Relationship between existentialism absurdism and nihilism philosophy

A Philosophical Ride: Comparison of Existentialism and Absurdism

All three have their origins with the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who sought to discover how one can live as the individual. Camus, Nietzsche, and Sartre. Many philosophers have believed for centuries that there's no intrinsic meaning in the universe. Here I'll summarize three of the major. r/askphilosophy aims to provide serious, well-researched answers to philosophical questions.

Eminent English philosopher John Locke through his writings favored individual liberty and self-determination. The concept of 'existence' was first used in his philosophical writings. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is another notable figure of this period whose writings have greatly influenced the 20th century thinkers.

It is the view that humans actions determine his existence and shape his destiny without God or any other transcendent force. Thus stating that individuals are entirely free and must take personal responsibility for themselves although with this obligation comes anxiety, a profound torment or dread.

They also repeatedly deal with the subject of alienation and believe that humans are fundamentally alone, they state that humans use rationality as a mechanism to counter their existential anxiety and their fear of being in this world.

They argue that everyone has to forge their own meaning for themselves, and therefore one individual's decisions have no cosmic inter-relatedness with another's. They further debated that the belief on individual choice leads to reflection rather than action, and that only the rich had the privilege of making explicit choices, so they considered existentialism to be a high class philosophy.

Another philosopher pointed out that the movement portrayed humanity in horrible plight devoid of dignity and grace that projects from being made in the image of God. They rejected the supremacy of God and projected man as the sole creator of destiny thus putting him at par with God. Many presume existentialism has been interchanged by various social and critical hypotheses, mostly Marxism being the coherent replacement of existentialism.

Some critics maintain that existentialism was a historical 'mass depression' from the 19th century to the 20th century and is now thing of the past. He asserts that man accepts his preposterous conditions and defies any help from God which he philosophically terms as 'despair of defiance'.

His major work The Myth of Sisyphus cites the mythological story of a mortal named Sisyphus who has acquired the wrath of Gods for cheating death and has been damned till eternity with the task of rolling a boulder up the hill but his efforts go futile every time he rolls the boulder uphill and it rolls back down hence making him repeat the strenuous task all over again without any end to it.

Those who find the meaning of life and who would rather die and kill for this purpose, while the others do not find a significant purpose to life and commit suicide to escape the absurdity of his fate. He reasons that man lives a robotic life and with time loses the essence of living, through which a sense of exile prevails in his existence, still many of us humans continue to abide largely because we have not reached an unequivocal answer to life's questions. Absurdists perceived a godless universe devoid of any religious, spiritual, or metaphysical reasoning.

Opposite to the rationalist presumptions of traditional humanism, absurdists refuse to believe in the predetermined notion of universal truth or value. Characterized by a divergence from realistic characters and situations, the plays offered no clear opinion of the time or place in which the action occurred. Characters were often nameless and exchangeable, events were depicted out of the realm with nightmarish quality ordinarily connected with Surrealism. Both dialogs and occurrences appeared ridiculous to the audience.

However, the plays were a satirical exploration of themes centered around loneliness and isolation of humanity, the political upheaval of that time, the nature of a Godless universe, the failure of mortals to connect with one another in any significant way, and the vacuity and absurdity of life and death. Conclusion Both the philosophical movements ride high on the notion of 'Death of God' and his non-existence in this suffering world.

It projects the threat of non-being which is aptly put forward by theologian Paul Tillich: For though I know now that I exist, that I am alive, I also know that someday I will no longer exist, that I will no longer be, that I will die. To do so is to acknowledge a certain absurdity to existence: Values are not intrinsic to being, and at some point reasons give out. In commiting myself in the face of death—that is, aware of the nothingness of my identity if not supported by me right up to the end—the roles that I have hitherto thoughtlessly engaged in as one does now become something that I myself own up to, become responsible for.

This is not to say that Heidegger's and Sartre's views on freedom are identical. But the theory of radical freedom that Sartre develops is nevertheless directly rooted in Heidegger's account of the nothingness of my practical identity.

For instance, because it is not thing-like, consciousness is free with regard to its own prior states. Motives, instincts, psychic forces, and the like cannot be understood as inhabitants of consciousness that might infect freedom from within, inducing one to act in ways for which one is not responsible; rather, they can exist only for consciousness as matters of choice. I must either reject their claims or avow them. For Sartre, the ontological freedom of existence entails that determinism is an excuse before it is a theory: This is to adopt the third-person stance on myself, in which what is originally structured in terms of freedom appears as a causal property of myself.

