existentialism

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redgrowth
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existentialism

Postby redgrowth » Sat Aug 07, 2010 5:51 am UTC

Does anyone know a good accessible existentialist book written from an atheist/agnostic point of view? I read Man's Search for Meaning, but it was unsatisfying.

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Re: existentialism

Postby Apteryx » Sat Aug 07, 2010 8:41 pm UTC

A well written existentialist book, that doesn't leave you unsatisfied is a contradiction in terms.

A perfectly written one would solve the worlds over-population problem.
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Re: existentialism

Postby redgrowth » Mon Aug 09, 2010 4:38 am UTC

Apteryx wrote:A well written existentialist book, that doesn't leave you unsatisfied is a contradiction in terms.

A perfectly written one would solve the worlds over-population problem.

I thought existentialism was supposed to be the answer to nihilism. Was I mistaken? What should I read to convince myself that nihilism is false?

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Re: existentialism

Postby Apteryx » Mon Aug 09, 2010 6:22 am UTC

I was trying to be funny again. Existentialism is pretty unsatisfying because once you understand it, you can see that satisfaction is just self delusion, all is maya, illusion. So a well written one would lead people to the inescapable conclusion that nothing we do matters really, bringing children into this crap universe is a waste of time, would be cruel if cruelty wasn't also an illusion, look, a high place, seeing as nothing is good or worth doing, and inevitably I will suffer more and more as time goes on, I ought to jump. *Leaves copy of existentialism book at top of cliff so it can continue to do its good work* Jump, die, breed no more.
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Re: existentialism

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Mon Aug 09, 2010 3:41 pm UTC

"The Myth of Sisyphus" by Albert Camus is a good book, although he considered himself absurdist rather than existentialist--from what I can tell, the difference is that he doesn't believe we can create our own meaning for life. The book's main focus is why suicide is not a logical choice even in an uncaring universe, and near the end, in the titular essay, Camus concludes that one cannot discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual for happiness.
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Re: existentialism

Postby not good at these things » Tue Aug 10, 2010 12:25 am UTC

I always thought existentialism was like nihilism-light.

But really you could analyze a lot of books into being existentialism themed, I remember doing that with The Metamorphosis and Crime and Punishment. Franz Kafka was actually sort of an existentialist though, so maybe look at his other works but I don't know that it'd be from an agnostic/athiest point of view, god help me but I didn't like english class.

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Re: existentialism

Postby danreil » Tue Aug 10, 2010 1:38 am UTC

The Stranger by Camus is considered a classic text on existentialism (although as Sir_Elderberry mentioned, Camus considered himself an absurdist). It also deals with atheism in some parts. Its got a interesting story too, in my opinion.

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Re: existentialism

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Tue Aug 10, 2010 4:24 am UTC

The Stranger is good, but I read Myth of Sisyphus first--and have since reread probably three times--so that's what I'm more familiar with. Plus, since it is the author stating an opinion, you get a little clearer picture of his philosophy.
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Re: existentialism

Postby the_stabbage » Sun Aug 22, 2010 12:51 am UTC

Besides Kierkegaard, who you could say was also agnostic anyway (theist agnostic) - are there even any theist existentialists?

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Re: existentialism

Postby andrewxc » Sun Aug 22, 2010 6:08 am UTC

Theist-agnostic existentialist is not a contradiction in terms:
Some type of god creates the universe, but leaves man to do what he will.
That's actually a lot like Deism, as well. Please correct me, if I am wrong.
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Re: existentialism

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Sun Aug 22, 2010 1:10 pm UTC

I don't claim to be an expert on either, but I do see similarities. However, agnosticism is less about god's intervention and more about the available evidence. Deism says that there is a god, who created things and then left us in peace, and doesn't pull off miracles or anything. Agnosticism says that there may or not be a god; the question is unanswered or perhaps unanswerable. An agnostic could be a deist, a deist could be a theist, an agnostic could be a theist if they believe in god but don't believe it can be proven. That said, I'm not sure that 'agnostic theism' and 'deism' are a total overlap. As for the existentialist part, eh. Existentialism, to me, seems to be more about humanity and its place in the universe, with god(s) as a sort of fringe issue. Certainly, nobody would call Jefferson an existentialist. Of course, Deism seemed to flourish mainly in that time period, so the two philosophies differ quite a bit in historical context.
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Re: existentialism

Postby the_stabbage » Sun Aug 22, 2010 7:01 pm UTC

andrewxc wrote:Theist-agnostic existentialist is not a contradiction in terms:
Some type of god creates the universe, but leaves man to do what he will.
That's actually a lot like Deism, as well. Please correct me, if I am wrong.


I didn't say it was a contradiction. Existentialism's main theme is something like "how to deal with the universe". Either one where you have to create meaning, or where there is no meaning. Either one where there is no god, or in Kierkegaard's case, where there is no evidence for a god. Kierkegaard said you should take the leap of faith and believe in God.

However, most existentialists are atheist or agnostic.

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Re: existentialism

Postby Dark567 » Wed Sep 22, 2010 7:58 pm UTC

redgrowth wrote:I thought existentialism was supposed to be the answer to nihilism. Was I mistaken? What should I read to convince myself that nihilism is false?


Existentialism isn't so much a rebuttal to nihilism, as a "this is how to deal with a universe that is nihilistic." It basically states that there is no inherent meaning, but we can give the universe meaning anyway. If you really want to convince yourself nihilism is false, you should read some Kant, Lock, Aristotle, or John Stuart Mill. Granted I really don't think that "I want this to be false, where do I find proof of it" is a particularly good method of philosophy.
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Re: existentialism

Postby krazykomrade » Thu Sep 23, 2010 9:58 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:
redgrowth wrote:I thought existentialism was supposed to be the answer to nihilism. Was I mistaken? What should I read to convince myself that nihilism is false?


Existentialism isn't so much a rebuttal to nihilism, as a "this is how to deal with a universe that is nihilistic." It basically states that there is no inherent meaning, but we can give the universe meaning anyway. If you really want to convince yourself nihilism is false, you should read some Kant, Lock, Aristotle, or John Stuart Mill. Granted I really don't think that "I want this to be false, where do I find proof of it" is a particularly good method of philosophy.


Existentialism doesn't "basically state" anything; the word is sort of a catch-all term for writing or philosophy that doesn't really fit anywhere else, and has loose themes of authenticity, meaning/value (especially in a subjective sense), and evaluations of what might be termed "the human condition". It isn't really a coherent field in the same way something like epistemology is. What you stated might be found in Sartre, but it could hardy be ascribed to all who have been labeled existentialist. Nihilism comes in a variety of forms (metaphysical, ethical, etc), but the sort that existentialists have concerned themselves with is not significantly addressed by any of those philosophers (Locke?!).

redgrowth, Sartre is one of the more accessible existentialists, although not really one of the deepest or most authentic. That said, his "Transcendence of the Ego" and "Existentialism and Human Emotions" are both relatively quick, easy reads that should give you some bearings. Nietzsche deals a lot with Nihilism, but he isn't very accessible. I'd recommend getting a cheap used existentialism reader off amazon or ebay (I've found "Basic Writings of Existentialism" by Gordon Marino to be a decent one), so that you can get a better idea of what you're looking for; asking for a recommendation for a "good atheistic existentialist book" is like asking for recommendation for a "good band that uses guitars." :-)

However, you're completely missing the point of philosophy and might be better off not even bothering if you go about it from the standpoint of "I want to believe X, who's writing supports X?"

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Re: existentialism

Postby Kewangji » Sun Sep 26, 2010 7:48 pm UTC

Wanting to believe something is not wrong. Especially if nihilism and nihilistic viewpoints depress you.
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Re: existentialism

Postby krazykomrade » Sun Sep 26, 2010 9:41 pm UTC

I never said wanting to believe something is wrong. What I was saying is that it is a misuse of philosophy (and science) when you attempt to use them only to confirm what you already believe. Both are aimed at discovery, not at defending or confirming preconceptions. Some bible-belt Christians might find the idea of evolution and a world that wasn't created as-is by their God depressing or frightening, and maybe that's not wrong of them to feel that way, but they ARE wrong when they cherry-pick data and use "religious science" to attempt to scientifically support their beliefs.

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Re: existentialism

Postby diotimajsh » Sun Sep 26, 2010 10:04 pm UTC

Of course, in practice philosophers nearly all end up creating arguments for positions they already believed in. I agree that that isn't in line with a more lofty ideal, however.

For a general assessment/investigation of nihilism, I might recommend Specter of the Absurd by Donald Crosby. It isn't 100% a refutation of nihilism--the first half of it or so is just exploring and explicating nihilist arguments in a relatively unbiased way--but it's interesting to see a lot of the roads to nihilism organized and laid out. I personally didn't find the later refutation half of it terribly convincing, though. (I found that a lot of his arguments ended up feeling circular. To oversimplify, they come across as, "This form of nihilism is based on premise A. Premise A must be wrong because it leads to nihilism. Therefore we should reject premise A; and thus we don't need to accept nihilism.")
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Re: existentialism

Postby Dark567 » Sun Sep 26, 2010 10:35 pm UTC

diotimajsh wrote:Of course, in practice philosophers nearly all end up creating arguments for positions they already believed in. I agree that that isn't in line with a more lofty ideal, however.

I am not sure this is the case. Rarely does a layman go into philosophy and come out with identical positions as to what they went in with. In ethics for example, most people don't go believe in a consistent set of ethics, but many come out believing in one specific set or another. Granted that set may be the most aligned with what they already believed, but its not the exact same. I started philosophy with a vaguely Kantian outlook, but came out a (strong)nihilist, so I am not sure I see this as much as you claim in practice.

diotimajsh wrote:For a general assessment/investigation of nihilism, I might recommend Specter of the Absurd by Donald Crosby. It isn't 100% a refutation of nihilism--the first half of it or so is just exploring and explicating nihilist arguments in a relatively unbiased way--but it's interesting to see a lot of the roads to nihilism organized and laid out. I personally didn't find the later refutation half of it terribly convincing, though. (I found that a lot of his arguments ended up feeling circular. To oversimplify, they come across as, "This form of nihilism is based on premise A. Premise A must be wrong because it leads to nihilism. Therefore we should reject premise A; and thus we don't need to accept nihilism.")

This is because most of the arguments against nihilism are boil down to things "There must be morals or else how else do we know what to do", "it just seems like ethics exist", or as one ethics professor said to me "it is just implausible".
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Re: existentialism

Postby diotimajsh » Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:21 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:I am not sure this is the case. Rarely does a layman go into philosophy and come out with identical positions as to what they went in with. In ethics for example, most people don't go believe in a consistent set of ethics, but many come out believing in one specific set or another. Granted that set may be the most aligned with what they already believed, but its not the exact same. I started philosophy with a vaguely Kantian outlook, but came out a (strong)nihilist, so I am not sure I see this as much as you claim in practice.
Hmmm, you're right, I shouldn't have been so flippant with that claim. Yet if all the arguments against nihilism are as bad as you apparently agree to them being, what is our explanation for why the vast majority of philosophers throughout history have been quite against nihilism? To me it seems plausible that many philosophers allow themselves to be more easily convinced by arguments that they want to believe. (It is human nature, after all).

But, anyway, this is all pretty nebulous and general speculation about motivations. I'm not too strongly attached to this claim.
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Re: existentialism

Postby Dark567 » Mon Sep 27, 2010 3:20 am UTC

diotimajsh wrote:Hmmm, you're right, I shouldn't have been so flippant with that claim. Yet if all the arguments against nihilism are as bad as you apparently agree to them being, what is our explanation for why the vast majority of philosophers throughout history have been quite against nihilism? To me it seems plausible that many philosophers allow themselves to be more easily convinced by arguments that they want to believe. (It is human nature, after all).

But, anyway, this is all pretty nebulous and general speculation about motivations. I'm not too strongly attached to this claim.


I am not saying your claim is without warrant, just its not as strong as you make it out to be. People really strongly want to believe in morality, probably even stronger than they want to believe in any specific morality. People seem to be willing to change their moral views at least slightly due to philosophy, but not to give them up altogether.
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Re: existentialism

Postby a23 » Sun Oct 10, 2010 6:31 pm UTC

Since science is said to be falsifiable, several possibilities could exist simultaneously, does this mean that no solution exist if they were undecidable ?

But then if only one is decided to remain it were not falsifiable anymore, on the other hand if we consider all potential possibilities, it were not falsifiable neither.

Hence does science exist or this just expressing the administrative vision : collecting themes together ?


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