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What is the meaning of my life? What is my purpose? Your Assignment • Please take time to carefully read the information in this presentation. • Take notes on your handout as you go, and please jot down questions you may have. • The information contained herein is complex and will require thought on your part. • Please take your time, read carefully, and think thoughtfully about the information. • The presentation is about 70 slides long, it should take you about one to two hours to carefully review it. Vocabulary to Know Existentialism: A philosophy that began in the 19th century and became fashionable in the 20th century, post World War II years, as a way to reassert the importance of human individuality and freedom. Philosophy: (1) The rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct; (2) Any system of belief, values, morals, or tenets; (3) A personal outlook or viewpoint. Belief: A state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing. Morals: Perception of what is right or wrong according to religion, society, or the individual. Understanding Existentialism “No Excuses!” • “The message of Existentialism […] is that every one of us, as an individual, is responsible — responsible for what we do, responsible for who we are, responsible for the way we face and deal with the world, responsible, ultimately, for the way the world is. It is, in a very short phrase, the philosophy of 'No excuses!' We cannot shift that burden onto God, or nature, or the ways of the world.” - Professor Robert Solomon Fundamental Question: What do you know with absolute certainty? “I think, therefore, I am.” Existentialism begins with the idea that your existence is the only original certainty. You might not know anything else, but you at least know you exist (in some way) because you are thinking. Existentialism holds that your existence is your pre-eminent truth and reality. Existentialism Main Ideas • The individual has the sole responsibility for finding meaning in life • Despite absurdity, alienation and boredom, one must live life with passion and sincerity. • “Any life-view with a condition outside it is despair." For example… • If a dancer loses her leg in an accident, her despair is overwhelming unless she realizes that her existence and reason for being was never dependent on her identity as a dancer. Once this crisis is resolved, she can continue life without despairing. • It is possible to “despair without despairing” • Identification as a dancer was not true “reality” • Existentialism is not nihilism. "Nihilism" is the belief that nothing matters. Existentialism is the attempt to confront and deal with meaninglessness...to not succumb to nihilism or despair: to not give up or avoid responsibility. • So Existentialism is the opposite of nihilism: the nihilist says "There is no god, no heaven or hell, so screw it: there can be no right or wrong. Let's party!" The Existentialist says "There is no god, no heaven or hell, so you and I alone must figure out how to make life meaningful and good -- we must, in fact, work without cosmic aid to figure out what 'good' itself is.“ • Note: Not all existentialist are atheists. Many existentialists do believe in God, but they look to themselves, not God, to find their own meaning and purpose. • Many existentialists argue that only through a return to faith can we battle nihilism. • So/But, if there is any room in this harsh human reality for any meaning at all, it exists strictly and only at a human level, rather that at a cosmic or metaphysical one. • And it must be created. But the existentialist realizes that even our greatest, most beautiful, most heroic creations live and die with us as individuals, as cultures. • If my love for my spouse or child has any meaning at all, it is because I make it so -- I will such meaning into existence -- but that meaning dies with us; if a moral or ethical life or society has any meaning, that meaning dies off with that life or society. • Thus, any meaning in our lives, our world will be: • Created through our own free will • Fleeting, transitory, individual, subjective • Still ultimately meaningless in terms of some ultimate "big picture,” because there is no bigger picture. • But does this matter? Does the fact that you and your loved ones only exist for 100 years, tops, really negate the value of that life, while it is lived? • The Existentialist says "no, of course not; if this is all the meaning there is, it logically follows it is the only value there is -- thus it is of the utmost value and importance. • Life is rendered more valuable, not less." • This is vital to note: Existentialists are looking for a way out of man’s inhumanity to man. Our suffering may not have any “higher” or ultimate cosmological value, but it is suffering none-the-less. • The Existentialist says, even if there is no higher meaning, even if existence is ultimately absurd, we are still “forced” by existence (the fact that we are alive) and chance to live out our days. • We cannot blame God for tragedies and events like the Holocaust; thus, we must blame ourselves when horror (or "the horror, the horror...") occurs, and we must look to ourselves to ensure such horror happens rarely. Existentialist Philosophers Kierkegaard is considered to be the first existential philosopher. However, unlike other existentialists who do not believe in God, Kierkegaard did. His work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual," giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking, highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. The scientist can learn about the world by observation, but Kierkegaard denied that observation could reveal the inner workings of the spiritual world. He wrote: “What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know […]. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die." Soren Kierkegaard 1813-1854 Danish – Lutheran OBJECTIVE TRUTH: Comes from Externals (Things Beyond Us) SUBJECTIVE TRUTH: Comes from Within Us Kierkegaard’s writings are the beginning of modern existentialism. For him, the individual’s existence is where it all starts. Kierkegaard believed people in the 19th Century to be in despair over being human. People didn’t want to exist outside of the crowd. He argued that a person who ‘follows the crowd’ does not choose his or her own identity and therefore can not live life passionately as an individual. This amounted to not existing. The problem for the individual is (in Kierkegaard’s view) that God has physically hidden himself from us. There is an “infinite abyss” between us and God. Therefore, we must struggle to make decisions in “absolute isolation” from God. BUT HOW? Objective reason is of no value: when God deals with us as individuals, His commands are often irrational and unique to the individual. Kierkegaard refers to such episodes as the: “Teleological Suspension of the Ethical”: Instances where individuals are commanded by God to act irrationally and/or in ways outside the ethical norm – for a specific purpose. “Teleological Suspension of the Ethical” Example: God’s Command to Abraham to Sacrifice his son, Isaac. If you remember the Abraham and Isaac story: Abraham really loved his son Isaac, and God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Kill him for faith. And Abraham, despite loving his son and otherwise being a perfect dutiful father, swings the knife down on his son at the altar. Basically, Abraham has a rational duty to his son. Killing him for God is completely irrational and unethical. Yet, in his faith, Abraham “suspends ethics and rationality” and gives himself up completely to God. (At that moment Abraham had no logic, no past, no future, no telos) It is a “Leap Of Faith.” (BTW, if you don't know how the story ends, God sends an angel down to save Isaac just in time from under the knife.) Therefore, according to Kierkegaard, since God’s commands are often irrational and unique to the individual: TRUTH IS SUBJECTIVE FAITH IS IRRATIONAL (not based on reason & logic). While some would argue that God only occasionally commands some to act outside the norm, Kierkegaard holds that this is the way all religious experience operates. “Then how am I supposed to know what to do?” If Kierkegaard is right, we must make decisions without any means of justifying our choices. This uncertainty then creates ANGUISH and ANXIETY in us. “I must find the truth that is true for me…. the idea for which I can live or die.” Since objective reason is not a guide in making decisions, we cannot know before hand which choices will be right – therefore, we must act by taking a blind “leap of faith.” Subjective Morality is Best • Objective Morality – coming from outside ourselves (religion, society, rules, etc.) may help us to be “good” or “moral,” but they also allow us to “make excuses” or look to someone else for the answers. • Subjective Morality – coming from inside ourselves is preferred. Existentialists Moral beliefs example: Religion barrier (moral) vs. Own responsibility (moral) Greater belief in God = Greater Corruption in Country Less belief in God = Less Corruption in Country Why? Jean-Paul Sartre (sahr-truh) 1905 – 1980 French - Atheist Jean-Paul Sartre is one of a group of existentialists who stress that the natural state of the universe is chaos and that order, created by man, is artificial. According to these existentialists, we must create our own order out of this inherent chaos. The main idea of Sartre is that we are, as humans, “condemned to be free.” This theory relies upon his position that there is no creator, therefore human beings have no essence before their existence. This forms the basis for his assertion that since one cannot explain his own actions and behavior by referencing any specific human nature, one is necessarily fully responsible for those actions. “We are left alone, without excuse.” How did we come to be? To Sartre, the human condition is a paradox. Thanks