Journal of Romance Studies

Dismantling Descartes

Miguel de Unamuno and Gabriel Marcel

Journal of Romance Studies (2020), 20, (1), 21–49.


Although twentieth-century European existentialism tended to be atheistic or agnostic, two significant exceptions were Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936) and Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973), both Catholic existential thinkers who had a good deal in common, including their intense interest in preserving the spiritual dimension of humankind. They cultivated the philosophical essay as well as more purely imaginative genres (novel, drama, and poetry in the case of the Spaniard, drama and music in the case of the Frenchman). One important aspect they share is their anti-Cartesian stance. This article considers Unamuno’s outspoken repudiation of Descartes using Marcel’s more discreet distancing from his famous compatriot as a measure of comparison. Is their anti-Cartesianism based on well-founded philosophical argument? Or is their disagreement with Descartes more a matter of personal outlook? Is their philosophical stance in practice as anti-Cartesian as they pretended it was? And where do Unamuno and Marcel differ? These are the questions this article addresses.

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Author details

Longhurst, C.A.