So I read this book called, “How To Be an Existentialist, or How to Get Real, Get a Grip and Stop Making Excuses” by Gary Cox and I liked the book, hence I would like to give out a brief introduction about Existentialism in this post as I might later do another post on the takeaways from the book.
The first thing I understood about existentialism is that it can’t be precisely defined. Great philosophers have had a hard time coming to a precise definition that incorporates all the key ideas supported by the existentialists.
However I would like to quote some of the best encountered definitions for the term existentialism while doing an intense study on the topic before discussing my own interpretation:-
“Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe.”
“Existentialism in the broader sense is a 20th century philosophy that is centered upon the analysis of existence and of the way humans find themselves existing in the world. The notion is that humans exist first and then each individual spends a lifetime changing their essence or nature.
In simpler terms, existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility.”
“Existentialism is the search and journey for true self and true personal meaning in life.”
It is argued that in the world of philosophy and ethics, the concept of existentialism is a loose concept. Most philosophical theories are supported by key ideas the theory supports but while discussing existentialism it is a bit different scenario. Existentialism is equally characterised by what the theory rejects (as discussed ahead). In some way this comes with an advantage that whenever in mode of rejection of traditional philosophies (or maybe just not sure about them), we can arguably call ourselves an existentialist.
Considering the various encountered broad definitions for existentialism (just like the few mentioned above) I would interpret it by associating the concept with 3 important attributes:-
- Existentialism encourages an individual to find his/her personal meaning of life.
- Existentialism gives importance individual existence before anything else.
- Existentialism encourages an individual to be responsible for his life and take autonomous decisions.
It focuses on why and for what reason an individual exists rather than how an individual came into existence. Also, ‘for what reason’ is to be thought about after coming into existence? According to an existentialist an individual doesn’t exist in a well defined and meaningful world but it can be the other way round. An individual exists, finds meaning for his existence and can be said to contribute in adding value to the irrational world.
Finally, I would like to say where I stand after doing some study on Existentialism and previously mentioned book:-
“I would like to call myself an existentialist because existentialism defines the world to be an irrational place. I share a similar opinion. I also strongly agree with the existence before essence argument because that gives me an option for enjoying true freedom and exploring the personal meaning and purpose of my existence. But am I really an existentialist is still very doubtful. It is so because it takes a great deal of effort to not get influenced by any external power and create an autonomous and independent authority in a complete sense. True freedom comes at a price and a high opportunity cost.”
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