Does existence really precede essence?

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hue-man
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 10:41 am
The defining tenant of existentialism is the belief that existence, the being of a person, precedes the essence or nature of a person. In other words, there is no human nature. This sounds like the blank slate interpretation of human nature.

Is this proposition really true; can it be verified; or is this just another attempt to escape the firm clutches of determinism?
 
richrf
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 01:53 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man;84514 wrote:
The defining tenant of existentialism is the belief that existence, the being of a person, precedes the essence or nature of a person. In other words, there is no human nature. This sounds like the blank slate interpretation of human nature.

Is this proposition really true; can it be verified; or is this just another attempt to escape the firm clutches of determinism?


Hi hue-man,

As far as I can tell there is no end to the debate concerning determinism and what is called free will. Everyone seems to have a different interpretation of these terms anyway. I fall on the ability to choose direction side of the debate, since it is much more in line with my own observations of life.

In regards to existentialism, I think that it does attempt to place the onus of responsibility of a person actions onto the person, making it a much more practical way of living. Einstein, for example, was a determinist up until the law was in question, and then he believed in punishment - and he accepted the contradiction, which was honest of him.

For myself, I believe we come into this life with certain memories, characteristics, abilities, thoughts, which are subject to change depending upon what we learn.

Rich
 
hue-man
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 02:00 pm
@richrf,
richrf;84545 wrote:
Hi hue-man,

As far as I can tell there is no end to the debate concerning determinism and what is called free will. Everyone seems to have a different interpretation of these terms anyway. I fall on the ability to choose direction side of the debate, since it is much more in line with my own observations of life.

In regards to existentialism, I think that it does attempt to place the onus of responsibility of a person actions onto the person, making it a much more practical way of living. Einstein, for example, was a determinist up until the law was in question, and then he believed in punishment - and he accepted the contradiction, which was honest of him.

For myself, I believe we come into this life with certain memories, characteristics, abilities, thoughts, which are subject to change depending upon what we learn.

Rich


Einstein saw it as a contradiction but I don't. There's a difference between explaining behavior and excusing behavior.

So you believe that essence precedes existence?
 
richrf
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 02:07 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man;84547 wrote:
Einstein saw it as a contradiction but I don't. There's a difference between explaining behavior and excusing behavior.

So you believe that essence precedes existence?


Well, if you understand that people have no choice, then what are you going to do. They gotta do what they gotta do? In any case, you are neither excusing behavior or explaining it in a deterministic society. You are just doing what you gotta do. There is no difference in anything. You and Einstein and the criminals are just both doing what is already determined. It is all flat. Everyone is just doing what they are determined to do, with no differences, no judgments.

I am not sure that I was clear in my post. I think essence and existence are intertwined. There is no separation in my conception of Life.

Rich
 
hue-man
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 02:36 pm
@richrf,
richrf;84549 wrote:
Well, if you understand that people have no choice, then what are you going to do. They gotta do what they gotta do? In any case, you are neither excusing behavior or explaining it in a deterministic society. You are just doing what you gotta do. There is no difference in anything. You and Einstein and the criminals are just both doing what is already determined. It is all flat. Everyone is just doing what they are determined to do, with no differences, no judgments.

I am not sure that I was clear in my post. I think essence and existence are intertwined. There is no separation in my conception of Life.

Rich


But determinism does not entail inevitability. Ultimately, no one is controlling my actions but me. Now my actions may be determined by external factors and internal factors, but ultimately I'm the one who makes the decision to pull the trigger.

P.S. So you believe that existentialism is more of a pragmatic interpretation of free will?
 
prothero
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 05:55 pm
@hue-man,
Things can be fairly ordered and predictable without being completely determined. In fact free will would have no real meaning or utility unless at least the material effects of action were highly ordered and predictable.

I do not see how one could separate essence from existence. Since I have a process view of reality (becoming not being, flux, change) both your existence and your essence are continually changing. Now it is clear both our genetic makeup and our choices (enviroment) determines who we are. I suppose one could consider your genetic makeup your essence and your experience and choices your existence but neither one wholly determines anything. I would consider existence the combination of essence and experience without confining it to the material realm.
 
richrf
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 09:41 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man;84553 wrote:
But determinism does not entail inevitability. Ultimately, no one is controlling my actions but me. Now my actions may be determined by external factors and internal factors, but ultimately I'm the one who makes the decision to pull the trigger.

