I think you have a very good hold on your knowledge of Camus. I must say that out of the existentialist writers he is the one I have studied the least. And in so many words, I think that it is a person like Mersault that the existentialist are trying to correct. I guess the best way to shed more light on our conversation and more importantly the original question of the thread, (which I think our conversation has led us back to in a certain way). Is by looking closely at the main existentialist writers (Pascal, Sartre,Dostoevsky,Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Nietzsche) and what they have in common (which I think is a good definition of existentialism).
Originally Posted by jon1jt
1. All of the above mentioned agree that there is no human nature. This was originally stated by Pascal ("Custom is our nature"). And more importantly by Nietzsche when he called humans the "undetermined animals with no fixed horizons". This point is important to all existentialist because it means that human nature can change and in doing this the world can rapidly change (this might seem a contradiction, but what it means by that there is no human nature is that it is very capricious and is never constant or more importantly universal). It states that history is more important than having a fixed eternity outside of time, and in saying this it also means that an Individual should try to get heaven on earth in the here and now.
2. The Ethical side of the existentialist states that the individual is higher than the universal. This idea is extremely evident and important within Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling”. It is precisely this idea that allows an Individual to become a Knight of Faith (this is a person with an unconditional commitment which is rooted in the temporal, and it is something that can be taken away at any moment, this is what makes a Knight of Faith what he is and separates him from the knight of infinite resignation, To quote Kierkegaard “Only the one who draws the knife gets Isaac.) You must remember that in Kierkegaard terms if a person does not have an unconditional commitment he is stuck in lower immediacy (this is where I think Meursault would fall). Therefore his attempts to define himself and become an Individual are rooted in the absurd in an almost nihilistic way. The important thing to remember is that even though he is reflective and almost it seems peacefull at the end; it is a bad idea in both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche (we all know how Nietzsche saw the idea of peace and acceptance).
Also the quote by Nietzsche you added in your last post is absolutely correct. This is exactly what makes me think that Meursault found truth (remember the individual is higher than the ethical, therefore there is by default no concrete thing such as a universal truth). In saying this, I have always thought in existential terms when I read “The Stranger”. I think by embracing the existential thought that “truth is subjectivity” is the one way in which I can see that Meurault does indeed have the divided parts of the self and therefore is subject to an existential dissection similar to that of Dmitri in the “Brothers Karamazov” (Keep in mind that though I am comparing Dmitri and meursault, I do believe that Dmitri, aided by his indulgence with both sides of the self, was able to realize his positive self only when he separated the two parts and went down into despair.
Upon this test with his self he was able to derive meaning from this world in the form of his unconditional commitment, Grushenka. The latter I feel is the way in which Meaursault was not able to accomplish. This is the reason why I think he is stuck in lower immediacy, and in large part is the only reason he is not on the same level as Dmitri.
3. Another belief that the existentialist share is that the involved point of view reveals reality and is more basic than what you get from detached theory and reason (once again “Truth is subjectivity)
4. And finally, All Believe that a supernatural, supreme being is no longer alive (God is Dead) or necessary, but it opens up other possibilities of understanding the divine and the sacred. They all have their separe views on this idea.
Last edited by Kurtz; 08-04-2006 at 09:26 PM.
Sweet farewell, Good Nite
[QUOTE=Kurtz]I think you have a very good hold on your knowledge of Camus. I must say that out of the existentialist writers he is the one I have studied the least. And in so many words, I think that it is a person like Mersault that the existentialist are trying to correct. I guess the best way to shed more light on our conversation and more importantly the original question of the thread, (which I think our conversation has led us back to in a certain way). Is by looking closely at the main existentialist writers (Pascal, Sartre,Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Nietzsche) and what they have in common (which I think is a good definition of existentialism).
Something looks wrong about stringing those philosophers neatly under the heading, 'main existentialist writers,' even though their views are ultimately about being. I've tried to pair them up above so they are more closely associated with each philosopher's "project." But perhaps someone would like to respond whether this move or categorizing generally accurately depicts the philosophy of philosopher. I tend to judge the merit of each "philosopher" with the degree to which they "live" their own philosophy, even though this is unrealistic. There may have been only one philosopher who accomplished such feat, dear Saint Socrates. And so when I read Kierkegaard, I see a man in a wheelchair, a recluse---no friends, bitter, dejected, guilty, and leading an unhappy, unfulfilled life. (He was at one time engaged to be married, but I think he called it off) He spent his whole life in Copenhagen bothered by modernity and spent countless hours at his desk writing how Christians weren't "Christians" and maligning the bourgeois for their haughty ways. But he was as haughty intellectually, by fashioning an "absurd" rationale for the invocation of "faith." What is so seductive about Kierkegaard is how he condemns the notion of "Christendom" and upholds the paradox of Christianity to make his case. Doctrine matters only insofar as one has faith, but 'real faith' extends beyond just saying, "I believe, praise god!" Kierkegaard is more resolute, more heartfelt, more preacher than philosopher. One has to be a Christian, and that is, ultimately, an individual undertaking. Luther-esque, eh?
