10 November, 2004
Modes of Existence
When encountered with various experiences in life, a person is given the choice of how he or she will go about interpreting the experiences. Such interpretations are directly related to that individual's perception of life and its meaning, his or her mode of existence. This mode of existence provides the person with a reason to live, and, above all, dictates his or way of living within the world. Aesthetic existence and ethical existence are two such modes of existence. Although each of these provides the individual with some way of conducting his or herself in the world, neither provides the best interpretation of worldly experience, nor the best way of living.
The aesthetic mode of existence is centered around pleasing the self. Here, the pleasures are merely superficial and sensual. There is little to no thought involved in making decisions and taking action in the aesthetic individual's life. Instead, the emphasis is placed upon what is physically pleasing at the current moment. These types of people are often described as living for the moment. They frequently seek new thrills in order to remain in a constant state of enjoyment. This makes for a very frivolous and random character type. There is no direction or real movement in the aesthetic life. Instead, the aesthetic person seems to drift from pleasurable experience to the next. There is nothing meaningful in which to orient his or her place in existence. In other words, at the center of the aesthetic world, there lies nothing.
Certain characteristics of aesthetic existence can easily be seen in the characters of the play, Tango, by Slawomir Mrozek. In the play, the characters' reality seems to be a confusion of past, present, and future- there is no sense of time. There is absolutely no order to things. Arthur, a young man, describes the aesthetic situation very accurately when he says, "No order, no sense of reality, no decency, no initiative. You can't move in this place, you can't breathe, you can't live It's a fact that in this family there's no frame of reference at all. All that's left is bits and pieces, fragments, rubbish" (Tango, 22, 23). There is no concern for what has already happened, nor is there any for what is going to happen. Instead, the only thing that matters is the present, that which is happening right now. When reminded of the past, which had no place in her mode of aesthetic existence, Eleanor, Arthur's mother, is thrown into a state of confusion. "Just a minute. Let me figure it out. We were married in 1900...no, just let me think Arthur was born in 1930, or oh, be quiet, will you? Or was it 1940...You're getting me all mixed up 1914...1918...1921..."(Tango, 24,25). Specific historical events and dates in time have absolutely no meaning to Eleanor, nor to anyone that lives an aesthetic way of life. Furthermore, the primary law that dictaes the lives of the characters of Tango is the same as that of all aesthetic people. It is simply to do whatever is sensually pleasing at the present moment. "I know only one law: Don't hesitate, do whatever you feel like. Every man is entitled to his own kind of happiness" (Tango, 25). This means that, no matter what the consequences, the primary goal in life should be one's own happiness.
Ethical existence provides an alternative to the aesthetic way of life. As opposed to aesthetic existence, which is centered around self enjoyment, ethical existence is centered around decency. It is the primary goal of the ethical person to be decent in everything that he or she does in life. The ethical person also has an obligation to the community in which he or she to show others this decency. This person makes a permanent choice to exercise decency.
Furthermore, in the mode of ethical existence, human reasoning plays a crucial role. It is with reason, that the ethical person can decide what the decent response...