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EXISTENTIALISM

Existentialism is a philosophical theory emphasizing the existence of the


individual person as a free and responsible agent determining his or her own
development through acts of the will (which in the Christian form of the
theory leads to God).1
The term denotes recurring themes in modern philosophy and literature
rather than a single school of thought.
Existentialism has its roots in World War-I, specifically Battle of Verdun which
took place in 1916. Erich von Falkenhayen (the Chief of the German General
Staff during the First World War) wanted to “bleed France white” and
employed attrition attacks in the battle. In February the Germans attacked the
French defensive positions at Verdun. The battle lasted till December,
casualties were greater for the French and Verdun became a symbol of French
determination and self-sacrifice. With a German death toll of 143,000 (out of
337,000 total casualties) and a French one of 162,440 (out of 377,231),
Verdun would come to signify, more than any other battle, the grinding,
bloody nature of warfare on the Western Front during World War I. 2
The theses of Existentialism found a particular relevance after World War-I
and during World War-II, when Europe found itself threatened alternately by
material and spiritual destruction. Under those circumstances of uncertainty,
the optimism of Romantic inspiration, by which the destiny of man is infallibly
guaranteed by an infinite force (such as the Reason, the Absolute, or mind)
and propelled it toward an ineluctable progress, appeared to be untenable.
Existentialism was moved to insist that man is “Thrown into the world”-i.e.,
abandoned to a determinism that could render his initiatives impossible-and
to hold that his very freedom is conditioned and hampered by limitations that
could at any moment render it empty.3

Existentialism proposes that man is full of anxiety and despair with no


meaning in his life, just simply existing, until he makes decisive choice
about his own future. That is the way to achieve dignity as a human being.
Existentialists felt that adopting a social or political cause was one way of
giving purpose to a life.

1
Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary.
2
Wikipedia and “http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-verdun-begins”
3
Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropedia, “Knowledge in Depth” (Volume 7)
One of the major thinkers during this period was Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre
had been imprisoned in Germany in 1940 but managed to escape, and
became one of the leaders of the Existential movement. Other popular
playwrights were Albert Camus, who became the spokesman for the
French Underground when he wrote his famous essay, “Le Mythe de
Sisyphe” or “The Myth of Sisyphus”. Sisyphus was the man condemned by
the Gods to roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back
down again. For Camus, this related heavily to everyday life, and he saw
Sisyphus an “absurd” hero, with a pointless existence. Camus felt that it
was necessary to wonder what the meaning of life was, and that the human
being longed for some sense of clarity in the world, since

“If the world were clear, art would not exist”.4

Existentialism as a philosophy is drawn from a wider philosophical


tradition. The problem of what man is in himself can be discerned in the
Socratic imperative “know thyself”, as well as the work of Montaigne and
Pascal, a religious philosopher and mathematician. Montaigne had said:

“If my mind could gain a foothold, I would not write essays, I would
make decisions; but it is always in apprenticeship and on trial”.

Pascal had insisted on the precarious position of man situated between


Being and Nothingness: “We burn with the desire to find solid ground
and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the
infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks and the earth open to abysses.”

The stance of the internal tribunal- of man’s withdrawal into his own
spiritual interior- which reappears in some Existentialists (in Marcel and
Sartre, for example) already belonged ,to St. Augustine.5

Saint Augustine who lived during the declining years of the Roman Empire
was the greatest theologian of his era. Many of Augustine’s letters and
sermons are devoted to refuting the beliefs of the Manicheans 6, the
Donatists7 (a schismatic Christian sect), and the Palegians8 forms an
4
Existentialism and War; thefiendish.com
5
Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropedia, “Knowledge in Depth” (Volume 7)
6
Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of
light, and an evil, material world of darkness
7
Donatism (Latin: Donatismus, Greek: Δονατισμός Donations) was a Christian sect within the Roman province of
Africa that flourished in the fourth and fifth centuries[1] among Berber Christians. The Donatists (named for
important part of Augustine’s religious doctrines. According to Augustine
all men are stained with Adam’s sin. Human beings are unable to attain
salvation solely through their own efforts and good works: the grace of God
is necessary for salvation9

In early 19th century French philosophy, it was defended by a reformed


Ideologue, Marie Main de Braine, who wrote:

“Even from my infancy I remember that I marveled at the sense of my


existence. I was already led by instinct to look within myself in order to
know how it was possible that I could be alive and be myself.”