As to Saint Nietzsche, his notion of the self stands is in stark contrast to Camus's and Sartre's version. Sartre uses a nice metaphor in Nausea where Roquentin, the main character, is sitting on a park bench and feels the tree branches slither their way into him, the idea being that existence is a burden. We carry this infectious weight through life. But Mersault and Roquentin are "free." Mersault becomes free in jail, ironically, because the world has done it's work on him. Roquentin too is free in the deepest sense and makes choices, however misguided. In the end, existentialism is about the choices we make and the freedom we have to make them. I think Sartre's Roquentin picks up where Camus's Mersault leaves off. The former feels the burden of existence. Being stuck in a human body repulses Sartre. Yet our consciousness is condemned to it. Camus is more concerned about the pre-reflective self "coming into" being, which leads me to Heidegger.
Heidegger is an entity unto himself. The gods have retreated, which has played out in the historical unfolding---the Age of Reason put the gods on notice and the masters of suspicion officially buried them (a good thing) Heidegger sees the self as being unleashed from it's own self-imprisonment (i.e. thrown into a world) as part of this collective purgation. Heidegger would reject the term, "'states' of being" because of our very thrownness in that we live in a world, we "use" a world, the world is part of us (Dasein) and we are part of it. Here's the fusion, the philosophical turn that is set forth in the greatest book of the 20th Century, Being and Time. He smashes Descartes (and Kant's Critique) notion of Cogito Ergo Sum, that there never was nor can there ever be a subject-object existing 'in' a world. We are Being (self/world) and being (everyday self, tables & chairs) and if you read his "Contributions: From Enowning," we are 'Be-ing', swaying over an abyss - the whence and that to which we return - to hear the echo of the infinite. There is potential transcendence, a divine life, in the mystic rhythms in life that grab us momentarily. The life divine is right here, right now, he concludes. But this is getting off topic, so...
Sorry, I'm tired, that's all I can offer for now. I'm not avoiding Dostoevsky, he's interesting as heck too and you raise some thought-provoking points about Brothers Karamozov, Kurtz.
Last edited by jon1jt; 08-08-2006 at 05:23 PM.
“I tend to judge the merit of each "philosopher" with the degree to which they "live" their own philosophy, even though this is unrealistic.”
I think your above statement is correct. I also think that it is another way in which the “main” existential writers would agree. Also, keep in mind that by lumping the previous thinkers together I am not saying that they would agree on anything or even consider themselves existentialist ( except Kierkegaard ). With this said. I think that it is important to notice the way in which the above are all connected in terms of literature. I think the main point I was making was that despite their furious differences, they are all connected by the fact that they are each to themselves a way in which many people think they are towards each other. So I think you are right, but for different existential reasons.
However, I think that your presupposition about Kierkegaard is a little off. If any philosopher can be said to live closely in his own philosophy, that person is Kierkegaard. A key factor that should be considered when reading Kierkegaard is that he always writes under various Pseudonymous. This gives Kierkegaard important “literary” leverage when he describes important factors in his philosophy; And unfortunately leads to false conclusion about his personal philosophy. One example of this technique can be seen in what I think is his most important work “Fear and Trembling”. Within the text the pseudonym assumes the role of a “Knight of Resignation”. This move allows Kierkegaard to express his view on himself as a Knight of Faith. In short, I think that when reading Kierkegaard it is important too discern the difference between Kierkegaard's true beliefs and those beliefs that he is merely using to represent the existential situation he is reconciling. And if if you know “Fear and Trembling” it is clear that writing this book from the point of view of a “Knight of Faith” would be impossible. A very important point in your last post was Kierkegaard's engagement to Regina. This is essential in understanding the content of his whole life. In Kierkegaard jargon his leaving Regina is his movement to the “Knight of Faith” and in doing this he believes that by teleological suspension of the ethical he will get her back (this is documented in full in the 3 problems in “Fear and Trembling”). I also think that his Christianity is almost always misunderstood. Kierkegaard strongly disbelieved in an all knowing, unmoved mover, type being. Kierkegaard like Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, believed that humans should find god in this world and that to hold out for a “afterlife” was a sure path to nihilistic thought (this idea is constantly discussed in all of Nietzsche and especially Dostoevsky's “The Possessed and “The Brothers Karamazov”). The attack on Christianity is almost as harsh in Kierkegaard as it is in Nietzsche. So in short, I think Kierkegaard is closer to Nietzsche than he is Luther.
To get back to the original question posted:
It is clear that every effect has its cause, but let me make clear that not every cause has its effect. What was the cause of all the arbitrary laws who intrinsically exist that govern the nature of cause and effect? Why is the universe constructed in 3 spatial dimensions instead of 4, 5 or 6 etc.? Why does time travel forward instead of back? Why is the experience of blue not green, green not red, and red not blue? If there are an infinite amount of things I could be experiencing in this moment, what has chosen my reality? Etc. etc. And if you answer all those: whence does existence itself, the cause of everything, come from: God? But then, I ask, what was the cause of God? I beg the question what chose these intrinsic things?