P.S. So you believe that existentialism is more of a pragmatic interpretation of free will?


Hi,

Yes, I understand that there are many version of determinism. The one that I usually associate with determinism is this one from Wikipedia:

Determinism is the view that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences.[1

There is no choice.

However, there is the Eastern from which I am more aligned with also from Wikipedia:

If one's situation in life is surfing on a tsunami, one still has some range of choices even in that situation. One person might give up, and another person might choose to struggle and perhaps to survive. The Yi Jing mentality is much closer to the mentality of quantum physics than to that of classical physics, and also finds parallelism in voluntarist or Existentialist ideas of taking one's life as one's project.

So, I guess we have to understand what we each mean by determinism and Free Will.

My view is that we are all influenced by everything surrounding us, but we can make a choice in which direction we want to go. Like a captain of a ship can decide whether to fight the storm, move away from it, or go around it. There are influences, and these influences may overwhelm, but we do have a choice in direction.

My own feeling is that existentialism is incomplete in that it does not recognize past things that were learned, e.g. inherited characteristics and innate capabilities, etc. We do seem to be all born into this world with certain a certain set of attributes, some of them quite unique.

Rich

---------- Post added 08-20-2009 at 10:43 PM ----------

prothero;84595 wrote:
Things can be fairly ordered and predictable without being completely determined. In fact free will would have no real meaning or utility unless at least the material effects of action were highly ordered and predictable.


Yes, I would agree that to a point material objects are more predictable than the decisions that a human mind may make. However, material good themselves can be quite unpredictable also. My car ran fine up until it started to overheat today and then it had to be towed. So there is uncertainty everywhere, though some are more predictable than others.

Rich
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 09:46 pm
@hue-man,
I don't understand how you can make the argument, because it is obvious that people are born with talents, predispositions, characteristics, inclinations, and all kinds of other attributes. Some are excellent at music, others at sport. There are greater and lesser degrees of intelligence. Some have asperger's syndrome, others are highly sociable. Many of these are evident from a young age. It is not a matter of complete genetic determinism, either, as obviously education and opportunity play a crucial role. (I tried to read Sartre's Being and Nothingness, which is where this idea was articulated, but really could not make head or tail of it.)
 
prothero
 
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 11:24 pm
@hue-man,
I am a little unclear as to the difference between "the being of a person" as opposed to the "nature of a person"?
Perhaps you could use the genetics versus enviroment example to clairfy?

I have also yet to meet the person who lived as though they did not have both free will and agency. Why deny in theory that which you must assume in practice?
 
deepthot
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 02:36 am
@hue-man,
hue-man;84514 wrote:
The defining tenant of existentialism is the belief that existence, the being of a person, precedes the essence or nature of a person. In other words, there is no human nature. This sounds like the blank slate interpretation of human nature.

Is this proposition really true; can it be verified; or is this just another attempt to escape the firm clutches of determinism?



A problem is that the terms in that proposition - a tenet of the existentialist ideology, namely, "existence precedes essence" - are vague and undefined.

My paradigm (framework, model) for Ethics makes sense out of that proposition by interpreting "precedes" to mean: is more valuable than; and by understanding "being of a person" as: our life is our project, and that within limits we can make of it what we will; and "essence" as meaning: our genetics, our talents, traits, and those other attributes mentioned by jeeprs, as well as our anatomy and physiology, body type, etc.

While I don't deny that 'every effect has a cause' I am open to the probability of spontaneous events being a fact of this universe. So not every event has a cause, but every effect does. When we are truly creative we have entered the realm of I-Value, the dimension of playfulness and spontaneity intuition, insight and satori - perhaps even of ESP. There are many, many anomalies in science: unexplained events, which - for all we know - may practically-never be explained. Mysteries remain.

The assumption that we have free will is a good working hypothesis.

