Existentialism School Of Thought
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Philosophy|
|✅ Wordcount: 1925 words||✅ Published: 5th May 2017|
Existentialism is a school of thought that attempts to break down much of the foundations of thought itself, to allow for reasoning unbridled by preconceived notions. In a sense the idea attacks the structure of normal reasoning, in an effort to render what is thought to be known as questionable rather than inherent. However, it goes much deeper than that. It is a way of thinking that is almost impossible to sum up in a single sentence, paragraph, or even page. One could say it is a theory meant to allow human thinking and existence to define itself. While it can be explained, it somewhat of a theory that invents itself while it explains itself, while rendering every most every truth it creates about itself completely vulnerable to be reshaped by the truths it will later create. In fact many existential thinkers would reject the title of existentialist as to define their work, went against the very nature of their work.
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One of the earliest existentialist thinkers, Martin Heidegger, with his vast interest in experiences common to all humans, such as death and anxiety, addressed such definitive problems in existential thought as the relationship between an individual’s self and the world around him. Ushered in many ideas that a more solidly defined existentialism would later draw its roots from. Heidegger’s interests and works involved topics, such as nihilism and the rejection of science. Another common ground most existential thinking roots itself in is phenomenology. Edmond Husserl’s phenomenological work was a resource for Heidegger’s transcendent views of the experiences of humans, stating that is found not as a property of an individual but rather it is a framework where the human mind meets the world around it. Other influential philosophers to Heidegger were Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, wherein lies the seed of the existence problem.
Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, while both also focus on the meaning of the individual in a worldly setting, approach the problem from a more religious perspective. Kierkegaard’s view of existence states that the meaningfulness of a human emerges from the conflict of ethics and religious faith. Somewhat of a prelude to the concept of “authenticity,” Kierkegaard claims that subjectivity is truth, contrasting the objective view of the crowd which would make decisions or view reality based on the social norms of a given age. He feels that an individual seeking truth to their existence through objective science is an individual relieving their self of the burden of being their self. Nietzsche’s while viewing existence similarly, takes a more nihilistic approach, searching for meaning in the absence or collapse of theism and morality. Avoiding the existence of a norm, he would say that rather than a governing norm setting the standard or pace for the work, the norm should be internal to the work. Since the driving force in the lives of most men is the presence of an intrinsic meaning to life, nihilism could very easily be viewed as a philosophy of despair. Without a given reason to live, many would have no will to live. Nietzsche would see such an individual as weakly constituted, since he feels that the absence of such an intrinsic meaning provides an opportunity for the strong willed or creative individual to create meaning for their self. Where most would view the social norms as the responsibility of anyone in a society, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche would say that one who accepts those social norms is essentially forfeiting his worldly responsibility. With the idea of creating meaning or reason through living life, as opposed to living life for the sake of a given meaning or reason, these philosophers set the stage for the idea to be processed into something more systematic.
Moving further into an era of thinking that would finally be referred to as ‘Existentialism’ rather than bits and pieces of radical thinking, the work of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre dives deep into the problem of existence. Focusing heavily on the individual’s place in the world and giving meaning to the existence of every individual. It states that though the individual is not simply so powerful and meaningful that it transcends this world, the individual is however, transcendent to this world in that the individual has the power to create their own meaning of life while wrapped up in the very act of living it. Sartre’s mantra is “existence precedes essence.” This phrase is about as close as one can get to summarizing existentialism in a few words. The governing ideas in existentialism explain that what it means to be human simply cannot be explained, since that meaning is developed during the process of living life as a human. While again, this can be a depressing view since many would prefer to part of a greater whole, or existing for the purpose of a higher potential, it can be interpreted to show that we in fact are the higher potential, since we create our own meaning rather than bend to the will of a predetermined meaning. The human consciousness allows humans to constantly shape their own existence, thus shaping the world around them as they go along. Not only would it be difficult and uncomfortable for a sculptor to sit on his pottery wheel and stare at a lump of clay sitting in a chair as it whirs past his view with every rotation, it would also be very counterproductive.
