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Existentialism is not a philosophy but a label for several widely different revolts against traditional philosophy. Most of the living "existentialists" have repudiated this label, and a bewildered outsider might well conclude that the only thing they have in common is a marked aversion for each other... Certainly, existentialism is not a school of thought nor reducible to any set of tenets. The three writers who appear invariably on every list of "existentialists"—Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre—are not in agreement on essentials.
The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life—that is the heart of existentialism. Existentialism is a timeless sensibility that can be discerned here and there in the past; but it is only in recent times that it has hardened into a sustained protest and preoccupation.
Kierkegaard was in revolt against the wisdom of the Greeks: it was the Greek heritage that he attacked both in philosophy and in Christianity. Owing to the vast prestige of Greek philosophy, which in turn was influenced by a profound respect for mathematics, Western thought has made its calculations, as it were, without the individual. Where something of the sort is recognized at all todaj', it is customary to blame secularism and to preach a return either to the Middle Ages, as if the individual had been central then, or to Plato's belief in the eternal verities or values. Kierkegaard, however, was an anti-Plato no less than an anti-Hegel, and an anti-Thomas no less than an anti- Copernicus. He sweeps away the whole conception of a cosmos as a mere distraction. "And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only one, Isaac, whom thou lovest." This is for Kierkegaard man's situation, la condition humaine, man's fate. The world has no part in it; it is no help. Here is man, and "one thing is needful": a decision.
Kierkegaard rejects belief in the eternal verities, as well as Plato's trust in reason as a kind of second sight. Ethics is for him not a matter of seeing the good put of making a decision. The crucial difference between an informed and uninformed, a reasoned and un-reasoned, a responsible and irresponsible decision, escapes Kierkegaard. Yet he is unquestionably right that reason cannot absolve us from the need for decisions, and he sees that Greeks and Christians and modern philosophy have tried to ignore this all-important fact. They have tried to escape the need for choices whether they sought refuge in attempts to contemplate what is eternal or in analysis of moral terms, whether they tried to prove their Weltanschauungen or tried to prove the superiority of Christianity or, perhaps, God's existence. Kierkegaard attacks the proud tradition of theology, ethics, and metaphysics as a kind of whistling in the dark, as self-deception, as an unrelenting effort to conceal crucial decisions that we have made and must make behind a web of wholly secondary, and at times invalid, demonstrations.
At least by implication, Kierkegaard contests the dualistic legacy of Plato and the popular conception of the soul or serf as substance, comparable to the body. The self is essentially intangible and must be understood in terms of possibilities, dread, and decisions. When I behold my possibilities, I experience that dread which is "the dizziness of freedom," and my choice is made in fear and trembling.
Here lies Kierkegaard's importance for a vast segment of modern thought: he attacks received conceptions of Christianity, suggests a radical revision of the popular idea of the self, and focusses attention on decision.
Kierkegaard's central error is epitomized by his two epigrams: "The conclusions of passion are the only reliable ones" and "What our age lacks is not reflection but passion." This was not true in the 19th century, much less is it true foday. Even those who share his violent distaste for desiccated writing should not find it difficult to see that his diagnosis is mistaken and that his prescription would be fatal. Reason alone, to be sure, cannot solve some of life's most central problems. Does it follow that passion can, or that reason ought to be abandoned altogether?
Kierkegaard, of course, was far closer to Luther: anti-philosophical and individualistic, A little more subtly, to be sure, he echoes Luther's famous dicta: "Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason" and "You must part with reason and not know anything of it and even kill it; else one will not get into the kingdom of heaven" and "reason is a whore."
To be sure, Nietzsche was, no less than Kierkegaard, an apostle of passion and a critic of hypocrisy., but he did not extol passion at the expense of reason, and he repudiated Christianity not because he considered it too rational but because he considered it the archenemy of reason; and his caustic critique of faith, both in the Antichrist and elsewhere, reads like a considered censure of Kierkegaard among others.
The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, opposition to philosophic systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life—all this is eminently characteristic of Nietzsche no less than of Kierkegaard, Jaspers, or Heidegger.
It is in the work of Jaspers that the seeds sown by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche first grew into existentialism or, as he prefers to say, Existenzphilosophie. One reason for his opposition to the label "existentialism" is that it suggests a school of thought, a doctrine among others, a particular position. Even of the term Existenzphilosophie he once said after using it: "The name is misleading insofar as it seems to restrict. Philosophy can never wish to be less than primordial, eternal philosophy itself." Existenzphilosophie is meant to be a protest against the betrayal of this primordial and eternal philosophy by the professors who teach philosophy at our modern universities.
To Jaspers the differences between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche seem much less important than that which they have in common. What mattered most to them, does not matter to Jaspers: he dismisses Kierkegaard's "forced Christianity" no less than Nietzsche's "forced anti-Christianity" as relatively unimportant; he discounts Nietzsche's ideas as absurdities, and he does not heed Kierkegaard's central opposition to philosophy. All the many philosophers since Hegel and Schelling, however, fare far worse: they are at best instructive but lack human substance: "The original philosophers of the age are Kierkegaard and Nietzsche." The crucial fact for Jaspers is that their thinking was not academically inspired but rooted in their Existenz.
Heidegger's detractors see him as an obscurantist whose involved constructions with their multiple plays on words conceal a mixture of banalities and falsehoods. His admirers say that he has shown the temporality of man's existence, that he strikes new paths by raising the question of Being, and that he is the great anti-Cartesian who has overcome the fatal bifurcation of matter and mind and the isolation of the thinking self. His critics, in turn, retort that this last feat is common to most modern philosophers and that Heidegger, unlike some of the others, achieved it only by renouncing Descartes' rule that we must think as clearly and distinctly as the mathematicians. This, say his admirers, leads to positivism; what is wanted is a new way of thinking.
Above all, there are two Heideggers as once there were two Schellings: the early and the late one. In both cases the late philosophy has esoteric, if not mystic, touches and is supported by the most tremendous sense of a historic mission. Unlike Kant, Fichte, and Hegel who felt that it was given to them to bring to an end a long and remarkable development, Heidegger claims, as Schelling did, that he is making a new start and that with him a new age is beginning.
Heidegger's reasons for insisting that he is not an existentialist are set forth in detail in his Letter "On Humanism" which was prompted indirectly by Sartre's famous lecture "Existentialism is a Humanism." (Sartre's lecture is included in the present volume, unabridged.) Heidegger says, in part: "Sartre formulates the basic principle of existentialism in these words: existence precedes essence. Here he uses the terms existentia and essentia in the old sense of metaphysics which says since Plato: the essentia precedes the existentia. Sartre reverses this sentence. But the reversal of a metaphysical sentence remains a metaphysical sentence. Being such a sentence, it remains, like all metaphysics, in the oblivion of the truth of Being." And Heidegger concludes: "The main principle of Sartre about the priority of existentia over essentia certainly justifies the name 'existentialism' as a title which is appropriate for this philosophy." By the same token, the label is inappropriate for Heidegger's philosophy which, as he emphasizes again and again in his later works, was from the outset concerned with Being.
Even in Being and Time, human existence (das Daseiri) was discussed at length only as the mode of Being best knowable by us; and throughout the book Heidegger kept reminding even his first readers that his interest was not in man as such—not, as he put it repeatedly, anthropological. On the contrary, he called his effort even then "fundamental ontology"; and ontology, of course, is the study of Being, not of man's existence. Traditional ontology, however, did not get beyond the study of "beings as such" while Heidegger hoped to penetrate to Being itself. Originally, he tried to do this by way of an analysis of man's existence, which was timely, made him fashionable overnight, and gave thousands the impression that Heidegger had brought philosophy down to earth.
Heidegger's critique of all traditional philosophy from Plato to Nietzsche, his insistence that all modern philosophic thinking is vitiated by Latin mistranslations of Greek words, and the demand that we must now recover the original experience of the earliest Greek thinkers, going back to the beginnings, communicates a sense of radicalism and occasionally even the excitement of an archaeological excavation. As layer upon layer of misunderstanding is exposed, the reader feels that something glorious is about to come to view. Alas, it usually remains about to come to view. It is as if night had fallen when Heidegger himself is at last ready to translate the dicta of the pre-Socratics. The great discovery is made, but we cannot quite see it, not because his version looks like what we knew before—it does not—but because it is so very dark.
What Heidegger proposes to put in the place of representational thinking he calls das andenkende Denken, a thinking that recalls. This translation has his own enthusiastic approval. We must try to remember and call back what is forgotten: Being, not beings; not mere objects but that of which we are a part. The method which he recommends is to recall what has been thought, instead of thoughtlessly assuming that we know it all or that in view of modern progress the beginnings have long been surpassed. On the contrary, our common sense is alienated from the source of our being.
It is mainly through the work of Jean-Paul Sartre that existentialism has come to the attention of a wide international audience. Even Heidegger's great prestige in Germany after the second World War is due, in no small part, to his tremendous impact on French thought. Nevertheless, Sartre is widely considered a mere litterateur, and in the nineteen hundred and fifties it has become much more fashionable to criticize him, or rather dismiss him, than to take him seriously, let alone to praise him. Oddly, it is widely urged against him that he is in some ways strikingly unacademic, as if academic existentialism were not a contradiction in terms.
The en-soi (in-itself) is in Sartre's thought the being which rests in itself, the being of such things as tables. The pour-soi (for-itself) is that being which is aware of itself: man. Its structure is different from that of the en-soi, and the phenomenon of self-deception serves the author as a clue: what must the pour-soi be like in order to make self-deception possible?
It may well be the most crucial flaw of German existentialism that, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, it is essentially a monologue. Either a language is constructed within which important criticisms are impossible, and questions not put in this language are dismissed as common sense, naive, positivistic, and in any case not philosophical, or the mode of utterance is homiletic. In either case it is oracular, and it is one of Sartre's greatest virtues that his style of thought is not.
