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Existentialism's "Authentic Existence" and "Moral Individualism":

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by khuram, Nov 3, 2006.

  1. khuram

    khuram
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    My first article about free/ pre-determined Human Will resulted in mis-understanding as if I tried to present my religious views on this forum. My following article is about 20th century Existentialism Philosophy. This article discusses the views of French Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and just how these views are different from the philosophy of Plato. Sartre has discussed about "Authentic Human Existence" in the 20th century. In my first thread about free/ pre-determined human will, an honorable forum member has told me that basic theme of Sikhi teachings is to become "ideal person". So here I would like to invite the opinion of Sikh members about just how the Sikh concept of "ideal person" or "ideal human being" differs or contrasts with Existentialism's notion of "Authentic Human Existence" as well as "Moral Individualism"?

    Existentialism’s ‘Authentic Existence’ and ‘Moral Individualism’:

    Sartre differentiated between what he called “authentic existence” and “un-authentic existence”. Sartre’s doctrine of “authentic Existence” has nothing to do with religious faith, as he was atheist — means he did not believe in God. When he said “Existence Precedes Essence”, he said it while assuming that God does not exist. When he said, “Man is Free”, he is saying that it is the man who himself has to find the morals and ethics of his own life, because God does not exist, according to him. He did not believe in any objective ethical or moral standards. To him, every individual, if he is to live an “authentic way of life”, should not look for guidance, towards the established codes of life. One who lives an ordinary life, where one performs one’s role just as part of the already established system as a whole; the person in this case would be living just an “un-authentic way of life”. This person does not try to figure out his own self. He finds himself wholly dependent upon the structure of set traditions. He lives life in a way in which he is directed by those set traditions. This is very easy, according to Sartre, to live as per the directions of set traditions. This is easy life but at the same time it is just an artificial life. This artificial life requires that person first of all should ignore his own ‘existence’ and should accept his role as just temporal or transient spare part of the over-all machine of the established ethical and other standards and/ or other values. Sartre considers this life style to be un-authentic because person here would not be conscious of his own independent existence. He shall not feel any responsibility towards his own existence. He would be just living a life under the already established standards. Person shall die but those standards shall still function. So the system as a whole would have nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of the individual.

    “Existentialism” philosophy emphasizes on the ‘existence’ of individual human. After projecting the drawbacks of ‘artificial’ way of life, this philosophy then tries to give guidance as to how humans can live an “authentic way of life” and so can make their existence ‘authentic’. This ‘guidance’ is something like that a person should reject every sort of objective values and standards. Truth relating to different aspects of life is to be found in pure personal experience of individual, which is subjective. When person gets himself free from following the objective standards, then he experiences the true freedom of life. This is what Sartre call, “Man is Free”. The experience of this “freedom”, according to Sartre, gives no satisfaction to the individual but instead, incorporates in the individual, an intense sense of responsibility. When a person gets freedom from the objective standards, then he feels the need of formulating his own subjective values and standards. At this stage, the person cannot escape this responsibility. He is now bound to feel himself responsible. That is why Sartre said, “Man is condemned to be free”. When person, after becoming responsible in this way, tries to find the answers to the basic questions of life in a pure subjective style, very soon that person encounters with the hard realities and miseries of life and death. He becomes sad when he faces the reality that mankind would never be able to find the purpose of their being alive in the world. The personal awareness of this, along with other hard realities of life, then would make the life of person “authentic”. Since the ultimate finding of this philosophy is composed of just the miseries and hard realities of life, that is why this philosophy is considered as pessimistic in nature.

    Existentialism’s Moral Individualism and how it differs with the Philosophy of Plato:

    Existential ‘Moral Individualism’, as per my understanding of it, is a whole different way of finding or ‘creating’ code of ethics and morals than to that of Plato’s. There is fundamental difference between these two approaches. For Plato, the highest ethical good is the same for every one. This view is exactly opposite to Existentialist’s corresponding doctrines because in Existentialism, every individual would be having his own highest ethical good, which would be different from the highest goods of other individuals. It is so because every existential individual would ‘create’ his or her values and ethical standards, as a result of his/ her owns subjective and pure personal experiences.

    The issue of ‘Existence’/ ‘Non-Existence’ is also explicable by differentiating the Existential philosophy with the philosophy of Plato. Plato actually emphasizes on ‘objectivity’. He preaches the doctrine of the presence of a ‘real world’, which we cannot know if we rely just on our faculties of sense perception. Our senses present before us a ‘phenomenal world’, which is imperfect and un-real. The real world is the ‘world of ideas’, which can be known only through reason. All the material objects and all the abstract concepts including moral values and codes of ethics exist, in pure and perfect form, in that ‘world of ideas’.

    If we rely on the information which we get from sense perception, then we shall get only superficial understanding of material objects and moral values because sense perception can tell us only the ‘imperfect phenomenological world’. Sense perception has various limitations. My senses can tell me quite a different story than to any other person, even about a single subject matter. For example two persons who just rely on what information they get from their respective senses, might differ regarding the color of a shield, where both of them are standing on opposite sides of shield and color of both sides is different. One of the persons would say that its color is red and other would say, “No! Its color is green”. Similar situation would come if both these persons would try to find the highest good. Because both of them would rely on just perceptional information, so one person shall say that highest good is ‘X’ and the other person shall say that it is ‘Y’. These are the results, which Plato strongly dislikes. He says that actually both these persons are wrong because both of them have relied on just sensory data. Now Plato applies his ‘Reason’ and finds that the ‘highest good’ which is same for everyone is neither ‘X’, nor ‘Y’. This highest good, which Plato has found through the application of ‘Reason’, is found out to be ‘Z’. Now Plato profoundly says, “whoever shall try to find the ‘highest good’ through the application of ‘reason’, shall find that it is ‘Z’.”

    The wrong highest good ‘X’ was the ‘subjective’ finding of first person and the wrong highest good ‘Y’ was the ‘subjective’ finding of second person. Both of these findings are ‘subjective’ because these happened to be the result of pure personal experiences of different individuals. One person cannot test or conform to the sensory information of other person. So sensory information is a pure ‘subjective’ thing and because having element of limitation, this ‘subjective’ information is incorrect, according to Plato.

    The true highest good ‘Z’ that Plato has found through the application of ‘reason’, is ‘objective’ in nature because everyone can confirm it just if one applies ‘reason’ over this issue. In this way when first person applies ‘reason’, he shall find that highest good is ‘Z’ and similarly when second person shall apply the ‘reason’, he also shall find that highest good is nothing else but ‘Z’. This highest good ‘Z’ is ‘objective’ in nature because this fact can be confirmed by anyone whosoever adopts the method of ‘reason’. Thus Plato’s philosophy is all ‘objective’ because it affirms the ‘objective’ existence of moral and ethical codes.

    Now I try to explain how Plato’s ‘objective’ philosophy differs with Existentialism, which tends to reject the objective doctrines and so emphasizes on the superiority of subjectivity. And as I already said that the issue of ‘Existence’/ ‘Non-Existence’ also can be explained by just clearly differentiating these two philosophies. For this purpose, suppose that now both the persons as well as Plato die. Now this is the era of new generation. Some new persons again apply reason with the view to find out the highest good. All of them, as a result, shall find that it is ‘Z’. Now suppose that these persons also die and there comes the era of future generation. Because highest good, according to Plato, is objective, so if someone, even in future times shall try to find it through the application of reason, the outcome again shall be ‘Z’.

    This is one of the things, which is strongly opposed by Existentialism. This Platonic objective doctrine completely pushes back the personality and existence of individual beings. Truth, according to Plato, has nothing to do with the ‘existence’ or ‘non-existence’ of individual. Maybe individual die, but the truth ought to remain the same. In this way existence of individual personality is badly ignored by this type of objective systems. These objective systems compel individuals to remain ignorant of the superior truth of their own existence. Existentialism basically is a name, which has been given to many different revolts against many different types of objective standards. Existentialism therefore puts more emphasis on pure subjectivity and asserts that superior truth is the truth of existence, which is pure personal matter of individual, and one who finds this truth through pure subjective experience, only that person lives a personally valid way of life. This truth, being subjective in nature, may not essentially be same for all.

    When a person adopts the existential approach, then he personally faces such hard realities of life as dread, anxiety etc. This philosophy is pessimistic because it makes these miserable things its principal doctrines. But this philosophy is optimistic in the sense that it offers the ‘valid’ or ‘authentic’ way of life. In this way, the suggested path is ‘miserable’ whereas the destination is ‘valid’ or ‘authentic’ in this philosophy.


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  3. muneet

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    The two presume that there is no god. Our sikh thought begins with the premise that first there was a 'karta' who desired to create and we are his 'krit'(the world, physical forms, humans etc.)
    Only the moral law as estab in each and every man's conscience is the law / value system each must follow. Given a choice of a situation, every one knows what is right and what will be wrong- you can't say that a man will err in selecting the right over wrong if he listens to his inner voice.

    These guys fail the moment they say there is no Creator- i shut off because of what shit will follow in their thoughts thereafter!

