Monday, December 5, 2016
Existentialism 2nd installment H3
In my first installment, I reported on existentialist philosophy and its influence on other fields. In this report, I will include biographies of existentialist and their contributions. I will also briefly talk about literary influences like Camus, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, and Kafka.
Soren Kierkegaard was born in the year 1813 and later became known as the “father of existentialism.” He studied at Copenhagen University located in Denmark and majored in philosophy and theology. Kierkegaard was influenced by F.C. Sibbern and Poul Martin Moller, both of which were his teachers in university as well as fiction authors. They influenced Kierkegaard, whose works were mixed across philosophy, literary criticism and writing fiction. He was also influenced by J.L. Heiberg, who introduced Hegelianism to Denmark. Kierkegaard published a modified version of Hegel’s aesthetics in From the Papers of One Still Living. Kierkegaard’s personal life also pervades his work in contemporary theory. Being an existentialist, he worked through events of his own life in writing these theories. Kierkegaard is known as the “father of existentialism” because of the problem he developed “The Single Individual.” Kierkegaard was raised in the Christian faith, and he developed his problem in a radical approach to Christianity. Philosophy becomes most meaningful to Kierkegaard when you compare your desires to the moral law. You lose your individuality in doing what you ought to do, but the action is meaningful because your meaning of life comes from God. However, what should happen if you are to do something against your ethics? For one who practices religion, there may come a point in time when ethics conflict with religious faith. In Kierkegaard’s book Fear and Trembling, he talks about the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. Kierkegaard says for God to tell Abraham to sacrifice his son requires the “teleological suspension of the ethical.” Although God has one of his commandments as “thou shalt not kill,” he asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Furthermore, Abraham holds a duty (obeying God’s command) higher than “thou shalt not kill” and a duty to his son as a father. The higher duty is to obey the divine command; God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Firstly, Kierkegaard says Abraham’s life is supremely meaningful. Secondly, this command pertains to Abraham as a singularity. He does not command all to sacrifice. Kierkegaard brings the paradox that the “single individual is higher than the universal”. If at times, you are not governed by a universal norm (not killing), then by what standard is your being governed? This came to the idea of the meaning of life.
Friedrich Nietzsche was another of the first existentialist philosophers. He was a German philosopher born on October 15, 1844. Friedrich Nietzsche was actually named after the Prussian King, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Nietzsche’s father was the town minister of the village of Rocken bei Lutzen. Neitzsche’s uncle and grandfathers were also Lutheran ministers. However, Nietzsche, himself, was known to challenge Christianity. Nietzsche went to the University of Bonn and studied philology, interpreting classical and biblical texts. A philosopher that Nietzsche discovered was Schopenhauer’s atheistic view and his The World as Will and Representation. Some of Neitzsche’s works include Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and On the Geneology of Morals. Nietzsche taught as a university professor for ten years until he resigned in June 1879. As we read in class, Nietzsche was also a peripatetic. He actually traveled a lot from France, Sweden, Germany, and Italy. Nietzsche contributed to existentialism through Nihilism. As you know Nietzsche said the phrase “God is dead.” If God is dead, then morality is not dependent on theology. Or if God does not exist, then all actions are acceptable. Nihilism states that nothing can be known, or all values are baseless. It is associated with pessimism and radical skepticism. Values are derived and become what we make it. Nihilism actually has a Latin root nihil, which means nothing. Like “annihilate,” nihilism seeks to reject or destroy, exposing beliefs as not true. In Nietzsche’s Will to Power, he says, “Nihilism is… not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys.” There are four perspectives of nihilism: epistemological, political, ethical, and existential. They all have a common theme of denying or destroying. Epistemological nihilism is the denial of truth. Political is the destruction of current political beliefs. Ethical nihilism is the rejection of absolute moral truth. Existential nihilism, claims that life has no value, or that existence has no value. Helmut Theilicke said that “Nothingness prevails and the world is meaningless.”
Martin Heidegger was born on September 26, 1889. He lived in Germany and was raised Catholic. He actually prepared to be a priest. He became interested in philosophy after reading the book On the Manifold Meaning of Being according to Aristotle by Franz Brentano. After reading this title, Heidegger became interested in studying being. One of his most important works Being and Time was about an analysis of human existence to access being. I believe he refers to human existence as “Dasein” and being as “Sein.” Heidegger stopped training for priesthood due to health reasons and began studying in three fields: philosophy, mathematics, and natural science. Heidegger stopped studying to serve in the army during World War I. It was for the same health reasons, however, that allowed Heidegger to be discharged from the army and continue his studies. In the meantime, Heidegger taught as a lecturer in university and published some works, such as “What is Metaphysics?”,”On the Essence of Ground” and Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. When Hitler was in power of Germany, Heidegger became political. His work “The self-Assertion of the German University” led people to believe that Heidegger supported the Nazis, although Heidegger did have a speech titled “Declaration of Support for Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist State. After World War II, Heidegger was banned from teaching and lost his chair of philosophy until the ban was removed in 1949. Heidegger’s existence is historical. Selfhood is the future, formed by looking to the past, which gives meaning to the present. Authenticity is derived from a wholeness of life.
Jean-Paul Sartre was born on 1905 in Paris, France. It was at Ecole Normale Superieure, where he met philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He soon taught philosophy and wrote some of his works The Transcendence of the Ego, Theory of Emotions, Being and Nothingness, and Existentialism and Humanism. I mentioned Sartre’s contribution to existentialist philosophy in my 1st installment, so look to that. In short words, Sartre basically claimed that existence precedes essence.
The four literary influences to existentialism are Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, Henrik Ibsen, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. The reason I put Camus here is because he actually rejected being called a philosopher and an existentialist, although existentialism pervades his work. He wanted to be known as a writer. His works include novels The Stranger, The Plague, The Fall and philosophical essays The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel. The Stranger is about Meursault, who kills a man just to see what would happen. Camus explores the meaning, or meaninglessness, of life. Kafka is known for his work The Metamorphosis and The Trial. His characters saw life as having no meaning. His works explore the fear of commitment in having too many choices. Henrik Ibsen wrote the play “A Doll’s House.” A wife wants to leave her marriage and children for self-discovery. At the time, there were gender norms, believing it was right for a woman to remain in the house. Her decision goes against what was thought for a woman as ethical. In leaving, she is living authentically. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. The latter includes debates on God, free will, and morality. It was in this novel that Dostoevsky said, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”
For any videos of these philosophers, the school of life on youtube has videos on all the people I mention except Ibsen.