Existentialism and Morality

  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Existentialism
  3. » Existentialism and Morality

Get Email Updates Email this Topic Print this Page

Reply Fri 22 May, 2009 10:28 am
For some reason, I find that a lot of atheists love existentialism as a philosophical branch. They flock to it, I think, seeking the destruction of universal moral claims. This is especially true, I think, of those people who are relatively (or perhaps entirely) unfamiliar with the real teachings of the existential thinkers (that means you, Holiday).

Existentialism does not destroy morality. It does not free you from duty, from guilt. It places more duty and more guilt on you than had you merely gone by the Moral Law (as universals).

The thing about the Moral Law is that it's universal. It applies to every man. As such, it's made up mostly of negative commands: "Thou shalt not...whatever." "Thou shalt not issue a lying promise." "Thou shalt not murder." "Thou shalt not kick small babies, even non-lethally."

Granted, there are positive moral duties which apply universally, such as the duty to give charity, to duty to develop one's talents, the duty to love God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and so forth and so on.

That said, it's possible (and almost definite to occur) that a man can follow all of the Moral Law and still run into gray areas. In fact, this happens every day for most, if not all of us. That's the thing about Universals. Universals are instantiated in a multitude of particulars in a variety of ways, and there are a number of ways in which one can act and still satisfy these Universals.

Herein lies the problem of Existentialism. By and large, the Moral Law is concerned with this question: "What ought I not to do?" Sometimes, it asks us: "What are my duties, generally speaking?"

Existentialists rightly understand that these questions are too vague. For example, in Essays in Existentialism, Sartre points out that whether you follow Christ's command to love God and one another, or Kant's command never to treat a person as a means, but always an ends, there are times in which one is going to be placed in sort of an equipoise between two courses of action. He offers this example:

A man living in France during World War II considers going out to join the Free French forces, but in so doing, he must leave his widowed mother at home alone. If he leaves, he abandons his mother. If he stays, he lets down his country. That said, it isn't certain that, in going, he will help his country. Perhaps he'll be captured on the way, or perhaps he'll be stuck in some desk job. Should he go, or should he stay? Going solely by the Moral Law, going solely with Kant, or going solely with Christ's commands...well...he's stuck. It could go either way.

Existentialism, therefore, asks another question: "What ought I as a concrete existing individual to do in these particular circumstances?"

People read the phrase "existence prcedes essence" in Sartre, or they read "God is dead" in Nietzsche, and they think: "Hoorah! Morality is gone." No. The burden of morality has never been heavier. I quote Nietzsche:

Draft of a Letter to Paul Ree (The Portable Nietzsche) wrote:
...She told me herself that she had no morality -- and I thought she had, like myself, a more severe morality than anybody.


The Existentialist philosophy is only Existential insofar as it offers us an existential imperative (my phrase, I think), and each good Existential philosopher has his own.

Kierkegaard's entire philosophy turns around the idea of Christ as "The Absurd," which destroys any relationship we might have to Christ with our intellect, and places Him solely as the object of our will. Christ is God-man. "The Eternal Truth has existed in time." The Truth Itself is a paradox, and therefore our reason cannot approach it. The leap of faith is solely in the will, and when we will Jesus Christ, when we say "Christ is God-man," my willing arises solely from me, and from me alone. It is unique. This is Kierkegaard's existential imperative: "Act if and only if in acting your action arises from the God-man relationship. That is, act if and only if in acting you are acting in virtue of The Absurd."

For Nietzsche, there is only this world. Christianity is a lie. All systems are lies. If for Kierkegaard truth is subjectivity (in the sense that the only truth worthwhile to me as a concrete existing individual is the truth "for which I can live and die"), then for Nietzsche there is no truth. There is only the individual and how he perceives the world. Therefore, since there is only this world, since there is nothing beyond the individual and how he relates to the world, that is where morality lies. "How am I to act now?" This, therefore, is the origin of Nietzsche's existential imperative:

The Gay Science (The Portable Nietzsche) wrote:
The greatest stress. How, if some day or night a demon were to sneak after you into your loneliest lonliness and say to you, "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immesureably small or great in your life must return to you--all in the same succession and sequence--even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it, a dust grain of dust." Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or did you once experience a tremendous moment when you would have answered him, "You are a god, and never have I heard anything more godly." If this thought were to gain possession of you, it would change you, as you are, or perhaps crush you. The question in each and everything, "Do you want this once more and innumerable times more?" would weigh upon your actions as the greatest stress (Emphasis mine). Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?


Nietzsche's imperative is this: "Act if and only if in acting you could will that you repeat action over and over again forever. That is, act if and only if in acting you could will that your action echo throughout all of eternity."

