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”

What is to be Done: Responses to Determinism in Notes from Underground

Essay completed 12 October 2016

In Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky is responding to the idea of rational egoism with the character of the Underground Man. The Underground Man is unable to justify his motivations for acting in light of the principle of rational egoism, which holds that the motivations of all human behavior can be traced back to self-interest. The utopian intellectuals to whom Dostoevsky is responding in the novel believe that eventually humanity can eliminate all crime from society. Under rational egoism, human transgression does not come from evil or sinfulness because all actions can be traced back to social pressures or injustices. There is no reason to punish or take revenge, as people are not responsible for their actions. This idea consumes the Underground Man leading him to agonize over the proper response to a life bound by determinism. Continue reading “What is to be Done: Responses to Determinism in Notes from Underground”