How to define 'existentialism'?


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How to define 'existentialism'?

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jun 6, 2014, 5:17 am

Most people, I find, are not familiar with the term 'existentialism' and when I tell them that I like to read books which can be described as 'existential' they inevitably ask what is meant by that? How exactly do you explain it? To me, and perhaps you might agree, it has always seemed too elusive to pin down in a simple definition, it is as if a work's being 'existential' comes more from the sense or feeling it gives you while you read - perhaps because of the manner in which it is written - rather than any particular characteristics that you can point out.

However, last time someone asked I came up with the following: Existentialism relates to the question of existence - why do we exist?, and then, given that we do how should we live? As a philosophy, existentialism aims to find answers by which we can live, whereas as an art existentialism is more concerned simply with the question itself, and how we must each live in the shadow of it.

Is this a good definition? What would you say? (If only someone would tell me - but all there ever is is silence!!)

Redigerat: jun 7, 2014, 6:15 am


A existentialist is obsessed with how to live one's life and believe that philosophical and
psychological inquiry can help. He believe that there are critical questions that everyone must deal
with life and to take life as a serious matter.

He want to know many things in life, some of these are:

1. Death

2. Meaning of Existence

3.The Place of God in his existence

4.The Meaning of Value of Life

5. Interpersonal relationship

6. The place of self-reflective conscious knowledge of one's self in existence.

Why am I being born on this earth? ; Are there hopes in one's self in existence ?

jun 6, 2014, 8:51 am

Probably the great majority of those who would define themselves as existentialists logically conclude that a god overseeing everything doesn't exist and are left to decide what is the meaning and the purpose for the things that we do or don't do. Many human values are really arbitrary--only man made creations to construct and support a hierarchical system. $, ideas about time, ownership of things, the things themselves (whether they're considered precious or disposable)--accepting on faith everything that's passed down by the generations preceding you. Religions and rituals and law and courts (judgements) to support all that arbitrary structure. Very little of all that is of the natural world of existence--those things that are wild and outside the structure like for instance a wolf, a hawk, a tree or a in a forest or a weed. Generally what sets humans apart from other animals is his/her ability to reason and generally human reason is against nature. Anyway there's Quevedo too--To be born is to begin to die--to live to be dying in life--and to die is to finally die. It's all a process.

Redigerat: jun 7, 2014, 6:15 am


What is the real purpose of living?

" Very little of all that is of the natural world of existence..."

Our lives depend on money, earthly possessions, fame, fixed assets,inheritance and others are mostly not from the natural world of existence.
Yes. We need these things to live in order to survive.

The differences between humans and animals are our capabilities( Five Senses) to think,speak,write,converse,having emotions/feelings which animals are not given these special God-given's gifts.
Humans are made to be more superior than animals.

Life is nothing, it is just a process of Birth, Living, Dying and Death.
Wrong.Animals and Plants are following the same path of being alive.

Life is more than a passing of a person from Birth to Death. Yes. It is a natural process.

Life is more than failures and successes , the way we handle and faced challenges in our lives
is the ultimate purpose in Life.Animals and Plants do not faced the same challenges and hardship as Humans.

Redigerat: jun 6, 2014, 1:56 pm

#4--Never said life is nothing. It just follows a cyclical path--like it does in nature. Pretty much how I read Quevedo--life and death are on parallel tracks--living, dying part of the same process. Plant life replaces plant life--animal life replaces animal life--humans replace humans. People have an ability to reason--we use it in different ways--to justify for instance--like the Nazi's justified the extermination of other peoples. And if they had won--their justification might seem very reasonable today at least to a lot of people--because winning matters when it comes to the spreading of ideologies. A hawk on the other hand--sees it's prey--and acts---seeing and acting for it are the same thing. It's behavior is entirely instinctual. We have reason--but it is purer to what it actually is than what we are. We defer--we think--we reason--which brings in other stuff like hatred, malice and revenge--the hawk is not that way. It does what it does simply to survive. OTOH instead of hatred, malice and revenge we can choose kindness, compassion and love. We can choose charity over greed--and with or without a god--which is something a lot of religious people can't fathom.

Redigerat: jun 7, 2014, 10:49 pm


Are humans more superior than other forms of life? Think very hard. Not, exactly.

Do Human Being Have Any Natural Instincts ? Yes, for perhaps for a rudimentary survival.

Our mental superiority over animals is the key to our survival on earth.

A lion hunts it's prey , taking an example of a human being, a game hunter caught in the path of
a lion in the jungle. A lion will kill regardless the hunter who is intelligent.

The human superiority gives a hunter to survive from the animal's instinct of devouring by using his intelligence to kill the lion with a shotgun or rifle.

In actual, humans are as fragile as the animals in the jungles fighting for survival from their biggest prey in strength and sizes.

If humans are just like animals, we will be hunted down and killed by our predators by animals and humans alike (cannibals) for food.

Food chains are possible because of human's intelligence to think, reason,analyse and plan to plant, harvesting the crops, processing the crops in order we can eat the fruits of our labour.

Domesticated animals fit for human consumption are farmed and processed . Animals do not farmed other lower form of animals for food.

Human beings have all those natural instincts that can be, those fierce inborn instincts for survival similar to the behaviour of animals.But human beings may spend most of their life trying to curb these instincts. We can control our instincts to suit and confine them within the framework of his culture,tradition and custom imposed by superstructures contrived within a community and nation, interpersonal relationship and religious practices.

