Philosophy | Intro to Existentialism
P135 | 13295 | Senchuk

Suppose, if you will, that unbridled free-will is the
closest approximation there is to a distinctively human nature and
that, perhaps in consequence, human beings lack any sort of inherent
purpose for their existence.  These suppositions are major tenets of
the philosophical movement known as Existentialism.  On the basis of
such suppositions, some existentialists contend that, contrary to
Aristotle, we are not essentially social, political, or even
rational animals—though this last contention need not (indeed,
should not) be understood to suggest that we are inherently
irrational.  Our freedom, according to existentialists, is not what
some other 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 (our
existential plight) 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 have occasion to discuss in the course of 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
really possible?)  Is existentialism compatible with religion?
Could there be a genuinely existential ethical theory?—or would it
amount to little more than extreme ethical relativism (the view that
moral judgments are arbitrary, subjective, and at best relative to
one’s social milieu)?  Is Existentialism dead?