Date of Award

Spring 1970

Document Type




First Advisor

Rev. Francis Wiegenstein

Second Advisor

Rev. Daniel Smith

Third Advisor

Robert Heywood


When X was in grade school we used to play a game. Probably a forerunner of the educational toys and games which are so prevalent today, it was a game designed to develop the powers of observation and memory. It was really a very easy game. The teacher would simply suggest a word or phrase. Then, starting with the first person in the first row we would all describe or define what the word meant, each person repeating everything that those in front had said and adding his own idea. For example, if the word were car the game might go like this: "A car has a motor; a car has a motor and uses gas; a car has a motor and uses gas and comes in many colors, etc., etc." And when thirty people had answered you knew quite a bit about a car, although there were many ideas that were extraneous to the real nature of a car.

Folk singers also play this game. One says that folk music is this; another adds something; a third subtracts. Over the years definitions have become quite lengthy, and there is little agreement as to just what a folk song is. In chapter one we will try to get a basic understanding of the folk tradition, but for now let us simply say that folk song has been the tale of common men. It has been the story of their experiences and what these experiences meant to them. Philosophy, on the other hand, has been quite removed from the mainstream of life which is so characteristic of folk music. As John Wild so correctly points out, "No one ever thought of studying seriously the finite existence of the human person as lived from within."

Instead, philosophers have searched for the non-existent man in the abstract, Plato said that man was a fallen creature in a world of shadows, from which he oust ascend, Hegel made him a God, an unfolding of the Absolute Mind. They have delved into what man could be or should be, but have shamefully neglected what he is. In short, then, philosophy has been almost the opposite of the folk tradition. Until the nineteenth century, at least, philosophy has been too concerned with an ideal world and eternal truths, neither of which can be found in experience. Contemporary philosophy has attempted to meet this neglect. Chapter two will be devoted to some basic themes of existentialism as a background for the main body of this thesis, but it must be understood that, as in our game, existentialism means many things to many people.

The world of the intellectual can be far removed from that of the common man. It is a long way from a philosopher’s office to a recording studio, but If the two do not have something in common, then neither is quite right. Existentialism would seem to bridge this gap. I am going to analyze the existential implications of contemporary folk music as exemplified by the works of Paul Simon. His music is concerned with a passionate Involvement with life as well as a critical questioning of the experiences of life. Music is the language of the soul. I think that today’s "soul" music is one of the very best expressions of existential philosophy. As an epilogue I am also going to include my own critical questioning of the human experience in some original folk songs. I hope to provide an insight into the existential character of folk music and to express this in lyrical verse as well as prose.