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Existentialism again


In our individual routines, each and every one of us strive to be the

best that we are capable of being. How peculiar this is; we aim for similar

goals, yet the methods we enact are unique. Just as no two people have the same

fingerprint, no two have identical theories on how to live life. While some

follow religious outlines to aspire to a level of moral excellence, others

pursue different approaches. Toward the end of the Nineteenth-Century and on

through the mid-Twentieth, a movement followed "existentialism," a philosophical

theory of life, in order to achieve such a level. Even though the idea of

existentialism is complex, certain themes are common amongst philosophers and

authors: moral individualism, freedom of choice, responsibility, alienation.

Fundamental to understanding existentialism is the conception of moral

individualism. Existentialism rejects traditional ethical endeavors.

Philosophers since the time of Aristotle, circa Third-Century B.C.E. (before the

common era), have held that everyone should aim for a common peak of ethical

achievement. Aristotle argued for the existence of a divine being, described as

the "Prime Mover," who is responsible for the unity and purposefulness of nature.

In order for humanity to attain such a climax, everyone must imitate The

Almighty's perfect profile. Aristotle's basic philosophy deduces that humanity

strives for an identical peak of moral excellence, as judged by a higher being


Existentialism declares that the individual must choose his way; there

is no predetermination. Since the universe is meaningless and absurd, people

must set their own ethical standards. The universe does not predetermine moral

rules. Each person strives toward a unique moral perfection. The Nineteenth-

Century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who was the first writer to call

himself e)existential, reacted against tradition by insisting that the highest

good for the individual is to find his uniqueness. His journal reads, 'I must

find a truth that is true for me ... the idea for which I can live or die"

(Existentialism). Existentialists believe that morality depends on the

individual, rather than a supreme being.

Next to moral individualism, the inevitability of choice is the most

prominent existentialist theory. Existentialism assert that people do not have

a fixed nature, as other animals and plants do. Our choices determine who we

are. The Twentieth-Century French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre proclaimed that

the most Important choice is the choice of ourselves. Each character makes

choices that create his nature. Existence suggests freedom where mankind is

open to a future that is determined by choice and action. Choice is inescapable

and central to human existence; the refusal to choose is a choice. Even when a

person seems to be acting out a "given' role or following "given" values -- for

example, by The Almighty, or by society -- he is in fact choosing to do so

(Sartre). Individuals are free to choose their own destination. Hence, they

must accept the risk and responsibility of following their commitment.

Since man's choices cannot be universally judged, E)Existentialists

propose a framework for which responsibility can be recognized. This outline

does not tell individuals what and how to choose; rather it implies that there

are right and wrong ways of choosing. Usually through situations such as death,

struggle, guilt, @anxiety, nausea, or anguish, one becomes aware of

responsibility (right versus wrong). Kierkegaard mentioned that an individual

must experience dread, fear of specific objects such as the Almighty, to

recognize responsibility. The word anxiety has a crucial role in the work of

Twentieth-Century German philosopher Martin Hiedegger. Hiedegger defines

an3dety as an individual's confrontation with meaningless and the discovery that

the only justification for one's demean or comes from within. Heproclaimed that

responsibility will therefore be acknowledged. In the philosophy of Sartre, the

word nausea is used for the individual's recognition of continual, absolute

freedom of choice (Olson). It is through these senses that people perceive


Existentialists regard responsibility as personal and subjective

(existing only in the mind; iIlusionary), considering people decide morality,

not a supreme being. E)dstentialists have insisted that personal experiences

and acting on one's own convictions are essential in arriving at the truth.

Accordingly, truth is subjective. Thus, the understanding of a situation by

someone involved in that situation Is superior to that of observers. Even

though one person may view a situation as immoral, existentialism maintains that

only those involved can determine morality.

Existential novels and short stories include themes of moral

individualism, freedom of choice, and responsibility, as well as alienation from

the world, The Stranger, by Albert Camus, incorporated subjects of

existentialism. In this novel, the protagonist Mersault finds himself alienated

from the world. Franz Kafka, another existential writer, expressed his views in

the short story' The Metamorphosis." In this tale, the hero, a hardworking

insurance agent, awakens to discover that he has turned into an enormo us insect,

four feet in length. He recognizes his familial rejection as he is left to die

alone (Kafka). Many Existentialists focus on an absurd nightmare of the world

and life.

Dostoyevsky, a Nineteenth-Century Russian Existential novelist,

mentioned through one of his characters: 'We must love life more than the

meaning of it" (E3dstentialism). After all, Existentialists maintain that life

is lacking significance without moral individualism, freedom of choice,

responsibility, and alienation. Each person decides for himself how to live

life. People have the right to decide their own fate, even when their decisions

are socially unacceptable, like self-choicc-homeless, euthanasia advocates, and

homosexual Iffestyles.

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