As with most instances when we attempt to group individuals,
we fall short when defining who the existentialists were. The philosophies
of these men and women are often contradictory. Not only do the thinkers
contradict each other, but individuals tend to contradict their own stated
beliefs both in writings and in actions.
One problem many students of philosophy encounter with
the works of the existential thinkers is an unfamiliar lexicon. Words we
think we understand, such as “amoral” or “dialectic,” take on new meanings
in existential works.
Why do philosophers, including those associated with existentialism,
create their individual lexicons? Doesn’t creating your own vocabulary work
against easing any sense of alienation? The goal might be to create a new,
“better” lexicon, but that is seldom realized in philosophical texts.
After answering many questions regarding the language of
existentialism, I decided to compile a list of some of the problematic terms.
Existentialism’s lexicon is complicated by translation from German, French,
and Russian to English. It truly is a language twice removed from the experiences
of most young students.
This lexicon is based upon several
works. On 22 June 2003, I located a copy of the out-of-print text, The
New Dictionary of Existentialism, by St. Elmo Nauman, Jr. I
want to thank The Book Haven in Monterey, Calif., for being such a wonderful
store. Nauman’s work was discontinued in 1972. It is the third
text I have purchased at Book Haven while on a vacation.
Use of NDE indicates definitions taken from Nauman’s
work. As the work is unlikely to return to print, I am being somewhat liberal
in my interpretation of “fair use” while giving credit to the author. Minor
errors from the dictionary are recreated; I minimized editing to preserve
- A -
abandonment - The consequence of individualism. A metaphysical
isolation according to which each individual must ultimately fall back
upon his or her own resources.
abstraction - (from NDE) (Latin ab: from + trahere:
to remove; to remove from) Existentialists criticize idealistic philosophy
for its abstract character, for having abstracted thought from life. Believing
that no definition of reality can substitute reality for itself, existentialists
seek to avoid abstraction. Existential thinkers recommend abstraction as
a kind of synonym for “reflection,” that is, as the opposite of an entirely
unreflective life, a life lived on the sensual level of pleasure.
Karl Jaspers writes that the correct degree
of abstraction is necessary to prevent blind attachment to hedonism or
utopianism. When the correct degree of abstraction is attained, the individual
will engage himself in the tasks of the world, accepting life without illusion,
accepting conflict, suffering, death, and be able to go forward with hope.
absurd - (from NDE) (Latin absurdus: unheard of)
The absurd is viewed either (as with Kierkegaard)
as the positive basis for the acceptance of authentic reality, or (as with Sartre)
as the negative basis for the rejection of a religious view of the world.
God’s passion is to be found in the absurd; where this sign is to be
seen, there God is present… — Kierkegaard, The
Combinations of logically compatible words become absurd when they contradict
the meaningful order of reality. — Paul Tillich, Systemic
Karl Jaspers rejects the absurd as defined
and celebrated by Kierkegaard. Such absurdity is an indication of the bankruptcy
of modern Christianity, Protestant and Catholic.
Albert Camus began with the declaration that
the world was absurd and meaningless. Refusing to be defeated by such a
reality, he celebrated the joy of what he called “the invincible summer”
absurdism - The belief nothing can explain or rationalize human
existence. There is no answer to “Why am I?” Human beings exist in a meaningless,
irrational universe and that any search for order by them will bring them
into direct conflict with this universe.
Actaeon Complex - (from NDE) (Greek Aktaion: mythological
character who watched Artemis bathe. He was changed into a stag, then killed
by his own dogs.) The term used by Sartre in Being
and Nothingness to indicate the totality of images which show
that knowing is a form of appropriative volition with overtones of sexuality.
aesthetical - (from NDE) (Greek aisthetikos: sensitive) Kierkegaard used
“aesthetical” in a technical way in his thought. The aesthetical is the
first “stage on life’s way,” or “sphere of existence.” The aesthetical
is that sphere of existence in which a person lives rather aimlessly, seeking
Aesthetics, literature, poetics, drama, and music were important to the
existentialists. Drama is a common subject, thanks to Hegel (existentialists
critique Hegel frequently) and Nietzsche’s The
Birth of Tragedy. Camus and Sartre were
playwrights, recognizing that art reaches more people than dry philosophy.
agnosticism - The uncertain beliefs of many existentialists, agnostics
claim one cannot prove or disprove the existence of a deity. Existential
agnostics tend to claim they do not care if there is or is not a supreme
alienation - A state of divided selfhood in which one is distanced
from one’s true being and confronts the self as an alien being.
anarchy - Absence of any form of political authority. Most existentialists
consider all individuals equal politically. Notice political equality is
not equated with any other form of measure. Inequities are inevitable,
but existentialists believe politics should not produce these differences.
