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EXISTENTIALISM Dr Matt Lee. Introduction to ‘existentialism’ and Soren Kierkegaard – the poetic life and an alternative reason? Subject and Object in.

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Presentation on theme: "EXISTENTIALISM Dr Matt Lee. Introduction to ‘existentialism’ and Soren Kierkegaard – the poetic life and an alternative reason? Subject and Object in."— Presentation transcript:

1 EXISTENTIALISM Dr Matt Lee

2 Introduction to ‘existentialism’ and Soren Kierkegaard – the poetic life and an alternative reason? Subject and Object in philosophical thought.

3 Definition No ‘simple’ definition – a loose movement rather than a specific philosophical position – like many ‘isms’ Collection of suggestions –Sartre: existence precedes essence – self-described existentialist: key figure as he tries to use the term to motivate his philosophical project –Focus on HUMAN existence – need for new categories of thought – not just ‘existence’ in general. Both epistemological and ontological implications.

4 Definition – issues Existentialism as a name for a set of concerns – human life –Free will –Good Life –Meaning of being myself / being ‘human’ New Categories because –Science / naturalism may be useful but not enough –Reason / rationalism may be useful but not enough Not enough – to understand the ‘human’

5 Existentialists? Kierkegaard – Nietzsche – (problematically…) Heidegger – (phenomenology…) Jean-Paul Sartre – (explicitly…) Other Philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Karl Jaspers, Simone De Beauvoir, Martin Buber, Jean Wahl, Gabriel Marcel Artists Albert Camus, Jean Genet, André Gide, André Malraux, Samuel Beckett, Knut Hamsen, Eugene Ionesco, Alberto Giacommeti, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman

6 What’s the problem? Rational systems are seen to construct answers to the problem of meaning (produce explanations of human behaviour) in general or as a universal An attempt to reduce the distance between reason and the individual by not subsuming the individual in the rational system (ethics in particular) Yet I am an individual and the meaning must be a meaning that is my own (ownness – belonging) – I provide meaning, I am not provided with a meaning Kant’s categorical imperative, Utilitarians greatest good, Hegel’s ethical evolution (mutual recognition and the life of spirit/geist).

7 What’s the problem? Rational systems are seen to construct answers to the problem of meaning (produce explanations of human behaviour) in general or as a universal Yet I am an individual and the meaning must be a meaning that is my own (ownness – belonging) – I provide meaning, I am not provided with a meaning An attempt to reduce the distance between reason and the individual by not subsuming the individual in the rational system (ethics in particular) Kant’s categorical imperative, Utilitarians greatest good, Hegel’s ethical evolution (mutual recognition and the life of spirit/geist).

8 What’s the problem? Rational systems are seen to construct answers to the problem of meaning (produce explanations of human behaviour) in general or as a universal Yet I am an individual and the meaning must be a meaning that is my own (ownness – belonging) – I provide meaning, I am not provided with a meaning An attempt to reduce the distance between reason and the individual by not subsuming the individual in the rational system (ethics in particular) Kant’s categorical imperative, Utilitarians greatest good, Hegel’s ethical evolution (mutual recognition and the life of spirit/geist).

9 What’s the problem? Rational systems are seen to construct answers to the problem of meaning (produce explanations of human behaviour) in general or as a universal Yet I am an individual and the meaning must be a meaning that is my own (ownness – belonging) – I provide meaning, I am not provided with a meaning An attempt to reduce the distance between reason and the individual by not subsuming the individual in the rational system (ethics in particular) Kant’s categorical imperative, Utilitarians greatest good, Hegel’s ethical evolution (mutual recognition and the life of spirit/geist).

10 Reason as objective 1)The giving and accepting of reasons is something shared - reasons for X are ‘reasons for X to be accepted as X by everyone’ – this is precisely what makes the reasons what they are (ie; reasons rather than opinions) 2)This shared nature of reasons is the idea that they are objective – related to the object rather than dependent on the subject – “all rational people accept that…” 3)BUT…What is a human being? What is a good life? An objective answer will need to try and find something essential (water is a compound of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms) – essences: natural kinds. Things that are always the same. Is a human being always the same? Is there some essence that constitutes (makes something what it is) a human being? 4)Previous philosophers; rational animal / image of god / thinking substance – from the definition of the human as X or Y, what is the best way to live is then deduced (essentially rational, thus instincts are a non-human element, an impurity, which if overcome will make us more human than we are – better humans).

