Is Existentialism only for the Pure of Heart?

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Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 02:21 am
Most existential philosophers posit an ideal man that embodies their version of existential philosophy, and is something to which strive for. Camus had his Absurd Hero, Kierkegaard had the Knight of Faith, Nietzsche had the Ubermensch, Unamuno had the Immortal Man; while Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Sartre create characters in their novels and plays that embody both the strengths and weaknesses of their philosophies.

Maybe some people can and do reach this ideal, but what if most of us could only dream about achieving such ideals, never reaching it. We just go on stuck in our desparing, anguished, untermensched, bad faithed self. Does that make us failures if we do not reach an existential ideal? Is the existential ideal just too high?

Or do you think Kierkegaard is right, that just becoming and wanting to be the self you truly are, is sufficient enough? In other words, some will become great, while some will never be, but as long as you become what you want to be, that would be enough?
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 03:12 am
@Victor Eremita,
I think its a case of the donkey and the carrot suspended before him by means of a stick that he himself carries. I think we are wired to pursue a heroic ideal. But I think this heroic ideal is flexible. Note the differences not only in the ideal characters you mentioned above but also all thru religion. The imitation of Christ, for instance. Compare sin to bad faith. And as far as falling short of the ideal: "All men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Compare this with: "Man is a futile passion." But he doesn't say worthless passion.

To answer your question for myself: I think to try is all we can do. I experience moments of satisfaction and ecstasy, but such things pass, and it's back to work.

Just 2 cents with respect...
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 03:29 am
@Victor Eremita,
There is no real concept of moral code in their work outside that of literary imagination though. It the morality of the learned and the literary, like a model or a phantasm. It exists only in books, like a mythical city or a projection of the superego.

Ethic does have a basis in reality which only starts by seeing beyond yourself.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 03:58 am
@jeeprs,
Perhaps it's comparable to Jesus and his reduction of the Mosaic Law to Love. Like love, Bad Faith and Authenticity are flexible and subjective concepts. Just as Dionysus versus the Crucified is mythological and open to interpretation.

I would say that Existentialism can be described as a sophisticated religion, but this is obviously my subjective and metaphorical description, and not presented as history.

Ethics in relation to myth...that is one possible description of religion.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 04:23 am
@Victor Eremita,
what does 'pure of heart' mean, anyway, and have any of the existentialist heros ever exhibited it?
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 02:51 am
@Victor Eremita,
Oh, pure of heart is Kierkegaard's terminology for what Existentialists later call "Authenticity" or the "authentic individual". In other words, one's actions truly reflect the actor giving them; whose acts are a true manfiestation of one's own self.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 02:57 am
@Victor Eremita,
can't take any exception to that. I think it is a universally acceptable definition.

It does not seem to be a quality you will encounter in the pages of a Camus or Sartre novel though.

Correct me if I am wrong.
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 03:01 am
@Victor Eremita,
Sisyphus' and Mersault's actions are manifested by their selves. Mersault refuses to show remorse or give in to the demands of the public to feel sadness for his mom's death or for killing the Arab. He openly accepts the taunts of others and embraces it when he is set to be executed. Staying true to one's self, of being pure of heart, whatever that heart may be is being authentic.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 03:16 am
@Victor Eremita,
I suppose you could say that both Sartre and Camus were true to their own lights all throughout their lives and writings. Sartre fought with the French Resistance, and did reject a Nobel Prize, and I think was the only person, certainly the only writer, ever to have done this.

Perhaps I have preconceptions about what 'purity of heart' might connote. It is probably a religious preconception on my part, which Sarte might reasonably characterise as 'bad faith', perhaps.
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 03:27 am
@Victor Eremita,
Quote:
I suppose you could say that both Sartre and Camus were true to their own lights all throughout their lives and writings. Sartre fought with the French Resistance, and did reject a Nobel Prize, and I think was the only person, certainly the only writer, ever to have done this.

Sartre was the only Nobel Literature Laureate to have refused; Le Duc Tho refused the Nobel Peace Prize.


Quote:

Perhaps I have preconceptions about what 'purity of heart' might connote. It is probably a religious preconception on my part, which Sarte might reasonably characterise as 'bad faith', perhaps.

Kierkegaard would probably call bad faith, being untrue to one's self. Ah well that what happens when a religious philosopher like Kierkegaard gets read and co-opted by agnostic/atheist philosophers. Nevertheless, Kierkegaard prefigured existentialism by a century, so out of respect, I'll use SK's terminology.

But anyway, yeah, can we really achieve the existentialist ideal (Absurd Hero, Knight of Faith, Ubermensch, etc); without being true to one's self all the way? I personally don't think so.
 
salima
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 06:23 pm
@Victor Eremita,
isnt part one of the quest to be in touch with the true self, to actually recognize it for what it is and be able to act from it? to be able to live that way all the time would be the ideal they speak of, maybe. i think to just be able to reach that peak performance once in a lifetime would be enough for me. the struggles of life can be directed towards that goal, that is the best anyone can do i think.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 07:06 pm
@Victor Eremita,
I think where I have the problem with European existentialism is that 'the true self' is strictly of one's own creation. Camus and Sartre with both completely convinced atheists for whom the universe had no meaning save what we project on it. So the true self can be...whatever the situation calls for. Existence precedes essence.
 
salima
 
Reply Sat 5 Dec, 2009 01:26 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;108223 wrote:
I think where I have the problem with European existentialism is that 'the true self' is strictly of one's own creation. Camus and Sartre with both completely convinced atheists for whom the universe had no meaning save what we project on it. So the true self can be...whatever the situation calls for. Existence precedes essence.


