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Explore the complexities of existentialism, a philosophical movement that emphasizes the absurdity of reality and the human responsibility to make choices and accept consequences. Learn about key concepts, such as choice and commitment, dread and anxiety, nothingness and death, and the idea of bad faith.
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MEDICAL WARNING: AS WITH THEORIES OF EVOLUTION, BUDDHISM, LIBERAL VS. CONSERVATIVISM (AND SO ON) THAT WE WILL LOOK AT THIS YEAR, EXISTENTIALISM DEALS WITH INTENSE THEOLOGICAL (“RELIGIOUS STUDY”) AND ONTOLOGICAL (“STUDY OF BEING”) AS WELL AS EPISTEMOLOGICAL (“STUDY OF KNOWLEDGE”) ISSUES. MR. NORMAN IS NOT ENDORSING EXISTENTIALISM AS BEING ANYTHING MORE THAN MERE THEORY. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR LEARNING THE TENETS OF EXISTENTIALISM; YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LOVE THEM OR EVEN LIKE IT ALL THAT MUCH. EXISTENTIALISM CAN BE A WEE BIT DEPRESSING IF VIEWED IN A “LIFE-IS-MEANINGLESS, GLASS-HALF-EMPTY” LIGHT. TAKE HEART! I SUGGEST YOU TAKE NOTES IF YOU WISH TO SUCCEED.
EXISTENTIALISM Which is more important: a) what you intend to be/think you are or b) is it what you do. In other words, do you think of yourself as honest and yet cheated on the last quiz (and justified it somehow)? Are you the sum of your actions or your intent? If you have bad thoughts about hurting kittens, are you a bad person?
EXISTENTIALISM A complex philosophy emphasizing the absurdity of reality and the human responsibility to make choices and accept consequences! ANDREW WYETH Christina’s World (1948)
It was during the Second World War, when Europe found itself in a crisis faced with death and destruction, that the existential movement began to flourish, popularized in France in the 1940s… GEORGIO DE CHIRICO Love Song
Big Ideas of Existentialism • Existentialism is the title of the set of philosophical ideals that emphasize the existence of the human being, the lack of meaning and purpose in life, and the solitude of human existence…
Choice and Commitment • Humans have freedom to choose • Each individual makes choices that create his or her own nature • Because we choose, we must accept risk and responsibility for wherever our commitments take us • “A human being is absolutely free and absolutely responsible. Anguish is the result.” –Jean-Paul Sartre
Dread and Anxiety • Dread is a feeling of general apprehension. Kierkegaard interpreted it as God’s way of calling each individual to make a commitment to a personally valid way of life. • Anxiety stems from our understanding and recognition of the total freedom of choice that confronts us every moment, and the individual’s confrontation with nothingness.
Nothingness and Death EDVARD MUNCH Night in Saint Cloud (1890)
Nothingness and Death • Death hangs over all of us. Our awareness of it can bring freedom or anguish. • I am my own existence. Nothing structures my world. • “Nothingness is our inherent lack of self. We are in constant pursuit of a self. Nothingness is the creative well-spring from which all human possibilities can be realized.” –Jean-Paul Sartre
TO REVIEW: An existentialist believes that a person’s life is nothing but the sum of the life he has shaped for himself. At every moment it is always his own free will choosing how to act. He is responsible for his actions, which limit future actions. Thus, he must create a morality in the absence of any known predetermined absolute values. God does not figure into the equation, because even if God does exist, He does not reveal to men the meaning of their lives. Honesty with oneself is the most important value. Every decision must be weighed in light of all the consequences of that action… Life is absurd, but we engage it!
Human existence cannot be captured by reason or objectivity ––it must include passion, emotion and the subjective… • The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. • Friedrich Nietzsche GEORGIA O’KEEFFE Sky Above White Clouds I (1962)
Bad Faith … • In social situations we play a part that is not ourselves. If we passively become that part, we are thereby avoiding the important decisions and choices by which personality should be formed
When the picture a man has of himself is provided by those who see him, in the distorted image of himself that they give back to him, he has rejected what the philosopher has called reality. He has, moreover, rejected the possibility of projecting himself into his future and existing in the fullest sense. Bad Faith
Bad Faith • when individuals negate their true nature in an attempt to become a self they are not. • Can you think of a time when you attempted (or acted) be who you were not?
One of the most important implications of bad faith is the abolition of traditional ethics and morality. Because being a moral person requires one to deny authentic impulses and change one's actions based on the will of a person other than oneself, being a moral person is one of the most severe forms of bad faith.
Albert Camus dissociated himself from the existentialists but acknowledged man’s lonely condition in the universe. His “man of the absurd” (or absurd hero) rejects despair and commits himself to the anguish and responsibility of living as best he can. Basically, man creates himself through the choices he makes. There are no guides for these choices, but he has to make them anyway, which renders life absurd…
Camus’ absurd world • The world of values is never predictable nor controllable. • A gap exists between man’s intellectual constructs (meaning) and the universe (reality). • He cannot justify new values by appeal to convention. “Americans have always valued free speech.”
Remember “Memento Mori” • No ‘essential self’– Humankind is the sum of each decision s/he makes • No social designed morals, ethics, or purpose (revenge is his purpose) • No rewards or punishments from society • No connection to history, or the future • What if God has already left us behind?
Alienation or Estrangement • From all other humans • From human institutions • From the past • From the future • We only exist right now, right here… EDGAR DEGAS “L’absinthe” (1876)
MARK ROTHKO Untitled (1968)
Dread and Anxiety MAN RAY Les Larmes (Tears)