What makes self-deception possible, according to Sartre, is that the pour-soi differs from the en-soi or, to be concrete: a man is not a waiter, or a coward in the same way in which he is six feet tall or blond...If I am six feet tall, that is that. It is a fact no less than that the table is, say, two feet high. Being a coward or a waiter, however, is different: it depends on ever new decisions. I may say: I must leave now—or, I am that way—because I am a waiter, or a coward, as if being a waiter or a coward were a brute fact. Actually, this apparent statement of fact veils a decision.
Toward the end of L'etre et le neant Sartre argues that it is man's basic wish to fuse his openness and freedom with the impermeability of things, to achieve a state of being in which the en-sol and pour-soi are synthesized. This ideal, says Sartre, one can call God, and "man is the being who wants to be God." The chapter ends: "But the idea of God is contradictory . . . man is a useless passion."
Man's situation, as Sartre sees it, is absurd and tragic; but does that rule out integrity, nobility, or valor, or the utmost effort? In its limitation to this one life, Sartre's image of the human situation differs radically from the Buddhist view in which life follows on life and salvation remains always possible. Sartre's world is closer to Shakespeare's. There are situations in which, whatever choice we make, we cannot escape guilt. This is Jaspers' view, too. Secular existentialism is a tragic world view without, however, being pessimistic. Even in guilt and failure man can retain his integrity and defy the world.
In the case of other philosophers it might be irrelevant to introduce their politics and morals: but Sartre has said, and Heidegger and Jaspers have said much the same: "Existentialism must be lived to be really sincere. To live as an existentialist means to be ready to pay for this view and not merely to lay it down in books." The first point to note is that existentialism ciearly does not entail one specific political program, and the fact that the three leading existentialists followed divergent paths during the Hitler years is not surprising in itself. And yet it does not follow that all three were equally in keeping with their writings. Heidegger, who in Sein und Zeit had spoken much of resolutely facing death, joined the Nazis after Hitler came to power and, as Rektor of his university, delivered an inaugural address which, fortunately for him, is not widely read. If, as he now says, he soon abandoned Nazism, it is the more remarkable that his resolve was kept so quiet that even today many remain unconvinced.
Does our story have a moral? After all, the existentialists have no desire simply to divert us. The story is the story of a protest and a challenge. Kierkegaard would have you become a Christian; Nietzsche says: "Be a man and do not follow me —but yourself!" Heidegger tries to arouse us from the oblivion of Being. And all of them contrast inauthentic life and authentic life.
What is striking to a philosopher is that practically all English-speaking philosophy is included in the condemnation of inauthentic life: it is considered superficial and trivial. Nor is this merely a partisan view. When we have read Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, Rilke, Kafka, Jaspers, Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus, and then look at the prose of English and American philosophers and at the problems they discuss, our first impression may well be that they managed the rare feat of being frivolous and dull at once.
The existentialists have tried to bring philosophy down to earth again like Socrates; but the existentialist and the analytical philosopher are each only half a Socrates. The existentialist has taken up the passionate concern with questions that arise from life, the moral pathos, and the firm belief that, to be serious, a philosophy has to be lived. The analytical philosophers, on the other hand, insist—as Socrates did, too —that no moral pathos, no tradition, and no views, however elevated, justify unanalyzed ideas, murky arguments, or a touch of confusion. In Nietzsche—and more or less in every great philosopher before him. too—philosophy occurred in the tension between these two timeless tendencies, now inclining one way, now the other. Today this dual heritage has been developed in different camps, and between them they have made us aware of the pitfalls of traditional philosophy no less than of each other's faults. That the existentialists and analysts will get together is not likely. But if the feat of Socrates is really to be repeated and philosophy is to have a future outside the academies, there will have to be philosophers who think in the tension between analysis and existentialism.
Even though they lack precise concepts for the clear expression of their awareness, all men know that they exist in-the-world with-others, and that this existence is restricted by inescapable limitations. They realize that they have been thrown into situations not of their own choosing, that they are subject to chance and mischance, that they are in some sense guilty, and that they finally face the ultimate limit of death. These factors are always found with human being and restrict it from the outside.
According to the existentialist analysis... freedom is not to be approached as a kind of thing, or a kind of change, or even as a kind of possibility. It is a way of existing, and a sound analysis must take us far beyond sociology and psychology to the basic categories of ontology. If any light is to come, it can come only from these regions that are still obscure. At the core of human freedom lies the phenomenon of decision. This is a basic existential, a way of being-in-the-world that affects all the conditions we have been describing. But unlike them, it is not necessary. Men cannot exist without time. They can exist without being free. Decision divides us from one another. We are in the field of ethics. In agreement with Kierkegaard, the existentialists hold that the major division, in relation to which all others fade into insignificance, is the difference between those who really decide with authenticity and integrity, and those who may seem to decide but really do not. This difference affects every necessary aspect of being-in-the-world, the way we are-with-others, our guilt, our death, our awareness, and even our time. The existentialists have given us many penetrating descriptions of these differences as they are manifested in contemporary life.
To lose something implies at least an original access to it. Human being has access to freedom that is gained by decision, and there is abundant evidence to show that this sometimes occurs. The existentialists go farther than this. According to them, decision is no accident added on to something stable already existent. It lies rather at the very center of man, from where it determines the basic texture of his existence. In the words of Jaspers: "So far as I choose, I am; if I am not, I do not choose." According to Sartre: "I am my liberty."
Now, our minds gain insight into something only by contrasting it with its negation. Thus we understand being only through the concept of nothing, the rational through the non-rational, etc. This is even more true of what we know through feeling. Such knowledge becomes more sharply etched and poignant by contrast with that of its absence or its opposite. Thus our feeling for health becomes more intense when we have experienced sickness, our sense for freedom sharper and clearer when we have seen something of slavery at first hand. It is in this way, according to Heidegger, that the thought of my non-existence brings into sharp relief the essential meaning of my existence.
Many things that I do, many functions that I perform, are replaceable. They also can be performed by others. These will survive my death. What will not survive is the way in which I perform them, and the things that only I can do. The thought of death individuates me, and brings me back to the self that is my very own. Kierkegaard intuitively recognized this when he said that each man must die his own death alone.
This final perspective, therefore, reveals my own essential being, but it does not cut me off from my interest in things, and my care for other persons. These, of course, belong to my beingin- the-world. Without them, I could not be at all. But the thought of death prevents me from losing myself in them, and enables me to choose finally between them.
We often think of conscience as a review and a negative criticism of our acts after they have been performed. We accept the Kantian picture of conscience as a courtroom scene in which a cold and austere reason passes judgment on what we have done. This judgment is usually negative, but sometimes we are reluctantly acquitted with specific recommendations for better conduct next time. According to Heidegger, this is an artificially intellectualistic picture which is far from any close agreement with the primordial given facts...Furthermore, conscience is not primarily concerned, like a court, with the impersonal judgment of specific acts in terms of fixed norms. It speaks to me personally and touches me to the depths of my being, including all my fixed norms. That its message is not determined by fixed norms is indicated by the incessant controversy concerning the precise nature of what it is that conscience says.
The self that seems to govern our everyday life has never really chosen. What it calls choices are merely adjustments to the status quo into which it has been thrown. Genuine choice means to come to one's self, to be responsible not merely for this or for that, but for the whole of one's personality. It is the voice of conscience that calls us to take ourselves over in this way. To hear this voice is to project our real possibilities to their final end, and to decide ourselves by accepting guilt and cutting ourselves away from the given factuality. The self is not a thing that underlies a succession of mental states. The self is a way of existing, a wringing of pure possibility from the jaws of the guilty facts. This self does not take us into another realm. It exists here and now in the moment, or it does not exist at all. But it is a pervasive existential category which affects everything that we do and say, every phase of our being-in-the-world.
Decision vitally affects the constitutive phases of my inner awareness, care, and time. Decisive existence is conscious beingto- the-end. It means pushing my awareness to its last horizons, where I achieve the most inclusive perspective on my being-inthe- world that is open to me. It means expanding my devotion to its final limits in those ultimate possibilities which are really mine. Finally, it means gathering the three ecstasies of time together out of their confused disunity, and concentrating them all at once in the openness of a single moment. This is human integrity, the whole of a human person concentrated in a single moment by a decision towards those final possibilities which are really his. Such existence is sure of itself, because it is grasping itself in its entirety. At the same time, it is free from all routine commitments, and is open to any possibility in a given situation, including that of self-reversal. This is what the existentialists mean by choice and decision. It is not a new accident or event, but a new way of existing that pervades every phase of the being of man.
Sartre certainly defends the value of freedom, whatever he may call it, and condemns his betes noires, the "serious people," who think of themselves as objects. He rejects stable moral rules and norms, and holds that all human existence (pour soi) is guilty, at least in the sense that it is committed to the hopeless project of becoming complete and divine, which can never be achieved. Freedom, nevertheless, is worthy. In spite of the fact that it can never be realized, it constitutes the fluid and negative essence of man.
All the existentialists accept authentic vs. unauthentic modes of existing as a basic distinction which divides men at the root of their very being, and is manifested at every level of their concrete existence. Though many of them would not like the term authentic because of its associations with nineteenth-century idealism, it expresses a moral ideal that is founded on human ontology, and is therefore capable of being checked by evidence accessible to all. Under different names, the contrast between authentic and unauthentic human existence is a recurrent theme in the existentialist literature, to which many different thinkers have contributed.
The unauthentic person is undecided and unsure of himself. This affects his being-in-the-world. He is not only unsure of himself, but unsure of the world he inhabits. This uncertainty is clearly reflected in those peculiar philosophic doctrines which question the existence of a so-called external world, and which have emanated from idealistic sources since the time of Descartes. They are still defended by eminent critical epistemologists in our own day. Such theorists pay little attention to ontology, and conceive of a human being as an isolated mind-thing whose only access to external beings and persons is in detached reflection on his own sense data. From such peculiar premises it is quite natural, indeed inevitable, that the existence of any world should be subject to doubt. Such doubt is often regarded as a sign of philosophical acumen, or even as that narrow gate through which alone one may enter into the subjective regions of modern epistemology. As the existentialist sees it, however, it is rather a sign of grotesque confusion and radical unauthenticity in the being of those who spread such doctrines.
