Existentialist Themes Of Anxiety And Absurdity Essay

, Research Paper

Existentialist Themes of Anxiety and Absurdity

In a world with such a vast amount of people their exists virtually

every different belief, thought, and ideology. This means that for every

argument and every disagreement that their exists two sides of relative equal

strength. It is through these disagreements that arguments are formed.

Arguments are the building blocks in which philosophers use to analyze

situations and determine theories of life. For the purpose of this paper I will

try and argue my personal beliefs on a specific argument. This argument is

presented in a form of a question and upon examination of the contents of this

question, several different and unique questions arise. In order to support my

theory as to the answer to this question I will attempt to answer the three

subquestions which deal less with the content of the question itself and more

with the reaction to reading the question. Also key to the support of my theory

is the concept of existentialism. I will go into the foundations of this

ethical theory throughout the remainder of this paper. Subquestion one, ?E –>

C?, simple asks whether it is true or false that if you have an ethical theory

then does it have to be consistent. Subquestion two, ?(?) –> H?, poses the

idea of what makes up the essence of being a human being. Subquestion three, ?E

–> (H –> M)?, asks whether it is true or false that it is ethical to assume

that humans should be given moral priority over animals.

I order to support my interpretation and answer the topic question, I

will try to explain my personal ethical theory. We were given several different

theories in which to emulate or pick pieces of in order to define such words

which have different meanings to different people. For such vague words such as

`right’ and `wrong’, the context in which they are presented are vital pieces in

order to define them. It is my belief, and a necessary requirement of this

paper to somehow define these two words. It is obvious that these two words

must be opposites of each other. Therefore, the understanding of one will

easily lead to the understanding of its opposite. However, the words themselves

will never be anything more than five letters grouped together. This is because

your ethical theory and someone else’s ethical theory could possible conflict

causing for a discrepancy in the definitions of these words. Therefore,

throughout this paper I will try not to use such vague words such as `right’ or


Most of the Philosophers and ethical theories presented in Sober held

that the highest ethical good is the same for everyone. Kierkegaard, who was

the first writer to call himself existential, reacted against this tradition by

insisting that the highest good for the individual is to find his or her own

unique vocation (Web 2). I agreed with many of the different ideas of the

ethical theories but I was not able to overlook the ever present idea of God.

Personally I am a anti-religious person who feels strongly that religion in

general is filled with corruption and too often leads to a misguided life. It

is my belief that, ?Blind faith is the CHILD of ignorance?(Quote, ?). It was

therefor impossible for me to look at any of the theories which involved the

mentioning of God. However, I did find many interesting ideas encompassed in

the theory of atheistic existentialism. Existentialism is the popular name of

a philosophical attitude primarily associated with the 20th-century thinker

Jean Paul Sarte, but with a history that goes back to the 19th-century Danish

philosopher Soren Kierkegarrd.

All existentialists have tried to stress the importance of passionate

individual action in deciding question of both morality and truth (Warnock).

They have insisted, accordingly, that personal experience and acting on one’s

own convictions are essential in arriving at the truth. Thus, the understanding

of a situation by someone involved in that situation is superior to that of a

detached, objective observer. This emphasis in the perspective of the

individual agent has also made existentialists suspicious of systematic

reasoning (Warnock).

Perhaps the most prominent concept in existentialism is that of choice.

Humanity’s primary distinction, in the view of most existentialists, is the

freedom to choose. Existentialists have held that human beings do not have a

fixed nature, or essence, as other animals and plants do; each human being makes

choices that create his or her own nature. Choice is therefore central to human

existence, and it is inescapable; even the refusal to chose is a choice (Web 1).

Freedom of choice entails commitment and responsibility. Because individuals

are free to choose their path, existentialists have argued, they must accept the

risk and responsibility of following their commitment wherever it leads.

For the basic theory in which I have adapted mainly from existentialism,

there lies six unique themes which define it. First, there is the basic

existentialist standpoint, the existence precedes essence, has primacy over

essence (Grene). Man is a conscious subject, rather than a thing to be

predicted or manipulated; he exists as a conscious being, and not in accordance

with any definition, essence, generalization, or system. Existentialism says I

am nothing else but my own conscious existence.

