What Is Existentialism?

What Is Existentialism?

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss existentialism. Imagine being back inside the bustling cafes on the Left Bank of Paris in the 1930s, cigarette smoke, strong coffee and the buzz of continental voices philosophising about human responsibility and freedom. This kind of talk gave utterance to Existentialism. A twentieth century philosophy of everyday life concerned with the individual, and his or her place within the world. In novels, plays and philosophy, Existentialists try to work out the nature of our existence. As Roquentin says in Sartre’s novel ‘Nausea’, “To exist is simply to be there; what exists appears, lets itself be encountered, but you can never deduce it”.But where did these ideas come from? What do they really mean? And how have they impacted on our lives?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Existentialism

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Short Article of the Day

Mr. White is many things—a teacher, a husband, a father, a college graduate, and a medical patient, to name a few. Some of his features may be counted as accomplishments, others failures, and yet others unlucky accidents thrust upon him by the world. But is this all there is to Mr. White? According to the philosophical tradition of Existentialism, something is missing in this characterization. For the existentialist, we are not merely a collection of facts; we are also self-conscious, living, caring beings. While trees, seagulls, and fish are all similarly alive, they do not live the same sorts of lives that we do. Existentialism is the philosophical science of our peculiar sorts of lives...

Continue reading Addison Ellis's article: Introduction to Existentialism

Further Reading

On the existential view, to understand what a human being is it is not enough to know all the truths that natural science—including the science of psychology—could tell us. The dualist who holds that human beings are composed of independent substances—“mind” and “body”—is no better off in this regard than is the physicalist, who holds that human existence can be adequately explained in terms of the fundamental physical constituents of the universe. Existentialism does not deny the validity of the basic categories of physics, biology, psychology, and the other sciences (categories such as matter, causality, force, function, organism, development, motivation, and so on). It claims only that human beings cannot be fully understood in terms of them. Nor can such an understanding be gained by supplementing our scientific picture with a moral one. Categories of moral theory such as intention, blame, responsibility, character, duty, virtue, and the like do capture important aspects of the human condition, but neither moral thinking (governed by the norms of the good and the right) nor scientific thinking (governed by the norm of truth) suffices...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Existentialism by Steven Crowell

Bonus Webcomic

Existential Cooking - Existential Comics

Related Topics

If you’re interested in Existentialism, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 AuthenticityCamus | The History of PhilosophyHuman Nature | NihilismSartre | The Self

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