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Suffocating Existentialism

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
Posted in Reflection by Joel Gross

Amazon had good ratings on a book, “The Stranger” by Albert Camus so I bought it.  Reading it took only about two hours tonight and I found it to be a fascinating book about a man who kills another man and goes on trial and is condemned.  Throughout the whole ordeal, the man just does not seem to care much one way or the other, he only exists for the moment and the short term future.  Interesting philosophy that made a bit of sense to me, though I think there are some fundamental flaws to it.  Too much I have seen in life is highly structured and ordered for me to believe that it doesn’t matter how you live your life.  My joy is quantifiable and reacts directly to the world around and inside of me.  I am able to directly manipulate it through my actions and observe changes in it from the actions of others.  I can agree with the viewpoint that one man’s life may have a different path to joy, but it is still a defineable and usually manageable path.  I also think that many people think that they are more unique than they really are; our DNA is 99.99% the same and satisfying the same basic needs gives universal joy.  Still though, existentialism makes much more sense than any religion.

2 thoughts on “Suffocating Existentialism

  1. I think you have misunderstood existentialism and should do some more reading on the subject before dismissing it as fundamentally flawed. The central notion is not that everything is inherently meaningless, that philosophy is nihilism, existentialists argue that, through choice and action, each individual creates value and meaning in their personal experience. You are free, under existentialist thought, to choose to subscribe to certain values, or to not, and by doing either you may define what is meaningful to you, and that meaning may change as you grow as a person. This philosophy was formulated in opposition to the old idea that there is a fundamental truth to everything and as such everything has an ‘essence’ or correct way of being. Based on our discussions of the ‘spark’ I understand why you find the idea that there is no absolute pre-defined order to everything unsettling. But I urge you to consider the notion that, an order which defines and redefines itself is as valid as an order handed down by some ‘creator.’ “The Stranger” is an exploration of ‘absurdism’ which is a facet of existentialism noting that it doesn’t really matter what course a person chooses because courses in and of themselves do not have meaning, i.e. there is no correct way to exist. It is the opposite of ‘rationalism’ or the idea that one can sit down and by pure reason arrive at the proper understanding of everything. The central character of the stranger is a hyperbolic example of an individual who chooses none of society’s recognized values and is as such indifferent to having everything a “normal” person would want or having it all taken away. He is a “Stranger.” The basic idea behind all of it is that, humans decide, on an individual basis, what it means to each of them to be human. Even someone who chooses to accept every societal notion they encounter without thought is making a choice. And as you point out most people make choices that appear, at least on the surface, to be very similar. A person may choose that meaning lies in economic success or a person may choose that meaning lies in expressing emotion through dance. An existentialist would say that they’re both right. Existentialists don’t deny that there is an order in the universe that can be observed, all they suggest is that we can and do define our place in it.

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