that would be a mistake i think. what they are talking about, that is the false self, the one we create. we can create it knowingly and make it nice-nice...but it is only for the outer layer of existence, and managing affairs in this world. we can work on it while we are looking for the true self, since it is being channeled through this personna.

the true self is the one we have to try and discover, that which is behind all the masks and games, which alone is capable of true action. that is the one that tries to talk to us and we jumble up its attempts to be known.

existence and essence have to be a unit-if there is no essence nothing exists, and if nothing exists there is no essence. one cant precede the other, can it? neither can supersede the other either, i think.
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Sat 5 Dec, 2009 06:23 am
@salima,
Quote:

I think where I have the problem with European existentialism is that 'the true self' is strictly of one's own creation. Camus and Sartre with both completely convinced atheists for whom the universe had no meaning save what we project on it. So the true self can be...whatever the situation calls for. Existence precedes essence.


Quote:

that would be a mistake i think. what they are talking about, that is the false self, the one we create. we can create it knowingly and make it nice-nice...but it is only for the outer layer of existence, and managing affairs in this world. we can work on it while we are looking for the true self, since it is being channeled through this personna.
the true self is the one we have to try and discover, that which is behind all the masks and games, which alone is capable of true action. that is the one that tries to talk to us and we jumble up its attempts to be known.
existence and essence have to be a unit-if there is no essence nothing exists, and if nothing exists there is no essence. one cant precede the other, can it? neither can supersede the other either, i think.

In pre-Kierkegaardian philosophy, philosophers believed that there were certain things innate about human beings which must be universally accepted in order to have a good life. Aristotle, for example, believed all human beings must value contemplation, eudaimonia, etc. They thought an ideal human essence is already determined before the birth of any particular human being.

In Kierkegaardian philosophy, "Existence precedes Essence" one is born into the universe, and then has the "task of becoming a true self" in the sense that, one has to deal with the boredom, despair, etc. of life, while choosing the values which are valuable in themselves.

Kierkegaard does not follow Aristotle by saying "human beings must all value contemplation, eudamonia, etc". Personal identity is formed by finding the values "that is true for the individual self; the truth that he or she would live or die for." In that sense, salima is right in the second paragraph; a true self has to find and discover the values that apply for one's own self. However, Kierkegaard doesn't deny the existence of objective values, but one must appropriate those objective values subjectively. If one wants to value eudamonia or contemplation, that's great, as long as one values it because that's what one wants, and not what Aristotle says you ought to.

In post-Kierkegaardian philosophy, "Existence precedes Essence" as thought of by Sartre means one is first born into the universe and then one creates values, those created values being entirely groundless and arbitrary. For Sartre, the "true" self is precisely that which the individual constructs for oneself. Whereas Kierkegaard thinks that the particular values individuals adopt can be grounded on some objective truth or reason, Sartre thinks that truth is whatever one makes it out to be but sometimes people falter from creating themselves because they are denying their own freedom to create (what Kierkegaard called angst).
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Sat 5 Dec, 2009 11:44 am
@Victor Eremita,
Folklore about Michelangelo is that when he sculpted, he was finding the statue that was already down in there. He was just chipping away what obstructed our view of it.

Maybe Sartre would rule out that it could work that way?
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 08:11 am
@Victor Eremita,
Not really, in the sense that, Sartre wouldn't determine what the block of marble would be at the end. If the acting agent was the sculptor and the block of marble the self, the sculptor would just create on the block of marble, not following any set of rules before sculpting
 
Magnus phil
 
Reply Mon 1 Feb, 2010 12:13 pm
@Victor Eremita,
What is the true self? Is that the soul? It reminds me of the shamanistic journey to retrieve one's soul. Most don't make it back. Example=Nietzsche, but he did become a hero out of his failure because his noble attempt, and exemplary literary feats.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Fri 5 Feb, 2010 02:01 am
@Victor Eremita,
"Existence precedes essence" they tell us. Yes and no, I say. For such a statement is another attempt at the essence that existence is supposed to precede.

Robert Solomon talks about the transcendental pretension of the Western Enlightenment. I think what he means is the implicit universality that runs from Rousseau to Kant. Without justifying it, they speak as if for all men, as if their own tribe had tapped into the universal grounding all tribes.

Did they steal this from Newton? Did the success of physical science inspire a similar sense of universal truth in the sphere of words (ever metaphorical/mythological)?

Existentialism seems to me like an extension of Protestantism. It's atheism is just a further extension of iconoclasm? Isn't humanism just an abstract representation of man as god? But that's what Jesus was in the first place: God no longer in Heaven but in a suffering criminals human body.

It seems to me that "purity of heart" is a universal sort of goal. Is that my transcendental pretension or does essence precede existence after all? Remembering also that both these words are just metaphors/myths themselves.
 
Lost1 phil
 
Reply Fri 5 Feb, 2010 06:58 am
@Victor Eremita,
What does it say of me to know that I see great humor in someone asking a (possible) Existentialist about a requirement of heart purity?

Would not your question be better phrased as..."Is Existentialism only for the courageous?"

Lost1
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Fri 5 Feb, 2010 03:34 pm
@Victor Eremita,
I would say Existentialism is generally indeed for the courageous. Perhaps this is its appeal. It's also a sort of lifestyle philosophy. It ties into the Cynics and Stoics for whom philosophy was not just books but a way a life, a superior lifestyle.

If a man is "good" (obedient) in order to dodge hellfire, he is merely being prudent. To drop God as many (but not all) existentialists did is to make a space for virtue that is not mere prudence. Of course critics and cynics alike can call this vanity, but perhaps their cynical criticism is no less vain.
 
 

 
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