From then on, this posture inspired a considerable part of French


philosophy. The theme of the irreducibility of existence to reason, common
to many Existentialists, was also defended by a leading German Idealist,
F.W.j. von Schelling, as he argued against Hegel in the last phase of
philosophy and Schelling’s Polemic, in turn, inspired the scholar usually
cited as the father of Existentialism, the religious Dan Soren Kierkegaard.

Existentialism10 is often characterized as a break with traditional Western


philosophy, taking as its point of departure and as its goal (its Truth) the
crisis-ridden isolated existence of an individual. So characterized this
movement is nowhere given a more poetic or more explicit statement than
in the writings of Soren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard insists on the importance of the individual thinker first of all


as a reaction to an attitude which he took to be the mark and the shame of
19th century, a period characterized as “essentially one of understanding
and reflection, without passion”

“Each age has its own characteristic depravity. Ours is perhaps


not pleasure or indulgence or sensuality, but rather a
dissolute pantheistic contempt for individual man”

the Berber Christian bishop Donatus Magnus) were members of an offshoot church which did not follow the same
doctrine as some other churches of the rest of Early Christianity in Late Antiquity.
8
Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing
good or evil without special divine aid.
9
The Hundred by Micheal H. Hart
10
From Rationalism to Existentialism: The Existentialists and Their Nineteenth Century by Robert C. Solomon
It is an epoch in which every human endeavor is marred by an
“unhappy objectivity” (an absence of personality), and the individual
and personal have become smothered in the mechanical “leveling”
process of the mediocrity of the “masses” (alternatively
characterized as, the group, the crowd, and the public). This
mediocrity with its stress on the concept of the group and its denial
of individuality is at one with the tendency to passionless reflection.

In order that everything should be reduced to the same level, it is first


of all necessary to procure a phantom, its spirit, a monstrous
abstraction, an all-embracing something that is nothing, a mirage—
and that phantom is the public. It is only in an age which is without
passion, yet reflective, that such a phantom can develop itself.

The ‘present age’ is characterized by the fact that “there are no


longer any human beings,” for a human being is an individual and
this “age has forsaken the individual in order to take refuge in the
Collective idea”. (The notion of collective idea comes directly from
Hegel.) A human being is not an organ of a larger body but a person;
but Kierkegaard complains, nothing is personal in this age of the
crowd. A human being ought to be passionate and committed, but no
one now is willing to commit himself or allow himself to succumb to
what Kant called the “pathology of passion” (Kant understands
passion to be a kind of inclination that operates under a guise of
reason. The passions are not just strong desires that might provide
the occasion for weakness of will in us. Instead, the passions,
although ultimately based in non-rational aspects of our sensible
nature, pretend to offer authoritative concerns that are objectively
more important than both morality and our other desires might be.
Typically, the passions involve the appropriation and corruption of
moral ideas. Justice is twisted into envy and vindictiveness, self-
respect into pride and arrogance (self-conceit). Kant considers all the
passions to be cancerous sores in the soul; he claims that we should
try to extirpate them all as much as we can, making no allowance for
passions that might largely cohere with or support morality). 11

This is an age in which men have given up the dangers of passionate


commitment and assertive individuality and have turned to the

11
The Highest Good in Aristotle and Kant edited by Joachim Aufderheide, Ralf M. Bader
comforts of “understanding” and “reflection”. Men reflect on great
happenings, but nothing ever happens. Men understand greatness
but no great deeds are performed. Men have become superbly
rational; “Absolutely Rational” but they have in turn forgotten “how
to live.”

The notion of ‘existence ‘is reserved for those who live as individuals,
not biologically but individually in their thought and their values. It is
a term especially designed for those who are committed, who feel
their freedom in despair, who recognize their responsibility for their
actions (which for Kierkegaard means resultant guilt more than
pride). The human being who merits this special designation of his
life as existence, is the passionate anti-social or at least asocial
individual who is master of his own life, the author of his own values.