Jasper's imperative is a bit different. Basing himself on Kierkegaard, and to some degree in Nietzsche, his system bases itself on how we relate to the world and to what is beyond the world. He centers his system on the idea of "Openness" or "Transcendence." His imperative is basically this: "Act if and only if in acting the action brings you towards openness towards the Transcendent."

Heidegger isn't purely existential. He's very much a phenomenologist, but insofar as he is existential, he has an imperative. For Heidegger, almost as in Kierkegaard, the realization must dawn on each one of us: "I am going to die." Every moment I live, I live only insofar as I am moving towards the great undoing, my death. Furthermore, the very fact that I live now is a paradox. Why? I am responsible for my life...but I am not the origin of my life. I am responsible for a being of which I am not the cause. This, then, is Heidegger's imperative (so far as I can pluck one out): "Act if and only if in acting your action arises from a proper relationship towards your own death. That is, act if and only if in acting you fully realize: 'I am going to die.'"

Sartre says, quoting Nietzsche, "God is dead." Therefore, there is no a priori good. Therefore, there is no a priori standard for humanity. "Therefore I can act however I want," right? Wrong. Because there is no a priori good, and because there is no a priori standard for humanity, and because there is no God...I alone am responsible for my actions, and not only my actions, but I am responsible for all of humanity. Because existence precedes essence, whenever I act, I am creating my essence, and not only my essence, but the essence of all humanity. This, therefore, is Sartre's imperative: "Act if and only if in acting you will that your action be offered up as an image for all of mankind. That is, act if and only if in acting you desire that all men do likewise." Are you acting in such a way that you want your action to be hidden? Then you're not just offending some abstract moral law. You are in bad faith. Your action is inauthentic.

For Levinas, life is social. The point of interaction is the Face, and the Face screams out "Thou shalt not kill!" The moment I come into interaction with another person, regardless of who that person is, I come into contact with the Face, and the Face calls me to care for that person. That care is primary. That care is non-reciprocal. That care is absolute. I cannot choose it. I cannot refuse it. I must care for the Other. This, therefore, is his existential imperative: "Act if and only if in acting the action arises out of care for the Other. That is, act if and only if in acting your concern is turned outwards."

So y'all thought that the Existentialists destroy morality? I disagree. What would have been acceptable behavior given the Moral Law now ceases to be acceptable given the Existential imperatives. The full weight of responsibility, the full weight of duty, the full weight of morality crushes you at every moment.
 
Greg phil
 
Reply Fri 22 May, 2009 03:11 pm
@Bonaventurian,
How do existentialists justify freewill? which I presume they accept

I guess they could set up the notion of freewill as a imperitive of their life to live by or something like that.


Anyway my real question is that existentialists emphasise personal responsibilty of behaviour right? Well what are they responsible for and to what measure of rightness?
-- Or am I asking the wrong questions?
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Fri 22 May, 2009 03:16 pm
@Bonaventurian,
I had no idea people thought existentialism destroys morality. But yeah, Kierkegaard argues that morality is intensified because of the existential predictament. For him, morality consists more than conformity to duty, but includes the person's passion and earnestness to help others. And this, constant striving, adds more pressure to the existing individual.
 
Bonaventurian
 
Reply Fri 22 May, 2009 04:31 pm
@Victor Eremita,
Victor Eremita wrote:
I had no idea people thought existentialism destroys morality. But yeah, Kierkegaard argues that morality is intensified because of the existential predictament. For him, morality consists more than conformity to duty, but includes the person's passion and earnestness to help others. And this, constant striving, adds more pressure to the existing individual.


Not to mention the "leap of faith."
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Fri 22 May, 2009 06:30 pm
@Bonaventurian,
It is clear by morality, the OP refers to personal code of conduct and/or conscience. This is not the only usage of the word. Morality is more often than not applied to ideal universal moral laws or the actual moral mores of a particular society. Existentialism is very much about rejecting morality... of the masses. Kierkegaard referred to his own morality (as in personal conduct) as the "teleological suspension of ethics", by ethics meaning, again, of the masses.

Nietzsche's rejection of morality is again of that of the masses: the execution of personal will being 'beyond good and evil', i.e. beyond morality in its judgemental form - again, of the masses.

The anti-Christian existentialists (e.g. Nietzsche, Sartre) were concerned with tearing down morality in its religious guise - the universal ideal moral laws.

So using morality in a particular way (social, or ideal) and saying existentialism destroys it isn't inaccurate, nor is it to use it another (personal conduct, conscience) and say it affirms it.

