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”

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”

Implications of Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith

Originally completed 2 September 2016

I can see how the many of the ideas Kierkegaard presents within Fear and Trembling could appeal to readers in 2016. There is something satisfying to the modern reader about Kierkegaard’s rejection of Hegel’s elevation of the universal and Kant’s elevation of reason. Subjective, personal experience is more valued today than ever before; individual identity is vastly important to modern Western society. We want to defy statistics and rise above the crowd. Religious or not, all people want to feel as if they are accomplishing something important. Kierkegaard taps into this fundamental human desire when he describes the process by which the individual paradoxically becomes higher than the universal.

Continue reading “Implications of Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith”