Does existence really precede essence?

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housby
 
Reply Thu 31 Dec, 2009 09:16 pm
@hue-man,
I have had many conversations with regard to "free will" and "determinism". This is a fascinating topic because there has never, in my opinion, been a definitive argument in either direction. Of course free will has to exist because if it didn't then all "wrong doers" would be guilty of nothing as they would be simply following their "destiny". We would then have the absurd scenario of child molesters, rapists and murderers claiming that they were simply "following orders". However, an element of "determinism" is there due to the "laws" of cause and effect. We are all the product of our upbringing and environment. Some of us are "pushed " in one direction and some in another. We all make choices hundreds of times each day. Do these choices accumulate to make us what we are? Are we then "forced" to be the way we are because of the choices we make at various points in our lives? Are we the product of Pirsigs "Metaphysics of Quality" in a world in which the only "meaning" is the struggle for "better-ness" regardless of morals? As he readily states, the "higher" form of existence must always take priority. Morality, according to Pirsig, is not necessarily a product of society but is a "given". If I am off track on this please feel free to say.
 
Fido
 
Reply Thu 31 Dec, 2009 10:06 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?

When we conceive of a thing, an object, it is of its essence that we conceive... We do not take the whole object into our consciousness; but only take the essential elements... From the perspective of any object, its existence is its essence...
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 31 Dec, 2009 10:31 pm
@hue-man,
I think what is being very much lost in this conversation is the fact that existentialism, as articulated by existentialist philosophers, was in large part a moral philosophical position, particularly in response to the question of why people can discriminate against one another. It's a philosophy more about the existence vs essence of people than of things.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 31 Dec, 2009 10:43 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes;116015 wrote:
I think what is being very much lost in this conversation is the fact that existentialism, as articulated by existentialist philosophers, was in large part a moral philosophical position, particularly in response to the question of why people can discriminate against one another. It's a philosophy more about the existence vs essence of people than of things.


The view was that in the case of things, essence precedes existence. But in the case of persons, the converse is true. Things do have a nature, but people "make themselves". Hence people have free will, things do not. All very Cartesian. After all, this came out of France. And was counter-Aristotelian. Aristotle insists that Man has a nature like everything else. He makes a special point of it in his Nichomachean Ethics
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 1 Jan, 2010 12:33 am
@hue-man,
I agree with Kennethamy, but I don't know if this view was 'Cartesian'. Decartes was Catholic, and believed in the existence of the soul; and presumably 'the soul' was both essential, and precedes 'existence'. The 'existence precedes essence' argument is based on the denial of the soul (or anything covertly or overtly religious) - it is a reversal of the traditional idea that the 'essence' of something or someone is more fundamental than their existence.

It would seem to me that the 'nature vs nurture' argument should have some bearing on this view. Studies of twins seperated at birth show that in many uncanny respects, their lives, attitudes, actions, tastes and so on are very similar, even if they have lived apart of all of their lives. So this would seem to me to support the 'essence' view.

But then you can interpret 'essence' to refer to 'collective memory', cultural and genetic inheritance, and the like, rather than being something immutable or eternally fixed. In this sense, the 'essential' aspects of a personality could still be seen to be something that one is born with. So again, 'essence precedes existence', even if 'essence' is not something immutable or eternal.

---------- Post added 01-01-2010 at 05:36 PM ----------

Incidentally in regards to Pirsig, it has been about 3 decades since I read 'Zen and...' and can't recall much of it.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 1 Jan, 2010 08:21 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;116025 wrote:
I agree with Kennethamy, but I don't know if this view was 'Cartesian'. Decartes was Catholic, and believed in the existence of the soul; and presumably 'the soul' was both essential, and precedes 'existence'. The 'existence precedes essence' argument is based on the denial of the soul (or anything covertly or overtly religious) - it is a reversal of the traditional idea that the 'essence' of something or someone is more fundamental than their existence.