A second existentialist theme is that of anxiety, or the sense of

anguish, a generalized uneasiness, a gear or dread which is not directed to any

specific object. It is the claim that anguish streams of thought in Judaism

and Christianity which see human existence as fallen, and human life as lived in

suffering and sin, guild and anxiety. This dark and forbidding picture of human

life leads existentialists to reject ideas such as happiness, enlightenment

optimism, a sense of well-being, since these can only reflect a superficial

understanding of life, or a naive and foolish way of denying the despairing,

tragic aspect of human existence.

A third existentialist theme is that of absurdity. Granted, says the

existentialist, I am my own existence, but this existence is absurd. Each of us

is simply here, thrown into this time and place–but why now? Why here? For no

reason, without necessary connection, only continentally, and so my life is an

absurd contingent fact. This idea of absurdity was prevalent in the works of

Pascal, who is a French mathematician and philosopher who we covered in class.

?When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity

before and after, and the little space I full, and even can see, engulfed in the

infinite immensity of space of which I am ignorant, and which knows me not, I am

frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there, why now rather

than then.?

This I feel shows some of the feelings and ideas of an early forerunner of


The fourth theme which pervades existentialism is that of nothingness or

the void. The main idea of this theme is that, if as an existentialist, and

that if no essence defines me, that I should reject all of the philosophies,

sciences, political theories, and religions which fail to reflect my existence

as a conscious being. And should they attempt to impose a specific essentials

structure upon me and my world, then there is nothing that structures my world

(Grene). Along with this idea is that I am my own existence, but my existence

is a nothingness.

Related to the theme of nothingness is the existentialist theme of death.

I am filled with anxiety at times when I permit myself to be aware of this. At

those moments, says Martin Heidegger, the most influential of the German

existentialist philosophers, the whole of my being seems to drift away into

nothing(Grene). The unaware person tries to live as if death is not actual, he

tries to escape its reality. but Heidegger says that my death is my most

authentic, significant moment, my personal potentiality, which I alone must

suffer. And if I take death into my life, acknowledge it and face it squarely,

I will free myself from the anxiety of death and pettiness of life–and only

then will I be free to become myself.

Alienation or estrangement is the sixth theme which characterizes

existentialism. Alienation is a theme which Hegel opened up for the modern

world on many levels and in many subtle forms. There is many different forms of

alienation dealing with those who feel alienated by society, by there true

consciousness of their freedom, and human institutions. This final theme is

extremely complicated and did not seem as relevant as the others for the purpose

of writing this paper.

All of these themes make up the backbone of my ethical theory but I feel

that it is necessary to share more personal and detailed ideas behind my theory.

Besides the total non-belief in God I feel strongly that humans are superior in

every way to other living things. This however does not give us the divine

right to do exactly as we wish. It does however give us the option to chose as

a society to do that which is deemed acceptable. An example of this is that

their are laws which forbid the killing of certain animals. These laws are not

a result of the animals revolting against humans and demanding that they will no

longer be killed. They are the result of other humans who have decided for many

different reasons that this is for the betterment of mankind. It is necessary

for humans to enforce polices which protect animals in order to maintain some

sense of stability. I feel that humans have a moral contract with themselves

and nature to preserve what nature has given us. What I mean by this is that

unlike humans most other animals must kill as a means of survival. At this

point in time it is only necessary to kill certain animals as a form of food

source and for other luxury items. There have been times when it was necessary

for humans to kill an animal for food. I wonder if a person who did not eat

meat would starve to death if the only thing to eat was meat? And as long as we

do not over kill a certain species then they will continue to reproduce and the

food chain will continue to work. Being descendants of other living things,

humans must insure that nature is let to work on it own, continuing to do what

it has done for many years.

In response to subquestion one, I do not feel that it is possible to

remain consistent in any ethical theory in which you live by. This is mainly

because every ethical theory that I now of is entirely too focused and usually

not completely relevant to every circumstance. The more broad your definition

or theory is then the closer you come to the only one that will always work.

The less you say what you can and cant do, the closer you come to saying nothing.

Once you have generalized your theory so much that you eliminated everything

then you are stuck with


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