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History of Existential Thought

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1 History of Existential Thought
Kortman English 10 (courtesy of Scott MacMillan 2006)

2 Existential thought provides a direction for humanity, as it highlights the possibilities of human existence and what can be for individual life.

3 Origins ‘Ex-ist’ means to ‘stand out against’
Individuals stand out against the world, society, institutions & ways of thought Dangers of belonging to the crowd Dates back to Socrates Many perspectives – subjective philosophy Expose ‘illusions of everyday life’ Many who have contributed do not consider themselves existentialists

4 Endeavor to grasp reality [and] arises directly out of Western man’s anxiety, estrangement, and conflicts” (May, 1959: 19). Attempts to understand how events in life fit into a larger context…involves the process of creating and discovering meaning, which is facilitated by a sense of coherence (order, reason for existence) and a sense of purpose (mission in life, direction)” (Reker & Chamberlain, 2000: 1).

5 Existentialism, as a way of thinking about and depicting the world, emerged most strongly out of the tremors and that shook modern Europe beginning in the nineteenth century. The inhuman, alienating implications of modern capitalist production and warfare, the unfulfilled promise of science, the decline of religious certitude, the challenges issued by Darwin, Freud, and modern physics – all contributed to existentialism’s claim to pertinence. Sartre and Heidegger expressed, in philosophical and literary terms, the essentials of existentialism. In so doing, they attempted to characterize aspects of the timeless nature of the human condition and to respond to the quickening pace of alienation and despair in their own era. (Cotkin, 2003: 3-4)

6 Key People Rebels who questioned place of humanity in the universe
Socrates Plato Kierkegaard Husserl Heidegger Nietzsche Camus Sartre De Beauvoir Frankl

7 Socrates 470 – 399 BC Greek Laid foundation of Western philosophy
Socratic method Sought to examine ‘I know nothing’ Socratic problem – he wrote nothing

8 Plato 427 – 347 BC Greek Socrates student Wrote in ‘dialogue’
Metaphysical dualism Author of The Republic

9 Soren Kierkegaard 1813 – 55 Considered the “father” of existentialism
First to emphasize the individual Believed in a higher power (unlike most existential philosophers) ‘Truth is subjectivity’

10 Edmund Husserl 1859 – 1938 German Father of phenomenology-
primarily concerned with making the structures of consciousness, and the phenomena which appear in acts of consciousness, objects of systematic reflection and analysis Influenced Heidegger, Sartre

11 Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 German ‘God is dead’, nihilism
Wrote The Gay Science,

12 Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 French Author of The Rebel, The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus Happiness is fleeting, we are mortal

13 Martin Heidegger 1889 – 1976 Author of Being and Time
Nature of ‘being’ - Daesin Death Inspired Sartre

14 Jean-Paul Sartre 1905 – 1980 French
Author of Being and Nothingness, Existentialism is a Humanism Existence precedes essence Bad faith – denial of freedom

15 Simone de Beauvoir 1908 – 1986 French Longtime companion to Sartre
Wrote about feminist and existential ethics Author of The Second Sex, Ethics of Ambiguity

16 The existentialist writers hope to shatter our dogmatic beliefs and lure us into giving up blindly accepted ethical norms and ideologies. Only when we successfully shed these values that we have been conditioned to uphold by various institutions – our families, schools and universities – will we be able to reach beyond them to the genuine roots of our selves and ultimately attain authenticity. The unnecessary information we have collected during our lifetimes, the ‘facts’ postulated as an integral part of the ethos of objectivity fostered by society and its institutions, are inapplicable to the sphere of human existence in which one struggles for one’s self. There, in their stead, the notion of authenticity emerges. (Golomb, 1995: 8)

17 Existentialists have asked for a life in which man continuously questions his purpose and accepts responsibility for his actions, one which truly reflects man’s special position in this world. Breisach (1962: 4-5)

18 Viktor Frankl 1905 – 1997 Austrian Psychologist
Key figure in founding existential therapy Logotherapy - “will to meaning” – meaning can be found in anything Author of Man’s search for meaning

19 Man does not simply exist, but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. - Viktor Frankl

20 Key Concepts Existence precedes Essence Alienation Despair Death
Freedom Choice Consciousness Authenticity Existential angst Existential vacuum

21 Existence precedes Essence -Sartre
In contrast to other entities, whose essential properties are fixed by the kind of entities they are, what is essential to a human being—what makes her who she is—is not fixed by her type but by what she makes of herself, who she becomes.

22 Authenticity Difficult to define Inauthentic – forced upon us, false
Red pill vs. blue pill Being true to oneself Relationship to the world Development of self Being versus having Eyes of beholder Meaningful existence

23 A person is authentic in that degree to which his being in the world is unqualifiedly in accord with the givenness of his own nature and of the world…authenticity is the primary good or value of the existential viewpoint. Bugental (1965: 31)

24 Existential Angst Danish meaning ‘dread’
Condition of insecurity and despair

25 Existentialism Today Humanistic psychology Used in therapy
concerned with the human dimension of psychology and the human context for the development of psychological theory Used in therapy Used in career counselling

26 Existential Psychology
Also known as existential therapy Viktor Frankl, Rollo May, Irving Yalom Therapists help patients understand anxiety, aloneness and make better meaningful life choices

27 If nothing else survives of all the existentialists have said, it will be impossible to forget the utter seriousness with which they have dealt with human existence. “I want honesty,” Kiekegaard is supposed to have exclaimed shortly before his death. “Truth is courage and error is cowardice,” Nietzsche added to this. And in a sense this passionate willingness to search and find and to witness for this supreme personal experiment with one’s whole personality is the core of existentialism. It forms the basis for authentic existence, is the key to the overcoming of estrangement, and gives the highest promise for the preservation of free and responsible man. (Breisach, 1962: 237)

28 Freedom vs. Determinism QW
the view that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, and action, is determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences Quickwrite: (1/2 page) Are freedom and determinism mutually exclusive? Why? What is your perspective on the issue?

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