It is impossible to exist without passion, unless we understand the word


‘exist’ in the loose sense of a so-called existence.

And it is just this that it means to exist, if one is to become conscious of


it. Eternity is a winged horse, infinitely fast, and time is a worn-out
jade; the existing individual is the driver. That is to say, he is such a
driver when his mode of existence is not an existence loosely so called;
for then he is no driver but a drunken peasant who lies asleep in the
wagon and lets the horses take care of themselves. To be sure, he also
drives and is a driver, and so there are many who –also exist.

The Cartesian cogito ergo sum12 is confused, according to


Kierkegaard, because the cogito presupposes one’s existence and
does not prove it.

“Because I exist and because I think therefore I think that I exist… I


must exist in order to think.”

Behind the attack on Cartesianism, we can clearly discern the very


significant agreement with Hegel 13 which leads Kierkegaard to these
12
Cogito ergo sum[a] is a Latin philosophical proposition by René Descartes usually translated into English as "I
think, therefore I am”. This proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it purported to
form a secure foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt. While other knowledge could be a figment of
imagination, deception, or mistake, Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one's own existence served—
at minimum—as proof of the reality of one's own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for
there to be a thought.
extreme conclusions. Hegel argued that the concept of Spirit could
not be adequately understood in terms of individuals; Kierkegaard
agrees with this claim, but so much worse for the conception of the
Spirit. Kierkegaard is interested in the concept of the individual, and
if neither the cogito or Kant’s “I Think”, nor Hegel’s spirit provides us
with such a concept, then they all must be rejected. It is not just these
concepts which must be rejected but rather the way of thinking
which leads to them. We recall that Hegel attacked Kant’s critique of
knowledge with the objection that it led to an unrecognized
skepticism at least as insidious as the skepticism growing from
Descartes’ Meditations. Kierkegaard also sees the problems of
critique of knowledge in the style of Descartes or Kant, but disagrees
with them as well as with Hegel that such an enterprise is even
possible:

A skepticism which attacks thought itself cannot be vanquished by


thinking it through, since the very instrument by which this would have
to be done is in revolt. There is only one thing to do with such a
skepticism, and that is to break with it.

Kierkegaard’s “break” is a return to ‘subjectivity’, a refusal to even


ask the question about our knowledge of our world and focus
attention only on our intentions and attitudes towards this world.
For Kierkegaard, the traditional problems of epistemology and
metaphysics are dismissed out of hand; the common sense answers
to the questions that had plagued Descartes and Kant are simply and
naively assumed without doubt.

“Subjectivity is truth

Subjectivity is reality”

13
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel ( August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher and an
important figure of German idealism. Hegel's principal achievement is his development of a distinctive articulation
of idealism sometimes termed "absolute idealism",[13] in which the dualisms of, for instance, mind and nature
and subject and object are overcome. His philosophy of spirit conceptually integrates psychology, the state,
history, art, religion, and philosophy. Of special importance is his concept of spirit (Geist: sometimes also
translated as "mind") as the historical manifestation of the logical concept and the "sublation" (Aufhebung:
integration without elimination or reduction) of seemingly contradictory or opposing factors; examples include the
apparent opposition between nature and freedom and between immanence and transcendence.
The meaning of human existence according to Kierkegaard lies in its
constant and conscious inner striving, parallel to the fundamental
notion of conatus in Spinoza and the Will in Schopenhauer. However,
these latter two philosophies took the task of philosophy to be the
suppression of this irrational force through the contemplative claim
of philosophy. Kierkegaard took as his philosophical task the
glorification and maximization of the striving (at the expense of
contemplation.)

For Kierkegaard, as for most philosophers of the Western tradition,


to exist as a man is to desire, to fear, to be, if not the slaves of one’s
passions, at least passionate. Few philosophers would adopt Hume’s
doctrine that “Reason is, and ought to be the slave of passions,” for
the great philosophies of the West have had a prominent goal, the
victory of reason over the passions through philosophical reflection.

Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the most influential of all modern


existentialist and postmodernist thinkers. He is considered the father of
Nihilism, which teaches that there is no ultimate meaning to human existence.
Nietzsche gave the famous statement, “God is Dead” due to which many critics
regard him as an Atheist. He argued that the rapid advancement of science
and the subsequent secularization of the European society had effectively
killed the Christian God. He believed that religion makes people weak because
they blame each and everything on God and do not try to change or improve
their situation.

In the absence of God, then, all values, truths and standards must be created
by us rather than merely handed to us by some outside agency, which
Nietzsche (and the Existentialists who later embraced this idea) as a
tremendously empowering, even if not a comforting, thing. His solution to the
vacuum left by the absence of religion was essentially to "be yourself", to be
true to oneself, to be uninhibited, to live life to the full, and to have the
strength of mind to carry through one's own project, regardless of any
obstacles or concerns for other people, the weak, etc. This was his major
premise, and also the goal towards which he thought all Ethics should be
directed.
At the heart of many of Nietzsche's ideas lies his belief that in order to achieve
anything worthwhile, whether it be scaling a mountain to take in the views or
living a good life, hardship and effort are necessary. He went so far as to wish
on everyone he cared about a life of suffering, sickness and serious reversals
in life, so that they could experience the advantage of overcoming such
setbacks. His was the original “no pain, no gain" philosophy, and he believed
that in order to harvest great happiness in life, it was necessary to live
dangerously and take risks. For Nietzsche, therefore, sorrows and troubles
were not to be denied or escaped (he particularly despised people who turned
to drink or to religion), but to be welcomed and cultivated and thereby turned
to one's advantage. This is exemplified by a famous quote from his book "Ecce
Homo": "what does not kill me, makes me stronger".

An important element of Nietzsche's philosophical outlook is the concept of


the "will to power", which provides a basis for understanding motivation in
human behavior. His notion of the will to power can be viewed as a direct
response and challenge to Schopenhauer's "will to
live". Schopenhauer regarded the entire universe and everything in it as
driven by a primordial will to live, resulting in the desire of all creatures
to avoid death and to procreate. He also saw this as the source of
all evil and unhappiness in the world. Nietzsche, on the other hand, appeals to
many instances in which people and animals willingly risk their lives in order
to promote their power (most notably in instances like competitive fighting
and warfare). He suggested that the struggle to survive is a secondary drive in
the evolution of animals and humans, less important than the desire to expand
one’s power. He even went so far as to posit matter itself as a center of the will
to power. In Nietzsche's view, again in direct opposition to Schopenhauer, the
will to power was very much a source of strength and a positive thing.

He contrasted his theory with several of the other popular psychological


views of his day, such as Utilitarianism (which claims that all people want
fundamentally to be happy, an idea Nietzsche merely laughed at)
and Platonism (which claims that people ultimately want to
achieve unity with the good or, in Christian Neo-Platonism, with God). In each
case, Nietzsche argued that the "will to power" provides a more
useful and general explanation of human behavior.

Another concept important to an understanding of Nietzsche's thought is that


of the "Übermensch", introduced in his 1883 book "Also sprach
Zarathustra" ("Thus Spoke Zarathustra"). Variously translated as "superman",
"superhuman" or "overman" (although the word is actually gender-neutral in
German), this refers to the person who lives above and beyond pleasure and
suffering, treating both circumstances equally, because joy and suffering are,
in his view, inseparable. The Übermensch is the person who lives life to the
full according to his own values, a free spirit, uninhibited and confident,
although exhibiting an underlying generosity of spirit, and
avoiding instinctively all those values which Nietzsche considered negative.