The common man, of course, is saved by his active life from falling into such fantastic errors. Nevertheless, he also is uncertain and susceptible to such errors, if given the time and interest to think. He tends to confuse the world with the things and artifacts in the world, which are the constant object of his practical attention. The world for him is a vast collection of things. When he thinks of the world at all, he makes no clear distinction between the human world and the unfathomed universe around it. In the humanly ordered world, each thing has its given place and purpose. Even the largely uncontrolled entities of inorganic nature are thought of in this way, since we have technological ways of meeting their blind and brute resistance.
What is the ultimate end-for-the-sake-of-which that determines the place of all subordinate structures? What is the last horizon of the world within which all subordinate places lie? Our minds are apt to become quite unclear in facing this question. We are dimly aware that all instrumental purposes are justified only by some ultimate end. We know that our lives are lived within a last horizon we call the world. When one tries to give an answer, one becomes confused and is apt to say that it is to achieve the goals of an all-enveloping life-stream, or to realize all human desires so far as this is possible. According to the existentialist, this is an unauthentic and untrustworthy answer.
In the first place, what one calls the world is only a tiny little island carved out of a vast and mysterious context which really engulfs it. We know little or nothing of this enveloping ocean. We do not know what it is, where it came from, nor what it is for. We do not know our place in it, nor the real place of what we call "places," This is the real world, not the fragment we have reduced to partial subservience to our wishes. Is this an ordered whole, or is it rather a purposeless waste? Scientific and technological procedures are too restricted to help us in answering these questions. But the transcendent world really surrounds our little island. We know that it is there. To confuse it with this realm of ours, to assume that it is governed by our purposes, or even that it is governed by any purpose, is therefore to fall into a childish subjectivism. Who are we, to think that the whole surrounding universe is ordered to our ends, to any ends resembling these, or to any ends at all? This raises another question.
It is not merely that one does not understand the world in which he exists. No man ever will do this. One is confused about the world, and is not aware of his confusion. One thinks of it as a vast collection. He mixes the vast enveloping world with the world of human contrivance. But even concerning this world of his own, he is confused and uncertain. He is not aware that its order is not fixed and inalterable, but belongs rather to his finite and transient being. This confusion and uncertainty are the marks of unauthentic being.
The authentic person has really decided. He is sure of the whole of himself as revealed in the light of his last possibilities. He knows that his being is not circumscribed like that of a thing, nor locked up inside a mind container. He knows that this being is stretched out ahead of himself, and is aware of its relational structure. Hence he is sure of the human world that he inhabits. But he also knows that there are broader horizons beyond in the ultimate world of reality, which he does not confuse with the human island. This, he recognizes, is ordered to an apex determined by human choice, and he is aware of its varying forms and manifestations. He has decided the structure of his own world, and is aware of the risks he has taken in so deciding. Whether this world is at peace or at odds with that of his friends and neighbors, he is ready to bear the responsibility and to defend it. If occasion should demand, he is ready to change it, and even retract it. But the last decision rests with him. As Sartre portrays him, he knows that in making this decision he is responsible for the whole of mankind, and dreads this heavy burden. But, nevertheless, he makes it and holds to it, for he knows that it is only by this that he can really be.
For the most part in our everyday life, we understand others from what they do, the functions they perform. I also understand myself primarily in terms of the things I deal with, the house I live in, the clothes I wear, the professional operations I perform. I am also a center of functions. These functions are replaceable. Someone else might perform them. It matters little precisely who the person is. He is someone doing a thing that one does. As Kierkegaard saw, this impersonal anonymity pervades the daily press.so Here we are presented not with a person expressing insights of his own, but rather with someone speaking from a detached point of view, and expressing what anyone might have seen. We often refer to this as objectivity. It is a depersonalized mode of existing which dominates the open public world.
This impersonal mode of existing is unauthentic because deprived of personal freedom. It is, however, an omnipresent fact. This is the world to which we are all first introduced. If one is ever to find himself, one must do so in the everyday world of das Man....Meaning, of course, can never be wholly suppressed. Nevertheless, in everyday discourse, the being which is talked about is suppressed. The emphasis is on the saying. One assumes that when more words are uttered, more actually is being said. Something is so because it is said so. Pointed questions tend to be disregarded. Real understanding has been already achieved. The only problem lies in the saying.
Everyday talk is dominated by an emphasis on sight as against the other senses, and even by a tendency to confuse sight with genuine insight. Being is what can be seen by someone. To see is to understand. Hence it is not necessary to dwell on the object. To see it is sufficient. Then turn to something else. The point is to see as much as possible. This incessant lust for vision is what we call curiosity. It never stops to ponder an object, but rushes on to further views. It has no firm position, but ceaselessly changes its point of view. It is everywhere and nowhere, and never comes to rest.
Heidegger is concerned to bring out the sharp contrast between everyday talk and the voice of conscience, which conveys its message without argument, idle proliferation of words, and restless curiosity. One cannot talk to one's conscience. Nevertheless, I know what it says, and my conscience means it. This is not true of our everyday talk. In spite of the profusion of words, we are not clear as to precisely what has been said. Even when this may be surmised, we are not sure as to whether it was really meant by the speaker. We are left to swim in a haze of references only half fulfilled. When something talked about really happens, this quenches the interest. It was already known before. One is not concerned with being as it really is, but rather with one's average glimpses and reactions.
This impersonal mode of being-with is unauthentic. One misunderstands and confuses himself with the things that he manipulates. So far as he feels the real possibility of something else, he runs away from it and, concealing his dread by a mask of selfassurance, loses himself in the public world of das Man. This penetrating analysis, first suggested by Kierkegaard, has been descriptively confirmed and applied to further data by other existentialist authors. The ontological confusion of the human person with a thing or artifact is a constant theme of this literature. Many manifestations of it in our contemporary life have been described with great accuracy. These manifestations have been intensified and spread widely over the world by the influence of the Industrial Revolution.
Since our very existence now depends on the smooth working of this great web of interlocking mechanism, there has been a strong tendency to mechanize and to standardize not only those routine acts which are essential to maintain the apparatus, but human thought and life itself. The more men are encouraged to look upon themselves in materialistic terms, as complex aggregates of matter, the more easy it will be to fit them into the great machine, without running the risk of individual rebellion, chaos, and disruption. Hence there has arisen that unique phenomenon of the massive conditioning of thought and life by the control of propaganda, streamlined, standardized modes of life, and the so-called rule of the masses. These tendencies carry with them an unprecedented threat to human freedom and even to the possibility of genuine human existence. To reveal the complex nature of this threat, and that mode of personal sacrifice and action by which alone it may be overcome, is the purpose of the existential analysis.
Philosophy especially is seen as the essential prerequisite for a real awakening of minds to the problems of mass standardization, and for arousing them to the genuine exercise of existential freedom. But this must no longer take the form of pretentious systembuilding in the modern manner. In these systems Jaspers sees only temporary, ineffective anodynes. It must rather take the form of a ruthless tearing aside of all veils, with a genuine intensification of self-consciousness on the part of physically weak individuals. Mass uniformity must be resisted in every walk of life. Individuals must be encouraged to think for themselves, and to understand themselves not as things but as free persons. A real contact with the great classics of philosophical and religious thought may give great aid. But philosophy in this sense must be torn from the seclusion of academic walls. It is an essential component of human freedom which is now at stake.
Existential philosophy is an attempt to meet this need. "Man torn from the sheltering substantiality of stable conditions and cast into the apparatus of mass life, deprived of his faith . . . is devoting more decisive thought to the nature of his being." Aroused to genuine questioning and reflection, free men may infuse the routine performance of some repetitive function with the light of freedom. Being ever ready to make themselves available for the personal communication of others, they may help them to understand. Thus free associations of persons may spontaneously arise with the hope of subordinating machines to men, rather than men to machines. But the issue can never be sure.
At this stage of our history, the authentic person will refuse to be lost in the world of public functions without a struggle. He will try to understand his real possibilities, and to make up his own mind in the light of these. Aware of himself as a center of freedom, he will sharply distinguish between persons and things. In caring for others, he will direct his attention not so much to their replaceable functions as to themselves in projecting their own futures and following them, even though they be opposed to his. He will wonder at things he does not understand, and ask questions of himself and others. Above all, he will not be afraid to stand alone.
Existential communication... makes no use of universal concepts and judgments. It cannot be planned or controlled, but must spring up, so to speak, on the spur of the moment. It has no stable structure, but passes beyond all fixed limits. It is ever unfinished, and cannot be confined within any comprehensive system. It is a friendly struggle between two alien ways of ordering the world, or indeed, between two different worlds. Any final agreement will kill it. In spite of these negations, which also apply to philosophy as Jaspers conceives it, he nevertheless thinks that free existence can be communicated in such a way as to arouse and strengthen the freedom of others. Every person should be ready to open himself to such discussion. To prepare men for this is a primary function of philosophy.
The authentic person has decided himself in the light of his last possibilities. He does not fall into situations, but brings himself into them. He knows that in taking over his factuality, he has committed himself to situationality as well. He is aware that no escape is possible. Rest and peace are always in situations. He has made up his mind about what he is seeking. He knows that it is this decision which has brought him to where he is. Holding fast to his last possibilities, he is open and flexible in finding his bearings, wherever he is. He is ready for anything, and hard to bewilder. He recognizes the situation as his, and interprets the friendly and opposing forces in relation to his ultimate end. He does not postpone his decisions, because the structure of his world is clear. Basically they have already been made.
