Archive for the ‘Existentialism’ Category

Inauthenticity and eating disorders

December 18, 2009

Inauthenticity can be physically dangerous. Take eating disorders for example, anorexia and bulimia.

A confused young lady starves herself in order to obtain the body of a concentration camp inmate — that weak, boyish body image much glamourised by homosexual and feminine men in the fashion industry. The young lady does not recognise how such idealised body images have overcome her, and driven her to self-flagellation. She does not realise her self-worth, freedom, and perspective as an individual — apart from the expectations of popular culture. She cannot love her life and herself, because she is trapped in a fiction where she must obtain approval from others, and that approval will never be enough.

Inauthenticity has lead to the negation of her life – physically and emotionally. It is a common story.


The fundamental human drive(s)

December 12, 2009

Many philosophers and psychologists have attempted to identify a single, ultimate drive of human behaviour. Maslow devised a heirarchy of drives. These attempts have been too simplistic. We have many drives, which manifest themselves in different life circumstances to varying degrees. With modern neuroscience we can get inside the brain, examine the dopamine system and other areas, in order to work out what is really driving us.

Fundamental human drives are:

  • Experiential/Emotional: curiosity/exploration, pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, escape from boredom and anxiety
  • Meaning: authenticity, order, organisation, problems-solving
  • Environmental: survival/flight or fight,  food, shelter, physical health, adaption to one’s environment.
  • Reproduction: sex, pair bonding, care for one’s offspring
  • Creativity/personal goal setting and achievement: Creating new purposes, overcoming challenges, and achieving goals with positive reinforcement/rewards
  • Social/Emotional: group bonding/acceptance/adherence to cultural imperatives, self-preservation of family and tribe, cooperation, social status (competition/dominance, envy, resentment, vengeance, anger, shame, embarrassment)

It is supposed that all these drives serve one end, the continuation of human life with increasing adaptation to the environment. However, this theory (or teleological fiction) may need to be significantly adjusted in light of modern technological advancements. It seems that humans have mastered their environment (at least those of the Western middle and upper classes) and ends other than the evolutionary are gaining ascendance.

Richard Dawkins believes the next step in evolution will involve human beings creating new purposes and goals (cf. Nietzsche’s Übermensch).

Existentialism intensifies the search for meaning

December 6, 2009

Humans abhor a meaning vacuum. The Existentialists help us fill in the vacuum by focusing us on the absence of meaning, which then intensifies the search for it. For example, Kafka: A cognitive metamorphosis

With the death of God, all absolute systems of meaning (theological, philosophical, scientifc, folk cultural) are abolished; life is absurd.

The human predicament is satisfying the impulse to meaning in the absence of God. We are yet to overcome ourselves in this regard. We still latch on to provincial meaning systems, which serve us for a while, before becoming broke and vacuous. We stand between God’s death and a new being that has solved the problem of meaning.

The existentialists can help us with the problem of meaning. They can focus us on the problem and help us analyse it through their methods. They can offer broad options to help resolve the meaning dilemma, from which we may choose a solution. The option most of us choose is to ignore the problem, but this isn’t a solution, and not an option for the Existentialists. Reading Kafka may eliminate this option for you.

The benefits and costs of immersion in popular cultural narratives

December 5, 2009

Many people are immersed in popular cultural narratives to such a degree that they have alienated themselves from others. People who can stand back from these stories and place them within a broader context, containing various different stories, will tend to see the former group as strange.

For instance, the author of this post, would appear to have ‘lost the plot’ for all who do not share his plot. Refer to the following comments in particular:

  1. [commentator] Says:
    Satan is a leftist.Everyday he sends his evil leftist demons into the world to corrupt and destroy.

    Thank God for noble, truth-speaking, conservative freedom fighters like yourself.

  2. [author] Says:
    Satan certainly despises the Judeo-Christian worldview just as does the left. And we have to stand up for that which both the devil and the liberals hate.Our founding fathers were such wise, noble, and religious leaders, who understood the nexus between the Holy Bible and human governance as no one ever had understood it before or since. We have the ideas we need: we merely need to stand up for them, just as THOSE brave men stood up for them in their own day.

    Thanks for your encouragement, Paul. I appreciate it.

The author’s narrative offers him an important place in the world: a noble warrior fighting against malignant enemies to protect good-in-itself. He can find positive cultural reinforcement for this narrative readily in mass media (e.g. Fox News) and peer groups.

The narrative meets the existential needs of the author; it gives his life meaning, it gives him a prized social status.

While I have used a fanatic Conservative as an example, others examples can be found on Left of the political spectrum, and in religious groups.

The cost of such provincial worldviews cannot be underestimated. These people have blinded themselves to broader experience of the world. They do not explore other lands, other points of view, and therefore do not see their beauty. They never find another place for them in the world, a better place.

