EXISTENTIALISM. Wednesday, April 20, 16

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1 EXISTENTIALISM

2 DEFINITION... Philosophical, religious and artistic thought during and after World War II which emphasizes existence rather than essence, and recognizes the inadequacy of human reason to explain the enigma of the universe as a basic philosophical question. Existentialists believe that man's own individual experience or "existing" comes before anything such as a general purpose, goodness or truth, or any other Absolute that may be felt to exist. Man creates himself through his own thoughts and actions, since the only reality for an individual is that of his own personal existence and nothing else.

3 IDEAS ON... Existentialists assume as a significant fact that people and things in general exist, but that things have no meaning for us except as individuals, though acting upon them can create meaning. "Existence precedes essence." Jean-Paul Sartre "Man is condemned to be free." Jean-Paul Sartre "You cannot acquire experience by making experiments. You cannot create experience. You must undergo it. Albert Camus

4 Characteristics/Concepts... Existence Precedes Essence (further discussed under Sartre) Existentialism gets its name from an insistence that life is only understandable in terms of an individual's existence, his particular life experience. It says a person lives (existence) rather than is (has being or essence). An emphasis upon the personal rather than the impersonal. Man is the centre of the universe, the centre of infinity.

5 Characteristics/Concepts (con t)... Reason Is Unable To Deal With The Depths Of Life Reason is relatively weak and imperfect, (people often do not do the "right" thing). There are dark places in life which are "non-reason," to which reason scarcely penetrates, (meaning we often commit acts which seem to defy reason, to make no sense). People must be taken in their wholeness and not in some divided state. The whole of a person contains not only intellect, but also anxiety, guilt and the will to power, which can change and sometimes overwhelm reason. The emphasis is not on idea, but upon the thinker who has the idea. People are felt to find their true selves not in the detachment of thought but in the involvement and agony of choice and in the pathos of commitment to choice.

6 Characteristics/Concepts (con t)... Alienation Individuals live in a fourfold condition of alienation: from God, from nature, from other people, and from our own "true" selves. People have become hollow, powerless, faceless. Angst (or dread) was the negative feelings that arose from freedom and responsibility.

7 Characteristics/Concepts (con t)... Fear, Anxiety, and Despair A feeling of pessimism, fear, anxiety, and despair arose after the World Wars and the Depression. Humans were in perpetual despair when an individual s identity was based on concepts that could end Human essence could not be found in conventional reality. The necessity to make "moral" choices regarding their sense of responsibility added to the feelings of anxiety and despair -- feeling of inherent insecurity about the consequences of one s actions -- anguish of Abraham. Each of us must make moral decisions in our own lives which involve the same anguish that faced Abraham, meaning... Sometimes, one must take an exception to the general law as an individual s existence can never be completely controlled by any universal law.

8 Characteristics/Concepts (con t)... The Encounter With Nothingness For individuals alienated from God, from nature, from other people and even from themselves, what is left at last but Nothingness? Existentialists see 20thC humanity on the brink of a catastrophic precipice, below the absolute void, black nothingness, asking ourselves, "Does existence ultimately have any purpose?"

9 Characteristics/Concepts (con t)... Freedom The existentialist ideas either describe some loss of individuals' freedom or some threat to it, and all existentialists of whatever sort are considered to enlarge the range of human freedom. An individual must create oneself and live in accordance with this self, by doing so becoming authentic to oneself -- a condition of freedom. By letting one s own values come into play when making choices, an individual takes responsibility for the act.

10 PHILOSOPHERS... Soren Kierkegaard ( ) Born into an affluent family in Denmark Philosopher, theologian, poet, and social critic Interest in organized religion, morality, ethics and psychology Considered the founder of existentialism

11 Kierkegaard s Ideas... Contributions to the idea of how one should live as a single individual (human reality versus abstract thinking). Believed our life was meaningless as it fills us with despair, anxiety, hopelessness and depression -- There is no escape. He rejected the idea that science can bring meaning for our life. He was a Christian existentialist who believed that embracing the absurdity and alienation of life brings us closer to God, and that trying to base faith on facts and science is considered false Christianity.

12 Friedrich Nietzsche ( ) German philosopher, cultural critic and composer. Troubled mental and physical health throughout his life. Interest in the will to power, the death of God and the Ubermensch. Contribution to the idea that life should be life-affirming questioning any doctrine that drains one s expansive energies.

13 Nietzsche s Ideas... God is Dead (Gott ist Tot) meaning that our belief in God is dead. The scientific revolution hastened His death as we no longer had a foundation for truth and morality. He believed that we have to create that foundation ourselves. He saw the death of God as good since religion made the individual weak, dependent, and cowardly. Following Christianity was considered by him a slave morality as you were following pre-established values.

14 Nietzsche s Ideas (con t)... THE WILL TO POWER Life is an expression of will. The Will to Power is an urge to excel, to control, to dominate. THE SUPERMAN (a.k.a. OVERMAN or übermensch ) The superman is the individual who: Rises above slave morality Can form his own morality Creates meaning out of a nihilistic (meaningless) environment

15 Martin Heidegger ( ) Born in Germany, and raised Roman Catholic Supporter of Nazism prior to 1934 Interested in the question of being - desein (being there) Far reaching influence in philosophy, theology, art, cultural anthropology and political theory

16 Heidegger s Ideas... Said that the first question of philosophy is, What is the meaning of Being? Challenged René Descartes s assertion that the first question is, How do we know? Believed it was only in the world that we can exist, moving towards death, our end time. Being depends on Time, and that Time defines every aspect of our Being. Technology alienates humans because it recasts the natural environment to be utilized for the purpose of humans

17 Jean-Paul Sartre ( ) Born into a middle-class family in Paris, France Philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter and literary critic Refused the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature Interested in sociology, critical theory, cultural anthropology, and post-colonial theory Contribution to the idea that humans are condemned to be free

18 Sartre s Ideas... Coined the phrase Existence precedes essence meaning... a human is an individual, an independent, conscious being (existence), rather than pre-existing form or category (essence). As a result, humans, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life. Believed that every person's experience of life is different from another's, and that individuals' lives can be understood only in terms of their commitment to living responsibly. Proposed the project theory of the self, suggesting that people s selves are always under construction and are never finished.

19 Albert Camus ( ) Born in French Algeria Member of the French Resistance during WWII Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1957)

20 Camus Ideas... He wrote that the fundamental question of philosophy is whether life is worth living and was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism. Emphasized the fact that happiness is fleeting and that the human condition is one of mortality, causing a greater appreciation for life and happiness. While we can live with a dualism (I can accept periods of unhappiness, because I know I will also experience happiness to come), we cannot live with the paradox (I think my life is of great importance, but I also think it is meaningless). Our life must have meaning for us to value it. If we accept that life has no meaning and therefore no value, should we kill ourselves? lead him to argue that suicide is the only truly serious philosophical problem.

21 Re-cap Core Ideas... These are ideas that were nicely summed up in Sartre s public lecture Existentialism is a Humanism. In humans, existence precedes essence. You are the ultimate authority in your life Authenticity and genuine freedom are found in *realizing* your own freedom and accepting responsibility for your life Bad faith / existential self-deception involves denying your own freedom and thus your responsibility for your life. Is there room for an existential ethics? Yes: responsibility for your own life involves responsibility for promoting the freedom of others.

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