A Philosophy about Me
Existentialism is a personal philosophy that places an individual’s existence, subjective attitudes, and personal choices at the center of the human experience. Introspection, the primary means of inquiry, allows each person to participate in the discussion of what it means to be in the world.
Although few philosophers and writers have referred to themselves as existentialists—a common thread is the importance of subjective truth over objective truth. One’s interior life and feelings are far more important to living than knowledge about the exterior world.
Which will have a more radical change on me: to learn a new scientific fact about the world (objective truth) or to learn that someone, once close, no longer loves me (subjective truth)? Meaning in one’s life does not come from finding objective truth but from subjective choices and experience.
The Important Questions
We often live as though death is an intellectual abstraction until we confronted with its inevitability–often at the last moment of life. When we become beings-toward-death, we are fully able to embrace and care for our world. Inculcating death into our daily thoughts is one of the differences between living an authentic and inauthentic life.
In a world devoid of meaning, we are not rationally compelled to choose a particular path. Within the constraints of the time and place of our birth, every possibility is open to us. Our choices determine who we will become. This radical freedom is vastly greater than anything offered through a political structure. Such freedom can also be terrifying, causing us to make no choice at all. When we meet ourselves in the future, will we be satisfied or disappointed?
There is no objective method for finding meaning nor a logical or rational choice that will lead to an understanding of the world. Science offers us very little. And yet, if the world is no more than what we create, life may seem absurd. Meaning in the world is of little importance compared to the meaning of our lives.
Despair and Anxiety
When confronted with the blank canvas of our lives, we may despair and become anxious. Our vast freedom over our lives may actually overwhelm us. However, we may also choose to accept responsibility for ourselves, live with a new found appreciation for the world in which we are born, and discover the importance of caring for the world and for others.
For many centuries, philosophers attempted to discover and describe the attributes of human nature: rational thought, imagining the future, using language. The essence of a person, the who-we-are, precedes our existence in the world.
Existentialists turned philosophy upside down by arguing that, except for biological necessities, there is no human nature to be discovered, no universal truth across people. Within the confines of our time and place of birth, we become who we choose to be.
Unlike a dog whose behavior is recognized in any place or time, human behavior is vastly unique. We can live as ancient nomads in the desert or artists in a modern city, become a monk isolated from the world or a pop star on the stages of the world, hold radical political views or be completely ignorant of our surroundings.
No one can look at an infant and determined who this child can become nor how it will behave. There is no biological necessity to be or act in any particular manner. We exist and then we become, or or existence precedes our essence.