I can try to look upon myself as the Other does, but as an excuse this flight from freedom is shown to fail, according to Sartre, in the experience of anguish.

The Difference Between Existentialism, Nihilism, and Absurdism | Daniel Miessler

For instance, Sartre writes of a gambler who, after losing all and fearing for himself and his family, retreats to the reflective behavior of resolving never to gamble again. This motive thus enters into his facticity as a choice he has made; and, as long as he retains his fear, his living sense of himself as being threatened, it may appear to him that this resolve actually has causal force in keeping him from gambling.

In order for it to influence his behavior he has to avow it afresh, but this is just what he cannot do; indeed, just this is what he hoped the original resolve would spare him from having to do.

As Sartre points out in great detail, anguish, as the consciousness of freedom, is not something that human beings welcome; rather, we seek stability, identity, and adopt the language of freedom only when it suits us: Characteristic of the existentialist outlook is the idea that we spend much of lives devising strategies for denying or evading the anguish of freedom.

So influential was this general outlook on value that Karl-Otto Apel While it does not explain evaluative language solely as a function of affective attitudes, existential thought, like positivism, denies that values can be grounded in being—that is, that they can become the theme of a scientific investigation capable of distinguishing true or valid from false values.

How is it that values are supposed to be grounded in freedom? Why ought I help the homeless, answer honestly, sit reverently, or get up? For instance, I do not grasp the exigency of the alarm clock its character as a demand in a kind of disinterested perception but only in the very act of responding to it, of getting up. If I fail to get up the alarm has, to that very extent, lost its exigency. Why must I get up? At this point I may attempt to justify its demand by appeal to other elements of the situation with which the alarm is bound up: I must get up because I must go to work.

From this point of view the alarm's demand appears—and is—justified, and such justification will often suffice to get me going again. But the question of the foundation of value has simply been displaced: But it too derives its being as a value from its exigency—that is, from my unreflective engagement in the overall practice of going to work. Ought I go to work? If a man's got to eat, why not rather take up a life of crime? If these questions have answers that are themselves exigent it can only be because, at a still deeper level, I am engaged as having chosen myself as a person of a certain sort: From within that choice there is an answer of what I ought to do, but outside that choice there is none—why should I be respectable, law-abiding?

Only if I am at some level engaged do values and so justification in terms of them appear at all. And, as with all anguish, I do not escape this situation by discovering the true order of values but by plunging back into action. If the idea that values are without foundation in being can be understood as a form of nihilism, the existential response to this condition of the modern world is to point out that meaning, value, is not first of all a matter of contemplative theory but a consequence of engagement and commitment.

Thus value judgments can be justified, but only relative to some concrete and specific project. For this reason I can be in error about what I ought to do. It may be that something that appears exigent during the course of my unreflective engagement in the world is something that I ought not to give in to. If, thanks to my commitment to the Resistance, a given official appears to me as to be shot, I might nevertheless be wrong to shoot him—if, for instance, the official was not who I thought he was, or if killing him would in fact prove counter-productive given my longer-term goals.

Sartre's fictional works are full of explorations of moral psychology of this sort. For in order for such considerations to count I would have to make myself the sort of person for whom God's will, abstract Reason, or the current situation is decisive. Yet though I alone can commit myself to some way of life, some project, I am never alone when I do so; nor do I do so in a social, historical, or political vaccuum. If transcendence represents my radical freedom to define myself, facticity—that other aspect of my being—represents the situated character of this self-making.

Because freedom as transcendence undermines the idea of a stable, timeless system of moral norms, it is little wonder that existential philosophers with the exception of Simone de Beauvoir devoted scant energy to questions of normative moral theory. However, because this freedom is always socially and thereby historically situated, it is equally unsurprising that their writings are greatly concerned with how our choices and commitments are concretely contextualized in terms of political struggles and historical reality.

Politics, History, Engagement For the existentialists engagement is the source of meaning and value; in choosing myself I in a certain sense make my world.

On the other hand, I always choose myself in a context where there are others doing the same thing, and in a world that has always already been there.

