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Kathryn Henderson

on 13 March 2011

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Transcript of Existentialism

(and kittens)

Henderson, English III Honors
Philosophy: literally, "the love of wisdom".
Careful thought about the fundamental
nature of the world, the grounds for human
knowledge, and the evaluation of human
Existentialism: a set of philosophical systems
concerned with free will, choice, and
personal responsibility; an attempt to describe
our desire to make rational decisions despite
existing in an irrational universe
Be on the lookout for PARADOX:
a seemingly true statement or condition
that leads to a situation which seems to
defy logic or intuition (truth divorced from logic)
> "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."
Cogito Ergo Sum
"I think, therefore I am."
~ Rene Descartes (1596-1650), father of modern philosophy
Thought exists. I cannot be separated from thought. Therefore, I exist.
Doubting the existence of something confirms its existence.
"O woe is me to have seen what I have seen..."
Although existentialism may seem dark and bleak at times, remember that philosophers
were in love with life (except for a few modern gloomy-heads we're about to study);
that is why they studied the act of living. So don't let this get you down!
Underlying concepts
Mankind has free will
Life is a series of choices, causing stress
Few decisions are without any negative consequences
Man chooses his nature through his decisions
Man is at his best when struggling against his individual nature
There are things in this world which are absurd
Society is unnatural and its traditional religious and secular laws are arbitrary
Existentialism REJECTS:
the belief that wealth, pleasure, and honor constitute the good life
the belief that social values and structure control the individual
an acceptance of "what is" as enough in life
a belief that people are basically good but ruined by society
Man's search for meaning
Existentialists recognize man as the only known animal that defines itself through the act of living
First, we exist.
The we spend a lifetime trying to define and change our essence.
Without life, there can be no meaning. We construct meaning through living.
The search for meaning is the search for self.
Historical background
Emerged from the deep social despair following the Great Depression and WWII
WWI had destroyed a previously held social optimism
Opposition to the arbitrary act (when a person or society tries to impose or demand that their beliefs, values, or rules be faithfully adopted and obeyed.
Religious Predetermination Elitist Moralistic Intentions

Agnostic Chance Communist Relativistic Actions

Atheist Free will Anarchist Amoralistic Results
Existential Theism vs. Atheism
Life may not have a meaning that we
little earthlings can understand.

"God is listening, but we don't get it."
Life may not have any inherent meaning.

"God is dead."
The individual defines everything!

... with a side thought, brought to you by
G. K. Chesterton:

"When a man stops believing
in God, he doesn't then
believe in nothing; he believes
in anything."

Soren Kierkegaard
Denmark, 1813-1855
Existential theist
Considered the first existentialist
May have suffered from multiple personality disorder or bipolar disorder.
Religious, but asserted that he was religious by choice.
Observed the paradox that freedom is a punishment, not a reward; yet, mankind yearns for freedom.
Kierkegaard said that life is experienced in 3 stages.
Each stage represented a higher maturity level.
Not everybody matures enough to experience all 3 stages.
Aesthetic: pursuit of pleasure
Ethical: assumption of duty to society
Religious: obedience to a Creator
Friedrich Nietzsche
Prussia, 1844-1900
Existential atheist
Influenced Sartre
Highly recognized, often misunderstood
The Nazis hijacked his observations of the aristocracy to support their belief in a naturally superior race.
Had a history of physical, emotional, and mental breakdowns
Was being groomed for the clergy when he lost his faith (by discovering philosophy)
Believed that people tend to use religion as a crutch for avoiding decisive action
Accepted that men must accept that they are part of a material world, regardless of what else might exist
As a part of this world, humanity must live as if there is nothing else beyond life.
A failure to live, to take risks, is a failure to realize human potential.
The Will to Power
Believed that Judeo-Christian teachings ran counter to the natural instincts of humanity
The primary human instinct is "the will to power".
The strongest of the human species desire not only to survive, but to gain power over others.
Abandons Darwin's theory that humans had developed a sympathetic, "social" instinct.
Unlike other existentialists, N. didn't focus so much on dread and death.
Instead, he despaired at man's cruelty and hypocrisy -- at the "immorality that struts around masked as morality."
Wow, that was heavy. Kitten break!
Martin Heidegger
Germany, 1889-1976
Was a Nazi until the party laughed him out of office.
(Nazis laugh?)
Exisential theist
Argued that confronting the question of the meaning of being, encompassing one's own death, was central for an authentic human existence.
Identified the levels of Dasein ("being"). More on this later.
Adam probably never thought about eating the fruit of knowledge until he was prohibited from doing so.
At the moment Adam was commanded NOT to eat the fruit...
...he realized that he COULD eat the fruit, and that it might even be worth eating.
The Creator must have known that temptation was a strong human force.
Why did he give Adam a test that he was doomed to fail?
Was Adam MEANT to fail in order to allow human development?

Jean-Paul Sartre
France, 1905-1980
Existential atheist
Credited with bringing international attention to existentialism
Saw existentialism as a footnote to Marxism; more politically than philosophically motivated.
His writings examine man as a responsible but lonely being, burdened with a terrifyng freedom to choose, and set adrift in a meaningless universe.
"Existence precedes and rules essence."
First, we have an idea -- it exists.
Then, we assign language and meaning to it -- we give it an essence.
All comprehension of "essence" is limited by existing language.
Albert Camus
France, 1913-1960
Existential atheist
An absurdist engaged in existentialism
Absurdism: asserts that man's search for inherent meaning will ultimately fail and is therefore absurd.
Suggested that existentialism was more methodology than philosophy -- applied existentialism was "philosophical suicide"
"I call the existential attitude philosophical suicide. How else to start from the world's lack of meaning and end up by finding a meaning and a depth to it?"
To summarize...
Existentialism searches for meaning and self-determination.
Focus is on the individual.
Humanity's goodness is not ruined by society or external forces.
Life is suffering.
One last kitten break...
Full transcript