Anarchy is not chaos, but the result of social evolution.
anguish - (from NDE) (Latin angere to tighten, choke)
One of the key terms in existential philosophy, anguish (or dread) reveals
the character of human life and illuminates the nature of the world. In Kierkegaard’s conception,
dread (Angest) is not fear, caused by some external threat. Rather, dread
is an inward passion, either a continuous melancholy or a sudden and terrifying
Sartre treats anguish (angoises) as the reflective
apprehension of the Self as freedom. Anguish is the realization that a
nothingness slips in between my Self and my past and future so that nothing
relieves me from the necessity of continually choosing myself and nothing
guarantees the validity of the values which I choose.
Jaspers, differing from Sartre,
defines anguish (Angst) as “the dizziness and shudder of freedom confronting
the necessity of making a choice.” As he develops his thought, anguish
is experienced in those ultimate situations, such as before death, in which
Existenz faces its most extreme limits.
As one of Dasein’s possibilities of Being, anxiety — together with Dasein
itself as disclosed in it — provides the phenomenal basis for explicitly
grasping Dasein’s primordial totality of Being. — Heidegger, Being
The normal, existential anxiety of guilt drives the person toward attempts
to avoid this anxiety (usually called the uneasy conscience) by avoiding
guilt. … The moralistic self-defense of the neurotic makes him see guilt
where there is no guilt or where one is guilty in a very indirect way.
— Tillich, The
Courage to Be
amoral - To reject the ethical system of a community; to develop
an independent ethical system. Do not confuse “amoral” in existentialism
for “without morality.” Much like anarchy, the concept is misunderstood
and misapplied to existentialists.
atheism - Possessing no belief in an omnipotent deity, or finding
no need to ponder the existence of a deity. For some, atheism implies the
denial a deity exists, as opposed to non-belief. Existential atheism is
an active debate, not to be confused with agnosticism.
authentic - To be true. If something is “authentic” it is exactly
as named or described. According to some thinkers, nothing is authentic.
Because people evolve and alter their essence, people cannot be authentic
for more than an instant, frozen in time.
- B -
Bad Faith - A lie, especially to the self. Self-deception, the
paradox of lying to the self, usually in an attempt to escape the responsibility
of being an individual. The extreme example cited by existentialists is,
“I was only following orders.” Any denial of free will is an example of
bad faith. Sartre believed all moments of Bad
Faith (Mauvaise Foi) were self-evident, contradicting many psychologists.
being (from NDE) In general philosophical usage, being is
that which “is,” without qualification. According to Spinoza, being is
both the source and the ultimate subject of all distinctions. According
to Hegel, being contains non-being within itself
and is the source of the cosmic process which leads to the synthetic union
of being and non-being in becoming.
If being… is understood as empirical being, truth is at once transformed
into a desideratum, and everything must be understood in terms of becoming;
for the empirical object is unfinished and the existing cognitive spirit
is itself in process of becoming. — Kierkegaard (Johannes
Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments
Being is not produced by us; it is not mere interpretation… Rather,
by its own impetus, it causes us to interpret and will not permit our
interpretation ever to be satisfied. — Jaspers, The
Philosophy of Karl Jaspers
Being, as the basic theme of philosophy, is no class or genus of entities;
yet it pertains to every entity. — Heidegger, Being
Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is. — Sartre, Being
Being has nonbeing “within” itself as that which is eternally present
and eternally overcome in the process of the divine life. — Tillich, The
Courage to Be
[CSW: I find these self-referencing definitions problematic. Definitions
should not form loops, otherwise dictionaries are useless.]
Being-for-Itself - Sartre’s terms for sentient existence, namely
human existence. A form of consciousness that entertains itself as possibility
rather than as terminal fact. The recognition that a being can change itself.
Being-for-Others - The act of existing as an object external to
other beings. We all exist in a state of being-for-others at various moments.
Being-in-Itself - Reality prior to human intervention. What is,
Being-in-Itself-for-Itself - An impossible form of being attributed
to God. A completely realized existence while at the same time a void waiting
to be filled… complete freedom.
Being-in-the-Midst - A form of bad faith in which one chooses the
self merely as an inert presence, as a thing. In other words, the treatment
of the self as without the ability to change freely.
Being-in-the-World - Choosing the self as a sentient, real being
as manifested by thoughts, actions, and meaning. This is the existential
existence, recognizing that at least in humans existence does precede essence.
Being-in-the-World is a contrast to Being-in-the-Midst.