On a more critical note, I very much doubt any of the 'oughts' of existentialism involve more guilt than, say, Catholic morality. If you act inauthentically, you have let down only yourself and can recognise your errors. If you sin, you sin against others, against God and might go to hell. I think I can shoulder existentialist guilt a heck of a lot more lightly than Catholic guilt.

And there's no guilt in casual sex in existentialism. Which is pretty awesome.
 
Holiday20310401
 
Reply Sat 23 May, 2009 08:44 pm
@Bonaventurian,
Bona, existentialism does not destroy morality. I said it destroys moralizing, but I'd like to rephrase that statement and say that existentialism is based on feeling there must be something more purposeful than simply moralizing and whether all the moralizing that has been done is even right. There is a huge difference. Morality is a system of good and evil, moralizing is establishing and systemizing absolutes in the system of good and evil. Obviously existentialism was not about diminishing the system, it was about altering the focus of the system. Existentialists realize there are no absolute moral laws.

Bonaventurian wrote:
The thing about the Moral Law is that it's universal. It applies to every man. As such, it's made up mostly of negative commands: "Thou shalt not...whatever." "Thou shalt not issue a lying promise." "Thou shalt not murder." "Thou shalt not kick small babies, even non-lethally."Granted, there are positive moral duties which apply universally, such as the duty to give charity, to duty to develop one's talents, the duty to love God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and so forth and so on.


If duty is duty because another tells you it is, then duty be damned. What is the meaning in duty if others assign it for you? I'm not sure what it is you're saying in all this about your opinions but I was under the impression existentialism seeks to stop the evangelizing of absolutes as if they were exactly that, to be objective. There can be humility and there can be self-worth, but there can't be one that makes doom of the other.

This is a fine example of how morality is used in the matter of right and wrong, but moralizing is diminished in the idea of equating good and evil with right and wrong.


Bonaventurian wrote:
That said, it's possible (and almost definite to occur) that a man can follow all of the Moral Law and still run into gray areas. In fact, this happens every day for most, if not all of us. That's the thing about Universals. Universals are instantiated in a multitude of particulars in a variety of ways, and there are a number of ways in which one can act and still satisfy these Universals.


But why would we want to act in accordance to universals? Why would we limit our potential reactions to the bias of logical paradigms?


Any good philosopher won't judge an imperative as an absolute knowing that judgment itself to be closeminded, I'm only assuming ofcourse.


Bonaventurian wrote:
So y'all thought that the Existentialists destroy morality? I disagree. What would have been acceptable behavior given the Moral Law now ceases to be acceptable given the Existential imperatives.


Are you saying existential imperatives are just a replacement set of moral laws? If so, then what point are you tring to raise from it; that atheists ought to consider their advocacy of existentialism to be just the same as a theist's? What's the harm in being a christian then eh.

It all depends on what level of freedom (at least I'm assuming this is what existentialists are concerned about) is there in creating your own existence or letting others determine one's choices through absolutes.

Bonaventurian wrote:
The full weight of responsibility, the full weight of duty, the full weight of morality crushes you at every moment.


Spoken like a true absolutist! What weight? Where is this weight coming from? Is it some sort of default, that there be weight given to morals, that there even should be?! I think you might be making the mistake in assuming that guilt is inflicted to you by others. It is never. There is no must in guilt. Guilt is self-inflicted. If you disagree, then consider this. If guilt is inflicted by external influences then what would be the point of God assigning absolutes? It'd be redundant unless God is the only external influence, but then how depressing that would be.
 
Bonaventurian
 
Reply Sun 24 May, 2009 10:39 am
@Bones-O,
Bones-O! wrote:
It is clear by morality, the OP refers to personal code of conduct and/or conscience. This is not the only usage of the word. Morality is more often than not applied to ideal universal moral laws or the actual moral mores of a particular society. Existentialism is very much about rejecting morality... of the masses. Kierkegaard referred to his own morality (as in personal conduct) as the "teleological suspension of ethics", by ethics meaning, again, of the masses.


When I say "morality," I merely mean "what is right and what is wrong." I think this is the sense in which most people mean it. Granted, even Kierkegaard has this sort of "suspension" when he talks about Abraham, but I don't think for a moment that Kierkegaard would say that Abraham is doing something contrary to the Moral Law. Kierkegaard would say that this particular law is being suspended for the sake of the most basic aim of the Moral Law, namely loving God. Abraham is prepared to kill his son in virtue of the Absurd. Abraham does it because God commands it. That said, Kierkegaard would not say that the Moral Law in its most simple form (love of God) can be suspended.

The point that I am making, especially with Kierkegaard is this: for Kierkegaard, doing the right thing (and even doing it because it is the right thing) isn't enough. Kant says that the will is practical reason. You figure out the moral thing to do, and then you do it because it's the moral thing.

