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“That which is untenable or beyond the limits of rationality. When associated with existentialism, the absurd refers to there being a lack of any meaning inherent within the real world or in our actions. It gained currency in popular culture via Samuel Beckett’s theatre of the absurd and works by Sartre and Camus. A phrase famously (and erroneously) attributed to Tertullian claimed that faith in an incarnate God was absurd: credo quia absurdum est—’I believe because it is absurd.’
“The actual quotation from Tertullian is: credibile est, quia ineptuin est—’It is credible because it is silly.’ (De carne Christi 5.4). Tertullian is sometimes taken to thereby valorize irrationality, but his thesis was instead that the truth of Christianity was absurd only in relation to Stoic, non-Christian philosophy. If Tertullian is correct, the tenability of Christianity is not contingent upon external, philosophical inspection.”
— A Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion, Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty, eds., 4.
“The existentialist . . . finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that “the good” exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote: ‘If God did not exist, everything would be permitted’; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. . . . Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimise our behaviour. Thus we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse. – We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free.”
Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” 1946
In the ethical thought of such existentialist writers as Sartre and Heidegger, abandonment is the awareness that there are no external sources of moral authority. No deity, for example, provides us with guidance or direction; we achieve an authentic life by depending only on ourselves.
(Via Philosophical Dictionary)
One inevitable consequence of this approach to morality is well described by Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.
For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.
Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization (New York: Harper & Bros., 1937), 316.
It turns out to be convenient in many cases that life has no ultimate meaning: It’s the ideal excuse to fashion a morality that suits one’s individual whims. Objective meaning and purpose can prevent one from doing things one is inclined to do. As a result, such things are ignored, attacked, or reinterpreted. But they never quite go away.
Sartre (1905-1980) is arguably the best known philosopher of the twentieth century. His indefatigable pursuit of philosophical reflection, literary creativity and, in the second half of his life, active political commitment gained him worldwide renown, if not an admiration. He is commonly considered the father of Existentialist philosophy, whose writings set the tone for intellectual life in the decade immediately following the Second World War. Among the many ironies that permeate his life, not the least is the immense popularity of his scandalous public lecture “Existentialism and Humanism,” delivered to an enthusiastic Parisian crowd October 28, 1945.
Though taken as a quasi manifesto for the Existentialist movement, the transcript of this lecture was the only publication that Sartre openly regretted seeing in print. And yet it continues to be the major introduction to his philosophy for the general public. One of the reasons both for its popularity and for his discomfort is the clarity with which it exhibits the major tenets of existentialist thought while revealing Sartre’s attempt to broaden its social application in response to his Communist and Catholic critics. In other words, it offers us a glimpse of Sartre’s thought “on the wing.”
(Via Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy)
The main idea of Jean-Paul Sartre is that we are, as humans, “condemned to be free.” This theory relies upon his atheism, and is formed using the example of the paper-knife. Sartre says that if one considered a paper-knife, one would assume that the creator would have had a plan for it: an essence. Sartre said that human beings have no essence before their existence because, there is no Creator. Thus: “existence precedes essence”. So, and just for that, the Sartrian man with his freedom will become a god, but he will remain always only a bankrupt god.
On the existential view, to understand what a human being is it is not enough to know all the truths that natural science—including the science of psychology—could tell us. . . . neither scientific nor moral inquiry can fully capture what it is that makes me myself, my “ownmost” self.
Without denying the validity of scientific categories (governed by the norm of truth) or moral categories (governed by norms of the good and the right), “existentialism” may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence.
To approach existentialism in this categorial way may seem to conceal what is often taken to be its “heart” (Kaufmann 1968:12), namely, its character as a gesture of protest against academic philosophy, its anti-system sensibility, its flight from the “iron cage” of reason. But while it is true that the major existential philosophers wrote with a passion and urgency rather uncommon in our own time, and while the idea that philosophy cannot be practiced in the disinterested manner of an objective science is indeed central to existentialism, it is equally true that all the themes popularly associated with existentialism—dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, nothingness, and so on—find their philosophical significance in the context of the search for a new categorial framework, together with its governing norm.
(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (b. 1813, d. 1855) was a profound and prolific writer in the Danish “golden age” of intellectual and artistic activity. His work crosses the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature and fiction. Kierkegaard brought this potent mixture of discourses to bear as social critique and for the purpose of renewing Christian faith within Christendom.
At the same time he made many original conceptual contributions to each of the disciplines he employed. He is known as the “father of existentialism”, but at least as important are his critiques of Hegel and of the German romantics, his contributions to the development of modernism, his literary experimentation, his vivid re-presentation of biblical figures to bring out their modern relevance, his invention of key concepts which have been explored and redeployed by thinkers ever since, his interventions in contemporary Danish church politics, and his fervent attempts to analyse and revitalise Christian faith.
(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)