths about love, horror, and death; it plays with the dialectics of time and memory and sustains a notion of value choice. But the commitment to the unique, individual ""autobiographical"" seems to undermine any basis for these generalities. Earle ranges himself on one side of a series of sophomoric dualisms -- the ""generic"" versus the ""unrepeatable,"" ""scientific knowhow"" versus ""singular existences."" On the last point he betrays a sad ignorance of modern science and its epistemology; moreover, he devitalizes the phenomenological richness he esteems when, for instance, he argues that because it is false to say that great literature summarizes ""the human condition"" it is equally false to say that it renders common experience. Earle bastardizes and he fundamentally denies the social character of human thought and existence: specifically missing from his concerns are the categories of work, creativity, and man's relation to nature. His ""particulars"" and ""uniques"" and ""subjectives"" remain irremediably abstract, indeterminate, and sterile as the book bogs down in old chestnuts about how ""man is not a fixed essence."" No indeed, but Earle's empty affirmation of man's freedom is as pernicious as Skinner's insistent denial of it, only less compelling to most readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1971
Publisher: Quadrangle