It is like a Rock n’ Roll fan who never searches and finds the exhilaration of Beethoven, because he refuses to imagine himself anything more than a fan of Rock n’ Roll. That person has missed out on a wonderful experience and only has his identity as a Rock n’ Roll fan as consolation.

Recreation and re-creation

October 31, 2009

Recreation is viewed as a time for hedonism, not re-creation. It is viewed as a pleasant escape from life.

Re-creation on the other hand is a spiritual activity. It is a time for reflection, study and re-creating yourself more powerfully for life.

The decadent pursue the former, the overcoming man the latter.

Subject, verb and object: all in the mind

July 4, 2009

Psyblog states:

It seems likely that this left to right bias has its roots in language (although not everyone agrees, cf. Chatterjee, 2001). Evidence for this comes from people who speak languages written from right to left like Arabic or Urdu who, sure enough, display the same bias, but in the opposite direction.

There is another left to right bias in the basic syntax of language: the vast majority of languages describe events in the order subject, verb, object (with the notable exception of the passive tense).

Together these two facts mean we not only look to the left first, but we also expect the subject to be on the left, and the object to its right. Subjects are by definition active ‘do-ers’ while objects are the passive receivers of the do-ers’ actions.

With the metaphysical notion of time, we have constructed the concepts of causation, subject, action/force, and object. Objectivity (‘what’)  is supposedly represented by the sciences, whereas subjectivity (‘how’) is the domain of personal interpretation and relation. While Hume took an axe to causation, Nietzsche blew up the roots of these distinctions with dynamite, declaring that objectivity itself is but a subjective misinterpretation that we cannot live without. Pragmatists such as John Dewey and William James deflated the whole bloated philosophical tradition of ontology and epistemology, and focused on what mattered most, namely human needs. I follow in their footsteps and maintain that we should use these categories wisely.

We see ourselves (subject) as acting on the world (object) in time. We therefore assume that we are agents with ‘free will’. From a utilitarian viewpoint this is best. However, it may shadow the way in which the world acts on us. We may not recognise how culture can dominate our decisions and actions, and in such moments we are not truly free. We may become slaves to our narrow-minded way of viewing the world.

Philosophy, such as that from Hume and Nietzsche, can set you free, but you have to be ready for the initally uncomfortable journey. Your cherished assumptions will be exposed as dogma, your values will be overhauled, and you will be left in the wilderness for a while. But then you can go back into the world and create your own meanings and values on a solid foundation. In doing so you will experience the joy of a free spirit.

Nietzsche: the truest disciple of Socrates

June 21, 2009

Jonathan Ree discussed Kierkegaard @ In Our Time.

Ree states that Kierkegaard believed that Socrates was about taking down pretensions to knowledge, not the building up of philosophical systems, such as that of Hegel. I can think of no one who more attacked pretensions to knowledge than Nietzsche (Hume comes second). Perhaps Nietzsche was Socrates truest disciple – now that’s irony.

Existentialism in Film

June 20, 2009

I’m coming up with a list of popular films with existential motifs. I plan to discuss these in later posts. Care to list anymore?

  • American Beauty
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Blade Runner
  • Breathless
  • Children of Men
  • Clockwork Orange
  • Dark Knight
  • Donnie Darko
  • Dr Strangelove
  • Easy Rider
  • Fight Club
  • Hamlet
  • High Noon
  • Hiroshima Mon Amour
  • I (Heart) Huckabees
  • Ikuru
  • Macbeth
  • No Country for Old Men
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Paths of Glory
  • The Big Lebowski
  • The Bucket List
  • The Rules of Attraction
  • The Seventh Seal
  • The Third Man
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Taxi Driver
  • Waking Life
  • Watchmen

Negative and positive dialectics in existential philosophy

January 18, 2009

Nowadays, many believe that philosophy is only a legitimate pursuit in its negative dialectics, as a method of criticism. I think this attitude neglects the positive contribution that philosophy can make to our self-creation in the world.

Negative dialectics is ripe in existential philosophy. If you want relentless, occasionally brutal, criticism just go read Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heiddeger, Camus or Sartre on a broad array of subjects including Christianity, morality, contemporary culture, politics and philosophy in general. I would say its primary negative dialectic concerns countering unthinking adherence to hollow cultural customs (herd behaviour) and irresponsible personal relations to the world and others.

However, existentialism also points us to a positive dialectics. What it points to is not an objective ‘theory of life’, but a subjective, constructive behaviour in life rooted in the individual’s deepest roots of existence. It demands that the individual fill in all the details. This positive dialect is necessary because we all face unavoidable either/or decisions in life. We cannot stand back from the world and look at it as spectators with a critical, analytical, abstracting eye. We must live it.

Nietzsche’s project, according to Keith Pearson

January 17, 2009

Introductory articles: