Does the world needs existentialism?
Does the world needs existentialism?
What is existentialism?
Existentialism was a philosophical movement mainly active in post world war II France. The most prominent names were Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir. The common point of the philosophers where the thought, that philosophy begins with the individual.
From Kierkegaard to Dostojevski and Nietzsche to Heidegger to Sartre, Camus and de Beauvoir
It´s all started in the 19th century by danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, (some may also mention German philosopher Max Stirner) German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and Russian author Fyodor Dostojevski.
Kierkegaard faces death constantly with 5 of his 7 siblings died before his age of 23. This leads him to a steady work over 15 years in which on one day 1843 alone, he published three books.
His base ideas were about the meaninglessness of life, how to laugh about it, and he first called this absurdity of life. In “Either/Or” he writes, “Marry and you regret it, don´t marry and you regret it too.”
Kierkegaard manifests the first important terms of existentialism: “Angst”, which means to be clear how many choices we have and how little we know about the possible outcome. “Existential despair” or an “Existential crisis” is when when you question the purpose of your life. This happens mostly in transition phases in our life (that´s why so many students get it when the end of their studies comes nearer and which is often mistaken for a depression)
His solution was the complete surrendering into the teachings of God and Jesus Christ.
Dostojevski was an russian author who wrote books like “Crime and Punishment” and “The brothers Karamazow”. While the first is basically about existential despair (the protagonist´s thoughts, he was a murder, commit that crime, but wasn´t really a murder) the second one is about four different brothers, from one father and three mothers. Ivan, the second brother and philosopher talks about how nothing is permitted and everything is allowed what leads to the point that the 4th illegitimate son Smerdjakov kills the father and let it look like the first brother Dimitry was the suspect. In the book Dostojevski talks the first time about the concept of the death of god. Also the book contains the story of the grand inquisitor, which said that Jesus, when he come back to earth would be not recognized by the catholic church. The thought of him offer freedom to the people is not shared by the church and they want the control over people.
Nietzsche transformed from a shoppenhauerian nihilist to a life affirming existentialist. He was a strictly anti-moralist and he thought that the death of god (the fact that the need for god-given morals disappear) could lead to a new kind of human, the superman, who is not guided by any outer moral but only by his own will to power. The will to power is the will that fuels human beings and lead us either to destroy or to create things. Also, he introduced the concept of Amor Fati what means to be in love with one´s fate. To develop Amor Fati one has to first accept the eternal return of the same. Things that were, are and things that are, will be.
After Nietzsche there was Heidegger, who said that the “Sein” (being) is always surrounded by the “Nichts” (Nothingness) and that all Seiende (beings) are interconnected in being surrounded by the “Nichts”. But most people choose to run away from this fact surrounding themselves with “Gerede” (chatter) and other numbing things. They loose their “Eigentlichkeit” (authenticity) and become “Uneigentlich” (unauthentic).
Sartre shaped the sentence “Existence precedes essence” while the philosophers before him, mostly the greeks, said that it was the other way. When essence would precede existence, we would be born with a predetermined purpose in life which we had to fulfill and had no possibility to choose. But the other way round we don´t need to look for a purpose on the outside of us but can create our own. We are free to choose and to change. Sartre even talks about the “anguish of freedom”
Camus picks up the concept of the absurd from Kierkegaard again, which in his words basically says that there is no purpose on the outside but man always search for one. In his essay “The myth of Sisyphus” he talks about the “most important question” of philosophy, which is in his eyes is suicide. He talks about workers who works in factories for eight hours a day, who can recognize that they are in chains and from that point decide if they want to fall back into the chains or begin a journey to free themselves. He compares them to Sisyphus, who have the eternal task to roll a rock upon a mountain where it will roll down again, recognizes the absurdity of this situation and becomes happy with respect to the absurd, because he chooses to make his task to his purpose. His form of existentialism is called absurdism.
Simone de Beauvoir was mainly interested in feminism and her work “The second sex” was the beginning of the second wave of feminism. She said, that women are created by man as “the others”, which leads to sexism.
Our present time
I see most of my peers struggling with reluctance and most of them are nihilist or (religious) essentialists who just live in the day and wait for times to get better. They numb themselves and develop “Uneigentlichkeit” with drugs, watching tv and playing video games.
As long as there are suicide rates over 10% in most developed countries (oecd 2013), as long as we have people who are working in factory seven-to-five jobs five days a week, as long there are people out their who claim to be depressed, we need existentialism and absurdism to show that there are alternatives. That we are free to choose and not bound to a “fate”. That we can always change our circumstances. That our own authenticity should be our highest virtue. Simply, that we are free to choose. That we can be happy. Seriously, when Sisyphus can be happy, we also can.