For Kierkegaard, this is entirely insufficient. The reason, being common to every man, isn't sufficient to produce a good will. There's nothing unique to the moral agent when he does the good, even for the sake of its goodness. This is why I say that Kierkegaard intensifies morality. Not only must you do the good, and not only must you do it for the sake of its goodness, but it must be entirely you who do it, and the only way that this "you" can come out in your actions is in virtue of the leap of faith.

This is what I was driving at earlier. It's not enough to follow the moral universal. You must uniquely instantiate it by virtue of the God-man relationship. "I am doing the good because it is good, and I do it in virtue of The Absurd."

Quote:
Nietzsche's rejection of morality is again of that of the masses: the execution of personal will being 'beyond good and evil', i.e. beyond morality in its judgemental form - again, of the masses.

The anti-Christian existentialists (e.g. Nietzsche, Sartre) were concerned with tearing down morality in its religious guise - the universal ideal moral laws.


I'm not denying that. I'm merely saying that there's a clear right/wrong in their systems. Sartre says that there's no a priori good, granted, and says that we are free to do anything whatsoever. That said, he has a condition: we must be willing to be imitated. Nietzsche wants to tear down the Christian faith, and all universals whatsoever, but he still has a very clear moral condition: you must affirm your action in the highest possible way...if there's even a bit of doubt about whether or not you will the action, then you ought not perform it.

Quote:
On a more critical note, I very much doubt any of the 'oughts' of existentialism involve more guilt than, say, Catholic morality. If you act inauthentically, you have let down only yourself and can recognise your errors. If you sin, you sin against others, against God and might go to hell. I think I can shoulder existentialist guilt a heck of a lot more lightly than Catholic guilt.


I think that Christianity is, to some degree, existential (in the moral sense of relating to the concrete, existing individual). There's this favorite Irish priest of mine, and he used to say often (he might still say it): "At the end of your life, when God judges you, He's gonna ask you two questions: 'Did you love my Son? Did you love your neighbor as yourself?'"

Quote:
And there's no guilt in casual sex in existentialism. Which is pretty awesome.


I disagree. I'm not saying that there is guilt for casual sex. I don't think that it's readily clear that there's none, though. The wierd thing about the Existentialists is that they don't lay down systems of law for us. They give us these general existential principles.

I don't think Kierkegaard would approve of casual sex. In fact, he outright says that, not only should we not have casual sex, but we ought not even get married. He writes this in his "Attack on Christianity (I think that's the title)." If his imperative is "Act if and only if the action arises in virtue of The Absurd," I find myself asking "Can I commit the sexual act solely out of love for Jesus Christ?" The answer is no.

Nietzsche? I'm not sure if, given his existential imperative, you can have casual sex either. If you're condemned to live this life over and over again forever, do you really want this particular act of casual sex over and over again? Sure, it feels fine now. But how does it fit in to the rest of your life? Is this really want you want to echo for all eternity? I think that, given Nietzsche's imperative, you're forced to hesitate, if only for a moment.

Jaspers? Does casual sex really draw you into a sort of openness towards the Transcendent? Or does it draw you down into the mundaneness of everydayness, even further into the world?

Heidegger? Can you perform a casual sexual act, having fully inwardized the inevitibility of your own death? Not only knowing, but understanding, that you are going to die...do you really want to have casual sex?

Sartre? Do you will this for all men? Would you want it hidden from anybody?

Casual sex is obviously wrong given Levinas' system. The very nature of casual sex is that considerations about the Other are self directed, not outward.
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Sun 24 May, 2009 11:15 am
@Bonaventurian,
Bonaventurian wrote:
When I say "morality," I merely mean "what is right and what is wrong."

Yes, but what is absolutely right, what is right for me and what is judged to be right by society are three different things. Existentialism generally promotes one over the other - the personal over the popular or the absolute. Even Kierkegaard wasn't promoting absolute moral ideals, but ones pertaining to a personal dialogue with God. And this is why the confusion. When Holiday says existentialism destroys moralising, he clearly speaks of the morality of the masses - the judgement of one person by another. Existentialism does mostly stand against this. Most of the examples of morality promoted by existentialism you cited were about personal conduct. This has nothing to do with moralising. So you're both more or less perfectly accurate... within the contexts of your arguments.

Much of the remainder of your post reinforces this point: that existentialism promotes personal morality over absolute or popular morality, so I will not answer it separately.


Bonaventurian wrote:
I disagree. I'm not saying that there is guilt for casual sex. I don't think that it's readily clear that there's none, though. The wierd thing about the Existentialists is that they don't lay down systems of law for us. They give us these general existential principles.

The essential thing, surely, not the weird thing. To follow an existential system of laws would be to be inauthentic - a contradiction.

