Humans are conscious of their mortality, and must make decisions about their life.
The actions or choices that a person makes are very important.
Every person has to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, and what is good and bad.
The only nature we as humans have is the nature we make for ourselves.
The world and human life have no meaning unless people give them meanings.
Human essence or nature (the way of being in the world) is entirely and simply existence.
Existentialism is different from Nihilism, but there is a similarity.
Nihilists believe that human life does not have a meaning or purpose; Existentialism says that people must choose their own purpose.
What is it like to be a human (a person) in the world?
How can we understand human freedom (what it means for a person to be free)?
Existentialism is very often connected with negative emotions, such as anxiety (worrying), dread (a very strong fear), and mortality (awareness of our own death).
Started in mid-1800s. Flourished in post-Great War Europe, especially with the Germans. Guesses as to why?
There are many different aspects of Existentialism; therefore, we will approach our studies similarly to our Gatsby approach. As a class we will discuss the various aspects; however, you will choose one or two aspects from which to view the texts.
We are condemned to be free. -- Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre
Would a rose by any other name… The most important consideration for the individual is the fact that he or she is an individual—an independently acting and responsible conscious being ("existence")— rather than what labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories the individual fits ("essence").
“I am awesome.” “Actually, you suck.” “Nope. Awesome.” The actual life of the individual is what constitutes what could be called his or her "true essence" instead of there being an arbitrarily attributed essence used by others to define him or her.
“I think I am ethical; therefore, I am ethical.” “You have no ethics.” “Still thinking ‘ethical.’” Thus, human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life.
“I am a bird.” “Dude, seriously?” It is often claimed in this context that a person defines himself or herself, which is often perceived as stating that they can wish to be something—anything, a bird, for instance—and then be it.
“Okay, so I’m not a bird. Whatever.” However, according to most existentialist philosophers, this would constitute an inauthentic existence.
Example: Unless other genetic complications exist, you – a female – cannot say, “I am a man” and therefore be a man because this directly goes against your essence – whether you like it or not.
Ummm… ? Instead, the phrase should be taken to say that the person is (1) defined only insofar as he or she acts and (2) that he or she is responsible for his or her actions.
Roar! I surge! As Sartre writes in his work Existentialism is a Humanism: "...man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards."
Do I beat this person bloody? Of course, the more positive, therapeutic aspect of this is also implied: A person can choose to act in a different way, and to be a good person instead of a cruel person.
What will beating this person bloody do to my essence?
Ahhh… a single choice does NOT determine my essence… right? Here it is also clear that since humans can choose to be either cruel or good, they are, in fact, neither of these things essentially.
Dude, no pressure! The notion of the Absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning to be found in the world beyond what meaning we give to it.
Boo hoo, why is the world so unfair? This meaninglessness also encompasses the amorality or "unfairness" of the world.
Sooooo, Ted Bundy, Jack the Ripper, and Jeffrey Dahmer are not essencially bad people? Whatever you say, Existentialists! This contrasts with the notion that "bad things don't happen to good people"; to the world, metaphorically speaking, there is no such thing as a good person or a bad person; what happens happens, and it may just as well happen to a "good" person as to a "bad" person.
I turned into a bug! Because of the world's absurdity, at any point in time, anything can happen to anyone, and a tragic event could plummet someone into direct confrontation with the Absurd.
Don’t jump! Suicide is for Nihilists! So long as you are a rational, conscious being, you have purpose! It is in relation to the concept of the devastating awareness of meaninglessness that Albert Camus claimed that "there is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide."
My brain hurts. I don’t have a clue what this means. Facticity is a concept defined by Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness as the "in-itself", of which humans are in the mode of not being.
So I am my past choices? (No way this concept is this easy.) This can be more easily understood when considering it in relation to the temporal dimension of past: one's past is what one is in the sense that it co-constitutes oneself.
Nope. Still confused. I don’t like facticity. Can’t we just skip this part?
Sorry, Shareefa, but this is kind of important. Let’s try again…
Facticity – the concrete details of a person’s past that create freedoms and limitations. Facticities (or limits/freedoms) may include the time and place of birth, a language, an environment, an individual's previous choices, as well as the inevitable prospect of their death.
