What is Existentialism?

It is quite funny … even though I feel that I have learned more from this existentialism class than any other,

(and by learn I mean something more than just learn – like learning facts – I intend something along the lines of transformed … this class has been one of the most transformative classes I’ve taken this semester, that’s better)

I still don’t know what existentialism really is; and furthermore, I am not even completely sure how this class (most specifically the readings from Camus and Sartre) really transformed my outlook on life.  I just feel different.  I look, I think at least, at the world with a different pair of eyes.  

My changed outlook on this world lives in my new found interest with making a meaning for myself.  By meaning I don’t mean a point.  By meaning, I don’t mean finding my own little subjective ‘m’; and I don’t mean that I’ve come upon the objective, cosmological big ‘M.’ By meaning, I mean    (don’t you love how I talk like Heidegger and Sartre…)    overcoming what I am.  By meaning, I mean (in the words of Sartre) transcending my facticity: disregarding my flaws at not myself, and overcoming them by stating them as such.  

Now, I sort of see existentialism as a tool that allows me to craft a self.  One that, using Sartian language again (sorry), transcends, overcomes, breaks away from my former self… a former self that is flawed in what ever way.  The cool thing about this existential tool, is that I can (or at least I feel like I have the ability to) overcome ANY flaw that is my own.  If I have a tendency to be lazy and procrastinate on my homework assignments, I can look at myself, and simply seek a better self through transcending my previous self.  

Now back to my initial statement (question that is) ‘What is Existentialism?’ Even though I don’t know the actual definition of the word, the exact conceptions of the philosophy, it is a tool.  It is a self-help philosophy (to steal the million dollar word.) Existentialism has helped me see myself as myself, and urges me to take myself to a higher standard of self.  

Judgement, Camus and Sartre

As was said in class, Sartre and Camus were close friends.  Furthermore, because of their relationship, their philosophies share many similar beliefs.  One of which, I feel, concerns the nature of judgement.  

I thought Camus wonderfully portrayed the paradox in individual judgement. The paradox, to me, is this: we judge others, yet, we fear being judged. In this exploration, I want to look deeper into the relationship between the individual and the outer world in respect to judgement.

I think our fear of being judge (and ironically our tendency to judge) is a cornerstone of our character.  Moreover, I think if we understand what the nature of judgement is (how it affects how we think about the world and ourselves and how we go about acting in the world) we will understand the nature of the individual, the self.  

As I discuss once before in my blog, I wonder what came first … our desire to judge others, or our fear of being judged? But most critically, I am now interested in if we judge other people because we fear that they judge us? Do we presuppose they are judging us, therefore we want to judge them.  

I think because judgment is a negative thought process, our tendency to judge other people must come from our fear of being judged, for fear is a negative thought.  Furthermore, I think the fear of judgment, and our tendency to judge is the essence of our character’s (our self’s) short comings.  When one feels judged, they feel inferior.  When one judges another individual, it is because they feel insecure.  That is how judgment is a common theme in our character’s shortcomings. 

I feel as though Sartre, and Camus (which was examined in the Fall) think this as well.  I believe that transcendence (to cite Sartre) is an overcoming of our thoughts concerning judgment outside of ourselves (I say outside of ourselves because interior judgment – an evaluation of our position and facticity – is essential to Sartre’s notion of transcendence) is a form of transcendence in its own.  

Why Philosophy: How philosophy “works itself” on the individual.  

As a philosophy major, people frequently ask me what I expect to do with my degree; and, habitually, I respond jokingly: “Greet people at WalMart.” In reality, however, I believe that learning to perceive the world with a philosophical mindset will unshackle my mind from other’s predispositions.  


Why philosophize? Or more importantly, and relevant in my situation since I am a philosophy major, why study philosophy?  


Philosophers, philosophy majors, or any individual interested in studying philosophy are confronted with these questions continually.  Personally, I am actually made fun of for being a philosophy major, which 99% of the time I take as a friendly joke, because most individuals don’t see how advantageous studying philosophy really is.  


For myself, there are two reasons why I study, and enjoy studying, philosophy … and Heidegger’s views STRONGLY resonate with my second rationale.  

The first is practical.  Yes, there is a practicality in majoring in or studying philosophy.  The most notable characteristic acquired is the ability to think  …  to think rationally, critically, and focused in respect to complex circumstances.  Thinking well (quite obviously), regardless of the profession, is obviously desired in an white-collared work position.


And the second resonates with Heidegger.  It cultivates the individual.  It works on the mind and the self.  It changes the individual into something new … (even though cliche) something better.  Philosophy is a supplement for a good life.  How can one do something, as was stated in class, without philosophy?  It is pervasive.  It is influential.  And as Heidegger stated, it works itself on the thinker, the individual.  

This contagiously positive view of the world (the philosophical mindset)  is essential for thinking well and living a good life.  So when asked what I expect to do with an undergraduate degree in philosophy, I think: “Save the world.”