Bonaventurian wrote:
I don't think Kierkegaard would approve of casual sex. In fact, he outright says that, not only should we not have casual sex, but we ought not even get married. He writes this in his "Attack on Christianity (I think that's the title)." If his imperative is "Act if and only if the action arises in virtue of The Absurd," I find myself asking "Can I commit the sexual act solely out of love for Jesus Christ?" The answer is no.

Nietzsche? I'm not sure if, given his existential imperative, you can have casual sex either. If you're condemned to live this life over and over again forever, do you really want this particular act of casual sex over and over again? Sure, it feels fine now. But how does it fit in to the rest of your life? Is this really want you want to echo for all eternity? I think that, given Nietzsche's imperative, you're forced to hesitate, if only for a moment.

Jaspers? Does casual sex really draw you into a sort of openness towards the Transcendent? Or does it draw you down into the mundaneness of everydayness, even further into the world?

Heidegger? Can you perform a casual sexual act, having fully inwardized the inevitibility of your own death? Not only knowing, but understanding, that you are going to die...do you really want to have casual sex?

Sartre? Do you will this for all men? Would you want it hidden from anybody?

Casual sex is obviously wrong given Levinas' system. The very nature of casual sex is that considerations about the Other are self directed, not outward.

Good analysis of how causal sex would be conceived by various existentialist philosophers, though notably lacking in any of them assigning it guilt. Guilt is of sin, and sin is defined by an absolute or popular morality. Any existentialist taking a moral position on casual sex, or anything else for that matter, ceases to be an existentialist in that capacity.

I remember Kierkegaard's anti-marriage stance, but this is not about sex: this is about love and devotion, ideas not generally connected to a drunken lay.

As for Nietzsche... do I want sex over and over again..? Do you really need to ask? :a-ok:

Jaspers: If there lies a path to transcendance, I'd certainly investigate a sexual route. A good orgasm is probably the closest I've got.

Heidegger: Well, they call the orgasm 'the little death', so I think casual sex is a good path to understanding that we are truly going to die. And if I knew when the last hours of my life would come, I would ensure they came to me in a hotel suite filled with champagne and hookers.

Sartre: Why do you think men have such emotional conversations with each other about sexual contests, then congratulate each other? We do do it for all men!

Levinas: Have you seen the film Strange Days. Talk about considering the Other self-directed...

And don't forget Camus, who advocated we maximise our experiences.
 
Bonaventurian
 
Reply Sun 24 May, 2009 11:55 am
@Bones-O,
Bones-O! wrote:
I remember Kierkegaard's anti-marriage stance, but this is not about sex: this is about love and devotion, ideas not generally connected to a drunken lay.


He promotes a life of complete celibacy. He cites St. Paul's recommendation that it's better to be married "than to burn," but that the single/celibate life is the only one which is Christian in the Gospel sense.

Quote:
As for Nietzsche... do I want sex over and over again..? Do you really need to ask? :a-ok:


Not so fast, man. Read the entire passage from "The Gay Science." Your life isn't comprised merely of individual moments which you can pick and choose, and relive only those. You have an entire life to take into account. What if the results of casual sex end up being undesireable? You have to live with them. Nietzsche's gonna ask "Was it worth it?" And then you have to look at how it fits into your life overall. There are many people who have casual sex, and then, whereas they enjoyed it for the moment, look back on it later and think "Wow...that was stupid. I shouldn't have done that." Because of Nietzsche's infinite regress, you'll have a truly infinite regret, because you'll experience the regret an infinite number of times.

All I am saying, either way, is that I don't think that we can answer "yes" so quickly. Maybe you'll realize later that you don't want this particular casual sex act "innumerable times over."

Quote:
Jaspers: If there lies a path to transcendance, I'd certainly investigate a sexual route. A good orgasm is probably the closest I've got.


I have no idea. When I took the Existentialism class, Jaspers annoyed the crap out of me. He's not incredibly clear in his writing. He says that the best way to "openness" is a sort of "existential communication." I don't think that casual sex really is that kind of existential communication. That said, I'm not entirely clear on what Jaspers meant.

Quote:
Heidegger: Well, they call the orgasm 'the little death', so I think casual sex is a good path to understanding that we are truly going to die. And if I knew when the last hours of my life would come, I would ensure they came to me in a hotel suite filled with champagne and hookers.


Sure, you can say that now, with your lips. But you say this perfectly healthy and the like, and not having faced your own death. I think that you might answer differently if you actually had to face your own death.

Quote:
Sartre: Why do you think men have such emotional conversations with each other about sexual contests, then congratulate each other? We do do it for all men!