[I remember once, as a boy, finding a thick, stamped, addressed envelope by my feet in a subway car when I defined myself as destitute. I assumed someone had inadvertently dropped it on the floor. It was lost. I retrieved it, went to a mailbox on a street-corner and held the envelope (which I imagined might contain cash) between my fingers, hovering, ready to deposit it in the metal box. I vacillated. I noted the tension, the indecisiveness. I would make a motion to throw it in and send the letter or its way, and then I would be very tempted to tear it open and remove the (possible) cash, since it felt padded the way it would if it contained some cash.

What decided the outcome was that I had been studying the Golden Rule a short while ago before this incident occurred. I finally ended up throwing it into the box and sending it on its way to its intended destination.... but it was a struggle - one that I have never forgotten. I felt afterward as if I experienced free will in action!]

Nowadays I define myself as prosperous - whereas if I were to compare myself to a multi-millionaire - let alone to a billionaire - I would think myself quite poor. We can define ourselves any way at all - as a matchstick man (a con-artist), or as a man of integrity who takes on responsibility; as superior to others, or as 'just a man' like others in important ways. We can have hubris or humility.

Yes, there is a human nature. Yes, our Anatomy and Physiology is our essence. However, as Albert Ellis taught, in the Rational-Emotive-Behavioral Psychology he devised (influenced by Epictetus, the Stoic), we can if we work at it avoid much emotional pain if we tell ourselves logical ideas, based upon empirical facts, than if our self-talk consists of fallacious ideas, such as "I must be perfect," "The world must be fair," "I need everyone to love me," "I am just a victim of events," "Loss and separation should not happen to a nice person like me," "Because I fouled up, I'm worthless" etc., etc. By studying his teachings I learned what he called "The ABCs of psychotherapy." I would recommend that every preschool teach it to every child in a form that a child can grasp.

Existence is more valuable than Essence. And Reality is more valuable than both. Why? Because these are all well-defined terms and relationships in Formal Axiology when it is applied to Metaphysics. See my thread on that topic at the Metaphysics Forum, when I offer a proof to back up my claim.
http://www.philosophyforum.com/philosophy-forums/branches-philosophy/metaphysics/4645-existence-reality-mini-ontology.html
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 04:24 am
@hue-man,
I wonder if Mozart's 'existence preceded his essence'. Must have been some existence, seeing as how he started composing while 5 years old.

Maybe he was a fast learner. But then, from whom does a Mozart learn?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 06:34 am
@hue-man,
hue-man;84514 wrote:
The defining tenant of existentialism is the belief that existence, the being of a person, precedes the essence or nature of a person. In other words, there is no human nature. This sounds like the blank slate interpretation of human nature.

Is this proposition really true; can it be verified; or is this just another attempt to escape the firm clutches of determinism?



There seem to be much truth in what Sartre holds. It is clear that persons are not programmed in anything like the way that things are programmed, and that persons do not have uses or purposes, like ashtrays, or like computers. Persons have wants, and make choices, and they can even choose to choose or not to choose.

But as for your other point about "escaping from the firm clutches of determinism", there is no incompatibility between determinism and free will. Hume showed that a long time ago. To be cause to do something need not be being compelled to do that thing. And it is only when you are compelled to do something, that you are not acting freely.
 
richrf
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 07:37 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;84678 wrote:
I wonder if Mozart's 'existence preceded his essence'. Must have been some existence, seeing as how he started composing while 5 years old.

Maybe he was a fast learner. But then, from whom does a Mozart learn?


Yes. These type of phenomenon are what led me to embracing the concept of a transcendental soul that is learning through multiple lifetimes. Mozart was merely continuing what he had already learned in the past. We all seem come into this world with special talents, abilities, skills, etc. Singing, music, dancing, math, science, sports, etc. And we continue on in this lifetime. For example, philosophy.

Rich

---------- Post added 08-21-2009 at 08:45 AM ----------

prothero;84656 wrote:
I have also yet to meet the person who lived as though they did not have both free will and agency. Why deny in theory that which you must assume in practice?