It would seem to me that the 'nature vs nurture' argument should have some bearing on this view. Studies of twins seperated at birth show that in many uncanny respects, their lives, attitudes, actions, tastes and so on are very similar, even if they have lived apart of all of their lives. So this would seem to me to support the 'essence' view.

But then you can interpret 'essence' to refer to 'collective memory', cultural and genetic inheritance, and the like, rather than being something immutable or eternally fixed. In this sense, the 'essential' aspects of a personality could still be seen to be something that one is born with. So again, 'essence precedes existence', even if 'essence' is not something immutable or eternal.

---------- Post added 01-01-2010 at 05:36 PM ----------

Incidentally in regards to Pirsig, it has been about 3 decades since I read 'Zen and...' and can't recall much of it.


I mean it is Cartesian in that a sharp line in drawn between objects (things) and people, and the importance of free will in this division. I wonder whether Sartre thought that animal were things too.

Sartre meant by essence very much what Aristotle meant. He simply denied that people had an essence. Whether there even are essences is, of course, an issue. Even now.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Fri 1 Jan, 2010 08:26 am
@hue-man,
It wasn't just in the interest of people making themselves that Sartre denied essence. It was a specific philosophical counter to prejudice. He's extremely explicit about this in Portrait of the Antisemite, which is perhaps the most important work of existentialist ethics.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 1 Jan, 2010 09:06 am
@Aedes,
Aedes;116051 wrote:
It wasn't just in the interest of people making themselves that Sartre denied essence. It was a specific philosophical counter to prejudice. He's extremely explicit about this in Portrait of the Antisemite, which is perhaps the most important work of existentialist ethics.


Yes, that was probably another motive.
 
prothero
 
Reply Fri 1 Jan, 2010 01:36 pm
@hue-man,
only in the realm of human purpose and human morality?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 1 Jan, 2010 01:49 pm
@prothero,
prothero;116102 wrote:
only in the realm of human purpose and human morality?


What else is there?
 
Fido
 
Reply Fri 1 Jan, 2010 02:01 pm
@hue-man,
If it possible to consider existence apart from time, out of time, or transending time, then the notion of existence preceeding anything is daft... Time is a perameter we give meaning to because it puts existence into some perspective, order; but to think we can then turn time as a perspective onto existence, in relation to essence which is itself an abstraction of a specific part of existence, (as is time); then you are stacking your abstractons to magnify discord, and not to deliver truth....

Think of it this way: Existence is an infinite for which no particular reality can stand...
Time (precedence), is an infinite for which no particular unit can stand.
Essence is an infinite for which no example of essence can stand...
The prize one can take from such talk is the prejudices one brings to it, in fact, a hand full of infintes without value...
 
prothero
 
Reply Fri 1 Jan, 2010 03:15 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;116106 wrote:
What else is there?
That is a bit of an anthrocentric view isn't it?
There is the entirety of non human existence for starters?
Then there are the attibutes of humans which are not moral and not part of human will or purpose?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 2 Jan, 2010 01:30 am
@hue-man,
Question: is 'human nature' related to the idea of 'essence'? I am reading The Blank Slate by Steve Pinker which argues against the idea that humans are born..well..'a blank slate'. The 'existence precedes essence' idea would seem to me to be related to this argument. But then again, maybe it is a different idea.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 2 Jan, 2010 07:50 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;116243 wrote:
Question: is 'human nature' related to the idea of 'essence'? I am reading The Blank Slate by Steve Pinker which argues against the idea that humans are born..well..'a blank slate'. The 'existence precedes essence' idea would seem to me to be related to this argument. But then again, maybe it is a different idea.