11 Reason as objective 1)The giving and accepting of reasons is something shared - reasons for X are ‘reasons for X to be accepted as X by everyone’ – this is precisely what makes the reasons what they are (ie; reasons rather than opinions) 2)This shared nature of reasons is the idea that they are objective – related to the object rather than dependent on the subject – “all rational people accept that…” 3)BUT…What is a human being? What is a good life? An objective answer will need to try and find something essential (water is a compound of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms) – essences: natural kinds. Things that are always the same. Is a human being always the same? Is there some essence that constitutes (makes something what it is) a human being? 4)Previous philosophers; rational animal / image of god / thinking substance – from the definition of the human as X or Y, what is the best way to live is then deduced (essentially rational, thus instincts are a non-human element, an impurity, which if overcome will make us more human than we are – better humans).

12 Reason as objective 1)The giving and accepting of reasons is something shared - reasons for X are ‘reasons for X to be accepted as X by everyone’ – this is precisely what makes the reasons what they are (ie; reasons rather than opinions) 2)This shared nature of reasons is the idea that they are objective – related to the object rather than dependent on the subject – “all rational people accept that…” 3)BUT…What is a human being? What is a good life? An objective answer will need to try and find something essential (water is a compound of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms) – essences: natural kinds. Things that are always the same. Is a human being always the same? Is there some essence that constitutes (makes something what it is) a human being? 4)Previous philosophers; rational animal / image of god / thinking substance – from the definition of the human as X or Y, what is the best way to live is then deduced (essentially rational, thus instincts are a non-human element, an impurity, which if overcome will make us more human than we are – better humans).

13 Reason as objective 1)The giving and accepting of reasons is something shared - reasons for X are ‘reasons for X to be accepted as X by everyone’ – this is precisely what makes the reasons what they are (ie; reasons rather than opinions) 2)This shared nature of reasons is the idea that they are objective – related to the object rather than dependent on the subject – “all rational people accept that…” 3)BUT…What is a human being? What is a good life? An objective answer will need to try and find something essential (water is a compound of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms) – essences: natural kinds. Things that are always the same. Is a human being always the same? Is there some essence that constitutes (makes something what it is) a human being? 4)Previous philosophers; rational animal / image of god / thinking substance – from the definition of the human as X or Y, what is the best way to live is then deduced (ie: if we are essentially rational, then instincts are a non-human element, an impurity, which if overcome will make us more human than we are – better humans).

14 Reason as objective 1)The giving and accepting of reasons is something shared - reasons for X are ‘reasons for X to be accepted as X by everyone’ – this is precisely what makes the reasons what they are (ie; reasons rather than opinions) 2)This shared nature of reasons is the idea that they are objective – related to the object rather than dependent on the subject – “all rational people accept that…” 3)BUT…What is a human being? What is a good life? An objective answer will need to try and find something essential (water is a compound of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms) – essences: natural kinds. Things that are always the same. Is a human being always the same? Is there some essence that constitutes (makes something what it is) a human being? 4)Previous philosophers; rational animal / image of god / thinking substance – from the definition of the human as X or Y, what is the best way to live is then deduced (essentially rational, thus instincts are a non-human element, an impurity, which if overcome will make us more human than we are – better humans). 5)The OBJECTIVE use of reason identifies ESSENCES to determine (name) TYPES OF THINGS – chairs, cars, water, wildebeast etc – answers the ‘what is this thing?’ questions.

15 The problem of ‘making the same’ 1) If we identify 10 objects, all different, as chairs then we lose the singularity of each chair (‘this chair’) whilst gaining the ability to name a set of objects

16 The problem of ‘making the same’ 1) If we identify 10 objects, all different, as chairs then we lose the singularity of each chair (‘this chair’) whilst gaining the ability to name a set of objects

17 The problem of ‘making the same’ 1)If we identify 10 objects, all different, as chairs then we lose the singularity of each chair (‘this chair’) whilst gaining the ability to name a set of objects 2)What is at stake in naming chairs is only a borderline dispute between people as to whether one thing is a chair or not…. Chair… Chair or Stool?