Yes, this is precisely the point. If it is all determined then it is all flat. Literally, we would be all billiard balls careening off of each other. But, it seems like some people, who are determinists, are working so hard to convince us of determinism. To what end if we are just billiard balls.

Of course, quantum physics put an end to this notion 80 years ago. The only way for determinists to hold onto determinism is to claim that quantum, that which makes us up all, is irrelevant to who we are. An extraordinary claim I think.

Rich
 
jgweed
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 08:27 am
@hue-man,
When Sartre wrote that existence preceeds essence, he was denying that there is such a thing as human nature that fundamentally determines the life of an individual. He rejects the idea that human essence is determined by outside forces (god or nature or society) in favor of a radical human freedom in which each man, through his life, his own acts, and his choices, defines himself.

At the same time, Sartre recognises that there are conditions common to all men; for example, that all men are mortal, and must come to terms with death (especially their own) in an authentic manner; or that humans co-exist in the world (including Others) and interact with it according to certain structures of the for-itself (e.g.past,present, future).
 
hue-man
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 05:19 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed;84703 wrote:
When Sartre wrote that existence preceeds essence, he was denying that there is such a thing as human nature that fundamentally determines the life of an individual. He rejects the idea that human essence is determined by outside forces (god or nature or society) in favor of a radical human freedom in which each man, through his life, his own acts, and his choices, defines himself.

At the same time, Sartre recognises that there are conditions common to all men; for example, that all men are mortal, and must come to terms with death (especially their own) in an authentic manner; or that humans co-exist in the world (including Others) and interact with it according to certain structures of the for-itself (e.g.past,present, future).


I agree with Sartre in respects to the freedom of human action. Ultimately you are the one who is responsible for your acts. No one else has control over you, even in the face of coercion. However, if he was attempting to escape the reality of determinism and our being subject to it, I disagree.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 06:03 pm
@hue-man,
I suppose the historical circumstances have a lot to do with his outlook. He lived through the Occupation. And he was acutely conscious of the collapse of faith. He wrote of 'a god-shaped whole in the heart'. So he saw the individual as a self-existent unit of reality and never discovered the importance of compassion in overcoming isolation and separateness - which is why he wrote that 'hell is other people'. I think his orientation was fundamentally self-centred.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 07:02 pm
@hue-man,
Yet Sartre writes of "engagement" with the other in whom we recognise (authentically) as the Other-as-subject, and in his political writings voices a strong commitment to freedom and the betterment of "workers." Surely his participation in the French Resistance was one of solidarity with his fellow men, and not an self-centered act.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 07:54 pm
@hue-man,
Well that is true. There are many things I admire about him as well. He actually rejected a Nobel Prize for Literature which was offered to him for his novel Nausea. He was the only person ever to have done so. There was no doubting the strength of his convictions. The weakenesses I perceive with existentialism are not peculiar to Sartre.
 
hue-man
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 08:02 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;84837 wrote:
Well that is true. There are many things I admire about him as well. He actually rejected a Nobel Prize for Literature which was offered to him for his novel Nausea. He was the only person ever to have done so. There was no doubting the strength of his convictions. The weakenesses I perceive with existentialism are not peculiar to Sartre.


As you perceive it, what are the weaknesses of existentialism?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 21 Aug, 2009 08:34 pm
@hue-man,
I think it misunderstands the nature of authenticity, as in 'authentic being'. Growing in the shadow of the 'death of God', existentialism sees man as being required to invent himself with reference to a world which has been rendered devoid of meaning or value. Everything arises as an outcome of chance and necessity. Herocially, realising that life is at best like the toil of Sisyphus in a vast realm of meaningless matter and interacting impersonal forces, man must toil to generate meaning in the only way possible, as an act of free choice and an expression of his defiant will. Hence 'nausea', 'vertigo' 'no exit' and all of the other symbols of enslavement and entrapment betokening our having been 'thrown' into an existence where the only meaning possible is that consciously created by the ego. But in my view this was all historically determined as an expression of our reaction against religious authoritariasm and the tremendous shadow it has left on the collective psyche of Europe. Hence the idea of the 'God-shaped hole in existence', of which there is a Buddhist analysis in this essay by David Loy.
 
 

 
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