Likewise, his notion of "eternal return" (or "eternal recurrence") has


generated much argument among scholars. Nietzsche suggested that if a
person could imagine their life repeating over and over again for all eternity,
each moment recurring in exactly the same way, then those who could
embrace the idea cheerfully are, ipso facto, leading the right sort of life, and
those who recoil with horror from this idea have not yet learned to love and
value life sufficiently. Nietzsche is almost certainly not proposing that this
is literally the way the real world works (as some have suggested), but he is
using it as a kind of metaphor to show how we should judge our moral
conduct. Some scholars (particularly the later Existentialists) have interpreted
the idea as a perpetually recurring condition of human existence, as one faces,
in every moment, infinite possibilities or modes of interpretation. If a person
loves himself and life than he will consequently be happy in the future
because he will not have false hopes or dreams about his future. Instead he
would work hard against all odds to achieve success and prosperity in life.14

The Russian novelist and essayist, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, is


considered a forerunner of existentialist thought. According to Dostoevsky
“Man” is restricted by society, economic conditions, laws, history, the church
and especially by God. His existence is defined by his environment and his
identity is fixed by a hundred institutions and conditions. Man, however does
not want to be defined or identified as a fixed entity; he wants to be free and
break off the chains of social conformity. Dostoyevsky claims that a man has a
right to be completely and utterly free, for freedom is the essential attribute of
his identity. In the process of attaining his freedom, a man must revolt against
society and against his own self. He should rid himself of the conventions
forced on him by his surroundings; since man is always enveloped by the
overwhelming effects of his environment he must constantly struggle to break

14
Basics of Philosophy, (http://www.philosophybasics.com/philosophers_nietzsche.html)
free of its stifling influence. Thus, the struggle for freedom will continue
throughout his life; not only today, but tomorrow and for all eternity.

Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a German-language writer of


novels and short stories who is widely regarded as one of the major figures
of 20th-century literature. His work, which fuses elements of realism and
the fantastic, typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or
surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers,
and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential
anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.15

Kafka portrayed man as a confused being who is unable to decide which path
to choose in order to strive in a world where everything is rendered
meaningless, by the inevitability of death. The various possibilities or
opportunities which are presented to him lead him into a quagmire rather
than a paradise. The choices which are offered by society and life in general
are too overwhelming. Each step a person takes is a step towards his
destruction rather than salvation. His freedom of choice becomes a curse
rather than a blessing. He is forced to conform to the moral obligations of
society. He must determine what constitutes a moral action although he can
never foresee the consequences of his actions.

The guilt of existentialist heroes, as of Kafka's, lies in their failure to choose


and to commit themselves in the face of too many possibilities — none of
which appears more legitimate or worthwhile than any other one. And in this
sense, they are all modern-day relatives of that great hesitator Hamlet, the
victim of his exaggerated consciousness and overly rigorous conscience.

The absurdity which Kafka portrays in his nightmarish stories was, to him, the
quintessence of the whole human condition. The utter incompatibility of the
"divine law" and the human law, and Kafka's inability to solve the discrepancy
are the roots of the sense of estrangement from which his protagonists suffer.
No matter how hard Kafka's heroes strive to come to terms with the universe,
they are hopelessly caught, not only in a mechanism of their own contriving,
but also in a network of accidents and incidents, the least of which may lead to
the gravest consequences. Absurdity results in estrangement, and to the

15
Wikipedia
extent that Kafka deals with this basic calamity, he deals with all eminently
existentialist theme.16

Martin Heidegger is widely acknowledged to be one of the most original and


important philosophers of the 20th century, while remaining one of the most
controversial. His thinking has contributed to such diverse fields as
phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty), existentialism (Sartre, Ortega y Gasset),
hermeneutics (Gadamer, Ricoeur), political theory (Arendt, Marcuse,
Habermas), psychology (Boss, Binswanger, Rollo May), and theology
(Bultmann, Rahner, Tillich). His critique of traditional metaphysics and his
opposition to positivism and technological world domination have been
embraced by leading theorists of postmodernity (Derrida, Foucault,
and Lyotard).
Heidegger’s fundamental analysis of Dasein from Being and Time points to
temporality as the primordial meaning of Dasein’s being. In everyday German
language the word “Dasein” means life or existence. The noun is used by other
German philosophers to denote the existence of any entity. However,
Heidegger breaks the word down to its components “Da” and “Sein,” and gives
to it a special meaning which is related to his answer to the question of who
the human being is.