Example A person who is born without legs is limited in that they cannot walk on a beach. If future medicine develops a method of growing new legs for that person, her facticity might no longer exclude this activity.
I was born in Kuwait. It is part of my past, and it was NOT my choice… is this a limitation or a condition? Facticity is both a limitation and a condition of freedom. It is a limitation in that a large part of one's facticity consists of things one couldn't have chosen (birthplace, etc.), but a condition in the sense that one's values most likely will depend on it.
But saying we are only what our past made us isn’t reasonable because it ignores the present and future. Conditions of the present and our goals for the future also are our facticities. Conditions in past, present, and future form the freedoms and limitations that mould our essence.
If this is true, than would it be fair to say that existentialists believe: They aren’t their choices, but they are their facticities? Let’s put it to a TOK test:
Aimee Mullins Aimee Mullins was born with a genetic condition requiring amputation of both legs. Without legs she could not be a track and field athlete. Medical science has created prosthetic legs. Mullins was a track and field athlete at Georgetown University. Did advancements in medical science alter Mullins’ facticity?
But are all choices dictated by facticity? A person can deny the conditions of her own concrete past, present and future; however, this constitutes an inauthentic lifestyle.
Wasn’t existentialism supposed to be freeing for former soldiers suffering from PTSD? If thou shall not kill is part of Joe’s early facticity, but America mandates that he shall kill for his country and therefore killing is part of his present facticity, and his goal remains to follow a religious moral code and therefore gain entrance into heaven by abiding the religious facticity into which he was indoctrinated by his parents… Is killing in a war unauthentic to his essence?
Get out of jail for free card Even though one's facticity is "set in stone" (as being past, for instance), it cannot determine a person’s essence: The value ascribed to one's facticity is still ascribed to it freely by that person. So Joe decides how important that “thou shall not kill” facticity is to him…
These existentialists need to stop talking in circles. We’re getting nowhere.
How’s this for an existentialist explanation: We are our facticities; however, it is our choice as to how much value we put into any one facticity. If we put a great deal of value into a facticity, but then act contrary to that self- valued facticity, we are unauthentic. However if we do not value a facticity and we act contrary to it, we are authentic. Once again… existentialists choose their own dangerous routes.
Gotta love a good TOK J-Drama. Consider Kyo and Hiro. – Kyo has no memory of his past. – Hiro remembers everything. Both fought in WWII and killed many people. – Kyo suffered a blow to the head and does not remember the war. Knowing nothing about his role in the war, Kyo leads a rather normal life. – Hiro, though, remembers everything and feels trapped by his own past. He continues killing after the war and blames his own past for "trapping" him in this life. There is nothing essential about Hiro committing crimes, but he ascribes this meaning to his past. So is he acting authentically or not?
Facticity also includes “freedom” Freedom to choose to value or not value a facticity. For example, one may be born into a culture that does not value shoes; however, an existentialist believes it is her right to personally devalue this cultural part of her facticity and become a shoe-a-holic.
Devaluing a facticity has consequences A shoe-a-holic in an anti-shoe culture may face shunning from her community. This is her freedom. It is also her responsibility. She has freely chosen shunning by devaluing a cultural facticity.
Devaluing a facticity has consequences Does this mean her anti-shoe facticity stops existing? No. It means it is in a “mode of not being” – it is a facticity that is there but not followed. Sort of like how a black hole is there but not. The lack of a star is still felt.
So essence is facticities – but the individual decides to value or not value different facticities. A lack of value is just as powerful as a value when creating essence. In other words, the origin of one's projection will still have to be one's facticity, although in the mode of not being or valuing the facticity.
Essence is irrefutable because it is facticity – both the star and the black hole. Dr. Debs is both her American facticities and the facticities created by her devalue of many of her American facticities. I am both an American citizen and an ex-patriot.
Authentic existence involves the idea that one has to "create oneself" and then live in accordance with this self. For example, I believe strongly that the American pledge of allegiance directly infringes on my constitutional right to a separation between church and state; therefore, to remain authentic to my facticities, I never say the pledge.