- C -
collective - Any organized set of human relationship, however temporary.
According to Sartre, any collective exists only for brief instants. “We”
is not the natural state of humans, who think in terms of individuality.
concepts - General ideas that represent a “class” of objects with
common traits. (Object-oriented thinking, in programming terms.) Any descendent
object inherits traits of previous members, therefore a concept applying
to previous members applies to the new object.
conscience - (from NDE) (Latin conscientia: feeling,
knowledge) Existentialists are divided in their view of conscience. Some
consider conscience to be the moral voice within the individual, helpful
and necessary. Others believe conscience to be the product of society and
thus completely relative.
You and conscience are one. It knows all that you know, and it knows
that you know it. — Kierkegaard, Purity
of the Heart Is to Will One Thing
If we train our conscience, it kisses us while it hurts us. — Nietzsche, Beyond
Good and Evil
conscious - All choices are conscious choices, according to Sartre.
In existentialism, every choice is made aware of the consequences. There
is no “subconscious” for in Sartre’s early works on psychology. Choices
are made and denying a memory is an act of Bad Faith — a lie to
- D -
Dasein - (from NDE) (German Dasein: being there)
Dasein literally means “Being there,” or, in other words, being in a particular
place. Hence Dasein is used to mean human existence.
In traditional German philosophy, Dasein was used in a general way to
stand for almost any kind of Being or existence which something has, for
example, the existence of God. In common usage, Dasein was used to stand
for the kind of existence which belongs to persons.
Understanding of Being is itself a definitive characteristic of Dasein’s
Being. Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontological.
— Heidegger, Being
death - (from NDE) (Indo-European dheu: to become
senseless) One of the preoccupations of existential philosophy, death for Sartre proves
the absurdity of life. Existential thinkers on the whole are concerned
to define and interpret death properly so that man is encouraged to face
death with reckless freedom, embracing its absurdity yet not permitting
death to rob life of all meaning and freedom.
When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life; but when one
becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful danger, one hopes for death.
— Kierkegaard, The
Sickness Unto Death
The thought of death can give rise to the fear of not living authentically.
One glimpse of the void within and without, and we take refuge in ceaseless
activity, eschewing reflection. But the secret restlessness remains.
The life force delivers us from it only in appearance; only the sheer
force of the thought of death itself frees us in truth. It affirms that
other than merely vital significance of man: the eternal weight of his
love. Peace in the face of death springs from the awareness of what no
death can take away. — Jaspers, Philosophy
Is for Everyman
When Heidegger speaks about the anticipation
of one’s own death it is not the question of immortality which concerns
him but the questions of what the anticipation of death means for the
human situation. — Tillich, The
Courage to Be
Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. — Frankl, From
Death Camp to Existentialism
despair - (from NDE) (Latin de + spes: without
hope) For existential thinkers, particularly Kierkegaard,
despair is one of the most significant human emotions which provides the
spur to fruitful thought about the nature of the human condition. Tillich later
repeats the same estimate, adding the qualification that the emotion of
despair itself is not necessarily experienced by all or even the majority
Not to be one’s own self is despair. … To despair is to lose the eternal.
— Kierkegaard, The
Sickness Unto Death
All human life can be interpreted as a continuous attempt to avoid despair.
And this attempt is mostly successful. Extreme situations are not reached
frequently and perhaps they are never reached by some people. — Tillich, The
Courage to Be
dialectic - Process associated with Hegel of
discovering truth by stating a thesis, developing a contradictory antithesis,
and combining and resolving them into a coherent synthesis. The Marxian
process of change through the conflict of opposing forces, whereby a given
contradiction is characterized by a primary and a secondary aspect, the
secondary succumbing to the primary, which is then transformed into an
aspect of a new contradiction.
- E -
ego - Used by Sartre to describe self-acknowledgment. This is not
the Freudian ego, but rather a consciousness of self in the world.
epistemology - A branch of philosophy dedicated to scientific studies
the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent
epoché - The act of suspending interpretation and judgment in order
to better study the actual structure and content of an object or phenomena.
A term from phenomenology.
essence - The intrinsic or indispensable properties that serve
to characterize or identify something. The inherent, unchanging nature
of a thing or class of things. Phenomenology and existentialism aim to
observe the essence of objects. In existentialism, one’s essence is his
or her role in the universe. This essence changes constantly with each
ethics - In existential works, ethics refers to a system, a formalized
method for determining “right and wrong” in any situation. Morals are
practices dictated by probability, producing a conformity of behavior among
existence - The state of being, usually in the material, scientific
sense. In existentialism, the existence of a person does not define the
individual; the individual is defined by his or her actions and thoughts.
