Existentialism provides a moving account of the agony of being in the world. The spirit of existen- tialism has a long history in philosophy. But it be- came a major movement in the second half of the 20th century. Existentialism is not a systematic body of thought like Marxism or psychoanalysis. Instead, it is more like an umbrella under which a very wide range of thinkers struggled with ques- tions about the meaning of life. Much of the appeal and popularity of Existential- ism is due to the sense of confusion, the crisis, and the feeling of rejection and rootlessness that Euro- peans felt during World War II and its aftermath. Existentialism’s focus on each person’s role in cre- ating meaning in their life was a major influence on the Phenomenological and Humanistic traditions in psychology and on the “human potential” move- ment that emerged from them. Rene Descartes (1596-1650) said, “Conquer your- self rather than the world.”. To modern existential- ists this means that the World itself has no real meaning or purpose. It is not the unfolding expres- sion of Human Destiny or a Divine plan, or even a set of natural laws. The only meaning is that which we create by acts of will. To have a meaningful life we have to act. But we should act without hope. Acting is meaningful but it doesn’t create meaning that lasts beyond the acts themselves or beyond our own lifetime. You are what you do – while you are doing it – and then nothing. (Very depressing.) In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus (pronounced “Kam-moo”) (1913-1960) describes life as a kind of hopeless, endless, uphill labor. Hence, the only true problem is that of suicide. Yet, he rejects nihilism; for the human being must fight and never accept defeat. The problem is to be a saint without a God. The last judgment takes place everyday. The human being must do his best, try for what he can within the confinements of his situation. Camus describes Sisyphus condemned by the gods to push a stone up a hill over and over, only to have it roll back down each time he reaches the top. A task that can never be completed. But he finds meaning in the fact that Sisyphus at least gets to decide each time whether to carry on or end it all. Camus says, "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Although there can never be any meaning in Sisy- phus’ task, there is meaning is choosing each time to continue. Despite encompassing a staggering range of phi- losophical, religious, and political ideologies, the underlying concepts of existentialism are simple: Mankind has free will.
Life is a series of choices, creating stress.
Few decisions are without any negative conse- quences. Some things are irrational or absurd, without explanation. If one makes a decision, he or she must follow through. Notes on Existentialism by Tanweer Akram
The fundamental problem of existentialism is con- cerned with the study of being. The human being's existence is the first and basic fact; the human be- ing has no essence that comes before his existence. The human being, as a being, is nothing. This nothingness and the non-existence of an essence is the central source of the freedom the human being faces in each and every moment. The human being Notes on Existentialism Compiled for PSY 345 (Fall 2004)
has liberty in view of his situation, in decisions which makes himself and sets himself to solves his problems and live in the world. Thrown into the world, the human being is con- demned to be free. The human being must take this freedom of being and the responsibility and guilt of his actions. Each action negates the other possible courses of action and their consequences; so the human being must be accountable without excuse. The human being must not slip away from his re- sponsibilities. The human being must take deci- sions and...
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