An attitude of escape and evasion underlies one's attitude towards guilt. According to the existentialists, this running away from the facts is always unauthentic, and results in a loss of the self. Thus one may imagine fixed norms or standards that one may at least approximate. In this way one may partially abrogate the guilt. On the existentialist view, however, there are no fixed standards. All those so far suggested have been riddled with criticism, and conclusively shown to be mere rationalizations of personal decision. This is another attempt to escape from an unavoidable limit of our existence. In the end, what person can honestly say that he is not guilty? This boundary is inescapable, and applies to every man. Some have dreamed of escaping it by refraining from all action. If strictly adhered to, this would lead them to a quietistic suicide. But this, too, is a delusion. Even non-action has consequences. Whether we act or do not act, in either case we are guilty.
The authentic man will take over his guilt, and admit his responsibility. Jaspers, in fact, defines responsibility as an acceptance of guilt. This again does not mean that the free person welcomes it as a good, or that he is indifferent to it. He tries to stay within the boundary, and to escape such guilt as is avoidable. But there is a last profound guilt that he cannot escape. This is neither good nor evil, but a limit whose ultimate nature we cannot understand. We can only face it and bear it.
Death is an evident limit that every person must face. But in everyday life, we find ourselves constantly evading and suppressing the thought of death. It is not a subject for polite conversation. When unavoidable, it is referred to in indirect and euphemistic ways. Great pains are taken to conceal his approaching death from the stricken person. Many devices are used to evade this inescapable fact.
The authentic person does not run away from this fact. He meditates upon it—not as a finished event that will sometime be there, but as the end that lies ahead of him in terms of which he can project his existence as a whole. He knows that it is certain, and that it may strike at any moment, even the next. He does not try to dilute these facts. How will this influence him? Will it not drive him away from all postponement, and lead him to recognize the importance of this very moment? Must he not act now in such a way that should death strike, his whole life may have some total significance? Will he not, then, try to gather himself together, and strive to concentrate the whole of his being in decisive action here and now? As the existentialist sees it, this is not morbid, but rather the way of integrity and freedom.
According to the existentialists, unauthentic awareness is dominated by a circumscribed object there before me at which I gaze with little clear consciousness of the noetic act. The seeing which guides our practical manipulations has this structure. Hence all data, including consciousness itself, are interpreted in this way... No attention is paid to the intentional structure that is peculiar to mind, and is never found in physical things or relations.
The unauthentic person suppresses feelings like dread and its allied emotions as too vague and indefinite to mean anything. Instead of this, he is subject to many fears for the "real" things and artifacts with which he is mainly concerned, and which, as he thinks, his senses reveal as hard facts. He discounts what is called conscience and has plausible theories to explain it away. Reason, as he sees it, manifests nothing. It is a constructive power which makes up guesses and interpretations. When its operations are governed by the strict rules of logic and its premises are taken from sense, it may be very useful, as in science, in expanding information by valid inference. Otherwise it is very dangerous, and ensnares us in a web of fiction.
Authentic awareness is more self-conscious. It realizes that any object must involve a subject and acts of awareness of some kind. It resists the idea that mind is a container, and thinks of it rather as a lantern or a light, which, though intermittent and flickering, may penetrate to being. The authentic person realizes that physical things do not act in this way; hence, even though he may be unable to refute it, he resists both physicalism and the subjectivism that always attends it. In his discourse, he pays more attention to what he is saying than to the words by which he says it. He uses words and symbols flexibly and lightly, trying to make them vanish as soon as possible after they have performed their signifying function.
Unauthentic care is focused on present things and artifacts. It is aware of their determinate possibilities, and tries to manipulate them towards useful goals. These are judged to be useful in terms of serving everyone as he already is, or, as it is often put, keeping things as they are. The unauthentic person accepts the everyday world as basically sound, and thinks of himself as a relatively stable object within this world. He accepts himself as he already is, and conceives of his moral function as keeping it going for a segment of time which he says he can foresee. He thinks very little about his death, and does not care for his conscience. He knows theoretically that people are not quite the same as things, but he thinks of them primarily in terms of the functions they perform.
Authentic care, too, is concerned with present things and artifacts. But it is also aware of its own last possibilities, and is open to those of others. The authentic person accepts the everyday world, but not as basically sound. He gives himself to his dread, and feels the strangeness of things as they are. He knows that they might have been very different, and wonders why they were not. He also realizes that he himself might have been very different, and that even now he might become so. He thinks of his own death and the real possibilities still before him. Such existence accepts guilt, and does not try to dilute it or explain it away. The authentic person thus becomes responsible, that is, ready to com- municate, and to answer questions, complaints, and charges, not only those raised by others but also those raised by himself. He respects the decisions of his associates, and is aware that the greatest help is to aid them in understanding and realizing their human freedom. He is aware of himself as a whole, and cares for his integrity. His drives and interests are subordinated to final purposes that he cares for up to death.
The authentic person feels that time is close to his inner being. He knows that to give time to something is to give himself; to lose time is to lose himself. His care is dominated by futurity. Having thought this through to the end, he is able to bring it to bear on a final decision in the moment. Making this decision, he takes over the past and repeats its last possibilities. Instead of separating a non-existent past from a non-existent future, the moment of decision holds them together in an order of wholeness and integrity. This future is no longer a non-existent present not yet there, but the guiding phase of his being. The past is not a non-existent present that once was, but is sustained as the past that he has been. Each ecstasy retains its distinctive character, but is held together with the others in a structure that is now integrated from beginning to end.
Human being exists in a different way. Its future does not succeed the present. This present is already ahead of itself with a future that is holding and guiding it. This future, however, is not an infinite succession of nows. It is strictly limited by the ultimate boundary of death. The authentic person knows that his time is ending. He cannot postpone existing. Unless he fills this moment with the significant content of final choice, he will lose himself in a chaos of successive fragments. He knows that this self is not merely an object in time but is its temporality.
Unauthentic existence thinks of history as a vast succession of events in which life is placed, and compares it with a stream whose channel is largely fixed in spite of meandering here and there. The past is already set and stable, and provides us with a firm foundation in the present for creative contributions to an ever-advancing future. In order to make such contributions, we must first fit into the past. We may be ignorant of this past, but it is already finished and gone. What is most important is to be original and new. History as a study is primarily concerned with the past. We watch the great flux of events as they unroll in a present that now exists no longer, and try to understand the laws of their unfolding, so that we may perhaps carry them further. To be free is to produce something novel and creative that one will some day recognize as a genuine advance. History never repeats herself.
The authentic person realizes that he is not merely a set of events in history, but that his own existence is historical. He is skeptical of spatial metaphors, and doubts the theory of automatic progress. The past may be factually determinate, but its meaning is still uncertain. It is not so much a firm foundation for new achievement as a burden that presses upon us and restricts our field of action. The future is dark and mysterious. It is not a mere now that has not yet happened but lies ahead of us, as at great moments in the past. At these decisive moments, different final futures become apparent in history. Their meanings may be described, analyzed, and compared in a disciplined way. This is a maior task of the study of history. But the future itself is still unfinished. Hence between these opposed possibilities, a final decision must be made. Whether he knows it or not, each human person is making such a decision by directing his life in a certain way. Even not deciding at all is the making of a decision with a strange disintegrated future of its own.
Freedom must not be confused with novelty. If this were its nature, freedom would be easy and automatic, for all that happens is novel. True freedom is hard and precious. It is open only to persons who have understood something of those final but still unfinished possibilities which here and there have brought meaning into the past. It is brought into being again at a present moment only by those who have decided between them with finality, and who exist with integrity up to the end.
Existentialism as a Philosophy
According to Jaspers, awareness always involves acts of constructive interpretation. The experience of each individual has already been interpreted by him, and therefore differs from the experience of others. There is no basic empirical structure which can be verified by all observers. Certain facts can be measured and analyzed by the sciences. At this level, universal agreement can be achieved. But the facts are indefinitely numerous, so that the task of science is never completed. Furthermore, these facts can be given different philosophical interpretations which are not subject to conclusive verification. No universal phenomenology is possible. Philosophical theories are only plausible constructions. Each individual must think for himself out of his own concrete situation, appealing to others for possible agreement and aid. This skepticism is strongly emphasized by Jaspers throughout his works.
Human existence and its situation may be clarified and illumined in such a way as to exercise a universal appeal, and to elicit widespread agreement on the part of careful observers.
There is no lasting structure anywhere. Everything passes finally into destruction. Man is no exception to this general principle. Everything in him is transitory. Each individual, and the species as a whole, is destined to annihilation. There is no stable essence or nature of man. Nevertheless, we can regard him in two different ways which reveal two distinct but inseparable phases of his being. Jaspers calls these Dasein and Existenz.Dasein is myself regarded as an object, the whole of my empirical reality. Existenz is my very self. It cannot be known as an object. To think it, in fact, is to kill it. But neither can it be grasped as a subject behind the phenomena. Here the analysis departs from that of Kant. My Existenz is not something in general. It is my very own. Dasein has traits and characters. Its possibilities are fixed. Existenz is infinitely open to new possibilities. The traits of Dasein are infinitely rich, but they can be understood up to a given point by theoretical reflection. Existenz is wholly opaque to such theoretical investigation. It cannot be defined and delineated in any way. Dasein is determined. Existenz is free. These two phases of my being are opposed. There is a constant struggle between them. But they are also inseparably connected. My Existenz is in my Dasein, and all the acts of the former are manifested in the latter. Even though it can never be observed nor theoretically understood, Existenz can be illumined by philosophical reflection, as Jaspers calls it, and communicated to other Existenz.
Jaspers' view of human awareness never strays far from Kantian conceptions. Reason is bound up with human action, and is incapable of manifesting things as they really are. All fixed theories and concepts are relative to a certain purpose. What we call the world is only a flickering appearance, distorted by subjective aims and biases.
Human life is dominated by practical interests, though these are always guided by a projective intelligence. Man is ever ahead of himself in the pursuit of possibilities which are never finally achieved. Two basic paths are open. He may give himself over to the inner-worldly interests of Dasein, in which case he sacrifices everything to the ultimately futile aims of extending and prolonging his life. Or he may see the fleeting and foreign character of the world and give himself over to his existential possibilities. In either case, his existence is ever unfinished and necessarily historical. Decisive choice occurs at a moment, and binds the future together with the past. Such choices must be maintained and repeatedly taken over.
