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Existentialism & Existentialists. Existentialist Questions If human life is absurd, empty, meaningless, leading only to death, can anything of value be.

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Presentation on theme: "Existentialism & Existentialists. Existentialist Questions If human life is absurd, empty, meaningless, leading only to death, can anything of value be."— Presentation transcript:

1 Existentialism & Existentialists

2 Existentialist Questions If human life is absurd, empty, meaningless, leading only to death, can anything of value be rescued from it? If we are thrown into a completely desolate and forlorn existence, why do anything?


4 What is not Existentialism? Existentialism does not support the following statements: The good life is a life of wealth, pleasure and honor. Accept what is and that is enough in life. People are good by nature, but ruined by society.

5 Existentialism Defined Existential philosophy is more a trend or attitude than it is coherent school or movement because it is intensely subjective. Existentialist thinkers tend to vary greatly in their concerns and conclusions. In general, existentialism emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe while denying any special or unique essence that humans might have. Human existence is considered ultimately unexplainable, but existentialism also stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.

6 Noteworthy Existentialists Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Founder Danish & Christian Contributions: “Anxiety,” the uncertainty of the world Nietzsche (1844-1900) German & Atheist Contributions: “God is dead,” “revaluation of all values,” subjectivity Sartre (1905-1980) French & Atheist Contributions: “Existence precedes essence,” “freedom”

7 Because we don’t know our real place in the world, we should feel a general feeling of dread, of sadness, not directed at anything specific. Existentialists reject happiness, optimism, sense of well-being. If we feel happy, we have a superficial, foolish, naive understanding of life. Theme: Anxiety

8 All existentialists stress the importance of passionate individual action in deciding questions of morality and truth. They have insisted that personal experience and acting on one’s convictions are essential in arriving at the truth. Thus, understanding a situation by someone involved in it is superior to “objective” understandings. Theme: Subjectivity

9 Most philosophers since Plato have held that the highest ethical good is the same for everyone. Existentialists don’t agree. They insist that the highest good for the individual is to find his or her own unique vocation. Theme: Moral Individualism “I must find a truth that is true for me… the idea for which I can live or die!” --Soren Kierkegaard

10 Theme: “Existence precedes essence” Humans have no fixed, unchanging essence which makes them human. Instead, your essence - what makes you you - is created by your existence. Your existence, in turn, is determined by your choices. Thus, the responsibility for who you are lies with you.

11 Theme: Choice and Commitment Perhaps the most important theme in existentialist writing for everyday people is that of choice. Humanity’s primary distinction is the freedom to choose. Existentialists hold that human beings do not have a fixed nature, or essence, like animals and plants and rocks: each human makes choices that create his or her own nature. Freedom of choice entails commitment and responsibility. Because individuals are free to choose their own path, they must accept the risk and responsibility of following their commitment wherever it leads.

12 Definition: Something is absurd when it is explicitly contrary to reason and rationality. Synonyms include paradoxical, meaningless or nonsensical. Theme: Absurdity In Existentialism, "absurdity" is the necessary result of our attempts to live a life of meaning and purpose in an indifferent, uncaring universe.

13 We are all alienated, according to existentialists, from other people in society, from our actual desires and wants, from the product of our daily work, from science and medicine and technology, from bureaucracy, big business, and government. We are “hemmed in by otherness.” This leads to dread/anxiety/nausea! Theme: Alienation

14 A Existentialist Summary As adults we are usually parts of the social mass, the anonymous 'they.‘ (See also “The Man” or “The Machine.” The complex processes of everyday life so completely absorb our attention that we may have lost contact with our deepest inner selves. We live basically scattered and fragmented lives, pushed and pulled this way and that by the changing tides of fad and fashion. Our hectic and 'involved' way of life effectively shields us from the disclosure of our underlying existential anxiety, guilt, and death. Our culture provides ready-made ways of interpreting everything. By keeping ourselves preoccupied with small talk, chatter, and "everydayness," we lose the uncanniness of existence in a tranquilized and familiar world.

15 Summary (cont.) Thrown into the middle of a fully-formed human culture, each of us develops a social personality by slightly modifying the “they-self.” We seldom make real choices of our own; rather we are carried along by the expectations of our culture. We grow into fundamentally irresolute people, lost in what 'they' say. To be sure, we may be deeply involved and busily engaged, but whose life- purposes are we pursuing? We have become responsible adults but inauthentic persons. Or, as Allison in The Breakfast Club said, “When you grow up, your heart dies.”

16 What it means for us today… Existentialism in our language: “Be yourself!” “You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do!” “Whatever…” “I’m OK, you’re OK” The themes of individualism, freedom of choice, and subjectivity have taken root through the hippies, civil liberties groups, punk rock…and maybe even in you.

17 Nothingness (the end)

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