Date of Award
Rev. Thomas Flynn
The world today continues to pay tribute to the memory of one of Spain's greatest sons, a man among men, a thinker among thinkers, a seeker after God who feared not, and neither did he cease to act, to write and to speak freely, though it sight cost him his life. This manly man, this original thinker is Miguel do Unamuno who has been widely proclaimed as the father of twentieth century existentialism. Yet Unamuno was a man of way contradictions both in his life and in his philosophy, and his role in the philosophical development is equally hard to evaluate. A recent review in The New York Times said of him: "No figure in modern literature has been more personal than Miguel de Unamuno, and yet there is no personality more difficult to define and assess. He himself disliked easy classifications: he was a philosopher and poet, a novelist and teacher, an essayist and political prophet..."
Don Miguel was not a man to echo the philosophies of others. On the contrary, he showed a characteristic independence of mind. Addressing an audience some years after Miguel had completed his studies at the University Of Salamanca, one of his professors praised him in the following terms: "And guided by his lucky star, he struck out along unchartered paths, anticipating by several decades the existentialism of Heidegger and Jaspers." It was extremely doubtful that Unamuno had perchance come across something by Kierkegaard and so been introduced to his ideas before he had devised his own prior to 1900.
His professor, Professor Morayta, testifies to his independence of thought, and it would seem more probable that any similarity in Miguel’s and Kierkegaard's ideas at that time was merely coincidental. He seems to suggest that Heidegger and Jaspers read Unamuno later, and thus Unamuno could have been the father of modern existentialism. Although this is purely conjecture, it is not at all illogical. The irrefutable fact stands that Unamuno was an independent existentialist thinker who had discovered in Kierkegaard a soul not unlike his own.
Regardless of whether or not Unamuno was the father of modern existentialism, he was an existentialist who devised a truly humanistic philosophy, the effects of which have relevance to modern philosophic thought. Humanism, an intellectual and cultural movement which arose during the renaissance period of Western Europe, was the result of a revival of interest in the study of classical Greek and Latin literature and culture. It was characterised by an emphasis on human interests, the purely human qualities of man as man, and tended to exclude any regard for the Divine. Humanism essentially aims to render man more human and causes him to participate in all that can enrich him both in nature and in history. Being generally an anthropocentric problem, it principally seeks to discover what it is to be man. Although there is evidence of a humanism which springs from religious and transcendental sources, the humanism of Unamuno is an atheistic humanism, one which seeks to dismiss God as irrelevant, superfluous.
McIntire, J. Charles, "The Tragedy Of Man: A Study Of The Existential Philosophy Of Miguel De Unamuno" (1964). Philosophy Undergraduate Theses. 34.