We are presented again with the two pathways, the unauthentic and the authentic, which are a constant theme of existentialist thought. Here and there in the vast flux of human history, we find traces of genuine Existenz whose possibilities we can still understand and take over. These personalities can arouse us to our own Existenz. We can understand their choices and communicate with them. But for the most part, history has been dominated by successive efforts to realize the determinate capacities of life in fleeting situations which have passed and cannot be repeated.
In this novel situation, we are confronted by: (i) the mastery of science and the web of technology it has brought forth; (2) the unity of the globe and the interdependence of nations and peoples; (3) a vast increase of world population; (4) the appearance of inert masses of men, subject to control by irrational propaganda; (5) the breakdown of all past ideals of order and the questioning of all traditional values; (6) the appearance of two world powers engaged in mortal combat, each possessing weapons of sufficient power to destroy all civilization; (7) a universal sense of menace and impending catastrophe; (8) the domination of human thought by objective, quantitative categories, and the view of man as a complex object; (9) the application of this materialistic viewpoint to social policy, the passive acceptance of mass death in mechanized total warfare, and the fanatical willingness to kill whole peoples with indifference; and (10) the reduction of religion to,a period of Sunday rest and relaxation. Is there any way of arousing personal existence to meet this dreadful challenge?
Jaspers has devoted many pages to the consideration of this problem. It cannot be met by mass organization and technological equipment of any kind. The only hope lies in the individual person and his sacrificial expression of freedom. The revival of philosophy might play a vital role in helping to arouse this human freedom. It cannot be produced on the assembly line. It requires personal reflection. By the radical questions it raises, it can show us the limits of science, the inadequacy of technological values, and the genuine possibilities of man. By leading us to reflect upon our existence and the implacable boundary situations that hem it in, philosophy may deflate our absurd fanaticism, and arouse us to authentic existence. It is in this way that most existentialists now think of their function as philosophers struggling in our present tragic situation.
As Jaspers sees it, freedom is a spontaneous act of autocreation. Its reason is simply that I willed it to be so. It is a mystery quite opaque to theoretical understanding. As Kant saw, it cannot be demonstrated. Nor can it be observed as an objective fact. It is the very heart of personal existence. I am the free choices I make. The actual making of them, however, is always full of uncertainty and risk. I must be ready to accept the consequences of my choices. But I can never know just what they will be. Hence the exercise of freedom is pervaded by dread.
Like other existentialists, Sartre is primarily interested in the concrete data of experience as they actually appear. Like them, he claims to follow a purely descriptive or phenomenological method. His major work bears the sub-title, Essai d'Ontologie Phenomenologique, an Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. This descriptive method is common to all members of the school. But he has gone farther in trying to clarify what this description must involve, and what phenomena really are. We may characterize his explanation as an extreme reaction to idealism.
Things cannot be otherwise than they are. But the pour soi is free. It always might choose otherwise. This is the meaning of the question why. But the only answer is to be found in an arbitrary choice of some kind, which has no intelligible grounds. Hence in the last analysis, everything, both the en soi which is simply there, and the pour soi with its caprices, is ungrounded. Sartre recognizes this consequence, and emphasizes what he calls the radical contingency of our world, which lacks any reason for being. Everything is absurd. This he states as a truth that really holds of all being.
We have already noted the characteristic tendency to minimize theoretical reflection and the determinate structure (essence) which is its object. In Sartre, this baldly emerges in the statement that man has no common nature or essence. He makes himself into what he is by the projects which he chooses. Heidegger is somewhat vague on this issue, but the drift of his thought is in the same direction.
Sartre's analysis reveals three weaknesses of the existentialist theory of man in striking clarity. The first of these is the supposed arbitrariness of human choice, and the lack of any firm grounds. For Sartre, the whole effort to justify an act is a cowardly abandonment of freedom and responsibility, the turning of myself into a thing. Whether I decide to die for justice or drink at a bar, the matter is indifferent. As Heidegger also maintains, in either case I am necessarily and equally guilty. This may be an account of something we may call metaphysical guilt.
The second weakness is an almost exclusive emphasis on what we may call subjective time. It may be true that human existence temporalizes itself through an integral order of the ecstasies. But surely this is not the only time with which we are concerned. There is a flux of world-time also which is sweeping the stars, the planets, and my own life in a single irreversible direction. Sartre recognizes this more clearly than Heidegger. According to him, my past sinks back into this world-time, but not my present and future. This answer is not satisfactory. Unless it is wholly fantastic, my projected future must take account of world-time, and my very act of projecting it must occur within this universal flux.
Finally, the third and most evident phenomenological weakness of the existentialist theory of man is its failure to account for human communication. According to Heidegger, my ordinary mode of being with others is impersonal, debased, and unauthentic. He briefly refers to the possibility of authentic communication between persons, but nowhere explains how this is possible or even reconcilable with his picture of the genuine person who has broken from his fellows to live alone with himself in a world of his own choice. The more authentic we become, the more isolated we seem to be. Jaspers has struggled with this problem, but his rejection of universal concepts and judgments makes an intelligible solution impossible. In Sartre, this weakness emerges with brutal clarity. When two persons meet, each tries to absorb the other as an object into his world. Communication is thus restricted to conflict. Love, friendship, and devoted cooperation for common ends are excluded a priori. This must seem dubious to any careful empiricist.
We may describe this as an ethics of pure freedom: man has no stable nature; he possesses no constant tendencies. There are no changeless norms to which he can look for the guidance of his conduct. To set up such norms is merely to rationalize choices that have already been made. Liberty itself is the only stable norm. To maintain this is always good. To stifle it, especially in myself, is always evil. What is this freedom? For Heidegger, with his positive view of human existence, it is a freedom for final commitment-unto-death. For Sartre, with his negative view, it is rather a freedom from any such commitment, save to the principle of having no final commitments at all. Accordingly, the free man chooses his motives and reasons as the situation demands. But he never gives himself wholly to any of them. Retaining the negative mobility that he essentially is, he constantly places his past behind him, and steps into a creative future. No sooner does this appear on the scene than it too is rejected. Men cannot help but imagine stable states of realization in which they might stay satisfied with their mobility intact.
The free man lives out his existential nothingness, and becomes what he really is, i.e., what he is not. He is dynamic, fluid, and ever creative. The non-free person, on the other hand, is ceaselessly trying in bad faith to become something fixed and affirmative which he is not. Such people adopt fixed principles, and have a firm and serious sense of duty. They are the conformists who make up the masses. Above all they are the serious people who move slowly and heavily, giving many reasons for the immediate policies to which they rigidly adhere, but falling into mythical Utopianism when questioned concerning the ultimate end.
The Greeks clearly recognized the basic importance of the problem of being, and made real progress in formulating it. But they became absorbed in the study of surrounding things and their properties, and confused being itself with the entities that exist in this way, as simply there in the flux of time (Vorhandensein). They clarified the categories by which such things can be understood. But their attempt to apply these categories uncritically to man prevented them from seeing the most unique features of human existence and temporality. Since that time, being as such has never been clearly focused, but constantly confused with the structure of things that are (essence).
These errors were magnified by the tendencies of modern philosophy to regard the human person rationalistically as an isolated mind whose only contact with the world was in detached cognition, and to take the subject-object relation as basic. As a result, the problem of being is hardly ever raised. Being itself is taken for granted as a comman predicate more abstract and less informative than any other. It indicates a certain instantiation or thereness that is obvious. Nothing more needs to be said.
We have noted the important role assigned in Sein und Zeit to the feeling of dread as manifesting the real condition of man. It shows me that I am alone in a world that is strange and uncanny. My existence is foreign to the objects of this world into which I have been thrown without rhyme or reason by something alien and wholly negative. My future is bounded by a barrier of nothingness, and my freedom can be expressed only in a final being-unto-death. I try to suppress and evade these harsh facts, but dread calls them to my attention.
Being is not to be identified with that which is. It is neither a single entity, nor a set, nor the whole collection. But these are the objects with which we are most familiar. We are constantly confusing them with being itself. Hence it is not astonishing that being must appear to us first of all as an alien nothingness transcending all that we know, and yet surrounding us everywhere, and very close to us. It is only by the thought of nothing that being can be revealed to us.
Our free existence is the dwelling place of being. According to the Letter on Humanism, our authentic function is to make room for it in ourselves, and to manifest it in our thoughts and deeds. Man is "the Shepherd of being."
Modern philosophy has placed too great an emphasis on theoretical awareness of objects, and has ignored the practical knowledge which is manifested in deliberation about concrete situations and in our moods and feelings. The existentialists are right in calling attention to this. In describing the feeling of dread, and the world as it is revealed by such emotions, they have made important contributions to phenomenology. But here again their intense reaction to a detached intellectualism has led them to an indefensible opposite extreme of anti-intellectualism which unfortunately began with Kierkegaard himself.
Many existentialists now seem to hold, however, that as soon as we adopt a theoretical point of view and regard ourselves, or indeed anything else, as an object of thought, we relativize and distort it. Such objects are fixed, determined, and abstract. Subjective existence, on the other hand, is creative, free, and concrete. To think objectively is to mutilate being. This is a vice which leads to human slavery. Thus according to Berdiaev, the Russian existentialist thinker: "Personality is not an object among other objects, and not a thing among other things. It is a subject among subjects, and the turning of it into an object or a thing means death. The object is always evil; only the subject can be good."
The existentialists have performed an important service in calling our attention to the direct, empirical evidence that human beings are in some sense free, and in thus reviving the interest in ethics as a central discipline, which has long been on the wane. But sometimes they press their assertion of freedom to such lengths that it becomes fantastic and unbelievable. Thus, according to Sartre, man cannot be at times free and at other times a slave; either he is always and entirely free or he is not free at all. For any critical mind, such exaggerated statements tend rather to discredit the notion than to confirm it.
