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  1. #1

    Default Existential Themes

    I've been interested in Existentialism since my latest doubts about religion, although there's some reasons to be optimistic about a return of faith it's not going be certain as it was, anyway the main themes I've discerned are:-

    - Acknowledging/Living with the finality of death

    - Living deliberatively/making choices, knowing consequences, living with them

    - Personal responsibility, although (and I'm thinking particularly of Satre when he was in his socialist/Marxist phase) not denying determinism either

    The last two are closely related. Would anyone as interested in the topic concur? I've got to say that I think existentialism is most interesting when its at its most aphoristic or literary as opposed to straying into philosophising in a more direct way or psychologising either.

    Is existentialism a source of consolation or strength? It seems to have been for Nietzsche or Camus (though dont know if either would have accepted the label of Existentialist) who seemed to advocate a tragic optimism (Nietzsche) or revolt against the absurdity of life (Camus) but it could also be construed as direy or dismal and depressing. What do you think?

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    Its a very broad topic and hard to talk about as an individual entity.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    I've been interested in Existentialism since my latest doubts about religion, although there's some reasons to be optimistic about a return of faith it's not going be certain as it was, anyway the main themes I've discerned are:-

    - Acknowledging/Living with the finality of death
    I'm not sure how this is a theme of existentialism. Certain Existentialists, yes, but the conclusion that death is final is a long way away from existentialism.

    An example of this is that, if we assume the nicest most forgiving and benevolent version of the Christian god exists, some people, as unlikely as it is, could still see existence as worthless, meaningless, hopeless etc. It can be argued that existentialism is required in any possible Universe you can think of. To phrase that differently, that everyone is already an existentialist whether they realise it or not.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    - Living deliberatively/making choices, knowing consequences, living with them

    - Personal responsibility, although (and I'm thinking particularly of Satre when he was in his socialist/Marxist phase) not denying determinism either
    These are key to most its forms. The only thing I'll add is the classic question "what would a world with free will look like, if not the same as a deterministic world?" to push forward my compatibilist view point. A non-deterministic world, AKA a random one, would have the same issues with free will would it not?

    The key point there being that determinism or no, personal responsibility and such maintain the same importance. It's hard to deny that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    Is existentialism a source of consolation or strength? It seems to have been for Nietzsche or Camus (though dont know if either would have accepted the label of Existentialist) who seemed to advocate a tragic optimism (Nietzsche) or revolt against the absurdity of life (Camus) but it could also be construed as direy or dismal and depressing. What do you think?
    I would say it is a source of strength. But that strength does not come as easily or naturally as it does from faiths and other world-views. If depression and tragedy hit, and the only pillar one has is existentialism, unless that person is a very well developed existentialist, they are going to have a very rough time.

    Overall one is capable of the same level of happiness and meaning in existentialism as in any other belief, it's just harder to work through.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Its a very broad topic and hard to talk about as an individual entity.
    I agree, I dont know how to start a more narrow discussion since its the broad sweep I'm interested in looking at.


    I'm not sure how this is a theme of existentialism. Certain Existentialists, yes, but the conclusion that death is final is a long way away from existentialism.

    An example of this is that, if we assume the nicest most forgiving and benevolent version of the Christian god exists, some people, as unlikely as it is, could still see existence as worthless, meaningless, hopeless etc.

    It can be argued that existentialism is required in any possible Universe you can think of. To phrase that differently, that everyone is already an existentialist whether they realise it or not.
    I dont know about that, do you mean that some existentialists, like kirkegaard would consider there to be an afterlife therefore death is considered not to have a finality?

    There's not the denial or avoidance of death as a reality which exists in some philosophising, I only recently heard this aspect of it highlighted by an author Michael Foley in a book Age of Absurdity but when I went back to all the existentialist novels I've read I realised it was a recurrent theme. I do agree with you that everyone is in some sense an existentialist, it is about how you get through life.

    These are key to most its forms. The only thing I'll add is the classic question "what would a world with free will look like, if not the same as a deterministic world?" to push forward my compatibilist view point. A non-deterministic world, AKA a random one, would have the same issues with free will would it not?

    The key point there being that determinism or no, personal responsibility and such maintain the same importance. It's hard to deny that.
    Well I do believe in Kant's reasoning that we should behave as though we have free will even if in reality we dont. Even if its a totally nebulous concept which persists only for its individual and social utility I think it can be transformed into an aspirational ideal.

    I dont believe determinism is the opposite of freedom though, I think fatalism is. Predestination and fate are very different ideas to determinism.

    I would say it is a source of strength. But that strength does not come as easily or naturally as it does from faiths and other world-views. If depression and tragedy hit, and the only pillar one has is existentialism, unless that person is a very well developed existentialist, they are going to have a very rough time.