    The world is a dharamsaal - an akhaada where one struggles with desires, values and sanskaras and leaves an account on which he is judged- 'Chitragupt' etc- surely you know the meaning of Asa Di Vaar- if not may I suggest that you do.
    Begging to be different just because of someones obscure and (hell!) difficult to follow philosophy is denying that you have a deliberate veil over your eyes and refuse to not to stumble over the rock in front just to prove a point- so there just because I'm different!!
     
  4. max314

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    That depends on how you interpret "desire". It would seem to me that there is no other way to describe divine action other than to project humanistic qualities upon it. In essence, this notion of "desire" is not same notion that you and I recognise. It is entirely different.

    Furthermore, you assume that God is a conscious entity, or at least conscious in the most conventional, human manner. This is a post hoc ergo propter hoc assertion, and one that can only lead to yet further conjecture without ever actually yielding a useable answer.

    But are "right" and "wrong" merely social impositions? Would a ferral child living in the wild have a conception of "right" and "wrong" beyond the realms of his own survival? And where does society's conception of "right" and "wrong" come from? Perhaps it's just a code of conduct that is created, once again, for mere survival of the masses.

    By saying that you "shut off" your mind when you hear someone else explaining their views is, by definition, an example of closed mindedness.

    Personally, I doubt this is the kind of behaviour a true Sikkh would adopt.

    But what are these struggles? Are they of cosmic significance? Or are they simply the petty strifes of petty creatures trying to orient themselves in a vast and indifferent cosmos?

    I don't feel worthy to comment on what peoples' motivations are behind making their comments. I always assume that people - all people - are ultimately searching for the Truth, and are doing so in whichever way they see fit.

    I don't think that belittling any one persons' struggle is the way that we brothers and sisters of humanity should behave with one another.
     
  5. H.t.

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    Morality is a matter of rules, right? If there is no God as Satre believes, then right and wrong are a matter of opinion (no One over us to say, "Do this; don't do that."). If this is the case than the Justice system must be stopped from imposing their veiw of "right" and "wrong." If Satre is correct then Adolf Hitler, Saddam Husein, and Fidel Castro are all righteous men.
    Satre's theory (not original by a long shot) only works in a vacuum. If you apply his beliefs, the social order desintrgrates.
     
  6. H.t.

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    Right on Atlantian Philosopher. If we sinserely search the truth without our cultures morals, we will all find said "Z". God is Truth, Right? So, it makes sence that general information of the one true God (He/She alone is the Cause of Causes, the Creator) can be found through His/Her universes (krit, right?)
     
  7. JtotheAtothe...

    JtotheAtothe...
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    Existential philosophy involves a questioning of responsiblity. Are YOU actually carrying the weight of your moral judgements, or are you merely prescribing to a set book of rules, in which you remove yourself of carrying the burden of making moral calls and solicit only the book. As we all know, there exist many situtations which truly task us in our moral decision plotting; for example the classic, your village is attacked by murderers and you take your family and a few neighbors into hiding and you must remain completely silent to avoid revealing your location, but your newborn child begins to cry. Do you now muffle the child and end up suffocating it to death or you let it reveal your location to the murders? In either course, someone will die. This situation, although unlikely to occur in our cultivated lives, replicates itself into many other dramas in which we must commit evil for the sake of good; thus, drawing us to the breakdown of our rigid moral scales of good and evil.

    One cannot simply pursue the normally defined good to accomplish winning the love of god. If we undertake the Good, as defined by our moral codes, then we end up only working for our selfish interest of earning a place by God. Good requires responsiblity for one's decisions. Morality is relative to us and our world. We are organisms which adapt to an everchanging world, and our morality must adapt and suffer, as well.

    The question of asking the righteousness of the men of evil (Hitler and his many friends) is fairly normal? Perfectly normal, truly. And the answer is that in one sense these men are prefectly right in whatever they do and have done. And they are prefectly wrong in whathever they do and have done.

    However, just because we do not have a single and true scale of good and evil, does not mean that certain actions cannot be labeled good and evil anymore. What Hitler did in persecuting Jews was horrible. Hussein's killings were disgusting. Idi Amin's tortures, horrendous. US' war in Vietnam was murderous of itself and Vietnamese. Protestant's Salem Witch trials, moronic.
    And so on. No group, regardless of how pure we purport ourselves can escape the wrath of good and evil. However, it is not even good and evil which everything categorizes into. It is war and peace, love and hate, the single and the group, an already shifting assortment.

    God, if there is such a thing, is an excuse more than often upon which to rest our responsiblities. How many times has religion itself used God as an argument to commit evil of death. God is just as tortured as we are by idiocy and folly.

    And the simple truth is that more than often, we are unwilling to accept the responsiblity for our existence. We love and hate god, for our love and hate.
    Few men and women can wrestle with a relative morality, accepting complete responsiblity of themselves.
     

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