I don't think these are much related. The blank slate notion really concerns the theory of knowledge, and whether we are born with "innate ideas" as they were called in the 17th century, and the controversy between rationalism and empiricism. The existence/essence issue has to do with metaphysics, and with the nature of persons as contrasted with objects. But, that is a good question. I had not thought about that before.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Sat 2 Jan, 2010 10:51 pm
@prothero,
prothero;116134 wrote:
That is a bit of an anthrocentric view isn't it?
There is the entirety of non human existence for starters?
The BULK of philosophy in general has to do with human perceptions and human obligations, and philosophical prescriptions about the world are always made from a human point of view so that is natural.

And again the PRINCIPAL concerns of the existentialists were anthrocentric anyway: morality, meaning, freedom, crisis... existentialism is an extremely human-centered philosophy.
 
Fido
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 12:15 am
@Aedes,
Aedes;116563 wrote:
The BULK of philosophy in general has to do with human perceptions and human obligations, and philosophical prescriptions about the world are always made from a human point of view so that is natural.

And again the PRINCIPAL concerns of the existentialists were anthrocentric anyway: morality, meaning, freedom, crisis... existentialism is an extremely human-centered philosophy.

I have to differ...The vast majority of philosophy has all been about ethics, and only because philosophers have wanted to reason an ethical world while undercutting the environment where ethics were natural...So; it was left trying to define all of the ethical/ moral qualities so they could be manipulated with reason the way physical quanities are... Moral forms have no being, and have only meaning...Since they are in-fin-ites, they canot be de-fin-ed... When I look at philosophy I see twenty five hundred years of wheel spinning...Physics has faired better because with perception, as flawed as that may be, they had everything they could ask for that ethics could only dream of...Perception is not the problem, and certainly not the problem it once was... The problem for us will always be, that we recognize in humanity certain undeniable needs for a social environment supportive of life... We cannot say what justice is, but that people, and societies seem to die without it... We cannot say what liberty is except that people and societies seem to die without it... We cannot say what virtue is, except that people and society seem to die without it...But; when one man finds out that another can do with less of justice, and less liberty, and less virtue; that one will push the necessary beyond what is healthy until death results, and as more people behave this way the society crumbles...
 
Aedes
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 08:28 am
@Fido,
Fido;116576 wrote:
I have to differ...The vast majority of philosophy has all been about ethics
...which is, as I said, a matter of discussing "human obligations" from a philosophical point of view. That is ethics. I don't think we're really differing.
 
Fido
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 09:35 am
@Aedes,
You are correct...I was responding to your ordering, which I took as a setting of precidence... Philosophy should be considered apart from physics, as it is usually considered, apart from theology... If physical inquiry did not often invoke morality, and demand moral reaction; there would be no reason for morality to dwell long in that branch of knowledge... Human problems are moral problems, and have always been so... We have always known how to live with less... It is having more than we need that brings moral issues to the fore... Science offers us the horn of plenty, often falsely, since to peer into it to find the source of that bounty is very like taking a tour up an anus in a glass bottom boat...
 
bsfree
 
Reply Mon 11 Jan, 2010 09:01 pm
@hue-man,
All life is comprised of living organisms, therefore the Earth must be considered as the body of life, with all living organisms contained within it deemed as vital to the perpetration of the only existence its components are aware of.

It matters not that the rest of the universe is obviously "out there"; to any single entity all that is relevant is the now that supports its place within the greater body.

The entity, which we call humanity, is the only component of life that can conjugate awareness of the whole, therefore, humanity comprises the conscious experience of life so far as the greater body of earth is concerned.

Unfortunately, just as a human body cannot dictate to its consciousness what it should or should not do, so the components of the greater body of Earth cannot resist the will of its own consciousness, which resides in the thoughts of humanity.

Until this fundamental truth is realized the future of our common body, Earth, is in peril, just as a junkie's body is in peril from the actions of its own consciousness, driven by the narrow-minded pursuit of its own gratification.

This is the curse of free will, and what the warning of the symbolic tree of knowledge meant.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 11 Jan, 2010 09:13 pm
@hue-man,
great post BSFREE and I agree completely although I fail to see any connection to the topic. Never mind though.

Have a look at this website, I am sure you will like it

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