In short, my acting is situated, both socially and historically. Such choices make up the domain of social reality: In social action my identity takes shape against a background the collective identity of the social formation that remains fixed. On the other hand, it can happen that my choice puts this social formation or collective identity itself into question: Here the first-person plural is itself the issue, and the action that results from such choices constitutes the field of the political.

But we cannot stop to examine all such differences here. Instead, we shall look at the positions of Heidegger and Sartre, who provide opposing examples of how an authentic relation to history and politics can be understood. History as Claim For Heidegger, to exist is to be historical.

Existentialism: Crash Course Philosophy #16

This does not mean that one simply finds oneself at a particular moment in history, conceived as a linear series of events. Though authenticity arises on the basis of my being alienated, in anxiety, from the claims made by norms belonging to the everyday life of das Man, any concrete commitment that I make in the movement to recover myself will enlist those norms in two ways.

I cannot make my identity from whole cloth; I will always understand myself in terms of some way of existing that has been handed down within my tradition. The point is that I must understand myself in terms of something, and these possibilities for understanding come from the historical heritage and the norms that belong to it.

The idea here seems roughly to be this: To opt for a way of going on is to affirm the norms that belong to it; and because of the nature of normativity it is not possible to affirm norms that would hold only for me. There is a kind of publicity and scope in the normative such that, when I choose, I exemplify a standard for others as well.

Heidegger suggests that it was this concept of historicality that underwrote his own concrete political engagement during the period of National Socialism in Germany. Heidegger's choice to intervene in university politics at this time was thus both a choice of himself—in which he chose his hero: Heidegger later became very suspicious of this sort of existential politics. But even here, in keeping with the existential notion of historicity, Heidegger's recommendations turn on a reading of history, of the meaning of our time.

Existentialism and Marxism A very different reading, and a very different recommendation, can be found in the work of Sartre. In making me an object for his projects, the other alienates me from myself, displaces me from the subject position the position from which the world is defined in its meaning and value and constitutes me as something.

This sets up a dimension of my being that I can neither control nor disavow, and my only recourse is to wrench myself away from the other in an attempt to restore myself to the subject-position. For this reason, on Sartre's model, social reality is in perpetual conflict—an Hegelian dialectic in which, for ontological reasons, no state of mutual recognition can ever be achieved. For social relations take place not only between human beings but also within institutions that have developed historically and that enshrine relations of power and domination.

Thus the struggle for who will take the subject position is not carried out on equal terms.

Existentialism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Employing similar insights in reflection on the situations of ethnic and economic oppression, Sartre sought a way to derive political imperatives in the face of the groundlessness of moral values entailed by his view of the ideality of values. At first, Sartre argued that there was one value—namely freedom itself—that did have a kind of universal authority. To commit oneself to anything is also always to commit oneself to the value of freedom. In the latter case, he is contradicting himself, since the very idea of writing presupposes the freedom of the reader, and that means, in principle, the whole of the reading public.

Whatever the merits of this argument, it does suggest the political value to which Sartre remained committed throughout his life: As this statement suggests, Sartre's embrace of Marxism was a function of his sense of history as the factic situation in which the project of self-making takes place. Because existing is self-making actionphilosophy—including existential philosophy—cannot be understood as a disinterested theorizing about timeless essences but is always already a form of engagement, a diagnosis of the past and a projection of norms appropriate to a different future in light of which the present takes on significance.

It therefore always arises from the historical-political situation and is a way of intervening in it. Marxism, like existentialism, makes this necessarily practical orientation of philosophy explicit.

From the beginning existentialism saw itself in this activist way and this provided the basis for the most serious disagreements among French existentialists such as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Camus, many of which were fought out in the pages of the journal founded by Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, Les Temps Modernes.

But the later Sartre came to hold that a philosophy of self-making could not content itself with highlighting the situation of individual choice; an authentic political identity could only emerge from a theory that situated such choice in a practically oriented analysis of its concrete situation. Marxism is unsurpassable, therefore, because it is the most lucid theory of our alienated situation of concrete unfreedom, oriented toward the practical-political overcoming of that unfreedom.

He thus undertook his Critique of Dialectical Reason to restore the promise of Marxism by reconceiving its concept of praxis in terms of the existential notion of project. What had become a rigid economic determinism would be restored to dialectical fluidity by recalling the existential doctrine of self-making: Dialectical materialism is the unsurpassable philosophy of those who choose, who commit themselves to, the value of freedom.