What is meant by authenticity is that in acting, one should act as oneself, not as "one" acts or as "one's genes" or any other essence requires. This is the existentialist crying out: “Don’t be a sheep! You have a right to choose!”
In contrast to this, the inauthentic is the denial to live in accordance with one's freedom. But remember, an existentialist’s freedoms are also her responsibilities.
This can take many forms, from pretending choices are meaningless or random, through convincing oneself that some form of determinism is true, to a sort of "mimicry" where one acts as "one should.”
How "one" should act is often determined by an image one has of how one such as oneself (say, a bank manager, lion tamer, hobo, etc.) acts.
This image usually corresponds to some sort of social norm, but this does not mean that all acting in accordance with social norms is inauthentic
The main point is authenticity is determined by the attitude one takes to one's own freedom and responsibility, and the extent to which one acts in accordance with this freedom.
Vocab… Object – a material thing that can be seen and touched. Objective – not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. The world is an object.
Vocab… Subject – a person or thing that is being discussed, described, or dealt with. Subjective – based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions Intersubjective – existing between conscious minds; shared by more than one conscious mind.
When I am viewed by The Other, I am the subject in a shared object (the world). Existence is verified in The Look I receive from The Other.
And I can only perceive myself in The Look that I receive when interacting with The Other. (You can’t perceive yourself in a mirror… but there is a catch-22 we’ll get to in a few slides.)
Sartre's own example of a man peeping at someone through a keyhole can help clarify this: at first, this man is entirely caught up in the situation he is in; he is in a pre-reflexive state where his entire consciousness is directed at what goes on in the room. Suddenly, he hears a creaking floorboard behind him, and he becomes aware of himself as seen by the Other. He is thus filled with shame for he perceives himself as he would perceive someone else doing what he was doing, as a Peeping Tom. The Look is then co-constitutive of one's facticity.
So the existentialist is always perceiving herself through a lens of facticities.
But there’s the catch-22… The Other need not have noticed the peeping existentialist, the floor boards might have just creaked and freaked out the peeing existentialist for the existentialist to give herself The Look and therefore perceive herself. The imagined perception of The Other is enough of a “mirror” to reflect an existentialist’s essence.
In the end, an existentialist only can understand her essence through the lens of her perception of how someone else perceives her. And perception is created entirely by facticity.
The archetypal example is the experience one has when standing on a cliff where one not only fears falling off it, but also dreads the possibility of throwing oneself off.
In this experience that "nothing is holding me back", one senses the lack of anything that predetermines one to either throw oneself off or to stand still, and one experiences one's own freedom. …. Freaky…
In experiencing one's freedom as angst, one also realizes that one will be fully responsible for these consequences.
If I remain atop the cliff, I shall be killed by the bear chasing me. If I jump off the cliff, I may break my leg.
If I remain atop the desk, Ms Jacki might fire Dr Debs, and we’d not have a teacher, and we’d all fail IB English… If I jump off the desk, I could seriously damage Reem.
This is not fear. This is feeling the weight of the consequences of your choices. There will be no one to blame for the consequences EXCEPT yourself.
Existentialist despair is the loss of hope as a result of a valued facticity (defining fact) beign corrupted.
7:00am Present Facticity – I am a dancer. 7:01am Present Facticity – My legs are irreparably crushed in a car accident. 3:00pm – Present Facticity – The doctor informs me that I will never walk again.
3:00pm – Despair – I realize that a valued present facticity has become a past facticity.
Am I now a former dancer? How will I identity myself? I cannot emotionally accept that I am other facticities because the high value I placed on being a dancer. Who am I now? Am I nothing? Am I the void left by the present facticity that became a past facticity? *tear*
Remember that existentialism is a lens through which we may view the world and texts… And most existentialist philosophers weren’t “existentialists” … they just entertained aspects of the philosophy.
An author who is influenced by existentialist philosophy is not necessarily an existentialist. Don’t make that assumption.
And remember that to examine a text using the existentialist lens does not mean you must address all subsections of existentialism… Lots of existentialist philosophers disagree with large sections. Pick and choose your battles wisely!
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