Articles from 06/2014

9 June 2014

THE MASTER OF THE ABSURD TURNS 101

November 2013 marks the centennial of the birth of Albert Camus. A native of French Algeria, Camus became an influential wartime journalist before embarking on a creative writing career. He would become a titan of French literature and a leading voice of the existentialist philosophy that dominated the post-WWII intellectual climate in France. Alba Amoia says in her biography that Camus became "the moral conscience of his generation." Ironically, this spokesman for the absurdity of the human condition came across as a pretty regular guy; in fact, he possessed an easy charm, excelling at endeavours social, athletic or literary. At…Read

HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE AND HELL IS ON EARTH

Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with the lives of human beings, challenging what is valuable and why. Through existentialism we learn that everything in our lives is our own choosing. While alive we realize life is absurd and meaningless, we are battling with hell and then all progress is erased by death. This ultimately is a frightening thought but defended by Jean Paul Sartre as humanistic and liberally life-affirming. Sartre demands we live freely as culprits to our every exploit and answerable to every aspect of life. Although we all bear symptoms of the same condition Sartre believes we…Read

DO IT YOURSELF: Existentialism as Punk Philosophy

Existentialism is a tricky philosophy to explain without trivializing or obfuscating so much about it that's important, original and relevant. There are a number of peculiarities that can account for this, but an important one is that Existentialism is a state of mind as much as it is a collection of ideas. As Kierkegaard's ‘aesthetic' works, and the novels and plays of Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus and Unamuno demonstrate, the communication of this form of philosophy benefits from being indirect. To appreciate its significance you have to be there, in amongst the detailed stories, rolling critiques…Read

HEIDEGGER’S BEING AND TIME, part 7: TEMPORALITY

Time should be grasped in and of itself as the unity of the three dimensions of future, past and present

To try and compress 437 dense pages of Being and Time into eight brief articles was obviously a difficult exercise from the start. But, I must admit, this was also part of the attraction. Despite the limits of this virtual medium, I hope that something of the book has been conveyed in a way that might encourage people to read more and further. Being and Time is extraordinarily rich, difficult and systematic work of philosophy that repays careful…Read

BEING AND TIME, part 6: DEATH

Far from being morbid, Heidegger's conception of living in the knowledge of death is a liberating one.

As I said in my first article on Heidegger, the basic idea in Being and Time is very simple: being is time and time is finite. For human beings, time comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death. This is what Heidegger famously calls "being-towards-death". If our being is…Read

EXISTENTIALISM IS A HUMANISM

In his essay Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre defines what existentialism is. He begins by identifying that the key starting point for existentialism is that: Human existence precedes human essence (p. 314).

There is no a priori human nature formulated by God. After we reject the idea that God exists, Sartre follows Heideggerian thinking by stating that there can only be one being for whom existence precedes essence. This "human reality" (Heidegger's terminology p.315) arrives first, then defines himself.

… man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and…Read

BEING AND TIME, part 7: CONSCIENCE

For Heidegger, the call of conscience is one that silences the chatter of the world and brings me back to myself.

After the existential drama of Heidegger's notion of being-towards-death, why do we need a discussion of conscience? As so often in Being and Time, Heidegger insists that although his description of being-towardsdeath is formally or ontologically correct, it needs more compelling content at what Heidegger calls the "ontic" level, that is, at the level of experience. Finitude gets a grip on the self through the experience of conscience. For me, the discussion of conscience contains…Read

BEING AND TIME, part 4: THROWN INTO THIS WORLD

How do we find ourselves in the world, and how can we find our freedom here?

As I already tried to show, Heidegger seeks to reawaken perplexity about the question of being, the basic issue of metaphysics. In Being and Time, he pursues this question through an analysis of the human being or what he calls Dasein. The being of Dasein is existence, understood as average everyday existence or our life in the world, discussed in the last entry. But how might we give some more content to this rather formal idea of existence?

Heidegger…Read

BEING AND TIME, part 5: ANXIETY

As I showed in the previous article, moods are essential ways of disclosing human existence for Heidegger. Yet, there is one mood in particular that reveals the self in stark profile for the first time. This is the function of anxiety (Angst), which Heidegger calls a basic or fundamental mood (Grundstimmung). Rudiger Safranski rightly calls anxiety; "a shadowy queen amongst moods".

Anxiety makes its appearance in Division 1, Chapter 6, where Heidegger is seeking to define the being of Dasein as what he calls "care" (Sorge). It would take far more time than I have at my disposal to…Read

BEING AND TIME, part 2: ON ‘MINENESS’

For Heidegger, what defines the human being is the capacity to be puzzled by the deepest of questions: why is there something rather than nothing?

As Heidegger makes clear from the untitled, opening page with which Being and Time begins, what is at stake in the book is the question of being. This is the question that Aristotle raised in an untitled manuscript written 2500 years ago, but which became known at a later date as the Metaphysics. For Aristotle, there is a science that investigates what he calls "being as such", without regard to any specific realms…Read

BEING AND TIME, part 3: BEING-INTHE-WORLD

How Heidegger turned Descartes upside down, so that we are, and only therefore think

I talked in my first article about Heidegger's attempt to destroy our standard, traditional philosophical vocabulary and replace it with something new. What Heidegger seeks to destroy in particular is a certain picture of the relation between human beings and the world that is widespread in modern philosophy and whose source is Descartes (indeed Descartes is the philosopher who stands most accused in Being and Time). Roughly and readily, this is the idea that there are two sorts of substances in the…Read

EXISTENTIALISM STAND OUT

*A modern philosophical movement stressing the importance of personal experience and responsibility and the demands that they make on the individual.

*Humans are grounded in the world, in existence. A human condition, born without seeking to be born, dying without seeking death. We live between birth and death trapped within our body and our reason, unable to conceive of a time in which we were not or a time in which we will not be.

* We have no fixed human nature in the sense of determining who we are or what we may become. Humans…Read

BEING AND TIME, part 1 :

The Key Existentialist Philosophers as per

the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: S?ren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) Albert Camus (1913-1960)

WHY MARTIN HEIDEGGER MATTERS Being and Time is a work of considerable length (437 pages in the German original) and legendary difficulty. The difficulty is caused by the fact that Heidegger sets himself the task of what he calls a "destruction" of the philosophical tradition. We shall see some of the implications of this in future entries, but the initial consequence is that Heidegger refuses…Read

EDITORIAL

Of all the philosophical jargon which finds its way into everyday lexicon, few words roll off the tongue like existential. Thus, it is common to hear about someone's existential crisis, anguish or despair. The term has an air of mystery about it, like the Loch Ness monster. If an ordinary crisis seems too mundane, why not make it an existential one? That sounds far more chic.

As Stuart Hanscomb on page 15 of this issue, puts it, existentialism is like the 'punk rock' of philosophy. It is weirdly fashionable. People feel comfortable personalising it and claiming it…Read