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Date posted: November 30, 2011

It deals with the problem of existence. It is an irrational trend in bourgeois philosophy. It tries to differentiate between being and existing.

The subject matter of philosophy is Being. (Essence) Science deals with existence – ie everything that belongs to the empirical world, the world of experience.

The philosophy of existentialism developed from the disillusionment and ‘waste-land feeling’ created during the World War II. It was a revolt against the existing European philosophy.

Existentialists emphasized the freedom of man. They considered human life as a series that must be made with no way of knowing conclusively what the correct choices are. Man is not a thing that is being shaped under the influence of natural and social necessity, but he should mould himself by his very act. He must continuously decide what is true and what is false, what is right and what if wrong, which to accept and which to reject. The human choice is therefore subjective. Because the individual must make his own choice without any help from external standards as laws, ethical rules and tradition. (Freedom of Choice)

Since he has freedom of choice, he is completely responsible for his choice, and for what results from his actions. So he is not to justify himself by circumstances. So freedom is necessarily followed by responsibility. Since individuals are forced to make choices for themselves, they are condemned to be free. Responsibility is the dark side of freedom. This need for responsibility leads to anxiety. They try to escape from his anxiety by ignoring or denying their freedom or responsibility, and thereby they deceive themselves. (Self-deception).

Soren Kierkgaad (1813 – 1855)
Existentialism developed with Soren Kierkgaad a Danish religious philosopher.   He was primarily a philosopher who asked searching questions as to how best, that precious and rare thing, a Human life, ought to be lived. He himself used the terms existential and existentialism in relation to his philosophizing, his heartfelt view was that life, existence, in all its aspects was subjective and ambiguous. In his view individuals must be prepared to defy the accepted practices of society, if this was necessary to their leading, what seemed to that person, to be a personally valid and meaningful life.

 In what was perhaps his earliest major work Either / Or (1843) he suggests that people might effectively choose to live within either of two “existence spheres”. He called these “spheres” the aesthetic and the ethical.

Aesthetical lives were lives lived in search of such things as pleasure, novelty, and romantic individualism. Kierkegaard thought that such “pleasure”, such “novelty”, and such “romantic individualism” would eventually tend to decay or become meaningless and this would inevitably lead to much boredom and dire frustration 

Ethical lives, meanwhile, as being lived very much in line with a sense of duty to observe societal and confessional obligations. Such a life would be easy, in some ways, to live, yet would also involve much compromise of several genuinely human faculties and potentials. Such compromise would inevitably mean that Human integrity would tend to be eroded although lives seemed to be progressing in a bourgeois-satisfactory way.

What sort of person a person tended to become was very dependent on the life choices they made and the sort of lives they subsequently led. Neither of the “existence spheres” seemed to him to offer fully satisfactory lives to Human beings

In his later works he suggested that there was a third, religious, “sphere” where people accepted that they could “live in the truth” that they were “individual before the Eternal” to which they belonged. By living in this truth people could achieve a full unity of purpose with all other people who were also, individually, living in the same truth. This is the choice that he made for himself in his own efforts to live a life which he considered to be valid.

Religious doctrine of paradox – Divine world and human world, faith and logical thinking cannot be compromised. This idea led him to a conflict with the church officials .In his later years, he revolted against religious philosophy and considered religion as irrational, on the ground that religious beliefs are subjective. It involves passion of the believer His ideas served as a source for existentialism He became involved in controversies with the Lutheran Church in Denmark – he had formed the view that the church was at that time open to being seen as worldly and corrupt and he had made some blatant public criticisms known to all.

Karl Jaspers (1883 – 1969)
He was a German existentialist psychiatrist.  For Jaspers, transcendence — as a unique and absolute Being — is always beyond and just outside the existent being. The more the “being in the world” clarifies his existence, the further the Absolute Being will remain away from him. The transcendence of Being is intangible to human experience.

The philosophical search of Jaspers may be divided into three stages:

1 .The discovery of the world;

2  The clarification of existence;

3  The attempt to transcend the world of objects.

The first stage considers “the being in the world” understood as a mere fact: I exist and things exist around me. In this first stage, man believes that he can reach being in its totality. This attempt is illusory and hence it is destined to fail. Indeed, all knowledge of the “being in the world” is a “limitation”

Thought, in so far as it is a faculty illuminating existence, is called “reason” by Jaspers.. Indeed, existence, on the one hand, illuminated by reason, becomes conscious of its own limitations; on the other hand, reason shows us other modes of existence, and beyond all, the transcendent, to which our existence should be related in order to be constituted on its true level.