According to Sartre, anyone who tries to justify his action on the basis of stable moral principles is guilty of bad faith, the attempt to evade responsibility for what he does. Jaspers holds that existence is opposed to lifeless law and rebels against all rigid determination. This would seem to imply a moral relativism and irrationalism as dangerous in its way as the denial of human freedom. Are there no norms which are valid for all men as such? Is there no stable hierarchy of values? Are not certain kinds of action really better than others? Does all choice rest upon an arbitrary preference? If so, it is the end of ethics as a responsible discipline.
Kierkegaard was conscious of this danger. "It is dangerous," he says, "to isolate oneself too much, to evade the bonds of society." He struggled with the problems of communication. Jaspers and others have made penetrating but disjointed observations and comments on this complex phenomenon. But their disparagement of theoretical reason has made it impossible for them to work out any coherent account of human communication. No adequate or even noteworthy social philosophy has as yet come from existentialist sources. This is a striking weakness. They are no doubt right in pointing to the human individual as the bearer of human freedom, and in rejecting the totalitarian theories of Hegel and Marx. But so far they have given us no plausible alternative to take their place.
Existentialism is a movement of rebellion, a challenge to the scientific idolatry, the easy-going optimism, the drowsy materialism of modern life and thought. It is a powerful stimulant, awakening us from many comforting illusions and arousing us to vigorous action. It is strong in moral fervor but weak in rational argument. It approaches us as we hustle about, like Sancho Panza, absorbed in our household tasks. Clothed in shining armor, and riding a noble steed, like Don Quixote, it sneers at our bourgeois comforts, and exhorts us to desperate action, little matter what or where. In spite of the penetrating shafts of criticism it hurls at us, however, it is not altogether clear whether, taken as a whole, it is divine truth or summer madness. Noble action and sacrificial devotion are no doubt important. But if they are to be used for the fighting of windmills, Sancho may be well advised in taking a second thought.
The more fashionable a philosophy becomes, the more elusive is its definition. So the proponents of existentialism proclaim that, though many attack, few understand them. They insist on the essential optimism of their doctrine that "man makes himself," for there is always, until death, another chance. Granted, they would say, that, in their wide humanity, they explore the far corners of human life, the horrors and perversions uncharted by timorous captives of gentility. Granted, too, that, with honest ruthlessness, they expose the cant of a fraudulent, strictly bourgeois "human dignity."
This is, after all, a fairly definite historical movement in philosophy, taking its name from Kierkegaard's phrase "existential dialectic."... Moreover, as Sartre and numerous others have repeatedly insisted, there is, in fact, no need for all this vagueness and obscurity, since an extremely simple, literal, and precise definition of existential philosophy is easy to come by and easy to remember. Existentialism is the philosophy which declares as its first principle that existence is prior to essence.
For Kierkegaard, as we shall see, the whole notion of starting with "pure being" and of moving from it to existence is absurd. Out of pure logic, pure thought, can come no movement of any sort, for movement implies change, time, nonbeing. Least of all can pure thought produce the movement of emergence into actuality, into the hard, resistant, senseless fact of what is, forever distinct from the conveniently definable nature of what might be.
It is fact that existentialism puts before essence—but a particular human fact... Just the unique, inexpressible "that" of any one conscious being's particular existence—such is the actuality that Kierkegaard and his twentieth-century successors agree in referring to when they declare, as their first a principle, the priority of existence over essence.
Sartre gives an account of the genesis of philosophic systems not unlike Dewey's description, for instance, in Reconstruction in Philosophy. Philosophies have in the past, according to both authors, served the function of stabilizing the norms by which the ruling class in a society justifies itself; their pretensions to intellectual objectivity or to universal truth have been, in fact, the pretensions of the privileged to self-perpetuation...As against such false hypostatization of ideas or ideals, moreover, both of them would in a sense turn the direction of values from past to future: from a crystallization of what has been to an aspiration toward what needs to be. "What, then, in reality, is a value," says Sartre, "if not the call of that which is not yet?"
For one thing, pragmatism, with its admiration for science and scientific method, in turning philosophic emphasis from the speculative to the factual, from universal to particular, turns more generally than existentialism to facts as such, to the stream of perceptions, in themselves humanly indifferent, which follow continuously through our consciousness and even, by some accounts, constitute it.
What is really essential is not so much the kind of fact each stresses as the relation between fact and value envisaged by the two schools. After a fine, "scientific," "toughminded" account of the democratic man's liberation from false traditional moralities there always comes, in Dewey and his followers, a point at which one suddenly finds that, with the elimination of religious superstition and metaphysical ignorance, new values or even old ones have been spontaneously generated out of the bedrock of fact and more fact. So from habit suddenly comes "intelligent habit," from impulses grow "integrated" impulses, from each man's interest in his own activity here and now comes the glorious growth of a harmonious society in which all work willingly and sweetly together for the good of all. And at that point pragmatism itself succumbs to a delusion at least as grievous as those by which Hegel's pure speculants deceived themselves; for mere facts will never to all eternity generate values; nor can science—psychology as little as nuclear physics—by itself generate either good or evil. Not, as Sartre points out in the article already quoted, the mechanical interconnections of things but the free acts of men upon those things create, maintain, and constitute values. It is in the dichotomy between fact and value, between what merely and irrationally but undeniably is, and what we aspire to, yet what as undeniably is not: in what Ibsen's Brand calls "the darkly felt split between things as they are and things as they ought to be," that human greatness as well as human failure lies. And it is the perception of that dichotomy that is the central and significant insight of existential philosophy.
It is, for the existentialist, only within the confines of that reality, unwillingly flung into its world, yet freely making a world of it, that good and evil, importance and unimportance, can originate. Values are created, in other words, only by the free act of a human agent who takes this or that to be good or bad, beautiful or ugly, in the light of his endeavor to give significance and order to an otherwise meaningless world.
Existentialism does not, then, turn to existence in the sense that it finds human values emergent from mere facts, as pragmatism or positivism try to do. It is a reaction as much against the claims of scientific philosophies as it is against the more high-sounding but no more ambitious systems that preceded them. But in that case one may wonder how existentialism differs from other contemporary movements that claim to redeem a lost humanity by rescuing us from, not through, science.
For the modern existentialist, though Abraham's faith may appear as self-delusion, the secrecy, the absurdity, and the uniqueness of the all-important moment of decision remain; but they are transferred now to morality itself. There is no longer any public domain of the ethical—only bad faith pretends there is—and the temptation of Abraham becomes the symbol not of man before God but of man before himself...It is the secret, puzzling, frightening genesis, against reason and against logic, not of superhuman but of very human values that Kierkegaard's philosophic heirs describe.
Once a public morality, an openly given'set of moral laws, is denied, what values grow out of such secret decisions, and how are they maintained against their own unjustifiability and absurdity? What, if any, morality can be created, a. posteriori, out of the two-faced, self-conflicting, forever ambiguous situation of each of us? Kierkegaard's existential dialectic comes to a resting place in faith. It may be, indeed, a resting place as uncomfortable spiritually as a Hindu saint's is physically, for Kierkegaard's life of faith is a life of inner torture, knowing no palliative and no escape.
Certainly, it is as an attempt at a new morality that existentialism is chiefly thought of. And, certainly, even aside from the too glibly moralizing "Humanism" essay, one does find in Sartre and his school undeniable indications that it is some sort of new morality, not just a phenomenological description of man's situation (la condition humaine), that they are trying to develop.
In fact, one can say of contemporary existentialism in general that the distinction between everyday self-delusion and the profounder awareness of one's freedom achieved in the rare and rarely revealing moment implies, however it be presented, an evaluative preference intelligible only in the light of a self-conscious and statable moral standard.
If one looks for such a standard in existentialism, then, the first thing one finds is, as we have seen, that freedom itself, for Sartre and Heidegger at any rate, appears as the source of ultimate value. Values are generated by our free decisions: they start up, Sartre declares, like partridges before our acts. Yet the only value, it seems, that can stand against the charge of bad faith, the only self-justifying value, is the value of that very free decision itself. Acts done and lives lived in bad faith are those in which we cloak from ourselves the nature of our freedom, in which, to escape dread, we try to make our subjectivity into an object and so, though, of course, we do act freely even in such self-deception, we betray our freedom by disguising it.
Good for the individual resides in the integrity with which he recognizes his freedom and acts while so recognizing it. Evil, conversely, is the lie of fraudulent objectivity, the denial of freedom...And it is apt enough, more generally, to say that existentialism is an ethic of integrity, in which running away from one's self is evil, facing one's self is good.
It is integrity of character and action rather than of vision alone that is to be prized. True, there is no choice between acting freely and nonfreely. That is the only choice that we do not have. We must be free, even in the vain attempt to relinquish freedom. But there is a choice between acting in the full awareness of freedom and acting in the endeavor to escape it; and such a choice implies not only the difference between honesty and dishonesty but a difference in the ends of action as well. Action in the full light of freedom, it is clear in both Sartre and Heidegger, is not only honest action but action for the sake of freedom: that end, not the honesty involved in seeking it, is the ultimate self-justifying good. And the fraudulence of bad faith, on the other side, lies as much in the counterfeit character of the values sought as in the dishonesty of the attempt to seek them.
Existentialism provides, as we have seen, no adequate means of elevating the individual's search for freedom to the status of a universal principle. It is not man as free being, in general, that existential philosophy can ask us to respect. It can demand only that each of us, solitary and unbefriended, seek his own freedom. Such a demand is, in fact, it seems to me, a legitimate moral claim. Therein lies the genuine strength of the philosophy that expresses it, with its telling revelations, on the social as well as the individual level, of the infinite varieties of bad faith by which most of us allow ourselves to pretend to live.