to Descartes, we know we exist: “I think, therefore, I am,” but for Sartre, there is no explanation of how or why. “Existence Precedes Essence” Since we do not know how we came to exist, there is no way of knowing a purpose for our existence. Therefore, according to Sartre, we have an existence, but no essence (a purpose for which we were designed). We exist in “freedom” because our existence is surrounded by “nothingness.” Sartre is not happy about our freedom. He actually says we are “condemned to be free.” (trapped in an existence for which we have no way of making any sense of our purpose) “NAUSEA” occurs when we struggle to find purpose or reason in our existence in NOTHINGNESS. Man’s Attempt to Become God “Nausea” leads us to an attempt to create a purpose for our existence. Sartre says to attempt to create the purpose for one’s existence is to attempt to be God. He didn’t mean that we strive to be the master of the universe, rather that we seek to create a purpose for our life. Man’s Attempt to Become God However, in this attempt, we can only fail, because there are no logical answers to the questions: “How did we come to be?” “What are we to be?” “Hell is other people” Another way we try to create a purpose for our existence is through relations with other people. However, this also doesn’t work and creates further frustration leading to Sartre’s axiom: “Hell is other people.” “Man is a futile passion.” How should we then live? One might conclude that Sartre’s POV places little significance on the actions of humans. On the contrary, with our total freedom comes total responsibility (even in situations involving duress and oppression). “There are no innocent victims in war.” We must act in “Good Faith” rather than “Bad Faith.” We act in “good faith” when we act in a way that acknowledges our freedom. Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most famous, controversial philosophers of the modern era, notoriously declared that “God is dead.” By this he means that religion can no longer offer people a sufficient moral code – morality is no longer selfevident; we have to figure right from wrong for ourselves. In Nietzsche's view, recent developments in modern science and the increasing secularization of European society had effectively 'killed' the Abrahamic God, who had served as the basis for meaning and value in the West for more than a thousand years. Nietzsche also considered the role of making free choices, particularly regarding fundamental values and beliefs, and how such choices change the nature and identity of the chooser. Nietzsche claimed the death of God would eventually lead to the loss of any universal perspective on things, and along with it any coherent sense of objective truth. Frederick Nietzsche (nee-chuh) (1844-1900) German - Atheist Throughout history, Western thought was centered around philosophy and religion, from whose tenants meaning, morality and purpose for life was given. Nietzsche predicted that gradually, belief in religion and philosophy would diminish, moving civilization towards a day where people would have no “belief” in anything. Nietzsche called this “belief in nothing” NIHILISM Nietzsche predicted that the emergence of science would in large part drive humanity’s march toward nihilism. NOTE: The Scientific Revolution had already began about one hundred years prior to Nietzsche. It was also about at this time that DARWIN and his THEORY OF EVOLUTION emerged. “God is Dead” Nietzsche proclaimed the dawning of this era of nihilism and atheism with his famous statement, “God is Dead.” He believed that without God, man is free, and this will unleash the individual’s WILL TO POWER, thereby driving the ascent of civilization. This would also free the strongwilled to lord over the weakminded. “God is Dead.” In this environment, there would be those with a MASTER MENTALITY and those with a SLAVE MENTALITY. In the nihilism that would dominate the thought of the next century (the 1900s), he prophesized grand scale war, totalitarianism, genocide, and…. The rise of the SUPERMAN, the free and emboldened leader who acts “beyond (without regard to the concept of) good and evil.” In other words, a champion of untruth, injustice, and having all things his way. Popular existential writer. More optimistic than Sartre. Developed the concept of “the absurd” much of our life is built on the hope for tomorrow yet tomorrow brings us closer to death and is the ultimate enemy; people live as if they didn't know about the certainty of death; once stripped of its common romanticisms, the world is a foreign, strange and inhuman place; true knowledge is impossible and rationality and science cannot explain the world: their stories ultimately end in meaningless abstractions, in metaphors. "From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all.” Albert Camus (1913-1960) French - Atheist (ka-moo) Persisting Through the Absurd Camus believed that when we confront the absurdity of existence and realise the world is completely random and meaningless we experience a deep ‘nihilism.’ However, far from contemplating suicide in the face of such absurdity we must conquer our fate. We need to become the ‘absurd hero’ like Sisyphus. In the myth of Sysiphus, he is condemned to ceaselessly roll a rock up a hill, only to have it roll down to the bottom. However, Sisyphus conquers his absurd situation and lives life with a love and passion for which the god’s condemned him. He determines his meaning and gives life value in a world without either. The Inevitability of Death Camus believed that life is absurd but can still have meaning. The fact that it cannot be made rational is what makes it wonderful. Camus begins with the issue of facing the inevitability of death. We must accept that we will one day die – and then chase meaning in life. The champion of a just but lost cause is Camus’ hero. (Like Sisyphus) Existentialism “Big Ideas” We search for the meaning of our existence and the meaning of our death and suffering. Reality is a lived experience. We need to confront alienation and anxiety and the absurdity of life with courage. We should live a moral life because even though I determine my own essence, I share a common human condition. Nothing defines you but you. Seven Common Themes of Existentialism Existence Precedes Essence Human life is understandable only in terms of an individual man’s existence, his particular experience of life. A man lives rather than is, and every man’s experience is unique, radically different from everyone else’s and can be understood truly only in terms of his involvement in life or commitment to it. There is no Platonic ideal of man—there is no universal of human nature of which each man is only one example. Don’t ask “What is mankind?” Ask: “Who am I?” The existentialist insists that each person is unique. He is an entire universe—the center of infinity. Anxiety and Angst Despair, Anxiety and Angst (fear and dread) can enhance our understanding of ourselves. Happiness alone will not lead to a deep understanding of existence. Anxiety and Angst • Grasping all of the above normally leads to “existential despair” or “angst”, or “anxiety”. Our lives appear both meaningless and we are entirely responsible for our lives. Understanding this can big a big ol' bummer, and it often scares the sh!t out of people to realize they alone are responsible for the course of human events. It is relatively easy to say "Well, God has a plan, so those 20,000,000 people the Nazis killed or those 3,500 who died on 9/11 must have died for a reason." But it is terrifying to say "All those deaths truly occurred simply because we let them. Thus, we are to blame, and only we can stop this from occurring." • And the more we realize that humans are selfish idiots, the more anxiety we are likely to experience. Anxiety & Angst “Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up?” –William Faulkner at his Nobel Prize Causes of Fear, Trembling, and Anxiety Lost optimism from the Age of Enlightenment that problems can be solved through reason, science. Nature can be “conquered.” WW I Great Depression WW II and Holocaust Nuclear threat Environmental crises Terrorism 9/11 Too many moral choices! We cannot resolve ethical questions by subjecting our moral consciousness to an impersonal deliberative perspective. Ethical questions are essentially firstperson. Why am I here and is there purpose to life? Am I simply a small speck in the universe in a world that has no meaning? Where am I? What is this thing called the world? Who is it who has lured me into the thing and now leaves me here? Who am I? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted? Absurdity Absurdity: life is absurd and reason is impotent to deal with the depths of human life Human reason is relatively weak and imperfect and there are dark places in human life which are “non-reason” and to which reason scarcely penetrates. Absurdity: life is absurd and reason is impotent to deal with the depths of human life Myth of Phaedrus—Plato describes the psyche in the myth of the chariot which is drawn by the white steeds of the emotions and the black unruly steeds of the appetites. The driver of the chariot is Reason who holds the reins which control the horses and the whip to subdue the surging black steeds of passion. Only the driver, the rational nature, is given human form; the rest of the psyche, the non-rational part, is given a lower, animal form. This separation and exaltation of reason is carried further in the allegory of the cave in the Republic. Absurdity: life is absurd and reason is impotent to deal with the depths of human life Existentialism insists upon reuniting the lower or irrational parts of the psyche with the higher. It insists that man must be taken in his wholeness and not in some divided state, that whole man contains not only intellect but also anxiety, guilt, and the will to power—which modify and sometimes overwhelm the reason. A man seen in this light is fundamentally