Philosophy | Introduction to Existentialism
P135 | 14086 | Senchuk


Suppose, if you will, that unbridled free-will is the closest
approximation there is to a distinctively human nature, that human
beings lack any sort of inherent purpose for their existence.  This
supposition is a major tenet of the philosophical movement known as
Existentialism.  It suggests that we are not essentially social,
political, or even rational animals—though this is not to suggest
that we are irrational.  Our freedom, on this view, is not what some
philosophers call autonomy—an almost paradoxical species of freedom
alleged to result from slavish obedience to dictates of reason.
Freedom is a brute fact of our very existence.
Unlike “blocks and stones and worse than senseless things” we
are conscious beings, too.  We are not always aware of our freedom,
and on some occasions when we do become acutely conscious of it, that
realization can be terrifying:  nothing truly prevents us, say, from
performing any (so-called) “inhuman” acts.
Existential philosophers would seem to have a penchant for
negativity, variously emphasizing how the human condition gives rise
to terror, despair, anxiety, unsettling ambiguity, alienation, dread,
nausea, etc.   But what’s so bad about being free?
That’s one big question to be considered.  Here are some
others that we will discuss in this course:  Are we really free or
has science shown—or strongly suggested-- otherwise?  Can we live
purposeful lives in a world that may lack purpose?  Can we define
ourselves as certain kinds of persons without thereby deceiving
ourselves?  (Is self-deception possible?)  Is existentialism
compatible with religion?   How does existentialism comport with
other philosophical movements—especially, Stoicism, Marxism and
Pragmatism?  Could there be a genuinely existential ethical theory?—
or would it amount to little more than extreme ethical relativism?
Is Existentialism dead and gone forever?

Texts:

Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
Simone de Beauvior, The Ethics of Ambiguity
Walter Kaufman (ed.), Existentialism From Dostoyevsky To Sartre