The existentialists' account of the human situation, their concrete apprehension of the nature of the valueproblem, its nature as a living, inescapable reality for each individual person, illuminates at many points the dilemma of ourselves and our time, perhaps even of humanity. But its very concreteness, the very brilliance of its insights, preclude a general solution...Existentialism, in other words, does not take us in the last analysis beyond the position of the early Nietzsche, where we are faced, ethically, with the choice of honest despair or self-deceiving hope. We can lie to ourselves for the sake of knowing what is good, or face, bravely but drearily, the insufficiency of such "objective" goods. We can face the problem of value, or solve it, never having faced it. But we cannot put the question and answer it, see the dilemma and escape it.
Once we have faced our freedom and have seen the absurd necessity of our claim to be more than things, once we have granted that "man is unjustifiable," we cannot consciously and willingly turn to self-deception for our escape. Existentialism is a courageous and an honest attempt at a new morality. It may yet be one. But, to the present writer at least, it seems more likely that this is not the new morality we may hope for, but only a new, subtler, and more penetrating statement of our old disheartenment, a new expression of an old despair.
F. C. Copleston claims modestly to give a "rough generalization at least" when he defines Existentialist philosophies as those which have "Man as their principal theme."1 He then specifies this principal theme by referring to the ways in which the various Existentialists play the theme. Kierkegaard, says Copleston, was not so much concerned with the problem of God's existence and nature but rather with "man's relationship to God," i.e., with "man's possible attitudes to God," especially the attitude of faith and the problem "of how one becomes a Christian."
William Barrett, says that "Existentialism is a philosophy that confronts the human situation in its totality to ask what the basic conditions of human existence are and how man can establish his own meaning out of these conditions."..Barrett refers, moreover, to the twofold revolt of Existentialism: the revolt against modern philosophy, on the one hand, which had severed man from the world in the effort to establish a certain foundation for the emerging physical sciences; and the revolt against ancient and medieval philosophy, on the other hand, which had argued for the priority of actuality over possibility, i.e., the priority of actual existence over possible existence.
Walter Kaufmann claims that the Existentialists refuse to belong to a school of thought; that they reject as inadequate any body of beliefs or rational syntheses and that they are dissatisfied with traditional philosophy as a trivial academic venture that is far removed from concrete events. Kaufmann is correct about the revolt but is overstating the case; he blurs its character and tends to regard differences among the philosophers as affairs of psychology and temperament.
To exist, says Abbagnano, means to be in relationship with the world, that is, with things and with other men. The term "transcendence" found in the writings of the Existentialists who appropriated it from Husserl's Phenomenology means precisely this: that the relationships of knowing, willing, producing, possessing, etc., as well as their contraries, are the ways in which man and the world are constantly configured. The analysis of existence is not only the clarification and interpretation of the ways in which man is related to the world in his cognitive, emotive, and practical possibilities, but it is at the same time the clarification and interpretation of the ways in which the world manifests itself to man and conditions his possibilities.
The following features distinguish Existentialism: It is an inquiry that understands philosophy itself as characteristic of man in the sense that he is concerned with and asks about the meaning of his existence in particular and as a whole. It is in and through discourse that this meaning is sought. Parenthetically it is the metaphilosophical question, i.e., the question of what philosophy is, that is the mark of every serious and mature philosopher.
Existentialism is not simply a philosophy or a philosophical revolt. Existentialist philosophy is the explicit conceptual manifestation of an existential attitude—a spirit of "the present age." It is a philosophical realization of a self-consciousness living in a "broken world" (Marcel), an "ambiguous world" (de Beauvoir), a "dislocated world" (Merleau-Ponty), a world into which we are "thrown" and "condemned" yet "abandoned" and "free" (Heidegger and Sartre), a world which appears to be indifferent or even "absurd" (Camus). It is an attitude that recognizes the unresolvable confusion of the human world, yet resists the all-too-human temptation to resolve the confusion by grasping toward whatever appears or can be made to appear firm or familiar— reason, God, nation, authority, history, work, tradition, or the "otherworldly," whether of Plato, Christianity, or Utopian fantasy.
The existential attitude begins with a disoriented individual facing a confused world that she cannot accept. This disorientation and confusion is one of the by-products of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the growth of science, the decline of Church authority, the French Revolution, the growth of mass militarism and technocracy, two world wars, the "triumph" of capitalism, and the sudden onslaught of globalism and its consequences, for which the world was clearly not prepared.
The existential attitude is first of all an attitude of selfconsciousness. One feels herself separated from the world, from other people. In isolation, one feels threatened, insignificant, meaningless, and in response demands significance through a bloated view of self. One constitutes herself as a hero, as an offense, as a prophet or anti-Christ, as a revolutionary, as unique. As a result of this self-exaggeration, the world becomes—whether apparently or "really" is irrelevant—more threatening. So one attacks the world, discovering, with both despair and joy, that its threats are themselves without ultimate meaning, that there are no moral facts, no good and evil, that "the highest values devalue themselves," and that the human world is typically, even essentially, a hypocritical world. And so one self-righteously finds herself as the creator of meaning, which heightens one's role as absurd hero, prophet, revolutionary, as "underground," rebel, saint—or buffoon. Then there is at least slight paranoia, me or us against the others, the authorities, the public, the herd, the bourgeoisie, the pharisees, the oppressors.
According to many existentialists, every act and every attitude must be considered a choice. Yet the existential attitude itself is apparently not chosen. One finds oneself in it. Dostoevsky tells us that selfconsciousness is a "disease"; Nietzsche adds, in his discussion of "bad conscience," that it is "a disease—but as pregnancy is a disease." Although many existentialists speak of the universality of "the human condition," this universality is itself a view from within an attitude which is less than universal. Most existentialists, no less than Descartes, Kant, and Hegel, take self-consciousness to be the home of a universal first truth about everyone. But self-consciousness itself is not universal, although once one becomes self-conscious, he cannot go back, no matter how he denies himself, drugs himself, leaps or falls away from himself.
Once expressed, the existential attitude appears as a universal condition, but only to those who can understand it. It is a peculiarly Western attitude, and talk of "the human condition" is as presumptuous as it is overdramatic.
Inevitably the thought of death prompts existential questions, What have I done? Who have I been? What have I wanted to be? Is there still time? But anxiety about death is only one preface to existential anxiety. As Camus tells us, "at any streetcorner the absurd can strike a man in the face."
The existential attitude is the constant confusion of given meanings and our own. As this confusion becomes better formulated, one begins to suspect an impossible dilemma. Today, I am Dr. Pangloss, and the world is spectacular; yesterday I was a Schopenhauerian fecal monist, grumbling over a fine wine in a rotten world. Each day values are given to me, but each day I find changes to explain how yesterday's differing values depended on differences in the world.
What is self-consciousness? According to some recent existentialists and almost all postmodernists, there is no self as such. And what is consciousness? "It is nothing," Sartre tells us, and for Heidegger it is not even worth mentioning. One looks at paradigm cases. One is self-conscious because of the camera, "he is self-conscious about his baldness." To be self-conscious is to be embarrassed, to be ill-at-ease... Self-consciousness is neither a subject aware nor an awareness of an object (the self) so much as it is a motivation, an attitude that illuminates the world as well as the individual in the world. Self-consciousness is not, strictly speaking, awareness of self, for there is no self. Rather, self-consciousness in the existential sense is this very recognition that there is no self. The self is an ideal, a chosen course of action and values, something one creates in the world. Self-consciousness does not add anything to consciousness... Self-consciousness robs the world of its authority, its given values, and it robs consciousness of its innocence. Self-consciousness is not a premise or an object for study. It is rather the perspective within which existentialism attempts to focus itself.
Existentialism is forced to be centrally concerned with problems of justification. In self-consciousness one holds all given values suspect. How much of reason might be no more than our reason, the anonymous consensus of "the public"? How many of our values might be no more than relics of dead authority or products of our weaknesses, our fears of isolation, failure, or meaninglessness? How many of our values are prejudices, how much reason mere rationalization? Nevertheless, to simply pronounce the nihilist thesis that the highest values are without justification is not sufficient. The problem, we hear from every author, is to live. And so we continue to seek courses of action. We look to Kant and try to act in a way that would universalize our principles of action for everyone. But that supposes that we can identify those features of our own action which would be so universalizable. And then, already caught in the existential attitude, each of us realizes that she is always an exception. I can accept moral principles by the tabletful, but I am always without the rule which teaches me to apply such principles to my own case.
Existentialism is not a dead doctrine to be bottled and labeled. It is a living attitude that is yet defining and creating itself. As Nietzsche warns us in his Genealogy of Morals, "Only that which has no history can be defined." And Sartre, rejecting an invitation to define existentialism, says, "It is in the nature of an intellectual quest to be undefined. To name it and define it is to wrap it up and tie the knot.
Existentialism is not a movement or a set of ideas or an established list of authors. It is an attitude which has found and is still finding philosophical expression in the most gifted writers of our times. But little more needs to be said about existentialism, for nothing could be further from the existential attitude than attempts to define existentialism, except perhaps a discussion about the attempts to define existentialism.
On Himself and His Works
When all combine in every way to make everything easier, there remains only one possible danger, namely, that the ease becomes so great that it becomes altogether too great; then there is only one want left, though it is not yet a felt want, when people will want difficulty. Out of love for mankind, and out of despair at my embarrassing situation, seeing that I had accomplished nothing and was unable to make anything easier than it had already been made, and moved by a genuine interest in those who make everything easy, I conceived it as my task to create difficulties everywhere...
This is a literary work in which the whole thought is the task of becoming a Christian. But it is a literary work which understood from the very first and consistently followed out the implication of the fact that the situation is Christendom—a reflective modification—and hence transformed into reflection all the relationships of Christianity. To become a Christian in Christendom means either to become what one is (the inwardness of reflection or to become inward through reflection), or it means that the first thing is to be disengaged from the toils of one's illusion, which again is a reflective modification. Here there is no room for vacillation or ambiguity of the sort one commonly experiences elsewhere when one does not know and cannot make out whether one is situated in paganism, whether the parson is a missionary in that sense, or whereabouts one is. Here one does not miss what is generally lacking, viz. a decisive categorical definition and a decisive expression for the situation: to preach Christianity...in Christendom.
