Measured Against Reality

Friday, October 13, 2006

Philosophy Friday: Existentialism

For the second Philosophy Friday I’m going to talk about Existentialism.

Now, some background explanation. Whenever I write about something, I research it, even if that means just consulting Wikipedia or Google. With existentialism that was quite tricky. I couldn’t get a very consistent definition of it. This one is fairly typical: “Existentialism is a philosophical movement that views the individual, the self, the individual's experience, and the uniqueness therein as the basis for understanding the nature of human existence. The philosophy generally reflects a belief in freedom and accepts the consequences of individual actions, while acknowledging the responsibility attendant to the making of choices.”

But that’s not how it’s normally used (at least in my experience). Most people think of existentialism as the philosophy that our existence is all there is; that we’re adrift in the void, living meaningless, purposeless lives, doomed from birth to die, and after death we cease to be. That is the existentialism I know and love.

You might be wondering, “How can you possibly love that concept?” Some people might answer that it frees me from any moral obligations, but that’s not it at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

I love it because it means that this life is entirely what you make of it. For two examples of what I mean in cartoon form, see here and here. I really love that second one.

Back to what I mean in non-comic form, enjoying life and being a good person should be plenty purpose for anyone. What else can we really do? Sure, when we die we probably cease to be (just like before we were born), but what does that have to do with life? If anything, that just convinces me more to enjoy what little time I have, and try to leave the largest possible positive footprint I can.

When the sun finally gives out its last ray of light, and the earth is encompassed by absolute blackness, none of it will matter. But it means the world now. Carpe Diem.

That’s my take on existentialism.

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