Abandonment and Existentialism
Existentialism does not have a universal definition, simply because each known philosopher to tackle the subject has a different take on its meaning. Existentialism is defined as a philosophical revolution of the 20th century concerned with “human existence, finding self, and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. The belief that people are searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions” (“Meaning of Existentialism,” n.d.). Existentialism then redefines how philosophy is viewed for it states that a person’s “judgment is the determining factor for what is to be believed rather than by religious or secular world values” (“Meaning of Existentialism”, nod.).
For most of famous existentialist, the realm of philosophical questioning must revolve around man and his experience rather than those mathematical and scientific truths – regardless of its corresponding label. Jean-Paul Sartre, being the only one to accept the label of an existentialist, was one of the revolution’s greatest advocates. Most of his works centered on the study of the human being, devoid of any other condition present in his environment. He took man as the feeling, acting and living subject, rather than only a thinking being where earlier studies concentrated upon.
In his Existentialism is a Humanism, he tackles the real meaning of existentialism, that existence precedes essence. According to Sartre this means that “the actual life of the individual is what constitutes what could be called his “essence” instead of there being a predetermined essence that defines what it is to be a human” (“Existentialism is a Humanism”, 1946.). There is no value, moral or predefined virtue that can label man and limit him to these. What it truly means is that man is free to act – what makes and defines him are his actions. Through this defining factor, man finds himself completely responsible for what he has done.
In this case, man can choose to be good and be called a good man and vise versa. It is through the actions of man that makes him who he is. Sartre states that “man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards” (“Existentialism is a Humanism”, 1946.). It is man’s choice which path he takes and what kind of life he leads. This ability to choose makes him truly free. As with freedom in all cases, absolute responsibility follows. The difference is, in Sartre’s essay, he maintains that this freedom is a sort of over-bearing kind.
As a free human being, Sartre also believes that we live in a world without a god, where nothing is predetermined. In this world, “there are no absolute, objective guides to action, morality, belief, or understanding” (“Existentialism is a Humanism”, 1946.). This knowledge that a god and the absolute do not exist gives man a feeling of abandonment. Man becomes aware that he has nothing to hold on to except himself. All his actions course through him, and since he is devoid of standards, morals and values everything then becomes his own choice and doing. This strange, somewhat terrifying feeling is the feeling of abandonment where freedom is a questionable gift to man.
Man is not absolutely devoid of values and morals in this world per se, yet existentialism stresses that man has the choice to change what has been fed to him. Most people were brought with a belief system inscribed in their being. Society has given us ‘guidelines’ with what we should and should not do, in essence the difference between good and evil. Existentialism then extends that man has the ability to filter what has been taught to him and what he continually grasps from his environment. Man has the ability to discern which value or moral he would take for himself. In essence, “We have to create values because there are no values prior to our existence and because the meaning of our lives cannot exist prior to our having lived” (“Existentialism is a Humanism”, 1946.). Camus’s story The Myth of Sisyphus tackles the absurd life. Man can never achieve any meaning that he wants from the universe since there is just “formless chaos” all around (“Myth of Sisyphus”, 2003). Existentialism finds no order in existence, but attempts to take a leap of faith. A question raised by Camus is this: in universe without order, will one take a leap of faith and try searching, or would he commit suicide instead?
The meaning of being totally free does not entail one to disregard society and the people around him. He must not forget that everyone has something to say, and they are also equally free to comment on how another person is living his life. Man must not forget that in this freedom, other people are still affected and it is part of this realm that consequentiality enters – what man does will inevitably affect others and the aftermaths of this are for him to take.
For another notably famous existentialist Nietzsche, he openly condemned Christianity because of its produced doctrines and moralities that according to him continuously enslave men. For him the existence of man is for living dangerously. Independent thinking and will to power must constitute man and should be the right way of thinking. According to Nietzsche, the union of “physical strength and mental energy” is the ideal human person, and that man must not rely on “slave morality” to define who he is (“The Portable Nietzsche”, 1976). Nietzsche’s view of man does not intend to be self-indulgent nor comfortable, yet for him life must be lived dangerously – a constant seeking to be the best, a “superhuman” indeed. (“The Portable Nietzsche”, 1976.).
Dante’s Inferno is a direct competition of the Existentialist’s revolution and the idea of abandonment. Dante’s tour in hell shows how the Catholic religion instill what is right and wrong to society, with the fear of punishment. For those who do not know Christ, and for those who choose to go astray from the Catholic religion, there are corresponding punishments waiting for man in hell. This dogma and fear instilled in man by the Church is what Nietzsche has greatly fought against. Again as an existentialist, he believed that man is in control.
With the views of Nietzsche and Sartre in play, it is safe to say that they both pertain to independence and freedom in being human. A certain feeling of abandonment is inevitable to freedom because everything in life then becomes man’s choice and his choice alone.
Alighieri, D., Longfellow, H.W., Bondanella, P.E., & Doré G. (2003). The Inferno. (H.W. Longfellow, Trans.). New York: Sparkle Educational Publishing.
Camus, A. & O’Brien, J. (1991). The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. (J. O’Brien, Trans.). New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing.
Nietzsche, F.W. & Kaufmann, W.A. (1976). The Portable Nietzsche. (W.A. Kaufmann, Trans.). New York: Penguin Books.
Satre, J.P., Macomber, C., Kulka, J., & Solal C. (2007). Existentialism is a Humanism. (C. Macomber, Trans.). Connecticut: Yale University Press. (Original work published 1946).
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