ExistentialismWhen the word “existentialism” is mentioned, what comes to mind? Lackof faith? Secular beliefs? It is a belief in living life. Could it be anysimpler than that? Existentialists believe in free will, making choices, andliving with those consequences. This is not some kind of weird “hippy”philosophy; it makes sense. Existentialistic thought is predominately a 20thcentury revelation. As a philosophy, it states that man possesses free will overhis fate and the direction he wants his life to take.
Those who follow thisbelieve they are in a world that does not always make sense, a world that isfilled with uncertainty where well-intended actions can become obscure andchaotic. In basic existentialist beliefs, man is the only animal defining itselfthrough life. Without life, there is no meaning. Existentialists believe in lifeand fighting for it (Wyatt, 1999).
Mankind has a free will of choices, causingstress. First, conscious beings exist, and then they spend a lifetime definingan individual essence. All conscious life forms, namely humans, have free will. Every action, expression, or thought is the result of a decision (Wyatt, 1999). The most important decisions are those affecting the free will of otherindividuals, other matters are less important.
Some may be affected negatively,their choices reduced by a decision, so decisions must promote freedom among thegreatest number of beings (Wyatt, 1999). Decision-making can be a stressful,solitary act, even when made as part of a group. All decisions are individual;everyone is responsible for his or her choices. Limiting the number of optionsavailable to an individual in any situation reduces that being’s freedom toexpress a free will.
There is no such thing as a demand, since one can alwaysaccept death as a choice (Wyatt, 1999). According to the existentialisticbelief, “I am nothing but my own conscious existence” (Lavine, 1999,p. 1). Human existence has fallen, and is lived in suffering and sin, guilt andanxiety. Existentialists reject happiness and optimism because they “onlyreflect a superficial understanding of life, or a na?ve and foolish way ofdenying the despairing, tragic aspect of human existence” (Lavine, 1999, p. 1).
Human beings are here by chance. Somehow we came to be on earth, thrown intothis time and place. Why? How? Existentialists do not know the answer to thosequestions, but believe “I am my own existence, but my existence isnothingness. I live then without anything to structure my being and my world,and I am looking into emptiness and the void, hovering over the abyss in fearand trembling and living the life of dread” (Lavine, 1999, p. 1).
The veryconcept of existentialism denies the very essence of a God, otherwise known asagnosticism (a sense of apathy regarding the question of an existence of asupreme being or God) or atheism (denying the existence God). Essentially, ifthere is no infinite, omnipresent, creator-God who transcends all boundaries,then there can be no infinite reference point that provides life with meaning. Man is an insignificant being, alone in the cosmos and existing within hisawareness of himself. The individual creates his own reality and meaning withinhis head, because no higher power outside him exists. (Roberts, 1959, p. 76).
When a man is alive (conscious), he maintains power over his life. When he isdead, he is an object. No soul exists, no life after death – as there is nowhereto go. This is all there is (Cooper, 1999).
Existentialists emphasize passionand will. They do not stress ideals, but rather the thinker maintaining theideas. Freedom is more important than determinism, and subjectivity thanobjectivity. Man’s feelings and passions are what make him a man-feelings arethe standard for truth (Roberts, 1959). Existentialism is opposed torationalism, yet most writers pen very rational books using all the laws oflogic to persuade readers that irrationalism is the way to meaning.
Assumingvalues are relative, how can any society cohere? Would not everyone simplyfollow his particular mindset, therefore causing chaotic disputes? (How canpeople band together for a common cause?) The existence of any absolutes isdenied, but not the assertion human subjectivity and freedom as absolutes(Barrett, 1964). Existentialism is not a “hippy thing;” rather, it isa philosophy that stresses the importance of the individual in decidingquestions of morality and truth. One can decide for himself, yet must be willingto face the consequences of his choices. God does not exist in existentialismdue to the pessimistic nature of the philosophy; atheism and agnosticismcoincide with it. However, existentialism is still just a philosophy, one ofmillions. Choose for yourself.
BibliographyBarrett, W. (1964). What is existentialism. New York: Grove Press, Inc. Cooper, D. E.
(1999). Existentilism (2nd ed. ). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Lavine, T.
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Roberts, D. E. (1957). Existentialism and religious beliefs. NewYork: Oxford University Press.
Wyatt, C. S. (1999). Existentialists: a primer toexistentialism .
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