Entities which are not human have fixed properties which define them as well as their value in the world. For instance a stapler is an entity that staples. It was created with the purpose of stapling and its value as an entity lies in how well it can staple. So to staple is the essence of that entity. If it does not sufficiently pierce a stack of paper with a bracket shaped piece of metal, it does not have the option to instead choose to be a pair of scissors. However it does posses a weight and size, so a human using such an insufficient stapler, could choose to instead use it as a paperweight but this would be an improper use of a stapler as far as the stapler’s essence is concerned. While a human does posses properties such as weight and size, much like the stapler, the human is the only one of the two which can choose how to allocate those properties and in the absence of a given essence, there is no rule to govern what is proper and improper use of a human, except those rules developed by the human entity itself.
With no predetermined value of a human, there is no governing rule to decide which human’s governing rules should govern the rules of all humans. So every human is left to invent their own rules of life, and when viewed from a subjective stance, one clearly cannot simply produce a list of such rules which will work in all situations, and thus must constantly invent new rules as their life progresses. Such a method would render these ‘rules’ to not be rules at all, but instead methods specific and useful to the given situation. Where a being such as a stapler instantiates its essence, which is to staple, at any moment that it is used to staple, a human being almost reverses the process, creating moments of essence through instantiating his or her consciousness in every moment of existence. If you are stapling, for the moment that you have committed yourself to the act of stapling, your essence has become to staple. Had you not previously existed with the desire to fasten two pieces of paper to each other, then that essence could not possibly have been produced. In the same manner you chose to staple you could choose to forfeit the task in mid press, leaving a half extended staple and an indent in your stack of paper, at which point your essence would become that of a being who aborts the task of stapling. Just the same you could never have arrived at this essence without previously existing.
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So in an existential light, the meaning of existence comes to be at moment where properties of life and the nature of the world around the human meet the human’s ability to decide what is or is not a property and how that property is to be put to effect. It is in the relationship of two key points in existential thought known as facticity and transcendence that human life arrives at existence. Facticity represents information that can be attained through third person investigation. One person viewing another could factually state their height, weight, skin color, race, class, hair color and number of other things about them. Just as one could take a third person stance on themselves and objectify their web of beliefs, character traits, likes and dislikes. The common point of view on such investigation would state that facticity manifests itself in your moods or the outcomes of a situation on your life, as a burden of sorts. One might say that since you stepped in a puddle, you are now sad, as the feeling of sadness has been placed on your shoulders due to your careless mistake of stepping into water. A multitude of means could be used to determine why one would conclude such facticity from this event. Whether they fear germs in the puddle, ruined their expensive work shoes, or simply dislike being wet, the burden of sadness has been allocated to them and for the time being represents the facticity of their life. Transcendence refers to the factual as it always emerges in light of the possible. The possible is a result of choices and decisions, not forces. While forces govern the tendency of a disturbed puddle to splash the disturber, there are no forces outside of one’s own mind set and internal choices to govern the resulting sadness. With such a transcendent ability to choose happiness over sadness, it seems unreasonable to choose to be sad.
In this light existentialism can reject negative interpretations of the belief and show itself as humanism. In Sartre’s work entitled “Existentialism is a Humanism” he clearly defines ways in which existentialism can be extremely beneficial to humans, rather than a depression lack of reason or meaning for existence. With a race of beings so capable of constantly reinventing their own essence and the ability to make choices from a truly objective view point, limitless possibilities are opened up for the progress of existence. While a lion may not be smart enough to willingly and understanding allow a smarter being to make choices for it, for instance a human cannot reason with a lion why it should stay in its cage or why it should go to school and learn about a given trade so it can make a living later in life, it is also true that a lion cannot make its own choice to not become aggressive when threatened nor can it retain information about computer engineering in a manner which will allow the lion to become a successful computer engineer. The lion can only be forced and trained to work with those around it and it can never work with others for the sake of the benefit of the race as a whole. It seeks only to play out its instincts and desires, without the ability to consciously redirect either of them.
In the view of the existentialist, to forfeit subjectivity and choice in order to replace it with following norms or given beliefs, is to forfeit what it is to be human, or according to many philosophers such as Sartre, the burden and responsibilities of being a human.
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