The political claim that Marxism has on us, then, would rest upon the ideological enclave within it: Authentic existence thus has an historical, political dimension; all choice will be attentive to history in the sense of contextualizing itself in some temporally narrative understanding of its place. But even here it must be admitted that what makes existence authentic is not the correctness of the narrative understanding it adopts. Authenticity does not depend on some particular substantive view of history, some particular theory or empirical story.

From this point of view, the substantive histories adopted by existential thinkers as different as Heidegger and Sartre should perhaps be read less as scientific accounts, defensible in third-person terms, than as articulations of the historical situation from the perspective of what that situation is taken to demand, given the engaged commitment of their authors.

They stand, in other words, less as justifications for their authors' existential and political commitments than as themselves a form of politics: Existentialism Today As a cultural movement, existentialism belongs to the past. As a philosophical inquiry that introduced a new norm, authenticity, for understanding what it means to be human—a norm tied to a distinctive, post-Cartesian concept of the self as practical, embodied, being-in-the-world—existentialism has continued to play an important role in contemporary thought in both the continental and analytic traditions.

The Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, as well as societies devoted to Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Jaspers, Beauvoir, and other existential philosophers, provide a forum for ongoing work—both of a historical, scholarly nature and of more systematic focus—that derives from classical existentialism, often bringing it into confrontation with more recent movements such as structuralism, deconstruction, hermeneutics, and feminism.

In the area of gender studies Judith Butler draws importantly on existential sources, as does Lewis Gordon in the area of race theory see also Bernasconi Matthew Ratcliffe develops an existential approach to psychopathology. Interest in a narrative conception of self-identity—for instance, in the work of Charles TaylorPaul Ricoeur, David Carror Charles Guignon—has its roots in the existential revision of Hegelian notions of temporality and its critique of rationalism.


Hubert Dreyfus developed an influential criticism of the Artificial Intelligence program drawing essentially upon the existentialist idea, found especially in Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, that the human world, the world of meaning, must be understood first of all as a function of our embodied practices and cannot be represented as a logically structured system of representations. In a series of books, Michael Gelven e. Even if such writers tend to proceed with more confidence in the touchstone of rationality than did the classical existentialists, their work operates on the terrain opened up by the earlier thinkers.

In addition, after years of being out of fashion in France, existential motifs have once again become prominent in the work of leading thinkers. In very different ways, the books by Cooper and Alan Schrift suggest that a re-appraisal of the legacy of existentialism is an important agenda item of contemporary philosophy.

Reynoldsfor instance, concludes his introduction to existentialism with a consideration of how post-structuralists such as Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault extend certain reflections found in Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger, while Reynolds does the same, in more detail for Derrida and Merleau-Ponty.

If existentialism's very notoriety as a cultural movement may have impeded its serious philosophical reception, then, it may be that what we have most to learn from existentialism still lies before us.

There are, in fact, reasons to think that such a re-evaluation is currently underway. Several publications that have appeared since the last revision of this article take up the challenge of bringing existential thought into dialogue with items on the contemporary philosophical agenda. The collection edited by Judaken and Bernasconi explores the historical context of existentialist writings informed by contemporary critiques of canonization, while Margaret Simons re-evaluates the role of Beauvoir, and of feminist thought, in the origins of existentialism itself.

Articles in both volumes are committed to showing the systematic relevance of existential concepts and approaches for contemporary work in philosophy and other fields. Bibliography The bibliography is divided into two sections; taken together, they provide a representative sample of existentialist writing. The first includes books that are cited in the body of the article.

The second contains supplementary reading, including works that have been mentioned in the article, selected works by some of the figures mentioned in the first paragraph of the article, certain classical readings in existentialism, and more recent studies of relevance to the issues discussed.

The bibliography is, somewhat arbitrarily, limited to works in English, and no attempt at comprehensiveness has been made. For detailed bibliographies of the major existentialists, including critical studies, the reader is referred to the entries devoted to the individual philosophers. I invite readers to suggest new and noteworthy sources for inclusion here. Works Cited Aho, K.

Glyn Adey and David Frisby. The Second Sex Race and Racism in Continental Philosophy. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Time, Narrative, and History, Bloomington: Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths Toward Transcendental Phenomenology, Evanston: David Carr and Cheung Chan-Fai. The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism. What Computers Can't Do: Metaphysics and Historicity, Milwaukee: The Risk of Being: A Philosophical Inquiry, University Park: