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What. Is existentialism. Its earliest themes dwell upon the human subject and the poem the meaninglessness and the nothingness of human existence and the anxiety and the foreboding which result. Listen to the anxiety of Sir cucu Gore one of the forerunners of existentialism who lived all his short life in Denmark in the first half of the nineteenth century Qik ago says I stick my finger into existence. It smells of nothing. Where am I. What is this thing called the world. Who is those who was lured me into the thing and now leaves me here. Who am I. How did I come into the world. Why was I not consulted the meaninglessness of my existence as quick fills me with anxiety and despair with a sense of hopelessness and deep depression. The life of modern man is lived in despair. He says there is no one who does not have anxiety
in the face of his existence. A year before he died two years ago summed up the agony of the beginning and end of life with these powerful words he says here the cry of the mother at the hour of giving birth see the struggle of the dying at the last moment of life and say then whether that which begins and that which ends like this can be designed for pleasure. Human life is not designed for pleasure. God tells us but in the time given to us to each of us for our own existence. The time between the birth cry of all our mothers and our own final death cry. We strive for happiness in order to escape anxiety and despair. But there is no escape no matter how pleasurable and comfortable we try to make our lives in order to hide from the truth
for the truth is good Gore insists that all of us live in anxiety and despair. This is the universal human condition we suffer from anxiety even when we are not aware of it and even when there was nothing to fear nothing in the objective world to feel anxious about. This is because at Bonham's as good could go on our anxiety is not objective at all it is subjective anxiety. It is the universal fear of something that is nothing. It is the fear of the nothingness of human existence. Kick a go tells the story of an ordinary man who merely wants to be helped. But he is worried because he can sustain his happiness. He keeps falling into depression and he asks himself is he getting older. Has he lost his drive. Is his world slipping away. But then he pulled himself together and make something of himself. He gets ahead in his career and he soon acquires a wife and family
and social status in his community. But then the old depression comes back with even greater intensity than before. This man has made something of himself. Good to go. But he is a stranger to himself. He does not know that the way to overcome despair is to choose despair to sink so deep into despair that you give up all the satisfactions and comforts of your life. You will lose all commitment to family friends and community. You will surrender reason and all belief in the truth of science and philosophy and all moral principles. When all these are lost with nothing left you will be in total crisis at the edge of the abyss and you will be prepared them for faith in God. You will choose God and make the leap of faith to God for a god only absolute faith and the leap to God can overcome the meaninglessness of your
existence and only the restoration of orthodox Christianity and the surrender of reason can overcome the sense of anxiety and despair for the solitary individuals of the modern world. But for freaks of nature who is usually regarded along with kick a go as a forerunner of existentialism kick can go as a religious solution to the problem of the meaninglessness of modern life is totally unacceptable it is unacceptable to nature. First of all because it represents the human individual as weak and powerless and even cowardly It strips you the individual person of all human strength so that in the depths of despair you are told total loss of faith in yourself propels you into absolute faith in God to solve your problems in living. But nature would find kick go religious solution unacceptable for a far more fundamental reason kids in Gaza can be seen as the champion of
the orthodox Christianity of the past trying to solve the problems of modern man by turning the clock back to an older Christian absolutism which requires the surrender of the self to God. But this is now impossible says nature because God is dead. The concept of the death of God is perhaps the best known of all of niches many compelling contributions to philosophy in Nature's book The Joy of the joyful wisdom. Represents the shocking story of a madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to a market place to announce that God is dead and nature writes We have killed him. Cried the mad man. You wonder why we are all his murderers. And then thinking about the world in the absence of God the madman says do we not now wonder through an
endless nothingness does not empty space breathe upon us. Has not now become colder does not night come on continual. A doctor and doctor by the concept of the death of God. Nature does not mean that God who is defined as an eternal being can nevertheless die. To say that would of course be illogical. What is eternal is like prayer amenities and changing one. It does not come into being or pass out of being by the death of God which means the death of our belief in God. It is our belief in God that is dead. It has finally succumbed to multiple attacks including the savage beating it received from the empiricist. David Hume. As we have seen. But if we have lost our belief in God have we not lost the foundation of all
our truth and morality. Did not even Descartes that supremely independent rationalist have to call upon God to guarantee that his clear and distinct ideas were true. And so to be the foundation of all truth. Is this not the crisis of the modern world that in the loss of our belief in God we have lost the foundation of our truth and value. Yes nature but although man has lost the belief in God. This will enable him to lose his childlike dependency upon God. Humanity will now find the courage to live like adults in a world without God. The greatest need of civilization now as nature is to develop adults. It is to develop a new type of individual to develop supermen who will be hard strong and courageous and who will be intellectually and morally independent. These super men will break the stone