(from NDE) (Latin existere: to stand forth) Existential
thinkers write of existence as it is in its factuality as opposed to idealistic
philosophy (such as Hegelianism) which equated essence with existence to
the detriment of existence. Passion and responsibility are two of the most
significant aspects of existence as viewed by Kierkegaard and Sartre.
existentialism - (You skipped the introduction, didn’t you? Scroll
back and read this page completely.) The doctrine that among sentient beings,
especially humanity, existence takes precedence over essence and holding
that man is totally free and responsible for his acts. This responsibility
is the source of dread and anguish that encompass mankind.
An existential system is impossible. An existential system cannot be
formulated. Does this mean that no such system exists? By no means; nor
is this implied in our assertion. Reality itself is a system — for God;
but it cannot be a system for any existing spirit. System and finality
correspond to one another, but existence is precisely the opposite of
finality. — Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific
Existential Vacuum - (from NDE) The psychological condition
in which a person doubts that life has any meaning. This new neurosis is
characterized by loss of interest and lack of initiative. According to Viktor
Frankl, the existential vacuum is apparently a concomitant of industrialization.
When neither instinct nor social tradition direct man toward what he ought
to do, soon he will not even know what he wants to do, and the existential
Because of social pressure, individualism is rejected by most people
in favor of conformity. Thus the individual relies mainly upon the actions
of others and neglects the meaning of his own personal life. Hence he
sees his own life as meaningless and falls into the “existential vacuum”
feeling inner void. Progressive automation causes increasing alcoholism,
juvenile delinquency, and suicide. — Frankl speaking.
- F -
facticity - Those features of reality that cannot be transformed.
Many things are not controlled by anyone, especially in nature and science.
Sartre recognized these external factors, to which sentient beings can
freedom - The condition leading to both human accomplishment and
anguish. I differ from existentialists in that I support the “freedom to”
while Sartre and his socialist colleagues supported a “freedom from” certain
conditions. I worry that we sacrifice our freedom to do things and express
thoughts in return for “freedoms from” various concerns.
(from NDE) (Anglo-Saxon freo: not in bondage, noble) Man
is essentially free and not determined by any external factor whatever,
according to existential thought. Jean-Paul Sartre has
formulated the most radical doctrine of freedom in the history of western
thought. Accordingly, no limit to human freedom is admitted, neither temporal
Sartre wants men to accept their own absolute responsibility for their
lives. Thus he opposes any reliance upon the divine. All of man’s alibis
are unacceptable: no gods are responsible for man’s condition, no original
sin, no heredity or environment, no race, no caste, no father, no mother,
no wrong-headed education, no impulse or disposition, no complex, no childhood
trauma. Man is completely free. Man is condemned to be free.
Our description of freedom, since it does not distinguish between choosing
and doing, compels us to abandon at once the distinction between the
intention and the act. The intention can no more be separated from the
act than thought can be separated from the language which expresses it.
— Sartre, Being and Nothingness
How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand
those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom
of speech. — Kierkegaard (Victor Eremita), Either/Or
Freedom wills itself, because it already possesses a grasp of its possibility.
— Jaspers, The Philosophy
of Karl Jaspers
Freedom, however, is only in the choice of one possibility — that is,
in tolerating one’s not having chosen the others and one’s not being
able to choose them. — Heidegger, Being
[CSW: Can anyone untangle Heidegger? His writings are as clear as a legal
fused group - A collective formed by a spontaneous common social
goal or aspiration. Unfortunately, most fused groups are merely mobs.
future - Existentialists focus their lives on the future, always
attempting to become more, to learn more, to experience more of life. Life,
being, is the process of becoming; this means the future is how men define
themselves. We act and think looking forward. The future is why we do things.
- G -
god / God - (from NDE) (Unknown origin, goth or guth:
to call out) Existential philosophers are divided into atheistic and theistic
schools of thought, according to Sartre. The
atheistic existentialists are Nietzsche,
Sartre and the French school of existentialism, and Heidegger.
The theistic existentialists are Kierkegaard, Jaspers,
and Tillich. More important than this formal
division is each thinker’s conception of God and the place assigned to
God within his thought.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote of the “death
of God,” by which he meant the loss of the culture’s base values.
Jean-Paul Sartre, who also speaks of the death of God, means that it is
necessary for man to invent his own values, to freely choose oneself as
an image of man for all men.
Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in
consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either
within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without
Existentialism is not atheistic in the sense that it would exhaust itself
in demonstrations of the non-existence of God. It declares, rather, that
even if God existed that it would make no difference from its point of
view. — Sartre, essay: “Existentialism”
The best proof of the soul’s immortality, that God exists, etc., actually
is the impression once received thereof in childhood, namely the proof
which, differing from the many learned and grandiloquent proofs, could
be summarized thus: It is absolutely true, because my father told me
so. — Kierkegaard, The
God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence.
Therefore, to argue that God exists is to deny him. — Tillich, Systematic
good - (from NDE) (Sanskrit gadh: to hold fast, fit)
The individual is the only center for the choice of the good. No rules
or commandments or laws have any ethical significance unless they are chosen
by the individual. This choice is completely free. Man is free to choose
his own nature. Man alone is responsible to choose what he is to become,
and this is his choice alone. Objective advice on moral matters cannot
be given, as choice and value are subjective.
Nobody, up to now, has doubted that the “good” man represents a higher
value than the “evil,” in terms of promoting and benefiting mankind generally,
even taking the long view. But suppose the exact opposite were true.
What if the “good” man represents not merely a retrogression but even
a danger, a temptation, a narcotic drug enabling the present to live
at the expense of the future? More comfortable, less hazardous, perhaps,
but also baser, more petty — so that morality itself would be responsible
for man, as a species, failing to reach the peak of magnificence of which
he is capable? What if morality should turn out to be the danger of dangers?
— Nietzsche, The Genealogy
Sartre’s definition of the good vary with his
three major works. [CSW: What is good to Sartre and the French movement
is that which preserves freedom. Unfortunately, preserving freedom is not
a clear matter. Sartre was not bothered by inconsistency.
He shifted his beliefs and arguments throughout his life.] In the first, Being
and Nothingness (1943), he argues that one man’s freedom represents
a hopeless obstacle to another’s. In the second, Existentialism
is a Humanism (1946), he argues that it is impossible for one
to choose one’s own freedom without thereby choosing freedom for others
as well. In the third, Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960),
the viewpoint is that experience shows each individual that he is capable
of inventing the world in “praxis,” which proceeds by means of a dialectical
struggle to replace the present by a future which is foreseen.
- H -
Historical Materialism - (from NDE) Jean-Paul
Sartre’s term explaining part of his attitude toward Marxism.
The only view of dialectical materialism which makes sense is historical
materialism, that is, materialism viewed from inside the history of man’s
relation with matter.
history - (from NDE) History, according to existential thinking,
is the precondition of human knowledge.
Sartre used the term historicize: (from NDE)
To have a history, in the sense of becoming involved as a person in the
actual world. Sartre seems to say that the individual can choose to have
All the Existential philosophers agree on the historical character of
immediate personal experience. But the fact that man has a fundamentally
“historical Existence” does not mean merely that he has a theoretical
interest in the past; his Existence is not directed toward the past at
all. It is the attitude not of the detached spectator, but of the actor
who must face the future and make personal decisions. — Tillich, Theology
hope - (from NDE) Kierkegaard,
in recounting the Abraham story, says that it was necessary for Abraham
to have renounced everything, to have given up all hope that things were
going to turn out all right in the end, before anything divine could happen
[CSW: I’m sure Isaac would have appreciated a bit of hope. But hope is
not the same as loyalty and faith. What God asks of us, no matter how odd,
is what we must do in Kierkegaard’s view.]
Human Nature - (from NDE) There is no settled human nature,
according to existentialism. Because the will is more basic than the reason,
the choice the individual makes of his own nature is more basic than the
rational analysis of that nature.
- I -
ideal - (from NDE) An important concept for Kierkegaard’s
later thought. As he sought to apply his concepts to social and religious
conditions, he made extensive use of the category of the ideal. Not defined,
it was considered a self-evident idea, the ideal being contrasted with
The ideal means hatred of man. What man naturally loves is finitude.
To face him with the ideal is the most dreadful torture. Certainly, when
the ideal is produced in the most exalted poetic fashion, like an enchanting
vision of the imagination, he accepts this pleasure. … (¶) But when
the ideal is produces as the ethico-religious demand, it is the most
dreadful torture of man. — Kierkegaard, The
All ideals of man are impossible, because man’s potentialities are infinite.
There can be no perfect man. This has important philosophical consequences.
Conscious of his freedom, man desires to become what he can and should
be. He conceives an ideal of his nature. As on the plane of cognition,
the idea of man as an object of scientific inquiry may lead to a falsely
definitive image of him, so on the plane of freedom he may falsely choose
a path leading to an absolute ideal. From helpless questioning and bewilderment,
he thus aspires to take refuge in a universal that he can imitate in
its concrete forms. — Jaspers, The
Perennial Scope of Philosophy
immortality - (from NDE) This topic, of tremendous interest
to the history of western philosophy in general, if of little interest
to Existentialism. … Most Existentialists prefer to discuss and analyze
the present and the immediate future rather than the transcendent reality
of a supernatural world-view.