Can you imagine even a single woman whom you don't want considered as a sexual conquest, or even a single dude you wouldn't want having casual sex?

Quote:
Levinas: Have you seen the film Strange Days. Talk about considering the Other self-directed...


I have not.

Quote:
And don't forget Camus, who advocated we maximise our experiences.


I'm unfamiliar with Camus.
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Sun 24 May, 2009 12:47 pm
@Bonaventurian,
Bonaventurian wrote:
He promotes a life of complete celibacy. He cites St. Paul's recommendation that it's better to be married "than to burn," but that the single/celibate life is the only one which is Christian in the Gospel sense.

Okay, clearly I don't remember it as well as I thought! :bigsmile: Or I'm remembering something else... something about devoting your life.


Bonaventurian wrote:
What if the results of casual sex end up being undesireable? You have to live with them.

That's true of anything - casual sex isn't especially effected by this.

Bonaventurian wrote:
Nietzsche's gonna ask "Was it worth it?" And then you have to look at how it fits into your life overall. There are many people who have casual sex, and then, whereas they enjoyed it for the moment, look back on it later and think "Wow...that was stupid. I shouldn't have done that."

Yes, they're called stupid people. I am not a stupid person. I have not had a casual sex about which there is even the possibility of regret.

Bonaventurian wrote:
All I am saying, either way, is that I don't think that we can answer "yes" so quickly. Maybe you'll realize later that you don't want this particular casual sex act "innumerable times over."

Let me think... No, I would. Really, I would.

Bonaventurian wrote:
I have no idea. When I took the Existentialism class, Jaspers annoyed the crap out of me. He's not incredibly clear in his writing. He says that the best way to "openness" is a sort of "existential communication." I don't think that casual sex really is that kind of existential communication. That said, I'm not entirely clear on what Jaspers meant.

Oh, I'm sure casual sex wouldn't be the best way. But until I know what the best way is, it'll be my reference point.

Bonaventurian wrote:
Sure, you can say that now, with your lips. But you say this perfectly healthy and the like, and not having faced your own death. I think that you might answer differently if you actually had to face your own death.

Actually, death, mortality and the denial or suspension of belief in it is something I've considered a lot. I think most of our lives are predicated on the contradictory notions that we are going to die and that we are not. As a result, and much along the lines of Heidegger, I try to avoid the denial of mortality, especially in decision-making. The ONLY thing standing between me and that hotel suite is the knowledge of the moment of my death.

This is something that annoys me too. Where do you lie? At the moment (or just before) of death, would you rather know you were going to die or not know? Some people like the idea of, say, dying peacefully in their sleep. I'd feel robbed by that, but then I don't believe in the afterlife. I suppose if you do, and you do, it doesn't matter so much. But I want to know, and the earlier I know the more I can ensure my last moment is a celebration of life.

I'm most assuredly aware I am toward death.

Bonaventurian wrote:
Can you imagine even a single woman whom you don't want considered as a sexual conquest, or even a single dude you wouldn't want having casual sex?

A lot of what I've said was for humour - that especially. I'm not a sexual conquest kind of guy, and I've never bragged and rarely discussed my sex life. I look down on that sort of thing. Casual sex for me is two people enjoying and exploring each other - a very private, intimate affair.

But would I be imitated? Preferably not with that particular woman, no. But in the act itself - for sure. I hope all follow suit. And I'm sure women will agree.
 
Holiday20310401
 
Reply Sun 24 May, 2009 10:09 pm
@Bones-O,
Nietzsche would not have been necessarily against casual sex. He was against men begging for sex. Begging shows a dependency, a submission to humility, and worse especially in the culture of the times Nietzsche was in and close before his time (Victorian Era, etc.), wanting the partner to submit. As if a woman`s humility should be advocated! This is what I got the impression Nietzsche was against. He was about self-worth, and well... I don't really know what any existentialists' interpretations on the self-worth in casual sex, but hey. I'd go with Camus and maximizing experience. If both partners agree, and there's the casual bonus added on, then that's like the reconciliation of humility and self-worth.

Really though, humility gets to be out of the picture, because the acts (if casual) of both partners have humility completely out of the causal picture. What's the alternative? Formal sex? I hate formalities. They sound suspiciously like absolutes. Now, it is possible that in the act of formal sex, humility or even some sick submission from one of the partners becomes a formality, a cause for the action.
 
gojo1978
 
Reply Wed 27 May, 2009 04:37 pm
@Bonaventurian,
Bonaventurian;64340 wrote:

Sartre says, quoting Nietzsche, "God is dead." Therefore, there is no a priori good. Therefore, there is no a priori standard for humanity. "Therefore I can act however I want," right? Wrong. Because there is no a priori good, and because there is no a priori standard for humanity, and because there is no God...I alone am responsible for my actions, and not only my actions, but I am responsible for all of humanity. Because existence precedes essence, whenever I act, I am creating my essence, and not only my essence, but the essence of all humanity. This, therefore, is Sartre's imperative: "Act if and only if in acting you will that your action be offered up as an image for all of mankind. That is, act if and only if in acting you desire that all men do likewise." Are you acting in such a way that you want your action to be hidden? Then you're not just offending some abstract moral law. You are in bad faith. Your action is inauthentic.


