, 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
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
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