If we can't control and confine our instincts, we will become no better than animals.

Humans are faced with ferocious expressions of life, we struggle to survive against in terror(fear),
in horror (nasty enemies,competition, human disputes,unfairness and wars)

Humans' natural instincts have being modified or suited by civilization and by culture.Civilization in the process of culture and tradition make us to have empathy, a good harmonious interaction in certain ways among people and within nature .

Redigerat: jun 7, 2014, 10:41 pm


Is existentialism a philosophical approach to understanding human existence and experiences ?

Yes, it is based on the assumption that individuals are free and responsible for their own choices
and actions. We are really not victims of circumstance because we are what we have chosen to be.

The following are basic dimensions of the human condition according to existential thought.

1.The Capacity for Self-Awareness - To reflect and make choices.

2. Freedom and Responsibility - To choose among alternatives and shape our own destinies or to plan our future ahead.

3. Striving for Identity and Relationships to Others - Self-identity. Interpersonal relationship with human and nature.Failing to develop will lead premature/unacceptable and unhealthy relationships,loneliness and alienation.

4. The Search for Meaning - Finding the purpose of life, without purpose ,living is meaningless.

5. Anxiety as a Condition of Living - It is an unavoidable condition, we faced death,freedom,choice,isolation and meaningless.

6. Awareness of Death and Nonbeing - Motivation to live life fully and with meaning.

Any other commentaries on existentialism and existentialists from others.

jun 7, 2014, 6:20 am


jun 7, 2014, 9:42 pm

>1 leigonj: "How exactly do you explain it?"

I like Sartre's simple explanation: existential thinking revolves around the idea that "existence precedes essence" and so meaning and significance are creations of a life, not discoveries made during a life.

Redigerat: jun 7, 2014, 10:46 pm

> 1 leigonj :

Do you wish to moderate on this topic, existentialism that you have opened for discussion at OT?

You are most welcome to enlighten on this topic.

jun 18, 2014, 8:39 am


jun 30, 2014, 3:15 pm

>10 razzamajazz:. A lot has been said here that is interesting. The reason the question first occurred to me was because I enjoy reading what is described as existentialist literature and yet can't quite tell what works of existentialist literature have in common. Certainly there is something that, for example, Kafka's The Trial, Dostoevesky's Notes From the Underground and Sartre's Nausea share, but I cannot quite put my finger on what it is. I would say existentialism, centrally, relates to the question of existence, a question which, as stated, directly arises from the human condition, that chiefly we, unlike the inanimate and even other animals, are conscious beings, but of those three books only Nausea directly approaches such questions. Most recently I have read Amerika by Kafka which, if you look at the tags here on Librarything, is seemingly regarded as a work of existential literature but which I feel pretty certain isn't. There is something about Kafka's other novels which it does not share - what exactly?

Thinking about it now, I would slightly change what I wrote in my first post and say that what they have in common is they are all about the struggle of living, of existing - but, again, it is about this struggle, if we call it that, overshadowing everything else.

>2 razzamajazz:. One thing that does strike me is that you began your post 'An existentialist is...', rather than 'Existentialism is...'. I think the overriding problem is that existential, as a word, can be applied in different ways. Sartre knew he was an Existentialist, he knew what the term meant and tried to explain it - whereas Kafka was not an existentialist, yet he laboured deeper in an existential malaise than perhaps any person since Van Gogh.

>9 steve.clason:. I like the 'existence precedes essence' explanation, I've used it to try to explain existentialism to people before by saying that 'everything you can see around you was made for or has a purpose in being there - except the human beings'. Right now, from where I am, the only thing that doesn't fit with that is the sky. It is interesting how society actually does give us (almost all of us anyway) a purpose very quickly though. As soon as you enter school - even before that because it is a near universally accepted norm - you are being prepared to perform a social function. And that allays the questions for some (I would hazard to say nearly all, for nearly all of the time), but not everyone, which probably returns us to one Franz Kafka...

jun 30, 2014, 3:26 pm

>3 lriley: 'Generally what sets humans apart from other animals is his/her ability to reason and generally human reason is against nature'.

I like that a lot, especially since I recently read a review of Adventures in the Anthropocene which mentioned it is becoming more and more widely accepted that we are now entering a new geological epoch - that of the human.

jul 1, 2014, 1:02 am

>leigonj , Almost a month have passed since your opening thread. You must be very busy.

More than any other recent philosophical movement,the extistentalists communicated their ideas through plays, novels and short stories.

In my future posts, I will try to find out further into why existentialism resort to
literary expression.

Do you have any thoughts on this reason?

jul 1, 2014, 2:38 am


Existentialism is vividly dramatised in fictional accounts, that philosophy is about human life and its problems.The existentialists have reminded us that philosophy is all about human life and its distinctive features.

Existentialism insists on the uniqueness of individuals.

We are not just an example of a human being, we are not good enough to identify ourselves as a British or an Asian.

Heidegger insisted that we must die and not just one must die bring home to our irreplaceable identities. We are all authentic and one of its kind, no two persons are identical in character. You are you.

In fiction and drama we are introduced to individual figures that illustrate in concrete detail what it is like to be human.