That stuff seems to me to be a spurious attempt to justify the central theme of his philosophy, which was that you are responsible for yourself alone. He was widely condemned for this position by the church and the left for different reasons, and he was shocked by the condemnation which came his way, and that was an attempt to show that his philosophy had a universal morality. Which, of course, in actual fact, it did not.

The following are quotations from Mary Warnock, in 'Existentialism' and 'The Philosophy Of Sartre' :


"Any attempt at an account of ethics that would have any generality was to be condemned as Bad Faith. The one established fact seemed to be that values were contingent, personal and chosen, if they were genuine, by the individual, by himself and for himself alone."

"Sartre wants, above all, to maintain the pure Existentialist dogma that we are what we choose to make ourselves, that we have no character which we did not confer upon ourselves."


We can see that at the outset, prior to his being savaged for his perceived amorality, his philosophy is completely subjective. The passage highlighted above, from Existentialism Is A Humanism, is made in response to his critics, and, as I said above, I believe, entirely spurious.

I think Existentialism, and Sartre, have much to offer; from my perspective as a lifelong atheist, it is the most natural thing in the world to believe that life is essentially meaningless, and that we must all make our own meaning. It is good that someone crystallised it as a Philosophy for people of a more 'conditioned' disposition to see and think about. I also like the lack of universal morality which he originally espoused, but, in my eyes at least, he damaged his credibility by then changing his position and trying to insert that retrospectively. We are all (in his sense, at least) free and independent beings, and, as such, we SHOULD reject the notion of universal morality. We should all instinctively know what is right or not. And for those who do not, that is what the actual law is for. Apart from anything else, morality and values vary wildy from culture to culture as well as person to person, so how can there be any valid universal morality?
 
hue-man
 
Reply Sun 31 May, 2009 08:24 am
@gojo1978,
gojo1978;65287 wrote:
That stuff seems to me to be a spurious attempt to justify the central theme of his philosophy, which was that you are responsible for yourself alone. He was widely condemned for this position by the church and the left for different reasons, and he was shocked by the condemnation which came his way, and that was an attempt to show that his philosophy had a universal morality. Which, of course, in actual fact, it did not.

The following are quotations from Mary Warnock, in 'Existentialism' and 'The Philosophy Of Sartre' :


"Any attempt at an account of ethics that would have any generality was to be condemned as Bad Faith. The one established fact seemed to be that values were contingent, personal and chosen, if they were genuine, by the individual, by himself and for himself alone."

"Sartre wants, above all, to maintain the pure Existentialist dogma that we are what we choose to make ourselves, that we have no character which we did not confer upon ourselves."


We can see that at the outset, prior to his being savaged for his perceived amorality, his philosophy is completely subjective. The passage highlighted above, from Existentialism Is A Humanism, is made in response to his critics, and, as I said above, I believe, entirely spurious.

I think Existentialism, and Sartre, have much to offer; from my perspective as a lifelong atheist, it is the most natural thing in the world to believe that life is essentially meaningless, and that we must all make our own meaning. It is good that someone crystallised it as a Philosophy for people of a more 'conditioned' disposition to see and think about. I also like the lack of universal morality which he originally espoused, but, in my eyes at least, he damaged his credibility by then changing his position and trying to insert that retrospectively. We are all (in his sense, at least) free and independent beings, and, as such, we SHOULD reject the notion of universal morality. We should all instinctively know what is right or not. And for those who do not, that is what the actual law is for. Apart from anything else, morality and values vary wildy from culture to culture as well as person to person, so how can there be any valid universal morality?


"How can there be any universal morality?" Because morality isn't morality if it's not universal. Morality entails treating people with equal consideration.