    Overall one is capable of the same level of happiness and meaning in existentialism as in any other belief, it's just harder to work through.
    I'm inclined to agree with that but I would add caveats in the sense that external supports can be sufficient and/or necessary also to resilience under stress/challenge/crisis and sometimes the people who lack those supports, the most vulnerable to stress/challenge/crisis often dont have the internal existentialist scripts either, I see there being a kind of reciprocal relationship between each.

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    The way I view death is that death is nothing to me, this is the idea Epicurus had about death. He said in order for something to be good or bad for a person, it must be perceived by the person and since he thought death was the end of perception, you should not be fearful of future events that will not harm you after death, like some people get worried about being punished after death.

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    I'm skeptical of the notion that, in any given moment, it's possible to make any other decision than the one that we do make on the basis of the confluence of our life experiences and hard-wired character, but in the end, so what? When we do what we experience as freely weighing the options before acting, we will generally be rewarded with what we experience as preferable results.
    Dost thou love Life? Then do not squander Time; for that's the Stuff Life is made of.

    -- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, June 1746 --

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    The father of Existentialism was Martin Heidegger and he was an enthusiastic member of the Nazi Party.

    And the most famous Existentialist was Jean-Paul Sartre and he was a Stalinist.

    Just as the father of MBTI was Carl Jung who was a free and enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi Party.

    So it seems both Existentialism and MBTI have the same totalitarian provenance.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    I've been interested in Existentialism since my latest doubts about religion, although there's some reasons to be optimistic about a return of faith it's not going be certain as it was, anyway the main themes I've discerned are:-

    - Acknowledging/Living with the finality of death

    - Living deliberatively/making choices, knowing consequences, living with them

    - Personal responsibility, although (and I'm thinking particularly of Satre when he was in his socialist/Marxist phase) not denying determinism either

    The last two are closely related. Would anyone as interested in the topic concur? I've got to say that I think existentialism is most interesting when its at its most aphoristic or literary as opposed to straying into philosophising in a more direct way or psychologising either.

    Is existentialism a source of consolation or strength? It seems to have been for Nietzsche or Camus (though dont know if either would have accepted the label of Existentialist) who seemed to advocate a tragic optimism (Nietzsche) or revolt against the absurdity of life (Camus) but it could also be construed as direy or dismal and depressing. What do you think?
    I think it depends upon the chemical makeup of the brain of the interpreter. I do not believe that the ideas of existentialism will lead one to be depressed; rather, in the right state of mind one may experience a euphoria at the notion that he possesses a sight where most others are blind.

    A gun can be a source of great strength, or it can be the means by which one destroys himself.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    I dont know about that, do you mean that some existentialists, like kirkegaard would consider there to be an afterlife therefore death is considered not to have a finality?
    I think final death is only related to existentialism in so far as existentialism is often a response to fear of final death.

    Beyond that, I think they have no relation. I'm an existentialist and final death seems like a fairytale to me, formed out of ignorance and instinct.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    Well I do believe in Kant's reasoning that we should behave as though we have free will even if in reality we dont. Even if its a totally nebulous concept which persists only for its individual and social utility I think it can be transformed into an aspirational ideal.

    I dont believe determinism is the opposite of freedom though, I think fatalism is. Predestination and fate are very different ideas to determinism.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mycroft View Post
    I'm skeptical of the notion that, in any given moment, it's possible to make any other decision than the one that we do make on the basis of the confluence of our life experiences and hard-wired character, but in the end, so what? When we do what we experience as freely weighing the options before acting, we will generally be rewarded with what we experience as preferable results.
    My response to both of these is to point out the non-sensibility of free will. That is to say, free will is neither true nor false, in the same manner 'fiudbgbia' is neither true nor false. As neither are making any statement about reality.

    If one throws a ball into a cup, and upon the ball exiting one's hand, one knows the ball will enter the cup, it is determinism on a much smaller scale.

    Consider that the prediction, the ball will enter the cup, has no bearing on the ball's motion. It is a property of the one making the prediction, not the predicted object, as the predicted object remains the same regardless of whether it is predicted or not. So, if free will is a property of an object, being able to predict that object does not affect the fact that it possesses free will.

    So all that is left is whether or not it was possible it could have taken a different course, as one could then say, regardless of prediction, the ball was always going to enter the cup, so it had no free will (fatalism). If it was possible to take another course of action, it may have had free will (substitute a sentient being for the ball if need be).

    To that aspect, I would point out that a universe where it is possible another course be taken, and a universe where it is not, are empirically indistinguishable. As in either case, the only observable action is the course it takes, which appears the same in either case.

    Talking about completely unobservable properties is not coherent. As such, regardless of the object in question (a mind, a soul, a rock etc.), ascribing free will to it makes no difference to its properties.

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