slabs on which the old Judeo-Christian moral laws are inscribed those old moral laws to which the masses are still enslaved. The only morality of the Superman will be to affirm life. To say yes to life. To be powerful creative joyous and free kick to God counsels us to sink into despair so that we can make the leap of faith to God. Nature counsels us to be masters not slaves to God and to be hobs strong vital creative and joyous. And Nature tells us why he rejects a philosophy of despair. He is afraid that it would destroy him too. Nature philosophies are not intellectual games or abstractions. Philosophies have the power to enhance and strengthen your life and even your health or to weaken and destroy you. And Nature says that he created his philosophy of the strong powerful life affirming Superman as he says
out of my will to be in good health. Out of my will to live. Self-preservation forbad me to practice a philosophy of wretchedness and discouragement. Why did how did the profoundly divergent philosophies of kick go and teacher prepare the way in the 19th century. Well the existentialist philosophy of the 20th century First of all kickable in nature like Marx in the middle years of the 19th century perceive the Western world to be approaching a time of crisis. All three lockpick ago and nature addressed their philosophies to the coming crisis. They offer a diagnosis of their own time and a prescription for what ought to be done. Secondly both kid could go and each other reject any diagnosis of the crisis which treats the problem as a collective problem one of social or economic classes or groups as Marx did or as a problem of nation state as Hago did kick and go and nature and
for the existentialism which follows them the individual human consciousness is the only key to the diagnosis and cure of human problems. Existentialism maintains that in philosophies such as those of Hegel and Marx with their exclusive sociological concern with social groups social classes and the social system the individual human self disappears it is swallowed up by the group. Thirdly kick and go and nature prepare the way for existentialism by rejecting as existentialism will later reject all past philosophies past philosophies have had no interest in philosophizing about human existence and they have had no interest in the effect the philosophy upon the consciousness of the human subject. And lastly kick and go and each a share an intense and subtle concern with psychology with mental states and especially with neurotic and psychotic state of the
individual. Like all the existentialist who follow them they must be called psychologizing philosophers. They are subtle and sometimes masterful interpreters of the psychology of the human subject. Who is the focus of all their concerns. Existentialism develops in the 20th century within Germany and France not as a direct result of any specific set of circumstances or causes but as a deeply experienced response to the crumbling of many structures in the Western world which had previously been regarded as stable. The eruption of World War One finally destroyed the belief in the continuing progress of civilization to peace and prosperity which the Enlightenment had fostered and which had survived until the outbreak of this war with World War One. There came the collapse of the seemingly stable balance of power among the great nations before World War One had ended their crumbled away the empire of all the Russias and
there soon began with crumbling away and collapse of the far flung British Empire and the French Belgian and Dutch empires. The communist revolution of 1979 Russia shattered the confidence in political stability but confidence that the revolutionary era was now over. Economic structures also were perceived to crumble as the great economic depression of the late 1920s and 1930s rolled from Europe to the United States raising doubts about the enduring truths of classical economics and doubts about the survival of capitalism. Science itself began to surrender its claims to certitude and philosophies of all types were crumbling away inroads into the territory of philosophy were made by science. Furthermore philosophy was under continuous attack from the empiricists and increasingly philosophies were charged with being historically relative or even worse with being ideologies serving a group interest with a weakening and
collapse of so many external structures of authority authoritative economic political and intellectual structures. All these structures begin to lose their legitimacy. They begin to appear illegitimate and intolerably repressive and coercive upon the individual. The individual then responds by rejecting the external of party of government economic system and the scientific and intellectual world and turns to himself instead as authority. In this way existential has turned to the human self as the true center of philosophy. Twentieth Century existentialism was following the path of 19th century German Romanticism like German Romanticism twentieth century existentialism rejected government economics politics and philosophy as authorities and centred philosophy upon the human spirit. But conscious human subjects as the only legitimate authority What then is existentialism
there exists now a widely accepted definition of existentialism. It is that existentialism is the philosophic standpoint which gives priority to existence over essence what is meant by this is that existentialism gives primacy or priority in significance to existence in the sense of my conscious existence my existence as a conscious subject rather than to any essence which may be assigned to me. And the definition of me any explanation of any science or philosophy or religion or politics existentialism affirms the ultimate significance the primacy of my existence as this flickering point of consciousness of which I am now aware my here and now conscious existence. As against all efforts to define me to reduce me to a platonic essence or to a Cartesian mental substance or two I had gillion carrier of the spirit of my culture or to a scientific neurological mechanism or to a social
