Existence And Existentialism

1. The Etymology of Existence

ODAY whoever uses terms like "existence," "existential," or "ex istentialism" is obliged to show the way in which he uses them and the reasons why. He must be aware of the many ambiguities with which these words arc burdened, in part avoidable, in part unavoidable. Further, he must show to which past and present attitudes and works he applies these terms. Attempts to clarify their meaning are numerous and divergent. Therefore, none of these attempts can be taken as being finally successful. A theology which makes the correlation of existence and the Christ its central theme must justify its use of the word "existence" and indicate both its philological and its historical derivation.

One of the ways to determine the meaning of an abused word is the etymological one, namely, to go back to its root meaning and try to gain a new understanding out of its roots. This has been done in all periods of the history of thought but is exaggerated by some scholars to such a degree that a reaction has started against the whole procedure. The nominalists of our day, like the old nominalists, consider words as conventional signs which mean nothing beyond the way in which they arc used in a special group at a special time. The consequence of this attitude is that some words arc invariably lost and must be replaced by others. But the nominalistic presupposition—that words are only conventional signs—must be rejected. Words are the results of the encoun- ' ter of the human mind with reality. Therefore, they are-not only signs but also symbols and cannot be replaced,.as in the case of conventional signs, by other words. Hence they can be salvaged. Without this possibility, new languages would continuously have had to be invented in the fields of religion and the humanities. One of the important tasks of

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