It is these unanswerable questions that led men to view life as absurd. Existence itself is determined by contingency. And I am very much an absurdist in this sense.
Existentialism, from my understanding, is a very vague belief system. It generally dealt with finding meaning in a rather absurd and seemingly meaningless existence despite many “existential obstacles” including depression, angst, absurdity, boredom, and some others. I happen to believe, however, (and I have a good deal of reasoning to back it up) that evolution has naturally designed us with purpose(s): survival, procreation, happiness, immortality, seeking the Good (as Plato put it), Will to life (Nietzsche), will to power (some Taoists) though there is not a word or a term to wholly sum up the general purpose of life.
So existentialism is a kind of absurdism, or absurdism is a kind of existentialism, but seeks to deal with the question of meaning in life, and absurdism sort-of does not.
A lot of these questions actually do have answers, or attempts thereof. As for ultimate laws of physics, there is a concept called the anthrophic principle. It seems likely that there are billions of universes, with varying 'fundamental' constants. We would just happen to be in a universe that allows intelligent life, obviously.
Originally Posted by Cunninglinguist
Why does time travel forward instead of backwards? Entropy. Physicists treat spacetime as one thing that exists independent of any particular 'moment'. Only to us it seems as if time was really moving, because entropy (2nd law of thermodynamics) points the direction, and living things work against that in order to survive.
Why is the experience of blue not green? There is no such thing as 'green'. It only feels like it to you. If scientists switched (blue instead of green say) the 'wires' that respond to certain wavelengths from your eyes to the brain, and also switched the associations you have made with that 'color', you wouldn't notice the difference in the sensation produced in your consciousness, because everything would remain the same as it was before. This is very complicated and I suck at explaining, I recommend 'Consciousness Explained' by Dennett.
"If there are an infinite amount of things I could be experiencing in this moment, what has chosen my reality?"
Good question. I have no idea.
Good books on the topic:
Sartre's Existentialism is a Humanism. This is a short but fascinating read in which Sartre defends existentialism.
Introduction to Existentialism by Robert Olson. It's about as close to a synthesis of existential thought as we're ever going to get.
Yeah. Absurdism is something like that. However I never could take it up whole-heartedly because it announces a failure in oneself.
Originally Posted by fnord
If all of my family died in a plane crash in New York while eating apples, I would become an absurdist. However, about the philosophy: for me, what is true is also what is good, what is right both theoretically and practically. Absurdism doesn't reach the final conclusion - there never is a final conclusion.
Or if there is, it is something like oneness. But it's always a cycle; and so absurdism is not the finality for it all.
Existentialism is nowhere near as simple as your sentence. Existentialism begins with an individual's budding awareness of his distance from others. Existentialism contains within it creation - on its path it's almost necessary to create one's own system of thought. And the better working model comes from those most successful existentialists.
This is a bit over-simplified and it's crude - however, it's accurate to say that existentialism is definitely an individual's journey... And in its beginning it is certainly related to Absurdism. There is an absurdity and isolation which the existentialist experiences. He goes into self-reflection and questions every line of thinking. Ultimately any existentialist to be worthy of my reading must have a good sense of life, of people, of nature: they must give me something valuable, they must know there is real beauty in life, and not just absurdity. They must come to the conclusion that to affirm life is a virtue; to live a strong life is a virtue. Why? Simply because I won't waste my time with others. Because I have been captured and held by the spiritual and poetic visions of Emerson and Whitman, Dickinson, and countless others.
Views and mindsets in which I've seen sparseness of spirit and love; those I discard. My standards for reading others' writings include the necessity of seeing beauty and believing in good and bad; and to know that life-affirmation and strength are two of the best virtues - because I think those conclusions are best. I know, not think, that my own truth in life isn't based in words or thinking. There is a part of us which is more essential which comes before the thinking... Feeling is part of that part of our being. One cannot reach life's heights without plunging into the world of love: to fill one's soul with love, by reaching perfection in relationships of love all around one. One cannot reach the soul's heights without a lot of faith in oneself. Swami Vivekananda writes in a treatise on Raja-Yoga;
"Throw away all weakness. Tell your body that it is strong, tell your mind that it is strong, and have unbounded faith and hope in yourself." the same kind of thinking I found in Emerson and Whitman who were poets and Transcendentalists, not Existentialists; yet they are related and overlap. Nietzsche himself requested a friend (who could and did) translate for him every essay Emerson wrote, so he could read it as soon as possible, because he so greatly admired Emerson.
The simplicity of such statements as "Don't worry, Be happy," the philosophy, and the happiness in which its adherents live, that calls to me more than any dead-end philosophy. The childlike truth and wisdom of the idea of simply "Tell the body and mind they are strong, and begin," calls out to me in a similar way.
(The above quote; http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Co...he_First_Steps)