Existentialism in a flash

So yesterday’s post about unnecessary quotation marks got me thinking a bit about existentialism.  What exactly is it? Jean-Paul Satre and Albert Camus, 20th century French philosophers, as well as 19th century philosopher Kierkegaard, are known to be the some of the main thinkers of the philosophy. Although there is no sole view on a specific topic (religion, marriage, etc…), the philosophy strongly believes in the importance of the individual and their choices in addition to the subjectivity of one’s experiences.

As the name shows, existentialism derives from the struggling of coming to terms with one’s self in terms of existence. A person exists in distance to the world in which they live, thus, very aware of the nothingness of existence. At the same time, this very distance is what enables man to find meaning in the world though, though this meaning is fragile.

Authenticity, finding self-identity through freedom, choice, and commitment, contrasts against letting science or the “public” define who one is. It is a process of self-making. Here is an excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy* which expands further on this thought:

“…do I succeed in making myself, or will who I am merely be a function of the roles I find myself in?…In committing myself to a certain course of action, a certain way of being in the world—I have given myself the rule that belongs to the role I come to adopt. The inauthentic person, in contrast, merely occupies such a role, and may do so “irresolutely,” without commitment. Being a father authentically does not necessarily make me a better father, but what it means to be a father has become explicitly my concern.”

From this realization of the very power and responsibility of our freedom, angst also arises. Angst in the simplest of existential terms is knowing what you do is 100% your own choice and action. You only have yourself to blame. It contrasts from fear because where fear is in the face of something (a large dog, impending doom, etc…) and can be removed angst is in front of nothing and cannot be taken away. It is knowing the weight of your freedom and choices.

Sartre believed religion as a way to escape our freedom and hold on dearly to an unquestionable fact. He termed this “bad faith”. Albert Camus often wrote in his fiction novels such as The Stranger the responsibility for one’s life and freedom of choice.

Existentialism is a complex topic, and this by no means covers the breadth of its views. The main idea is, like Kierkegaard would say, is what we do, not what we know. It can easily be seen pessimistically, but ultimately, that is also one’s choice in how to view it.

Hmm..a bit of a heavy topic for a Saturday afternoon, but regardless – Enjoy your weekend!

*2.3 Authenticity