The philosophical idea of the natural immortality of the soul deduced
from its substantiality leads nowhere. It ignores the fact of death and
denies the tragedy of it. — Nicolas Berdyaev, The
Destiny of Man
We are mortal as mere empirical beings, immortal when we appear in time
as that which is eternal. We are mortal when we are loveless, immortal
as lovers. We are mortal in indecision, immortal in resolution. We are
mortal as natural processes, immortal when given to ourselves in freedom.
— Jaspers, Philosophy
Is for Everyman
individual - (from NDE) One of the key Existential themes,
originating with Kierkegaard, expressing
the opposition to idealism, to any tyranny whether rational or legal over
the right of the existing person to choose the course and nature of his
The individual is opposed to universal laws, norms, necessities; untragically,
he represents mere willfulness opposing the law; tragically, he represents
the genuine exception which, though opposing the law, yet has truth on
his side. — Jaspers, Tragedy
Is Not Enough
The very term “individual” points to the interdependence of self-relatedness
and individualization. A self-centered being cannot be divided. It can
be destroyed, or it can be deprived of certain parts out of which new
self-centered beings emerge… Man not only is completely self-centered;
he also is completely individualized. — Tillich, Systematic
The first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession
of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence
squarely upon his own shoulders. — Sartre, Existentialism
is a Humanism
in-itself - (from NDE) (French en-soi) Sartre’s term
for non-conscious reality, as contrasted with conscious reality, or the
being of the human person (being-for-itself).
- K -
knowledge - (from NDE) For Kierkegaard,
the term knowledge was ambiguous. If it meant the Hegelian attempt
to understand the world and man in completely rational terms, then it represented
the idealistic system which Existential thinking completely opposed.
Knowledge demolishes Jesus Christ. … From history one can learn nothing
about Christ. — Kierkegaard, Training
That is, Kierkegaard believed that it
is impossible to base faith upon knowledge, especially knowledge about
historical events. Knowledge cannot provide certainty, not for the existing
individual, and it is a fatal distraction for the individual to attempt
to ground his faith in knowledge.
Knowledge and Becoming exclude each other. Consequently knowledge must
signify something different. A “will to make recognizable” must precede
it; a special kind of becoming, man, must have created the deception
of Being. — Nietzsche, Will
Man… lost the power of knowing real being… lost access to reality and
was reduced to studying knowledge. One cannot arrive at being — one can
only start with it. — Nicolas Berdyaev, Solitude
Knowing is a form of union. In every act of knowledge the knower and
that which is known are united; the gap between subject and object is
overcome. The subject “grasps” the object, adapts it to itself, and,
at the same time, adapts itself to the object. But the union of knowledge
is a peculiar one; it is a union through separation. Detachment is the
condition of cognitive union. In order to know, one must “look” at a
thing, and, in order to look at a thing, one must be “at a distance.”
— Tillich, Systematic
- L -
law - (from NDE) (Norman laq: due place) Every law
is a tyranny over the living man. As an objective and universal thing,
law seeks to control the individual and impair his freedom. The particular
view taken of law by the various Existential thinkers will depend on their
view of the more general term, “good.”
The ethics of law is the expression of herd morality. It organizes the
life of the average man, of the human herd, and leaves altogether out
of account the creative human personality which rises above the common
level. It deals with personality in the abstract; the concrete person
does not exist for it. — Nicolas Berdyaev, The
Destiny of Man
[CSW: Complying with laws is a choice. Ideally, the existentialist tries
to balance the need for individual freedom with order in a society.]
With us, law is no longer custom, it can only command and be
compulsion; none of us any longer possesses a traditional sense of justice;
we must therefore content ourselves with arbitrary laws, which
are the expressions of the necessity that there must be law. The
most logical is then in any case the most acceptable, because it is the
most impartial, granting even that in every case the smallest
unit of measure in the relation of crime and punishment is arbitrarily
fixed. — Nietzsche, Human,
Logotherapy - (from NDE) In Existential psychology, the
term for Dr. Viktor Frankl’s therapy. The theory
states that the spiritual aspects of the distressed individuals require
treatment rather than the physical symptoms. Thus it is names Logotherapy,
from the Greek word “logos,” which is “word,” “meanings,” or “spiritual.”