security number. Essentialism is a name sometimes given by existentialism to the mode of thinking which it opposes to the mode of thinking which gives priority to essence rather than to existence as centralism is the mode of thinking which seeks to conceptualize me to assign me to an essence to fit me into a system to analyze me by means of some technology. Existentialism by contrast existentialism cries out that man in his concrete existence as a conscious being has been neglected by philosophy science political organizations and by religion. What of the life of the auto mechanic. What have the life of a college freshman. The dry cleaners delivery man the nurse the shoe salesman. They are accounted for. Explain. Defined by philosophy science religion and politics but existentialism says that their existence as conscious beings is a significant problem their conscious existence is precisely the unseen and neglected problem
in our time in the contemporary world. Existentialism is that philosophic voice which is rising and can be heard in all the areas of social life art and learning. It is the voice which calls upon artists scientists philosophers politicians theologians to be concerned with the perceptions and feelings of the human subject as against the standardized ways in which human beings are programmed and analyzed as if they were things. Existentialism may thus be seen as the champion and defender of the human spirit against the oppressiveness of my society against the oppressiveness of science philosophy and organized religion. Its concerns are narrow. Existentialism focuses solely upon human existence. Existentialism has no philosophy of nature or of science or of history. It is a philosophy of human existence a philosophy of man. But how can one approach concrete human existence.
If you try to discover human existence by sense perception by observation you will find that this is a trap because sense perception does not lead you to the conscious subject. It leads you to observation experimentation empiricism and true science. This is the scientific trap by trying to approach concrete existence by reason turns out to be another trap. The root of reason and due to Essences definitions and rationalism. This is the old philosophic trap. What then is the path to my conscious existence. You can take the path of either crisis or communion. A crisis is happening which suddenly removed you from the ordinary context of your life. You cannot react at this point with your everyday habitual responses and you are thrown back upon yourself as one you find yourself in a blackout in Times Square in New York or in a blackout in your room. When you awaken in the night and send someone standing close to your bed or there is a crisis in a crowded restaurant
when someone at the next table chokes on food and begins to turn purple at such moments of crisis you become aware of your conscious existence with sudden excruciating clarity. The other path to conscious existence is by way of communion by way of the self-discovery which occurs at the moment of becoming one with a group. Self-discovery can happen at a time of ecstatic religious unity or ecstatic political unity. Such is what was produced by Martin Luther King's march on Selma Alabama a few years ago but how then can you present the discovery of the self in the experience of a crisis or the experience of communion. One powerful way is by describing the crisis or communion as they were experienced. And this has led existentialists to literary description and to a great outpouring of short stories. Novels plays biographies and autobiographies. The other way is to philosophize but to do so. Not with the traditional concepts of
philosophy but with new strange concepts and themes such as existentialism uses nausea anxiety nothingness authenticity. Let us turn then to the themes of the existentialist the themes will be said to characterize the mode of thought of those who would call themselves existentialists. First there is the basic existentialist endpoint which we have already considered. It is the standpoint that existence precedes essence has primacy over essence. Man is a conscious subject rather than an object to be known or manipulated. He exists as a conscious being and not in accordance with any definition essence generalization or system. Existentialism says I am nothing else but my own conscious existence. A second existentialists thing is that of anxiety or the sense of anguish. This theme is as old as Kierkegaard within existentialism. It is the claim that anxiety is the underlying all pervasive universal condition of human
existence. Existentialism agrees with certain streams of force in Judaism and Christianity which see human existence as fallen and human life as lived in suffering and sin in guilt and anxiety along with this dark and sorrowful picture of human life. There exists in existentialism the view that happiness optimism a sense of well-being or the serenity of stoicism. These can only reflect a superficial understanding of life or a naive and foolish way of viewing the deaths bearing the tragic aspect of human existence. A third existentialist theme is out of absurdity Runton says the existentialist. I found my own existence but this existence is absurd to exist as a human being is in explicable and wholly absurd. Each of us is simply here thrown into this time and place. But why now. Why here we saw it. If you go off for no reason and so on why life is absurd. Listen to these words of Pasko
the great French mathematician and philosopher of day cartes time who was also a forerunner of existentialism past golf. When I consider the short duration of my life swallowed up in the eternity before and after the little space I fell and even can see engulfed in the infinite immensity of space which I am ignorant and which knows me not. I am frightened and astonished at being here rather than there why now rather than Then a fourth thing which pervades Existentialism is that of nothingness or the void if no essence is defined me. And if as an existentialist I reject all of the philosophies sciences and religions that attempt to give a specific structure both to me and to my world. Then there is nothing the structure is my world. I will follow the kids of Gore's lead. I will have stripped myself of all structure all human ties all knowledge and moral value and I will stand in anxiety at the edge of the abyss. I am
