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Re: [existlist] Re: existentialism

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  • Bill Harris
    Eduard, That was a thoughtful synopsis of the late existentialist movement. I was suprised to read your post in which you stated you are not an exist, but now
    Message 1 of 275 , Jan 3, 2002
      Eduard, That was a thoughtful synopsis of the late existentialist movement.
      I was suprised to read your post in which you stated you are not an exist,
      but now see clearer definition in your statement. Existentialism ,most of
      all, gave us the freedom to think for ourselves, to build a personal
      philosophy from our own experience. I think in that context you remain an
      exist. Bill
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Eduard Alf" <yeoman@...>
      To: <existlist@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2002 4:46 PM
      Subject: RE: [existlist] Re: existentialism


      Your explanation is the conventional one. I do not doubt that for the
      average person in the middle ages [or for any other age, for that matter]
      the world was flat. The average person was born, lived and died within a
      very small area of activity. Even today, if all you did was to live in New
      York City and never went beyond its boundaries, the world might as well be

      But for those who were in what one might call the aristocracy and had some
      learning, the world was known to be round. It was known to be round at the
      time of the Greeks and even into the middle ages, albeit the extent of this
      knowledge was itself limited., by the loss structures dedicated to learning.

      When Columbus did his bit in 1492, the issue was not the world might be flat
      and the ship would go over the edge, but rather the actual value of the
      diameter [i.e. circumference]. Columbus was opposed by those who felt that
      the world was too large to make such a voyage practical. Keep in mind that
      the continent of North America was not yet confirmed. Columbus on the other
      hand fudged his figures and estimated that he could reach China by a
      westward track. So what it came down to was whether the Spanish crown
      should invest in a project that might well be fail, because of the distance.
      The decision to go with Columbus' plan was forced by the fact that the
      alternative of going around the cape of Africa was already established by
      the Portuguese. Spain took the risk, because of the opportunity it
      presented. Not that Columbus happened to convince anyone that the world was
      round. That he happened to find North America was only shear luck and it
      lead to subsequent division of the world by the Catholic Church .. between
      Spain and Portugal.

      What I am drawing towards is that the conventional story is simplistic and
      fits our perception of history as being a matter of dates and a few
      exceptional people. But it really is not that way, once you get into the
      background detail.

      I think that the rise of secular humanism has much to do with rising
      population levels. It was not a matter of a simple theist question of
      whether there is a god or not. When Europe became over-populated [for the
      technology of the time] it would have become apparent to even the least
      educated that much of what was happening had nothing to do with god. Or
      rather that the problems had to do with mankind itself and god, if he
      existed, was not making things right.

      I grant that one could say that secular humanism arose out of the advent of
      new thinking. In particular such as that of Newton which suggested that we
      lived in an ordered universe. If you could predict the motion of an object
      from point A to point B, then it is only a small step to say that you could
      predict the motion to infinity. I forget the name, but someone expressed
      that if one had a lever large enough and a place to put the fulcrum, then
      you could move the earth.

      That there were abattoir regimes in the 20th century was really the result
      of having the ability and the will to kill in a massive fashion. And that
      technology did not have to be much advanced. The deaths in WW2 from simple
      one-on-one killing far outreached that from gas chambers and dropping
      incendiary or nuclear bombs. All of this has caused some to wonder if
      mankind is basically evil versus being inherently good. Although I tend to
      believe in the latter, my arguements tend to be poor in view of the apparent

      Existentialism, at least that of Sartre, arose out of the discouragement of
      WW2 for anything positive in the behaviour of mankind. "Hell is other
      people". As Garcin in his novel "No Exit", Sartre had a war experience.
      But in contrast, Sartre was not able to avoid the draft and was subsequently
      taken prisoner by the Germans. I can understand his question as to what was
      the good of it all. Just as he was thrown into the war, so too is mankind
      thrown into the world. From that point, you start to realise that there is
      nothing of real value to hang your hat on, and you might as well start from
      scratch to create your own self through your choices. And in Sartre's view
      [my opinion] that the world was already thoroughly screwed up, you are faced
      with the absurd situation of making choices for which there is no valid
      morality for what is right and what is wrong.

      What I am getting at is that Existentialism, as we know it, is not there
      because there happened to be a Sartre, but rather that it comes from his
      experience. If Sartre had been born in the United States for which WW2 [at
      least in the early years] was somewhat of a side-show, the philosophy that
      he developed might well have been completely different. The same applies to
      Camus and the affect of the Algerian war on the pied noir. The point being
      that history is a matter of changes and movements within society and
      individuals such as Sartre arise only to express it.

      My opinion is that we have gone beyond the dark environment of the 1940s and
      50s. Although the new millennium has its own set of problems, there also
      reason for a greater hope for mankind. Existentialism then becomes just
      another stepping stone from the past. We take what is good in it and move


      -----Original Message-----
      From: masha [mailto:masha@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2002 3:48 PM
      To: existlist@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [existlist] Re: existentialism

      jascook12 wrote:

      > Could someone please explain what existentialism means?

      I loved G. Walten's explanation but I thought you might like to get an
      answer from another perspective as well. I recently submitted this in
      answer to the same question on another list. Most of the material I have
      read on the subject is in Swedish so I am not sure of how to translate
      all the terms properly but I have done my best to make the meaning
      clear. I hope it helps. Comments and critticisms leading to improvment
      are welcome.

      In rough accordance with the Concise Oxford Dictionary (english
      english): existentialism is a philosophical theory emphasizing existence
      of individual persons as free and responsible agents determining each
      their own own development.

