Absurdism and Existentialism
Definition - Absurdism holds that the efforts of humanity to find meaning or rational explanation in the universe ultimately fail (and, hence, are absurd) because no such meaning exists, at least to human beings. The word absurd in this context does not mean "logically impossible," but rather "humanly impossible".
Tone - Absurdism implies a tragic tone and feelings of frustration that arise out of the contradiction between the human quest for the meaning of life and its inaccessibility. Humorous or Irrational
Themes - anxiety, boredom, freedom, will, subjectivity, awareness of death, risk, responsibility, and consciousness of existing. Perhaps the central issue that draws these thinkers together, however, is their emphasis upon the primacy of existence in philosophical questioning and the importance of responsibility.
Absurdist fiction - a genre of literature that focuses on the experiences of characters in a situation where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events. Common elements in absurdist fiction: satire, dark humor, incongruity, the abasement of reason, and controversy regarding the philosophical condition of being "nothing." Works of absurdist fiction often explore agnostic or nihilistic topics.
Hallmark of the genre is neither comedy nor nonsense, but rather, the study of human behavior under circumstances (whether realistic or fantastical) that appear to be purposeless and philosophically absurd. Absurdist fiction posits little judgment about characters or their actions; that task is left to the reader. Also, the "moral" of the story is generally not explicit, and the themes or characters' realizations—if any —are often ambiguous in nature. Additionally, unlike many other forms of fiction, absurdist works will not necessarily have a traditional plot structure (i.e., rising action, climax, falling action, etc.).
Camus - Camus explains it in The Myth of Sisyphus: The absurd is born out of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. This view, which is shared by Sarte, is that humanity must live in a world that is and will forever be hostile or indifferent towards them. The universe will never truly care for humanity the way we seem to want it to. The atheist view of this statement is that people create stories, or gods, which in their minds transcend reality to fill this void and attempt to satisfy their need.
It's easy to highlight the absurdity of the human quest for purpose. It's common to assume that everything must have a purpose, a higher reason for existence. However, if one thing has a higher purpose, what is the reason for that purpose? Each new height must then be validated by a higher one. This evokes the common theological question: if humankind was created by God, who or what created God? (And, if God answers to a higher power, to what power does that answer?)
Critics of absurdism tend to focus on two areas of the philosophy. The first is the proposition, as Camus described, that life's absence of meaning seems to remove any reason for living. Camus answers this with methods of living with the absurd: through coping or through revolt — and by pointing out that this lack of purpose presents humankind with true freedom. Others consider the theory itself to be arrogant, stating that although the purpose of life may not be apparent, that does not confirm that it does not exist.
Definition - a 20th century philosophy that is centered upon the analysis of existence and of the way humans finds themselves existing in the world. The notion is that humans exist first and then each individual spends a lifetime changing their essence or nature.
- a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. The belief is that people are searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook. And personal choices become unique without the necessity of an objective form of truth. An existentialist believes that a person should be forced to choose and be responsible without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions.
Existentialism – What It Is and Isn’t
Existentialism takes into consideration the underlying concepts:
• Human free will
• Human nature is chosen through life choices
• A person is best when struggling against their individual nature, fighting for life
• Decisions are not without stress and consequences
• There are things that are not rational
• Personal responsibility and discipline is crucial
• Society is unnatural and its traditional religious and secular rules are arbitrary
• Worldly desire is futile
Existentialism is broadly defined in a variety of concepts and there can be no one answer as to what it is, yet it does not support any of the following:
• wealth, pleasure, or honor make the good life
• social values and structure control the individual
• accept what is and that is enough in life
• science can and will make everything better
• people are basically good but ruined by society or external forces
• “I want my way, now!” or “It is not my fault!” mentality
Existentialism – Impact on Society
Existentialistic ideas came out of a time in society when there was a deep sense of despair following the Great Depression and World War II. There was a spirit of optimism in society that was destroyed by World War I and its mid-century calamities. This despair has been articulated by existentialist philosophers well into the 1970s and continues on to this day as a popular way of thinking and reasoning (with the freedom to choose one’s preferred moral belief system and lifestyle).
An existentialist could either be a religious moralist, agnostic relativist, or an amoral atheist. Kierkegaard, a religious philosopher, Nietzsche, an anti-Christian, Sartre, an atheist, and Camus an atheist, are credited for their works and writings about existentialism. Sartre is noted for bringing the most international attention to existentialism in the 20th century.
Each basically agrees that human life is in no way complete and fully satisfying because of suffering and losses that occur when considering the lack of perfection, power, and control one has over their life. Even though they do agree that life is not optimally satisfying, it nonetheless has meaning. Existentialism is the search and journey for true self and true personal meaning in life.
Most importantly, it is the arbitrary act that existentialism finds most objectionable-that is, when someone or society tries to impose or demand that their beliefs, values, or rules be faithfully accepted and obeyed. Existentialists believe this destroys individualism and makes a person become whatever the people in power desire thus they are dehumanized and reduced to being an object. Existentialism then stresses that a person's judgment is the determining factor for what is to be believed rather than by arbitrary religious or secular world values.
Themes: Some of the common themes that unite these various existential thinkers are anxiety, boredom, freedom, will, subjectivity, awareness of death, risk, responsibility, and consciousness of existing. Perhaps the central issue that draws these thinkers together, however, is their emphasis upon the primacy of existence in philosophical questioning and the importance of responsible human action in the face of uncertainty.