Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Some Thoughts About Existentialism

I just finished writing essays for my take-home philosophy final. So, what better way to celebrate than to write some more about philosophy on my blog? Perhaps I'm just a masochist...

Anyway, a few years ago, I came across existentialism, and it resonated with me. I'm sure I had heard of it before then, but for whatever reason, it didn't stick. But this time, I looked into it, decided that I rather liked it, and so started considering myself an existentialist. I particularly like the idea that we create our own meanings. Meaning doesn't exist independent of us, waiting for us to find it, rather we create it.

Anyway, I needed to take an elective course, and Intro to Existentialism fit, so I took it. We went over four philosophers - Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre, and read The Grand Inquisitor by Dostoyevsky, The Metamorphosis by Kafka and saw the movie District 9.

After about a month into the class, I knew less about existentialism that I did before. Being slightly wiser, realizing how little I knew, I decided I should stop considering myself an existentialist until I knew more about it, and so could make an informed decision.

So, being done with the class, I gave it some thought. The first thing is that I disagree with most of what was said by most of the philosophers we studied. Interestingly, I disagreed with each philosopher a little bit less than the last. If I don't agree with what most existentialist said, how can I be an existentialist? Well, first it's important to remember that most existentialists didn't consider themselves existentialists. Hell, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche predated the term.

Further, if there was only one idea that all four philosophers shared (and there were damned few things all four philosophers agreed on), it was focusing on the individual over the group. So, I can disagree with them, and chalk it up to individualism. Seems appropriate. Also, the ideas I found appealing in the first place, I still find appealing, and while they are less central to the philosophy than I thought they were, they're still there.

And as a special bonus, here's a joke about existentialism. Don't forget to read the mouseover text.