      According to the not so concise Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
      (american english): existentialism is a chiefly 20th century
      philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on
      analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the
      plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for his
      acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or
      wrong or good or bad.

      That is what existentialism, as you put it, means. However it is of
      precious little help to someone who really wants to come to grips with
      the idea. For that you must first grasp humanism, even wax historical
      and cast your attention back roughly 500 years to the beginning of
      secularism in order to gain an helpful perspective.

      If you will bear with me I would like to try, not to tell you what
      existentialism means but describe, in saga fashion, the surrounding
      conditions, genesis and evolution of the idea. Please bear in mind that
      I am in no way trying to say that this is the only way to see things. I
      am no expert. What follows is a description of the view to which I

      Here goes:

      During the 16th and 17th centuries (1500 & 1600) scientific discoveries
      (copernicus, galileo, newton etc.) changed people's view of the world.
      The earth, in heretical defiance of official holy reality, orbited
      around the sun instead of vice verse. It was a globe not a flat disc.
      The universe was a large "mechanism" bound by rules. You get the

      The image of god as an enormous omnipotent and omnipresent ruler who
      saw to his will in all things, places and moments in divine person began
      to change to one of a sort of clock maker who had created the universe,
      set it in motion and then withdrawn. He let everything function
      according to the laws of nature which he "of course" had made.

      Scientific discoveries and technology led people to believe that
      humanity could understand and control its world. People began to dare to
      think that there may be no god at all. The influence of christianity
      began to diminish. SECULARISM was afoot.

      In the growing space left by the churches receding borders of influence
      arose two main currents of thought: Humanism and Naturalism. These
      occurrences did not find place in the world without event, as it were. I
      will not, however, dwell on the bricks and torches of outraged theism
      but move swiftly on to the rifles an bayonets of
      pissed off americans and frenchmen.

      During the 18th century (1700), a period of enlightenment, with its
      deification of human reason, modern HUMANISM began to develop. Toward
      the end of the 18th century this new enlightened view of the human being
      was drawn together and summed up in two important documents. Both came
      into being in revolutionary circumstances.

      1/ The Declaration of Independence. Drawn up by congress in Philadelphia
      in 1776 in the beginning of the american colony's revolt against

      2/ The Declaration of Human and Citizen rights. Drawn up by the french
      national what-ya-ma-call-it during the french revolution in 1789.

      Optimism concerning humanity's ability to create a better world through
      the use of reason grew and flourished up to and through 1800. In 1900
      wars, totalitarian dictators, genocide etc. proved that respect for
      human worth did not run very deep.

      In 1948 the United Nations reconfirmed humanism and human worth in a
      document it/they produced called The Declaration of Human Rights. This
      provided the first international standard against which behavior could
      be measured.

      The main idea in all forms of humanism is that humans (humanity) are the
      most important of all life on earth. A human is in the unique position
      of being the only being that has what is called in my language
      "egenverdi." Transliterated it comes out own worth or value i.e. worth
      or value based solely on the fact that s/he exists.

      In a conflict between human interests and the interest of anything else
      the human interest is given priority. Every thing else that exists has
      or has not value according to whether or not it serves some human
      interest or need and its degree of value depends on how much or well it
      does this. IMO this is why our planet is so gravely screwed up.

      Further, since all humans are in possession of reason they should all
      have equal worth. Every human should be given the opportunity to realize
      his/her potential. Humanism makes no distinctions between, race or
      nationality and hopefully gender, whatever that may be.

      Christian humanism values not only the souls but also the bodies of
      humans. The body and its needs, food, drink, warmth sexual contact etc.
      are not evil or of lower status but an important part of human existence
      and behavior.

      According to the older form of humanism a human is congenitally good
      natured. A decent upbringing and education, it was believed, would
      bring this out. It was reasoned that since, first and foremost, it is
      our intellectual capacity that separates us from animals, we must
      therefore develop this through upbringing and education.

      The wars and various abattoir regimes of the 20th century (1900) have
      reduced the credibility of this view. However humanism still focuses on
      cultivation of the good sides of the human being.

      Since it has been acknowledged that the fact that a person knows "what
      is right" does not guarantee that s/he will do "what is right" humanism
      has developed an activist side to itself and is ready and willing to
      defend humanist ideology against e.g. racism and fascism.

      Humanism treats the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil in a
      relatively simple way. Its judgments are based on a humans' "own
      value". To act correctly is then to act in a way which helps people to
      realize their potential. To act wrongly is to act in a way which
      violates, (damages or hinders) people's possibilities in life.

      Humanism relates to and speaks of humans in general, as a species. It
      views the individual as a representative for the whole of humanity.

      We have now arrived at the matter in question, EXISTENTIALISM. It is a
      form of humanism which views the individual human as the central and
      most important aspect of humanity. It relates to humans in their
      actual/current life situation
      here and now.

      Søren Kierkagaard (1813-1855) is considered the founder of this current.
      For him it was only the individual and his experience of his environment
      or situation which is important: subjectivity is the truth. He was a
      christian existentialist.

      Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was an atheist and the greatest champion of
      atheistic or SECULAR EXISTENTIALISM. It can be summed up in six key
      concepts: existence, freedom, choice, anxiety, authenticity and

      It is its view of the human situation or condition which is particular
      to existentialism and the inclusion/exclusion of God in/from the
      equation which separates theistic and secular existentialism.

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    • mary.jo11
      Also, Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, and Todd Olivier s biography of Camus. Mary
      Message 275 of 275 , Jan 4, 2008
        Also, Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, and Todd Olivier's biography of

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