The study of “transcendence” belongs to metaphysics, and hence we are in the third stage of philosophizing. Our existence is a search for transcendence; but transcendence cannot be reached, because if transcendence were attainable, it would not be transcendence. Thus the transcendence of being is always something else, something more; and any attempt to attain it is destined to fail. There is in my existence an impassable barrier, a limit beyond which there is Transcendence (God), inaccessible to my being in the world. However, the transcendent Being can be perceived in the form of “ciphers” or symbolic characters expressed by the things of the world. Philosophy, in its search for being, reads these ciphers as possible traces of God, as signs and signals pointing toward the ultimate depth and plenitude of Being.

His main concepts are:

1.Conscious manifestations of man (Science, Art & Religion) are based on the unconscious activity of existence.

2.Real meaning of existence becomes clearer to man only during the periods of shock. (Illness, death, unatonable guilt etc) or when he is free from everyday cares and interests. He then faces a profoundly intimate existence and his true experience of God.

Gabriel Marcel (1889 – 1973) – Catholic existentialism

Most noted within existentialism for his disputes with Jean-Paul Sartre, Gabriel Marcel was a gifted essayist and playwright, specializing in matters of faith and morality. Marcel is generally considered a “Christian existentialist” due to his Catholicism and the influence of Soren Kierkegaardon his philosophy.

He held that the philosopher must be engaged, or personally involved, because existence and the human person are more significant than any abstraction. Involvement must be with other persons. To counter the impersonality of the mechanistic modern world and to recall man to an awareness of the mystery of being, Marcel spoke of the development of the individual in person-to-person dialogue. Human existence finds its earthly satisfaction in a God-centered communion of persons that is characterized by mutual fidelity and hope.

Science studies the world of objects, but does not touch the existential experience of the inner spiritual life of the individual. He denies the need for a rational proof for the existence of God. One can comprehend God through his existential experience. He accepted the catholic doctrine of pre-destination and freedom of will.

Atheist existentialism

Martin Heidegger (1889- 1976) German
The central theme is the problem of Being. He analyses man in his relation to himself. , to his environment and to other men.

In his attempt to inquire into the nature of existence, Heidegger distinguishes two ways of living: the one, inferior, called the unauthentic; the other, superior, called the authentic. Unauthentic existence is an uncritical participation in the world as it is; authentic existence consists in an analysis of self. Although distinct, the unauthentic and the authentic life have some common characteristics:

1.Actual participation in the world – this means that the existent being has a relationship to surrounding objects which he uses as instruments of his existence;

2 .Existence in a determined situation — this means that every situation is essentially individuated, limited and presents only one of the infinite number of possible ways of realizing existence.

The unauthentic life is characterized by its banality. The subject of such a life is not the individual, but an anonymous and featureless public ego (“das Mann”), the one-like-many, shirking personal responsibility and taking cues from the conventions of the masses. The result is a self-estrangement of human existence, which leads eventually to the blotting out of its possibilities and to its disintegration in the irrelevancy of everyday life.

Authentic existence is something decidedly different from everyday life. To live authentically means “to exist”; this in turn means to stand out — from the Latin “ex-stare,” i.e., to be outside the anonymous mass, to emerge from the world in which we ourselves, and to accept our own situation with all its limitations. To exist means both to stand apart (to withdraw) and to stand out (to be offered as a target for the fullness of being). Authentic existence, a conscious returning to oneself, is a means of discovering and disclosing that the surrounding banality of the world is vanity and disappears into “nothingness.” This universal sense of nothingness produces anguish. Anguish must not be confused with fear. Fear has as its object some determined thing, a determined danger; anguish, on the contrary is a dread of that indefinite something which, because it is indefinite, is a dread of nothing in particular.

The struggle with anguish and the outcome of this struggle opens new horizons as regards the interpretation of being. Even though men and things are fashioned by “nothingness,” I exist, I am not nothing; but I come from nothing. I accept my existence, with all the responsibilities involved in my present situation. I am aware that I am a finite being, and I can reach the fullness of my being only to the degree that my circumstances permit. The scope of my potentialities depends on time. Time is what I am not yet; it is my present situation in so far as it is moving toward my possibilities. Time is the horizon open to me. But time tells me that every being has its own end. Being is for death. Thus I am an “existent being destined for death.” And since I accepted existence with all its ramifications, I accept my death without fear.