ambiguous, if not mysterious, full of contradictions and tensions which cannot be dissolved simply by taking thought. We all experience a feeling of being separate, lost, confused, out of place, etc. Modernity has only added to this problem. We are alienated by our own creations; science, capitalism, politics, religion, technology, etc. We need to confront alienation with dignity. Alienation Alienation or Estrangement Because of the dissociation of reason from the rest of the psyche, we have SCIENCE, a hallmark of Western civilization. Since the Renaissance we have progressively separated man from concrete earthy existence, and forced him to live at a high level of abstraction. We have collectivized individual man out of existence, driven God from the heavens or from the hearts of men. Man lives in alienation from God, from nature, from other men, from his own true self. Man’s estrangement from nature has been a major theme in literature since Rousseau and the Romantic Movement, and is not really exclusive property of the existentialists. Alienation or Estrangement The existentialists worry about the walls of industry and technology which shut us off from nature and from one another. Crowding of people into cities Subdivision of labor Burgeoning of centralized government Growth of advertising, propaganda and the mass media of entertainment and communication These things drive us asunder by destroying individuality and making us live on the surface of life, content to deal with things rather than people. The Encounter with Nothingness If man is alienated from nature, God, neighbors, and self, what is left? People who seemingly have “everything” feel empty, uneasy, discontented. Nothingness appears in existentialism, as the placeholder of the possibility. Freedom Existentialists write about the loss of freedom or the threat to it, or the enlargement of the range of human freedoms. Freedom means human autonomy. Sartre said that we are condemned to freedom. Because there is no God, we must accept individual responsibility for our own becoming. Nothing explicitly implies that in becoming a free individual one becomes a virtuous person. The religious existentialists include God as a factor. They stress the man of faith rather than the man of will. Man’s essential nature is God-like – and we should not alienate ourselves from it. We should heal the chasm between the two, that is, to find salvation. Freedom is the acceptance of responsibility for choice and a commitment to one’s choice. Death Death is a facet of life and we must comprehend it to really understand living. Living life as if death does not exist is irresponsibility. Existentialism in Movies A primary existential principal is that “moral values are “created” rather than “discovered.” Fight Club is a movie that conflicts with societal norms and rules to create a world of new “morals” and “rules” and “values.” Sartre attests that to choose between this or that, one course of action over another, is to affirm the value of that which is chosen. The characters of Fight Club are constantly dealing with the inevitability of their own deaths, Tyler accepting it, Marla wanting it, and the narrator struggling to confront it. Each character’s approach to death reflects his or her own constructed moral values. Groundhog Day is a classic comedy. But it is mush more than that. This movie is an experiment in existentialism, where the main character is “trapped” in a never ending cycle, repeating the same day over and over. The movie illustrates to us that if we find our lives are governed by rhythm, rote and routine, or that we go through life shallowly, mechanically, like a sleepwalker rather than an explorer, that we can choose to improve ourselves, find meaning in art and science, glory in little accomplishments, and find solace and joy in the company of friends and loved ones. The existentialism in this film shows that we give purpose to our own lives. Existential Music • The Doors • Pink Floyd • Nine Inch Nails Existentialist novels • • • • • • • Grendel, John Gardner Fight Club, Palahniuk Journey to the End of the Night, Celine Man’s Fate, Malraux Steppenwolf, Hesse The Woman in the Dunes, Abe Nausea, Sartre • • • • The Trial, Kafka Invisible Man, Ellison Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky The Stranger, Camus – “I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating.” “I must find the truth that is true for me…. the idea for which I can live or die.” • As we read Grendel, pay attention to how he struggles with “the truth that is true for him.” What discoveries does he make? What ideas does he embrace? What ideas does he dismiss? In the end, what is Grendel’s life philosophy? • Also, begin to think of how you would answer the question: “what is truth that is true for you – the ideas for which you can live or die?” What is your personal life philosophy? You do not need to answer this now – but please start thinking about it, as you will write a paper on it later.