1. Some existentialist do believe in God and some do not. Being an existentialist does not necessarily involve denying the possibility of a higher power. Existentialism is a philosophical position that advocates 1) the individual’s absolute freedom and full capacity to determine its place in the world; 2) the individual as indefinable, as outside of all systems and totalities. The individual is only defined on the basis of what they do, and with each action they change who they are. For Sartre, at least, we can only define what a person is when they have died.
Existentialism is said to begin with Soren Kierkegaard, who is a Christian existentialist. For Kierkegaard, the human individual is outside of all systems, and is irreducibly singular. He is a Christian existentialist because he claims that a personal relationship with God is the highest accomplishment of human existence. As an existentialist, he opposes what he calls “Christiandom”, which is basically organized religion in which the individual loses itself in a group mentality. Religion is a personal event for Kierkegaard, not a communal one. Christian existentialism relies on Kierkegaard’s understanding of Christianity.
Kierkegaard argued that the universe is fundamentally paradoxical, and that its greatest paradox is the transcendent union of God and humans in the person of Jesus Christ. He also posited having a personal relationship with God that supersedes all prescribed moralities, social structures and communal norms, since he asserted that following social conventions is essentially a personal aesthetic choice made by individuals. Kierkegaard proposed that each person must make independent choices, which then constitute his existence. Each person suffers from the anguish of indecision until he commits to a particular choice about the way to live.
Kierkegaard also proposed three rubrics with which to understand the conditions that issue from distinct life choices: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. 2. In this scenario, the essence of humanity, including both its end or purpose and the means to that end are all predetermined by God. Even though humans have free choice, they cannot change their God-given essence. A person might try to change his or her divine purpose of knowing and loving God by finding her true happiness in the purpose of such things like a talent or a habit.
But if there heart is made in the image and likeness of God, there heart will be restless until it rests in God. Furthermore, if one accepts there true purpose as the knowledge and love of God but then tries to make up their own means or design for reaching that goal, that attempt will also likewise fail. The essence is God-created as to both the overall purpose of humanity and the general means to that goal, and human freedom cannot change human nature. Sartre uses this example of the paper-knife in order to explain the difference between existence preceding essence and essence preceding existence for everything else.
Because the paper-knife has a pre-decided essence of opening letters or cutting apart the pages of a book, it’s useless when there are no books around. Man, on the other hand, can never be put in this position, since man has no pre-determined essence. So human beings can never be useless because they never had a previous defined use. 3. If God has created man and his nature, man cannot claim the primacy of his existence. Therefore, if existentialism “makes human life possible” in the aforementioned sense it cannot treat the question of God as a purely theological or academic issue.
On the contrary, the way how we resolve the question whether God exists or not will determine the character of human self-understanding and the general condition of man in the world. Sartre says that the problem of God’s existence is not “the issue” for existentialism. What he means by this is not that existentialism is not interested in the question but that it has already resolved it given the need of man “to regain himself” as the creator of his own world. Or better to say, human reality proves that man is responsible for himself. In other words, “nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of God’s existence”.
On the other hand, if we believe that God has created man in his own image then, according to Sartre, we have to admit that human essence, as conceived by God, precedes existence. The reasoning will have the following pattern: “If God exists, the essence precedes existence. God exists. Therefore essence precedes existence. ” 4. Sartre explains the priority of human existence in this way: “Man first exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and only then defines himself. ” Sartre does not want to say that eating and sleeping is more important than anything else which is a kind of luxury in life.
He admits the biological priority of basic functions but claims that what is built upon it is by far more decisive. As Sartre says later on, every man performs “an absolute act in breathing, eating, sleeping or behaving in any way whatever”, but this act does not constitute human essence who we are, only “a configuration” within which an already present existence shapes its own essence. To be sure, man exists “like a configuration” before he can be defined by any concept and hence his existence should be the basis for any posterior definition of his nature, not the other way round.
But his nature is that he does not have a nature, at least initially when he appears in the midst of other beings. Therefore biological life does not equal human existence nor essence. The point here is that “what man is” (the traditional nature of man) is not determined by any pre-existing essence, not even the biological nature. Man himself decides whether he is going to be a grumpy and nasty person or a kind and caring infividual, a miserable creature or an energetic and optimistic human, a murderer or an artist, an obedient subject or a free spirit…
Sartre phrases the statement (a) “existence precedes essence” as synonymous with (b) “subjectivity must be the starting point”. This is obvious from the fact that he accompanies the former with an “or”: “existence precedes essence, or, if you prefer, subjectivity must be the starting point. ” 5. Sartre phrases the statement (a) “existence precedes essence” as synonymous with (b) “subjectivity must be the starting point”. This is obvious from the fact that he accompanies the former with an “or”: “existence precedes essence, or, if you prefer, subjectivity must be the starting point.
