Irrational Man

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This article is about the book by William Barrett. For the 2015 movie by Woody Allen, see Irrational Man (film).
Irrational Man: A Study In Existential Philosophy
Irrational Man.jpg
Author William Barrett
Country United States
Language English
Subject Existentialism
Genre Philosophy
Published 1958 (Doubleday)
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 278 (1977 edition)
ISBN 0-8371-9671-X (1977 edition)
0-385-03138-6 (Anchor Books edition)

Irrational Man: A Study In Existential Philosophy is a 1958 book by William Barrett which served to introduce existentialism to the English speaking world. Barrett's writing style is conversational, and he takes time to define terms and give the reader background on philosophical terms and concepts, so the book is aimed at a general reader curious about the topic.


In the four parts of the book, Barrett explains in brief the philosophical tradition to which existentialism was a reaction, and then the main concepts of existential thought. In the first part, "The Present Age", Barrett shows the impact that existentialism has had on culture even without being a widely known philosophical school of thought. In the second part, "Sources of Existentialism", Barrett traces the development of philosophy as it pertains to being, ontology, and metaphysics. He shows the contrast between existentialist thought and other forms of philosophy. In part three, "The Existentialists", Barrett introduces Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre, the four main philosophical thinkers, along with their primary thoughts and terminology. The discussion of each philosopher serves as a road map for those seeking an entre into the primary works of each, which can be dense with unique terminology. The material in each of these four sections summarizes the main points each philosopher contributed to existentialism. The reactions of one philosopher to another is also explored. The philosophers are also situated in the larger history of philosophical investigations outside of existentialism itself. Barrett concentrates on these main philosophers and avoids an in-depth discussion (although he does mention some) of the many of the existentialist artists and writers.

In part four, "Integral vs Rational Man, Barrett applies existentialist thought to the world of the late 1950s, during the Cold War. The work includes two appendices, "Negation, Finitude, and the Nature of Man", which reprints a paper presented by Barrett in 1957, and "Existence and Analytic Philosophers", a discussion of existentialism and analytic philosophy.