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  1. 1. Existentialism Oh boy…
  2. 2. Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy <ul><li>“Existentialism” was a term adopted by Jean-Paul Sartre that came to identify a cultural movement in Europe in the 1940’s and 1950’s. </li></ul><ul><li>Revolutionary idea: “existence precedes essence” </li></ul><ul><li>Neither scientific nor moral inquiry can fully capture what it is that makes me myself </li></ul>
  3. 3. Existentialism <ul><li>While not denying the validity of scientific or moral categories, existentialism may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories is needed to grasp human existence. </li></ul><ul><li>At its heart: a gesture of protest against academic philosophy, anti-system sensibility, and flight from reason. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Essence: “meaning of being” <ul><li>Heidegger insists that the question of what it means to be must be raised concretely, not as an academic exercise; instead it should be a burning concern arising from life itself: </li></ul><ul><li>What does it mean </li></ul><ul><li>for me to be? </li></ul>
  5. 5. Existence precedes essence. <ul><li>No general, non-formal account of what it means to be human can be given, since that meaning is decided in and through existing itself. </li></ul><ul><li>What is essential to a human being is not fixed by her type but by what she makes of herself, who she becomes. </li></ul>
  6. 6. From Fight Club <ul><li>Tyler Durden: </li></ul><ul><li>“ You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your f***ing khakis.” </li></ul>
  7. 7. Facticity and Transcendence <ul><li>Human essence, according to existential philosophers, is the manner of coordination between “facticity” and “transcendence”. </li></ul><ul><li>These can be approached as two different attitudes towards self: the third-person theoretical observer (facticity) and the first-person practical agent (transcendence). </li></ul>
  8. 8. Facticity <ul><li>The properties that third-person investigation can discover about me: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>natural properties such as weight, height, and skin color; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>social facts such as race, class, and nationality; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>psychological properties such as my web of belief, desires, and character traits; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>historical facts such as my past actions, my family background, and my broader historical milieu. </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Transcendence <ul><li>The stance I take towards my facticity </li></ul><ul><li>The attitude toward myself characteristic of my practical engagement in the world: the factual always emerges in light of the possible, where the possible is not a function of anonymous forces but a function of my choice and decision . </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ex. A suddenly empty pen </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ex. Factic property of workaholism </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Projects <ul><li>Trancendence, or being-in-the-world, a self-making situation, is what many existentialists also refer to as “projects”. </li></ul><ul><li>The world is not a representation of me, but through projects of engaged agency in the world, my “identity” is revealed. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Alienation: the estrangement of self from both the world and itself <ul><li>The world however is not brought into being through my projects; it retains its otherness and thus can feel utterly alien (unheimlich). </li></ul><ul><li>When other people look at me, I become aware of my subjectivity being invaded by the subjectivity of another for whom I am merely part of the world, an item for her projects. Because of others I can take a third-person perspective on myself, but this leads to alienation—who I am in an objective sense can only be revealed by the Other. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Authenticity <ul><li>How are we to measure our efforts “to be”? </li></ul><ul><li>Existentialism differentiates between what I do as “myself” and what I do as “anyone”. </li></ul><ul><li>Authenticity names that attitude in which I engage in my projects as my own . </li></ul>
  13. 13. Authenticity: an example <ul><li>If I keep a promise, I act in accord with duty; and if I keep it because it is my duty, I also act morally… </li></ul><ul><li>My moral act is inauthentic if I do it because that’s what “one” does or what “moral people” do; </li></ul><ul><li>But I can do the same thing authentically if it is something I choose as my own, something that apart from social sanction I commit myself. </li></ul>
  14. 14. A step further… <ul><li>Some existentialist writers take this further, arguing that the measure of an authentic life lies in the integrity of a narrative , to be the author of oneself. </li></ul><ul><li>In contrast, the inauthentic life would be one without such integrity, one in which I allow my life-story to be dictated by the world. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Anxiety, Nothingness, the Absurd <ul><li>In anxiety, as in fear, I grasp myself as threatened or as vulnerable; but unlike fear, anxiety has no direct object, there is nothing in the world that is threatening. </li></ul><ul><li>This anxiety collapses my ability to engage in roles and projects and makes me lose my basic sense of self provided by these roles. I realize I am not merely that which I factically am—I am not my roles. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Anxiety, Nothingness, the Absurd <ul><li>So long as I am practically geared into the world, in a seamless and absorbed way, things present themselves as meaningfully coordinated with the projects I’m engaged in. </li></ul><ul><li>In the mood of anxiety, however, the meaning falls away, and as one repeats a word until it loses meaning, anxiety undermines the taken-for-granted sense of things, rendering them absurd . </li></ul>
  17. 17. Anxiety, Nothingness, the Absurd <ul><li>Nothingness is the term introduced by Heidegger to indicate the self- and world- understanding that emerges in anxiety: when my ability to engage in the practices that constitute my practical identity, I “am” not anything. </li></ul><ul><li>However, this awareness of the ultimate nothingness of my practical identity is “freedom” for existentialists. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Freedom <ul><li>Sartre argues that anxiety provides a lucid experience of that freedom which characterizes human existence. </li></ul><ul><li>This consciousness of ultimate freedom brings anguish, a recognition that we are “condemned to be free” </li></ul>
  19. 19. Condemned to be free <ul><li>The consciousness of freedom is not something human beings welcome; we’d much rather seek stability, identity, and adopt the language of freedom only when it suits us. </li></ul><ul><li>Those acts are considered by me to be my free acts which exactly match the self I want others to take me to be. </li></ul><ul><li>We are separated from ourselves by the nothingness of having perpetually to re-choose, or re-commit, ourselves to what we do. </li></ul>
  20. 20. Values grounded in freedom <ul><li>A value is an aspect of my experience that makes a claim on me. Values make a demand and lay claim to a justification. </li></ul><ul><li>I do not simply happen to sit quietly in church but “attend reverently”; I do not just see the homeless person but encounter him as “to be helped”; I do not merely hear the alarm clock but am “summoned to get up.” </li></ul>
  21. 21. Values grounded in freedom <ul><li>Value derives its being from its urgency, its urgency does not come from its being. </li></ul><ul><li>The urgency of the alarm clock: Why must I get up? I must go to work. The question of value gets displaced. Ought I go to work? Why not be irresponsible? Why not take up a life of crime? Why should I be respectable, law-abiding? </li></ul>
  22. 22. Values grounded in freedom <ul><li>It is only because some choice has been made that anything at all can appear as compelling, as making a claim on me. </li></ul><ul><li>Only if I am engaged at some level do values appear at all. </li></ul><ul><li>The more I pull out of engagement and move into reflection on and questioning of my situation, the more I am threatened by ethical anguish— “which is the recognition of the ideality of values” </li></ul>
  23. 23. Engagement <ul><li>Commitment, or engagement , is thus ultimately the basis for an authentically meaningful life, that is, one that answers to the existential condition of being human and does not flee that condition by appeal to an abstract system of reason or divine will. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Existentialism and Art <ul><li>As much a literary movement as a philosophical one, since the ideas are best known through Sartre’s fictional works Nausea and No Exit and Albert Camus’ The Stranger . </li></ul><ul><li>Other artists and writers linked under Existentialism: Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Kafka, Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett </li></ul>
  25. 25. Alberto Giacometti
  26. 26. Jackson Pollock Jackson Pollack
  27. 27. Arshile Gorky Arshile Gorky
  28. 28. Willem de Kooning Willem de Kooning
  29. 29. Where do you see these ideas in Waiting for Godot ? Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, 2007