my own existence but my existence is a nothingness. If all definitions all truth all structures are to be stripped away I live then without anything to structure my life and I am looking into emptiness and the void hovering over the abyss in fear and trembling and living the life of dread related to the thing of nothingness is the existentialist thing of death nothingness in the form of death which is my final nothingness hangs over me like a sword of Damocles all my life I am filled with anxiety at moments when I permit myself to be aware of this at those moments says Martin Heidegger one of the German existentialist philosophers. The whole of my bean seems to drift away into nothing. The unaware person tries to live as if death is not actual. He tries to escape the reality but Heidegger says that my death is my most authentic significant moment and nobody else can die for me. Death is my
personal potentiality and if I take death into my life and acknowledge it and face it squarely I will free myself from the anxiety of death and from the pettiness of life. But here the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre begs to differ. What is death the last death is my total non-existence. Death is as absurd as birth. It is not an ultimate authentic moment of my life. It is nothing but the wiping out of my existence. It is only another witness to the absurdity of human existence alienation or estrangement is a 6:13 which characterizes existentialism. Alienation is a theme which goes back to haggle and in many subtle forms the most profound alienation of all in Hagels thought was the alienation or estrangement between my consciousness and its objects in which I am aware of the otherness of the object and seek in a variety of ways to overcome its alienation by mastering it by bringing it back into myself in some way. As for mocs we have seen that in the
split between the two Marxism is the young Marx is devoted to the concept of alienation in the sense of the economic alienation of the worker. How then do existentialists use the concept of alienation. Apart from my own conscious being all else they say is otherness from which I am a stranger. We are hemmed in place by a world of things which are opaque to us and which we can't understand. Science has alienated us from nature by its outpouring of out of overbearing and unintelligible concepts laws theories technologies these products of science now stand between us and nature and the industrial revolution has alienated the work of the product of his own labor and has made him into a thing in the productive system as a Marxist taught us. We are also a strange say the existentialist from human institutions from bureaucratized governments on the federal state and local levels from national political parties. Giant business corporations
national religious organizations all of these are vast impersonal sources of power which appear to have a life of their own. The individual can either feel that he is part of them. Nor can he even understand them. We live in alienation from our own institutions. Moreover say the existentialist we are shut out of history. We no longer have a sense of having roots in a meaningful possed nor do we see ourselves as moving toward a meaningful future as a result. We do not belong to the past to the present time or to the future. And lastly and perhaps most painfully the existentialist points out that all of our personal human relations are poisoned by feelings of alienation alienation arises within the family between parents and children between the husband and the wife and between the children. Alienation affects all social and work relations and most cruelly alienation dominates the relationship of love. These are the disturbing provocative themes which can be found in contemporary existentialism.
But now we must ask if this is indeed the human condition. If this is a true picture of the world in which the human subject absurdly finds himself. How is it possible to go on living in. Is there no exit from this nothingness and despair is absoute a.. This fixation upon death and alienation. This hovering on the edge of the abyss. Is there any existentialist who can tell us how to live in such an absurd and hopeless world. Is there an existentialist ethics a moral philosophy to tell us what is good what can be said to be right or wrong in such a meaningless world. Or the ethics of existentialism and the next time to Paris and to the existentialism of his own first thoughts. Right. Now. For.
We. Recorded in the studios of the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting
From Socrates To Sartre
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Existence is Absurd
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Maryland Public Television
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Maryland Public Television (Owings Mills, Maryland)
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Sartre I: Existentialism. Development from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche - Introduction and life. Existentialism of the 20th century the product of a line of development of philosophy from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. The rejection of essentialism. Crisis vs. Social Existentialism. The fundamental existential premise; Existence precedes essence. The major themes of existentialism.
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"From Socrates to Sartre is an educational show hosted by Dr. Thelma Z. Lavine, who teaches viewers about the theories and history of philosophy."
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Copyright Holder: MPT
Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
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Chicago: “From Socrates To Sartre; #25; Existence is Absurd,” 1979-02-09, Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
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APA: From Socrates To Sartre; #25; Existence is Absurd. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from