Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855): Noted as the “father of existentialism”. Author of The Concept of Anxiety (1844). His belief, presented in steps:
1) When making decisions, the individual has absolute freedom to choose.
2) He or she can choose either nothing or anything.
3) Because of these choices, his or her mind reels at the thought of this absolute freedom. The feeling of dread or anxiety accompanies the thought.
4) To Kierkegaard, it is this anxiety that is the “dizziness of freedom.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): Author of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85). In this novel, the prophet Zarathustra comes to the realization, after living in the mountains for 10 years, that God is dead. His belief, presented in steps:
1) Christianity tells us that everything in this world is less important than that of the next life after death.
2) We should turn away from this life and focus our lives after death.
3) But in doing this, we turn away from life itself.
4) So if God is dead, then we can surpass these limited ideas of religion.
5) With this idea, then the old ideas of “man” can be surpassed and a new race –Ubermensch (Superman) – will arrive.
Nietzsche is often misinterpreted. He is not stating God, a deity who cannot die, is dead. He is merely saying that these high values and traditions we have inherited are dead.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980): Credited as the founder of existentialism. Author of No Exit. His belief, presented in steps:
1) There is no God, and so we are not made by God.
2) When we create something, we do so for a purpose (essence).
3) This essence of a creation comes before its existence.
4) Since we are not made for any purpose…
5) Our existence precedes our essence.
6) We have to create our purpose for ourselves.
Sartre gives this example: Centuries ago, someone wanted to cut paper without tearing. So scissors were invented. The scissors’ essence came before the object existed. But since there is not God to invent us, we exist before our essence. So, according to Sartre, so we have to find our own purpose.
Sartre demands us that if we find our own essence, we must remember whatever our essence, it will affect future generations. So if we create an evil purpose, then that evil will affect the world; if we find a good purpose, then the world will prosper.
Albert Camus (1913-1960): Student of Sartre. Author of The Stranger. Nobel Peace Prize winner. His belief, presented in steps:
1) Because we have a conscious, we must find meaning in life.
2) But we know that the universe has no meaning (it is what it is).
3) So our lives are a contradiction. To live well, we must overcome this contradiction.
4) We can do this by embracing the meaningless (or absurdity) of life.
5) In other words, life will be better if it had no meaning.
This philosophy seems like a contradiction since the purpose of philosophy is to search for the meaning of life. But Camus recognizes that our lives are full of meaningless tasks. We only provide meaning to our lives because we have a conscious, but beyond our conscious, life is meaningless.
Camus addresses the question of suicide in the same book as “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” He answers that question by stating, “People have played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a meaning to life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living. In truth, there is no necessary common measure between these two judgments.” In other words, suicide is an unnecessary escape from life’s absurdity.
The only true response, according to Camus, is to “live in revolt.”
Once we accept this fact, and we can only accept this fact once, we are in a position to live fully. In embracing the absurd, our lives become a constant revolt against the meaninglessness of the universe, and therefore we can live freely.