Dasein is essentially temporal. Its temporal character is derived from the


tripartite ontological structure: existence, thrownness, and fallenness by which
Dasein’s being is described. Existence means that Dasein is potentiality-for-
being (Seinkönnen); it projects its being upon various possibilities. Existence
represents thus the phenomenon of the future. Then, as thrownness, Dasein
always finds itself already in a certain spiritual and material, historically
conditioned environment; in short, in the world, in which the space of
possibilities is always somehow limited. This represents the phenomenon of
the past as having-been. Finally, as fallenness, Dasein exists in the midst of
beings which are both Dasein and not Dasein. The encounter with those
beings, “being-alongside” or “being-with” them, is made possible for Dasein by
the presence of those beings within-the-world. This represents the primordial
phenomenon of the present.
Heidegger claims that the human being as Da-sein can be understood as the
“there” (Da) which being (Sein) requires in order to disclose itself. The human

16
Cliffs notes
being is the unique being whose being has the character of openness toward
Being. But men and women can also turn away from being, forget their true
selves, and thus deprive themselves of their humanity. This is, in Heidegger’s
view, the situation of contemporary humans, who have replaced authentic
questioning concerning their existence with ready-made answers served up
by ideologies, the mass media, and overwhelming technology. Consequently,
Heidegger attempts to bring today’s men and women back to the question of
being. At the beginning of the tradition of Western philosophy, the human
being was defined as animal rationale, the animal endowed with reason. Since
then, reason has become an absolute value which through education brings
about a gradual transformation of all spheres of human life. It is not more
reason in the modern sense of calculative thinking, Heidegger believes, that
we need today, but more openness toward and more reflection on that which
is nearest to us—being.17

Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (1905 - 1980) was a French philosopher,


writer and political activist, and one of the central figures in 20th Century
French philosophy. He is best known as the main figurehead of
the Existentialism movement. Along with his French contemporaries Albert
Camus (1913 - 1960) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908 - 1986), he helped
popularize the movement through his novels and plays as well as through his
more academic works. As a young man, he also made significant contributions
to Phenomenology.18

Sartre’s theory of Existentialism states “Existence is prior to essence” ,


means that man is not predestined to live a particular life. Man is simply
thrown into the world which is concrete and ever imposing. The
environment or the conditions in which a person lives or is forced to live
can’t be thought away.

Man is given the choice to be free in his actions and ventures. This freedom
of choice is empowering but also overwhelming. If a person is responsible
for his own actions, he will have to face the consequences of his actions

17
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

18
Phenomenology: The science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being; an approach
that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience.
whether profitable or adverse. The decision to face problems head on or to
run away from them is solely his own, he cannot blame any person or fate
or even God for the frustration of his hopes and aspirations.

Thus, “Man is condemned to be free” (free from all authority), he has to


take responsibility for his actions during which he has to suffer anguish,
loneliness and despair. He constantly lives with “existential dread” because
he is always conscious of the limits of knowledge and morality. However,
an individual must experience the existential dread or angst in order to
achieve human dignity and grandeur.

Sartre concluded from his arguments that if God exists, then man is not free;
by the same token, if man is free, then God does not exist. Atheism, then,
is taken for granted in Sartre's philosophy, but he maintained that the "loss of
God" is not to be mourned. On the contrary, in a godless universe, life has no
meaning or purpose beyond the goals that each man sets for himself, and
individuals must therefore detach themselves from things in order to give
them meaning. The only identity a person can ever hope to achieve in this
world is through hard work and persistence in achieving the goals he sets for
himself and establishing his identity according to his own preference rather
than the one outlined by religion or society.

Though existentialism has both a theistic and atheistic schools of thought, all
existentialists share the beliefs that the true subject of philosophy is
our concrete existence in the world and the conditions of this existence. There
is no predetermined essence that should tell us what it means to exist as
human beings. In existentialism this belief is phrased as the axiom “existence
precedes essence.”

We exist in this world but we are separate from it; we project our
meanings into this world in order to define to ourselves what we are.
Sometimes this projection involves acting. Sometimes it involves not acting.
Each one of us does this individually. There is no collective idea out there that
tells us how to do this or what this projecting is like. Sometimes this projected
meaning is terrifying; sometimes it is an insight. In any case, such moments
give our lives that are otherwise meaningless, meaning.

