Existential Action: Criticisms and Hypothetical Responses

Essay completed 7 December 2016

In his 1946 essay “Existentialism is humanism,” Sartre defends existentialism against several recurring criticisms. The most superficial criticism of existentialism asserts that existentialists dwell too much on human degradation while denying the seriousness of human achievement. In essence, this criticism asks why existentialism focuses so much on negative aspects of life, when there is so much to celebrate. Another common criticism Sartre identifies is the charge that existentialism fosters nihilism because it denies objective morality, condemning people to live without meaning. The underlying assumption of this criticism is that a life is only worth living if there is objective morality. Another criticism is that existentialism encourages quietism and discourages solidarity in the face of life’s meaninglessness. These charges assert overall that if objective solutions can never be found in existentialism, “we should have to consider action in this world as quite impossible” (Marino 341-342). Continue reading “Existential Action: Criticisms and Hypothetical Responses”

Freedom and Egoism in The Ethics of Ambiguity

Essay completed 2 November 2016

At this point in our class, any reconciliation between morality and existentialism seems impossible to me. If everything is subjective, how can anyone establish ethical imperatives? Why would anyone feel any obligation to others if individuals are free to determine how they live? In her 1947 work The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir confronts these questions as she considers how to approach some form of ethical process even in the midst of existentialism’s rejection of inherent moralities. Continue reading “Freedom and Egoism in The Ethics of Ambiguity”

A Story that Doesn’t Exist: Nausea and Transcending Retrospective Interpretation

Essay completed 24 October 2016

Growing up in a Calvinist church and a conservative evangelical school, I was taught that everything in the world has inherent meaning. Those institutions maintained that every aspect of the natural world correlates to an absolute spiritual truth. I was told that the knowledge God has revealed to humankind is all that I would ever need to know. Nature exists as it does to exemplify God’s greatness. I have selfish impulses because I inherited Adam and Eve’s sin nature. Humankind’s fallen nature explains every act of immorality ever committed. This manner of interpreting the world through cause-and-effect allegories was comforting to me because it gave me a definite identity. I knew who I was and why I was here. For most of my life I believed that my worldview determined my identity and the nature of the world around me. Continue reading “A Story that Doesn’t Exist: Nausea and Transcending Retrospective Interpretation”

Enlightenment and Despair in The Sickness unto Death

Essay completed 21 September 2016

Kierkegaard makes a bold claim in The Sickness unto Death when he asserts “no human being ever lived… who has not despaired” (Kierkegaard 51). All humans have experienced the despair of lacking a self, according to Kierkegaard. He makes an even more sweeping claim when he asserts that almost all people live in despair (55).  While I normally hesitate to accept universal assertions about human nature, I find this claim oddly compelling. Kierkegaard’s statements about despair are interesting because of the issue of consciousness; most people are unaware of their own despair. Continue reading “Enlightenment and Despair in The Sickness unto Death”