” There are several difficulties with this though. First, even if we follow Sartre’s expectation to accept his “or” between the two propositions as indicating a synonymous meaning it remains questionable . Subjectivity is obviously taken in the Hegelian sense, as the core of autonomy and self-reflection. Second, while the contention (b) is really faith blind, (a) is not. On the contrary, theists cannot accept it if it entails the non-existence of God. 6. Sartre calls this Subjectivity but explains his meaning to avoid misunderstanding.
Subjectivity –We mean that man exists first and he is capable of realizing this. He uses his “will” to make conscious decisions and he is held responsible for his actions because his existence and free choice precedes his essence. Subjectivism can mean that an individual chooses and makes himself . In the second sense, it means that “ it is impossible for man to transcend human subjectivity. ” 7. The anguish results from the direct responsibility toward others who are affected by our actions. ANGUISH. “It is in anguish that we become conscious of our freedom. …
My being provokes anguish to the extent that I distrust myself and my own reactions in that situation. ” We must make some choices knowing that the consequences will have profound effects on others like a commander sending his troops into battle. In choosing for ourselves we choose for all humankind. We experience anguish in the face of our subjectivity, because by choosing what we are to do, we ‘choose for everyone’. When you make a decision you are saying “this is how anyone ought to behave given these circumstances. ”Many people don’t feel anguish, but this is because they are “fleeing from it.
” If you don’t feel a sense of anxiety when you make decisions, it’s because you are forgetting about your “total and deep responsibility” toward yourself and all of humanity. 8. Our choices are a model for the way everyone should choose. If we deny this fact, we are in self-deception. If we say, “Everyone will not act as I have done,” then we are giving a universal value to the denial. There are no omens; there are no signs by which to decide. We are responsible for ourselves–we are the sole authority of our lives. We cannot give up this responsibility except through self-deception or bad faith.
Because man is free and at the same time responsible. A man “who involves himeslf” cannot escape the feeling of immense, deep and total responsibility for his actions and for other men. Man is responsible not only for the person he chooses to be but also for other men. He stakes himself out by choosing both himself and all mankind. His actions are inevitably actions of a lawmaker. Man is constantly in anguish not because he makes daily trivial choices but, as Sartre stated in the discussion following the lecture, (a) because his “original choice” is constant but uncertain and (b) there is no justification for the choice made.
9. Quietism is the attitude of people who say, “Let others do what I can’t do. ” The doctrine I am presenting is the very opposite of quietism, since it declares, “There is no reality except in action. ” Moreover, it goes further, since it adds, “Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life. One of the biggest objections was that it was a pessimistic philosophy that encouraged “people to dwell in quietism of despair” .
In his essay, “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Sartre attempts to prove that existentialism is probably the most optimistic doctrine available to modern man by attempting to answer other objections brought against existentialism. However, I do not believe that Sartre is completely successful at presenting his doctrine as optimistic and giving valid responses to the many objections. 10. Sartre writes, “Values in actuality are demands which lay claim to a foundation. “
(Ibid. p.46) But if the foundation of values were found in facts, then what would be valuable would be determined by facts and my will would not be in control of its own values; my will would not be master of itself. But if my will is the source of values, then this foundation is a foundation that can be changed at any time and it is possible for me to have no values whatsoever. “It follows that my freedom is the unique foundation of value and that nothing, absolutely nothing justifies me in adopting this or that particular value, this or that particular scale of values. As a being by whom values exist, I am unjustifiable.
My freedom is anguished at being the foundation of values while itself without foundation. ” You can’t judge sincere choices, but you can judge self deceit. For example when someone blames their actions on their passions or determinism, implying that they could not help what they did and so are not responsible. Or when someone says that certain values are ‘incumbent’ on us, i. e. the values, or duties, impose themselves on us so we have to follow them, we have no choice. If someone chooses to deceive himself you can’t judge this morally, but can judge it as an error.
Furthermore you can judge it morally, because freedom can have no end but itself. To value anything is to choose it. So if we were not free to choose anything there could be no values. So freedom is the foundation of all values. So to value anything we are thereby valuing freedom itself. But we cannot value our own freedom without valuing others’ freedom. So if someone else denies that they are free, they are denying something that we value, and so we can judge them morally. Satre argued that existentialism was a kind of tough optimism.
First to realise that there is no god taking care of our action or guiding us. Subjectivism leads to a forlornness and then the despair of being responsible for our own actions and probabilities gives way to freedom. The realization that what we achieve for ourselves is up to us. When we realise and accept this state of existence we are left with only possibilities. What we do with them can become a kind of despair but hope and change is always possible. The fact ‘man is condemned to be free’. It is from this existence that we create an essence for ourselves and not the other way round.
It is a anti-fatalism and pro-determinism. By asserting that human action is futile, if not impossible, existentialism invites people to remain in a state of “desperate quietism”, resigned and passive. Existentialism itself ends up in a kind of “contemplative bourgeois philosophy” (just observing the world) lagging behind the demand of Marx’ 11th Thesis on Feuerbach which stipulates that philosophy should change the world – not only look at it. The word bourgeois in the charge was linked to luxury in the sense of being redundant and unnecessary.
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Topic: Søren Kierkegaard
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