“Logos” being the meaning — and, beyond that, something pertaining
to the noetic, and not the psychic, dimension of man. — Frankl, From
Death Camp to Existentialism
According to logotherapy, the striving to a meaning in one’s own life
is the primary motivational force in man. — Frankl, Man’s
Search for Meaning
It is, of course, not the aim of logotherapy to take the place of existing
psycho-therapy, but only to complement it… which includes the spiritual
dimension. — Frankl, Doctor
of the Soul
Thus, logotherapy is a personalistic psychotherapy which does not concern
itself primarily with symptoms, but rather tries to bring about a change
in orientation with respect to the symptoms. The therapeutic aim of logotherapy
is to make the individual aware of him purpose in life and to bring him
to a fuller understanding of it.
Logotherapy is based on the observation that uncertainty about life’s
meaning is one of the most important causes of emotional problems in the
love - (from NDE) (Old English lëof: dear, or
Latin lubere) Jaspers writes that one
of the elements of philosophical faith is “love as the fundamental actualization
of the eternal man.” To this end, a sympathy must be maintained even for
those forms of knowledge, such as myths, which have been rejected by philosophy.
Mythological categories contain a truth that strikes us with irresistible
evidence when the chaff is separated from the grain. To ignore this truth
is to impoverish one’s soul, to create a vacuum. A man who has lost his
ear for such language seems no longer capable of love. For if the transcendent
has become entirely nonsensuous, it no longer holds for him an object
of love. — Jaspers, The
Perennial Scope of Philosophy
Love is always love; that is its static and absolute side. But love
is always dependent on that which is loved, and therefore it is unable
to force finite elements on finite existence in the name of an assumed
absolute. The absoluteness of love is its power to go into the concrete
situation, to discover what is demanded by the predicament of the concrete
to which it turns. Therefore, love can never become fanatical in a fight
with an absolute, or cynical under the impact of the relative. — Tillich, Systematic
Love is a conflict. … Why does the lover want to be loved? If Love were
in fact a pure desire for the physical possession, it could in many ways
be satisfied. — Sartre, Being
- M -
man - (from NDE) (Sanscrit manu) Existentialists
form their view of man by beginning with the fact that the individual is
always the existent-in-the-world, already in encounter. Generally speaking,
they hold that there is no such thing as a pure subject. [CSW: Man, in
this view, is whatever he chooses to be, not merely a physical entity,
but a collection of actions and interactions.]
Kierkegaard’s view of man can be viewed
as similar to that of the classical Greek philosophers. Man is a unit composed
of three parts: the soul, the body, and the spirit, or self. By “soul”
he means the intellect or reason. By “body” he means sense-perceptions
or sensuousness, the Danish masking an ambiguity. By “spirit” or “self”
he means the self-consciousness or will.
To know what man is, is the only knowledge that is possible for us,
for we are men ourselves — and that alone is essential — for man is the
measure of all things. — Jaspers, The
Perennial Scope of Philosophy
Marxism - (from NDE) In his later thought, Sartre tends
to see the ethical and political completion of existentialism in Marxism.
This Marxism is a Marxism of a special kind,
namely one which is purged of such “nineteenth-century anachronisms” as
determinism, and one which incorporates the humanizing influences of existentialism
with its regard for the existing individual. The conflict between individuals,
rather than being due to the nature of the universe, is instead due to
economic scarcity. When scarcity is overcome, conflict will also, in principle,
[CSW: Marxism is a return to German Idealism or even the Enlightenment
notion that mankind could achieve peace and some form of utopia. This idealism
is counter to existentialism, in that it removes the challenges of life
morality - Doing as the powerful in a society or social system
dictate. If one believes in a deity, that deity is the most powerful entity
in existence, so its rules must be followed in order to be moral.
- N -
nausea - (from NDE) (Greek nausia: illness) The title
of Sartre’s famous novel of solipsistic despair,
and the name Sartre uses for man’s reaction in experiencing the absurd
world. Both the physical world and the realization of their own uselessness
give men the feeling of revulsion which Sartre calls
Necessary Being - The rationalistic explanation of a deity; a being
that cannot not exist due to the paradox created. Many existentialists
have faith, therefore they believe in a being or intellect preceding all
other existence. Sartre viewed the paradox as evidence there was no Creator.
nihilism - Often viewed as "amoral" by some, nihilism
is amoral in the existential sense. Nihilism is the rejection of all distinctions
in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous
theories of morality or religious belief. Politically, nihilism is the
belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is
necessary for future improvement.
Nihilism is associated with Nietzsche, who
was not a nihilist according to most scholars.