All of us experience what the existentialists call angst, which is the fear,
dread or anxiety of action and freedom. A common analogy is to imagine
standing on a cliff and feeling afraid not just of falling off, but also of
wanting to jump off. We all have the freedom to act; not acting is also
acting. Not choosing is also a choice. Freedom in existentialism explores
the responsibility one carries as a result of one’s freedom. We are free to
live authentic lives. An authentic life is one where we act as we are, not as
we should, or our parents should, our community should, our families
should etc. When we act authentically we don’t act randomly, we don’t
choose either-or; we don’t deny the differing values that our many options
have. When acting authentically we take responsibility for such acts we
undertake, such choices we make.
Inauthentic acts for existentialists emerge from the denial of one’s
authentic self and one’s authentic freedoms to live, as one is. Such acts may
lead to severe psychological problems such as depression, isolation,
alienation and the worst possible result of living an inauthentic life is
suicide, where an individual is unable to reconcile himself with his reality
and loses interest in a life riddled with misery and failure. He tries to
escape from his “angst” by embracing the ultimate freedom i.e., death; not
realizing that death is not an escape. It is the willful denial of the most
profound reality of existence, to commit suicide means that an individual
has given up, he is not able to take responsibility for his actions or to use
his freedom of choice to his own advantage. Existentialism preaches to
confront the hardships of life with an unflinching zest and to prove by
overcoming these hardships that everyone can be a Superhuman thwarting
the adversities which pull him down and emerging victorious and
triumphant in the end.
Existentialists, particularly, twentieth century existentialist philosophers,
believe in the notion of the Absurd, the notion that the world has no
meaning beyond what meaning we confer to it through our actions. Any
attempt to understand existence beyond its physical manifestation is futile
and all endeavors towards meaningful communication is bound to fail. (A
perfect example is “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett).

In the present age Existentialism has lost its footing. Human beings have
become accustomed to a life of complacence and luxury. They have
conformed themselves to a specific state of mind where a person willingly
accepts his situation as something inevitable and acceptable. They
understand but do not act, admire greatness from a distance but never
dare to be great, realize that there are problems which need to be solved
but never venture to solve them. The urge to live a passionately charged
life, the curiosity to explore and the endless possibities and the spirit of
existing as a meaningful and extraordinary being is lost in the phenomenon
we call globalization.

The phenomenon of globalization i.e. the ability to communicate with each


and every person in the world has enamored the individual to such an
extent that he is unable to live outside the “social circle”. The term social
acceptance has taken a whole new meaning. To be socially acceptable one
has to cater to the interests of millions of people on social forums such as
Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram etc.

The need to assert one’s presence 24 hours a day has led to narcissism and
self-indulgence. Instead of achieving a meaningful recognition through a
work of art or excelling in a particular field, people try to portray
themselves by revealing the nitty gritty details of their lives. In the 21 st
century existence means to broadcast yourself to the whole world (even if
it’s a virtual world). The constant need to tell the world what you are
reading, writing, eating, drinking or even planning of doing is making
human beings shallow and passive. If a person gets a thousand followers
on twitter or a million on Facebook, he deems it enough to be satisfied
because it satiates his ego.

In a world where everyone knows everything about everyone, existence


seems like an obsolete idea. The real value of a human being is lost ,
sentiments and emotions become fake and mechanical, physical interaction
is lost and face to face communication has become a thing of the past. The
human race has turned into zombies who would rather chat on messenger
rather than talk to the person sitting in front of him.

Existentialism needs to be lauded and reinvented to make people realize


the truth of their existence, to bring back the intellectual individual out of
the social circle, to feel the angst of real problems of the world, to act and
revolt rather than sit and comment. The value of hard work and
perseverance as preached by Sartre, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and others
needs to be asserted in order to create harmony in the world. Thus
Existentialism is not just a movement lost in the pages of history, it
outlines the designated path for each and every human being to explore his
self and his abilities. It urges a person to find a purpose in life, to tap his
full potential as a superior being among all living things and finally achieve
his goal and fulfill his aspirations to become the ultimate, formidable and
successful human being. This is the real meaning of existence and the true
happiness any individual can hope to achieve.