The whole human experience is permeated by the tragic anxiety induced by the sense of inevitability of death. Man is facing his own death, confronted by absolute nothingness. Man’s existence is a being for death.

Heidegger’s Existentialism is a valuable contribution to the understanding of individual life; but being guided by no spiritual principle, Heidegger ends with destruction and death.

Jean Paul Sartre (1905- 1890)-French
Theological and Moral Nihilism

He combined existentialism with phenomenology. The existent is identified with the series of phenomena, which tells us of its existence. In other words, to be an existent means to be a series of appearances. Ordinarily, appearance tells us of a dualism, i.e., the appearance and what is hidden in that appearance. Such a dualism is denied by Sartre and he maintains instead that appearance is the entire and only reality As a result God, who cannot be phenomenal, does not exist; and the existent is only one unit in the complete series of phenomena, and is “without support and help.”

Since, according to Sartre, God does not exist and man is without “support and help,” the existent must construct his existence freely: “Man is damned to be free.” In regard to the free execution of the project of existence, Sartre repeats the maxim of Ivan Karamazov of Dostoevski’s famed novel: “If God does not exist, all is permitted”; hence freedom results in arbitrary acts in the carrying out of the project of existence.

 He reversed the theist doctrine of priority of Essence over existence, or rejected essence entirely in favor of existence.

Freedom is the essence of man’s behavior. Man is born with nothingness. Existence precedes Essence.

The atheism and amoralism of Sartre may be considered as the ultimate corruption of Existentialism, and of philosophy in general

Albert Camus (1913 –1960) French writer & Philosopher
After World War II broke out, Camus used his literary talents to support the French Resistance, taking on the editorship of Combat, an important underground paper. After the war, however, he gave up politics and journalism and devoted himself to writing. He soon established an international reputation with such works as The Stranger (1946), The Plague (1948), The Rebel (1954) and The Myth of Sisyphus (1955).

Central Theme

1.Man’s existence is absurd and senseless

2.He is a hopelessly lonely man in the absurd world

3.Man is personified by the mythological image of Sisyphus, doomed for ever to roll uphill a heavy stone, which always rolls down again

4. Unable to bear this senselessness, man revolts and hence recurrent riots and  revolutions

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 –1900)
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who reasoned that Christianity’s emphasis on the afterlife makes its believers less able to cope with earthly life. Nietzsche argued that the ideal human being, the Ubermensch, would be able to channel passions creatively instead of suppressing them. Nietzsche’s written works include ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ and ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’. Nietzsche is a major player in the Realm of Existentialism.

Nietzsche challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. He believed in life, creativity, health, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond. Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life’s energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. Often referred to as one of the first existentialist philosophers, Nietzsche’s revitalizing philosophy has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life, including dancers, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and social revolutionaries.

Nietzsche sharply criticized the Greek tradition’s over-emphasis on reason in his Die Götzendämmerung (Twilight of the Idols) (1889). Reliance on abstract concepts in a quest for absolute truth, he supposed, is merely a symptom of the degenerate personalities of philosophers like Socrates. From this Nietzsche concluded that traditional philosophy and religion are both erroneous and harmful for human life; they enervate and degrade our native capacity for achievement.

Progress beyond the stultifying influence of philosophy, then, requires a thorough “revaluation of values.” In Zur Geneologie der Moral (On the Genealogy of Morals) (1887) Nietzsche bitterly decried the slave morality enforced by social sanctions and religious guilt.( A change from Slave morality to Master morality – with an adea of Superman). Only rare, superior individuals—the noble ones, or Übermenschen—can rise above all moral distinctions to achieve a heroic life of truly human worth.

Other works :Death of God, Eternal values against immortality of Soul

Positive contributions of Existentialism to the Perennial Philosophy
It is really too early to tell what contributions Existentialism will make to the Perennial Philosophy. Heidegger, Jaspers, and Marcel have certainly raised some concrete issues, which must be addressed by commonsense philosophical realism. But Sartre makes no positive contributions whatsoever. There are some traditional philosophical realists who are making an attempt to bring about a synthesis of some of the main points raised by the theistic Existentialists, but whether or not they are successful will be seen in the future.

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