- O -
objectivity - The ability to study events or objects dispassionately,
without any prejudice or bias. Existentialists consider claims of objectivity
bad faith, since human objectivity is impossible.
ontology - The theory of existence; the idea there is a reality.
original project - The fundamental choice of being that each sentient
being makes in every action performed.
- P -
Paradoxical Intention - (from NDE) Frankl’s
term for one of the procedural methods in treatment of mental illness on
existential-psychoanalytic principles. It refers to the paradoxical wish
which the patient may use to take the place of his fears
As soon as the patient stops fighting his obsessions and instead tries
to ridicule them by dealing with them in an ironical way, by applying
paradoxical intention, the vicious circle is out. — Frankl, Man’s
Search for Meaning
phenomenology - The long definitions are at the top of this Web
page, so scroll on back if you want to read the long-winded discussion.
The simplified version: A movement originated by Edmund
Husserl, meaning the study of appearances. The study of all possible
appearances in human experience, during which considerations of objective
reality and of purely subjective response are left out of account. It should
be noted Hegel published essays on phenomenology,
but Husserl organized a formalized system recognized
as the “phenomenological method” of philosophical study.
Philosophical Anthropology - (from NDE) Sartre’s
term for the new science which he believes is needed to properly understand
man. The existing tools and methods of the sciences — natural science,
traditional sociology, anthropology — are not adequate for the task.
positivism - The philosophy contending that sense perceptions are
the only admissible basis of human knowledge and precise thought. Phenomenology,
epistemology, and other schools of thought reflect some positivistic influences.
praxis - (from NDE) (Greek: deed or action) Sartre uses
this Greek word to refer to any purposeful human activity. The whole structure
of the Critique of Dialectical Reason depends on the notion
of praxis, that is, man’s action in the world, his work, and his rational
intention in the material universe.
[CSW: An action, as defined by Karl Marx,
leading to a definitive chain of events. Existentialists view every decision
as a “defining moment” but a praxis represents a revolution in the essence
of an individual or community.]
psychology - (from NDE) Existential interest in the theory
of man has led to its formulation of a psychological theory which is distinctive.
Sartre, Jaspers, and others of the philosophical Existentialists have written
a great deal on the topic.
In Europe there are four explicitly Existential psycho-therapists, who
are (1) Viktor Frankl, the Viennese neuropsychiatrist,
founder of “Logotherapy,” (2) Ludwig Binswanger, the Swiss psychiatrist,
founder of “Existential Analysis,” (3) Medard Boss, also a Swiss psychiatrist,
who calls his therapy “Daseinanalysis,” and (4) Hans Trüb, Swiss,
who calls his therapy “anthropological.”
Existential psychoanalysis is going to reveal to man the real goal of
his pursuit, which is being as a synthetic fusion of the in-itself with
the for-itself; existential psychoanalysis is going to acquaint man with
his passion. — Sartre, Being
- R -
radical conversion - The responsibility and possibility that each
being has in each moment of life. At any moment a sentient being can reject
his or her original project and select another course in life.
rationalism - The theory all events are logically linked.
reason - (from NDE) (Latin ratio: computation, calculation) Kierkegaard uses
reason in two senses: (1) discursively, as in the normal, everyday type
of reasoning, reasoning for the sake of a definite conclusion, and (2)
as it is in a faith-philosophy, as a term for all the creative processes
of the mind, including imagination and esthetic judgment.
reflected consciousness - Thoughts about thoughts. Sartre found
thinking about how and why we think quite interesting. The moment one ponders
other thoughts, he or she is acting as a philosopher.
- S -
society - (from NDE) The reason for the existential rejection
of society lies in the failure of existential philosophy to provide for
a clearly non-repressive social organization, one which allows the individual
freedom to develop.
Freedom for the individual is possible only by becoming free from the
restrictions of society, which is the animal organization of man at any
rate — “the herd,” or “the crowd.” This is a theme which Nietzsche also
developed, in speaking of the “transvaluation of values,” by which the
true individual would be freed from the restrictions of society.
subjective - How everything is viewed by existentialism: nothing
is certain, it is all opinion, bias, and prejudice.
- T -
totalization - Sartre’s theory that
every historical moment is a product of and contains traces of all the
moments leading up to it.
transcendence - The mental act of projecting a consciousness beyond
itself, referring to and establishing new relations with entities that
are external to the self.
- U -
unreflected consciousness - Thoughts of external objects and concepts,
without any consideration as to the nature of the thoughts. This form of
consciousness is the “practical” mode of thought used at most times by
sentient beings, as compared to reflected consciousness.