18 The problem of ‘making the same’ 1)If we identify 10 objects, all different, as chairs then we lose the singularity of each chair (‘this chair’) whilst gaining the ability to name a set of objects 2)What is at stake in naming chairs is only a borderline dispute between people as to whether one thing is a chair or not…. What is at stake in naming human beings is of course much more serious… 1)Major ethical implications if some people are excluded because of their gender, race or ethnicity, religion, rational capacity, age – or even simply whether they lose in a war (slavery originally of the ‘victors’ over the vanquished) 2)More individually, something is lost of the subject (of what is most mine) if we simply identify everyone subject as an object – nothing left other than the box we have been put in (ie; protesting about ‘being labelled’ – why? Misses ME)

19 The problem of ‘making the same’ 1)If we identify 10 objects, all different, as chairs then we lose the singularity of each chair (‘this chair’) whilst gaining the ability to name a set of objects 2)What is at stake in naming chairs is only a borderline dispute between people as to whether one thing is a chair or not…. What is at stake in naming human beings is of course much more serious… 1)Major ethical implications if some people are excluded because of their gender, race or ethnicity, religion, rational capacity, age – or even simply whether they lose in a war (slavery originally of the ‘victors’ over the vanquished) 2)More individually, something is lost of the subject (of what is most mine) if we simply identify every subject as an object – nothing left other than the box we have been put in (ie; protesting about ‘being labelled’ – why? Misses ME)

20 A poetic life…an alternative reason “It is commonly assumed that no art or skill is required in order to be subjective. To be sure, every human being is a bit of a subject, in a sense. But now to strive to become what one already is: who would take the pains to waste his time on such a task, involving the greatest imaginable degree of resignation? Quite so. But for this very reason alone it is a very difficult task, the most difficult of all tasks in fact, precisely because every human being has a strong and natural bent and passion to become something more and different” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript – Part 2, Chapter1) Note some key factors here: The notion of a ‘human essence’ of some sort – ‘every human being is a bit of a subject’ and ‘the passion to become something more and different’ – becoming, learning, improving Why the most difficult of tasks? – the distance of that which is most close (nose, eyeballs, habits, culture, language-eg dialect/accent) – cultivating an awareness or skill – a ‘knowing how’ rather than a ‘knowing that’ Subjectivity involves something we are but that something is becoming a subject – akin, for example, to learning to learn – process not fact

21 Why Poetic? Ongoing theme – poesis (making) versus noesis (cognition) Learn how to make ourselves a subject rather than what a subject is – HOW rather than WHAT Also, however, a notion to ‘taking something to heart’ / learning by heart – the heart as a metaphor for our ‘inner self’ (soul, subjectivity, I-hood, mine) A line of poetry expressing that which could not be expressed – telling its truth – poetry cannot be paraphrased, difficult to translate but pointless/impossible to paraphrase Learn about subjectivity then take it to heart - REDUPLICATION

22 Reduplication Truth – empirical: conformity of thought with being Idealistic: conformity of being with thought Doubled nature (two things in a particular relation constitutes a truth) Communication – Objective truth – results, learn by rote Subjective truth – possession, learn by heart I say T. It is a doubled relation (empirical or idealistic) of thought and being BUT ALSO You hear T. It is a doubled relation of how I say it and how you hear it – a distance. The distance is smallest if you listen to yourself. The truth should not be taught as though it were direct and transparent – direct communication – but rather in such a way that it enables you to hear it from yourself – indirect communication. This reduplication (I have it, express an indirect communication intended to prompt you to hear it, then you have it) constitutes a form of real repetition not of the ‘same’ but of the ‘difference’. Something makes a difference and it is this making that is to be repeated.

23 An alternative reason Central concerns – Making – process, not fixed results 1.Heart – transforming something ‘out there’ into something ‘in here’ – truth 2.Concrete not abstract – existential, about and intimate with This still involves a process of reason (argument, inference, conclusion, debate, dialogue, dialectic) but the goal of the reasoning is not an abstract gathering of knowledge but a concrete possession of the difference that makes a difference.


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