Personal ethical matters, like how should I live my life, are different matters all together. Lifestyle choice doesn't always have to do with morality (homosexuality, for example). Lifestyle choice sometimes simply has to do with aesthetic preferences; that is as long as you are not causing harm to yourself or other people.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 04:45 am
@hue-man,
It's a fascinating ideal -- total self-creation. But it remains just that, I think. For time and chance happens to them all. Born into a particular body, family, nation, language, time. Born very much into a moral society, the morals of which the individual can eventually learn to criticize and, if such is desirable, resist.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 5 Dec, 2009 03:18 am
@Bonaventurian,
Bonaventurian;64340 wrote:
Sartre says, quoting Nietzsche, "God is dead." Therefore, there is no a priori good. Therefore, there is no a priori standard for humanity. "Therefore I can act however I want," right? Wrong. Because there is no a priori good, and because there is no a priori standard for humanity, and because there is no God...I alone am responsible for my actions, and not only my actions, but I am responsible for all of humanity. Because existence precedes essence, whenever I act, I am creating my essence, and not only my essence, but the essence of all humanity. This, therefore, is Sartre's imperative: "Act if and only if in acting you will that your action be offered up as an image for all of mankind. That is, act if and only if in acting you desire that all men do likewise."


What does this mean in practise, though? How is there any basis for predicting 'what all men might do' if there is no basis other than 'what I choose'? How am I to know 'what all men might do'? If there is no a priori good, and I say the right course is 'this', and you say it is 'that', and we are at odds, then what? How do you manufacture meaning where there is no meaning and no compass?

I will confess, that Being and Nothingness was the one text in philosophy at University that I absolutely could not understand. I still don't understand it, so if you are able to cast any light I will appreciate it.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Mon 28 Dec, 2009 03:42 am
@Bonaventurian,
On Being and Nothingness
I feel that a person should be able to give their general position in 20 pages. Sure, elaborate later for thousands of pages, but get to the damn point if you really have one.
I've read Nausea and some of the plays and they certainly have great moments. Sartre has his charms. But there's something about him that rubs me wrong. What altars boys the existentialists tend to be! The struggle! The struggle! We're condemned to be free until the Cause arrives. Humans seem to crave an ethic. It's like that song by Poison (curse this song!): "give me something to believe in."

Always the righteousness game. Look at me, ma, I'm a hero. I'm a cell in the Cause. Oh Saint Marx, you used to like to say Saint Max. Look who's talking now! Kill for the Cause is the general rule. Spit on those who deny its grandeur. Down with jesus, up with marx. hoorah! hoorah! what freedom! Burn the churches. Put up a statue for Goddess Reason. Roll in the guillotine, for we are truly modern men! Same old monkey, killing in the name of X. But they can never hold on the O.
 
MMP2506
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 09:00 pm
@Bonaventurian,
For existentialists, morality seems more of an effect from living an authentic life style than an object to be focused on achieving. Most would say that one living an authentic life would see what is ethical as given in the situation, in which case any predefined moral law would be inauthentic to the existentialist.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Fri 5 Feb, 2010 03:36 pm
@MMP2506,
MMP2506;123385 wrote:
For existentialists, morality seems more of an effect from living an authentic life style than an object to be focused on achieving. Most would say that one living an authentic life would see what is ethical as given in the situation, in which case any predefined moral law would be inauthentic to the existentialist.



This reminds me of Jesus (certain interpretations). It's not the letter of the law that matters but the spirit. One's motive is the source of righteousness, not obedience to a static law. It's as if morality, like painting, went abstract.
 
MMP2506
 
Reply Fri 5 Feb, 2010 05:21 pm
@Reconstructo,
That comparison isn't that crazy upon reflection. Many people compared Jesus to a Stoic sage, and there do seem to be many similarities between the Existentialist movement and the Stoic tradition. Existentialism isn't necessarily opposed to the original concept of religion; their problem is mainly with how meaningless religion has become.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Fri 5 Feb, 2010 06:38 pm
@MMP2506,
MMP2506;125282 wrote:
That comparison isn't that crazy upon reflection. Many people compared Jesus to a Stoic sage, and there do seem to be many similarities between the Existentialist movement and the Stoic tradition. Existentialism isn't necessarily opposed to the original concept of religion; their problem is mainly with how meaningless religion has become.


Right, and they had an excellent point. This is why one can see them as a twist on protestantism.
Perhaps they also wanted to stick out from their fellow middle-classers, more vividly manifest their intensity. Dead forms were perhaps a sacrifice upon the altar of a younger more difficult God, one so pure that he wasn't even there.

Or you could say that atheism is the absolute version of incarnation. God is so thoroughly incarnate that religion is now called atheist humanism. Christian ethics then justified with Dialectical Materialism.

But then not all existentialist were impressed by Marx. K disdained Hegel and would presumably feel the same toward systematic Marx. H is on the record doubting Marx, I believe.

Manzoni presented balloons full of his breath as art. He also canned his excrement. Is this the right ritual for atheistic humanism?
 
 

 
  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Existentialism
  3. » Existentialism and Morality
Copyright © 2022 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 10/07/2022 at 01:54:44