In this age people...do not realize that anonymity, as the most absolute expression for the impersonal, the irresponsible, the unrepentant, is a fundamental source of the modern demoralization. On the other hand, they do not reflect that anonymity would be counteracted in the simplest possible way, and that a wholesome corrective would be furnished for the abstractness of printed communication, if people would but turn back again to antiquity and learn what it means to be a single individual man, neither more nor less—which surely even an author is too, neither more nor less. This is perfectly obvious. But in our age, which reckons as wisdom that which is truly the mystery of unrighteousness, viz. that one need not inquire about the communicator, but only about the communication.
On the Present Age
If it may be said of the revolutionary period that it runs amok, it should be said of the present that it runs poorly. The individual and his generation are always contradicting one another, and therefore a prosecuting attorney would find it all but impossible to admit any fact into evidence: because nothing really happens. To judge from the abundance of circumstantial evidence, one would conclude that something truly exceptional had either just occurred or was about to occur. Yet any such conclusions would indeed be mistaken.
A revolutionary age is an age of action; ours is the age of advertisement and publicity. Nothing ever happens but there is instantaneous publicity everywhere. In the present age a rebellion is of all things the most unthinkable. Such a manifestation of strength would seem preposterous to the shrewd intelligence of our time. On the other hand, a political virtuoso might accomplish something nearly as extraordinary. He might write a manifesto proposing a general assembly at which people should resolve upon a rebellion, and it would be so prudently written that even the censor would let it pass. At the meeting itself he would be able to create the impression that his audience had rebelled, after which they would all go quietly home—having enjoyed a very pleasant evening.
It is a basic truth of human nature that mankind cannot stay always on the heights, nor constantly admire anything. Human nature demands variety. Even in the most enthusiastic ages people have always like to joke enviously about their superiors. That is fair enough and is perfectly reasonable so long as after having laughed at the great they can once more admire them; otherwise the game is not worth the candle. In this way ressentiment finds a release even in an enthusiastic age.
The ressentiment which is establishing itself is the process of leveling, and while a passionate age storms ahead erecting new things and tearing down old, raising and demolishing as it goes, a reflective and passionless age does just the opposite: it interferes with and suppresses all action; it levels. Leveling is a quiet, mathematical, and abstract occupation which avoids upheavals.
A public is everything and nothing, the most dangerous of all powers and the most trifling: one can speak to an entire nation in the name of the public and still the public is less than a single real person however modest. The stipulation public is produced by the deceptive juggling of an age of reflection which makes it seem flattering to the individual who in this way can claim for himself this monster which makes concrete realities seem meager. The public is the fairy tale of an age of understanding which in imagination transforms the individual into something even greater than a king above his people; but the public is also a gruesome abstraction by which the individual receives his religious characterization—or sinks.
A crowd — not this crowd or that, the crowd now living or the crowd long deceased, a crowd of humble people or of superior people, of rich or of poor, &c. — a crowd in its very concept is the untruth, by reason of the fact that it renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction.
From The Journals
People rarely make use of the freedom they have, for example, freedom of thought, instead they demand freedom of speech as compensation.
Certainly it is true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be loved forwards. And if one considers that proposition it grows more and more obvious that life can never truly be understood in time simply because at no one moment can I find the necessary resting place from which to understand it—backwards.
In relation to their systems most systematizers are like one who builds an immense castle and lives in a shack nearby: they do not live in their own gigantic systematic buildings. But spiritually that is a crucial objection. Spiritually thinking one's thought must be the building in which one lives—otherwise everything is upside down.
I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; wit poured from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me— but I went away—and the dash should be as long as the earth's orbit---------------and wanted to shoot myself.
What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except insofar as a kind of understanding must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God truly wishes me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea I can live and die for. What would be the use of discovering so-called objective truth, of mastering all the systems of philosophy and of being able, if required, to discuss them all and reveal the inconsistencies within each; what good would it do me to be able to develop a theory of the state and synthesize all details into one whole, and so to create a world I did not live in, but only held up for others to see; what good would it do me to be able to explain the meaning of Christianity if it had no deeper significance for me and for my life; what good would it do me if truth herself stood before me, cold and naked, not caring whether I recognized her or not, and producing in me a shudder of terror rather than a trusting devotion? Indeed I do not deny that I yet acknowledge an imperative of understanding and that with it one can control men, but it must be taken up into my life, and that is what I now recognize as the most important thing.
The Aesthetic Life
Starting from a principle is affirmed by people of experience to be a very reasonable procedure; I am willing to humor them, and so begin with the principle that all men are bores. Surely no one will prove himself so great a bore as to contradict me in this.
If my principle is true, one need only consider how ruinous boredom is for humanity, and by properly adjusting the intensity of one's concentration upon this fundamental truth, attain any desired degree of momentum. Should one wish to attain the maximum momentum, even to the point of almost endangering the driving power, one need only say to oneself: Boredom is the root of all evil. Strange that boredom, in itself so staid and stolid, should have such power to set in motion. The influence it exerts is altogether magical, except that it is not the influence of attraction, but of repulsion.
The history of this can be traced from the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored, and so they created man. Adam was bored because he was alone, and so Eve was created. Thus boredom entered the world, and increased in proportion to the increase of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored together; then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored enfamille; then the population of the world increased, and the peoples were bored en masse. To divert themselves they conceived the idea of constructing a tower high enough to reach the heavens. This idea is itself as boring as the tower was high, and constitutes a terrible proof of how boredom gained the upper hand. The nations were scattered over the earth, just as people now travel abroad, but they continued to be bored. Consider the consequences of this boredom. Humanity fell from its lofty height, first because of Eve, and then from the Tower of Babel. What was it, on the other hand, that delayed the fall of Rome, was it not 'bread and circuses'? And is anything being done now? Is anyone concerned about planning some means of diversion? Quite the contrary, the impending ruin is being proclaimed.
My own dissent from the ordinary view is sufficiently expressed in the use I make of the word "rotation." This word might seem to conceal an ambiguity, and if I wished to use it so as to find room in it for the ordinary method, I should have to define it as a change of field...My method does not consist in change of field, but resembles the true rotation method in changing the crop and the mode of cultivation. Here we have at once the principle of limitation, the only saving principle in the world. The more you limit yourself, the more fertile you become in invention. A prisoner in solitary confinement for life becomes very inventive, and a spider may furnish him with much entertainment...How close an observer does not one become under such circumstances, when not the least noise nor movement escapes one's attention! Here we have the extreme application of the method which seeks to achieve results intensively, not extensively.
The Ethical Life
Even in matters that in and of themselves are innocent, what one chooses is always important. It is important to choose correctly, to test oneself, so that some day one does not find oneself retreating to the place at which one began, and so might be grateful to God that there was no worse self-reproach than that time had been wasted thereby. And now you, indeed you use these words [either/or] often enough—they have become almost a slogan for you. What meaning do they have for you? None at all. . . . You take great pleasure in "comforting" people when they turn to you in critical situations; you listen to their expositions and then reply: "Yes, I see it all perfectly: there are two possibilities—one can either do this or that. My sincere opinion and my friendly counsel is this: Do it or don't do it—you will regret both." But he who mocks others mocks himself, and it is not a frippery but a profound mockery of yourself, a sad proof of how slack your soul is, that your entire understanding of life is contained in one single sentence, "I say merely either/or"...
Do you now know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone must unmask; do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked; do you believe you can sneak away before midnight in order to avoid it? Or are you not afraid of it? I have seen those in ordinary life who have deceived others for so long that at last they were unable to show their true nature; I have seen some who played hide and seek so long that at last in a kind of madness they thrust their secret thoughts on others as disgustingly as before they arrogantly had concealed them. Or can you think of anything more frightening than having it all end with the disintegration of your essence into a multiplicity, so that one really might become many, just as that miserable demoniac became a legion, and so you would have lost what is most inward and holy in a human being, the unifying power of personality?
The choice itself is decisive for the content of the personality, through the choice the personality immerses itself in the thing chosen, and when it does not choose it withers away in consumption. For an instant it is as if, for an instant it may seem as if the thing with regard to which a choice was made lay outside of the chooser, that he stands in no relationship to it, that he can preserve a state of indifference over against it.
That which has to be chosen stands in the deepest relationship to the chooser and, when it is a question of a choice involving a life problem, the individual must naturally be living in the meantime; hence it comes about that the longer he postpones the choice the easier it is for him to alter its character, notwithstanding that he is constantly deliberating and deliberating and believes that thereby he is holding the alternatives distinctly apart. When life's either/or is regarded in this way, one is not easily tempted to jest with it. One sees, then, that the inner drift of the personality leaves no time for thought-experiments, that it constantly hastens onward and in one way or another posits this alternative or that, making the choice the more difficult the next instant, because what has thus been posited must be revoked. Think of the captain on his ship at the instant when it has to come about. He will perhaps be able to say, "I can either do this or that"; but in case he is not a pretty poor navigator, he will be aware at the same time that the ship is all the while making its usual headway, and that therefore it is only an instant when it is indifferent whether he does this or that. So it is with a man. If he forgets to take account of the headway, there comes at last an instant when there no longer is any question of an either/or, not because he has chosen but because he has neglected to choose, which is equivalent to saying, because others have chosen for him, because he has lost his self.
As soon as one can get a man to stand at the crossways in such a position that there is no recourse but to choose, he will choose the right. Hence if it should chance that, while you are in the course of reading this somewhat lengthy dissertation, you were to feel that the instant for choice had come, then throw the rest of this away, never concern yourself about it, you have lost nothing— but choose, and you shall see what validity there is in this act, yea, no young girl can be so happy in the choice of her heart as is a man who knows how to choose. So then, one either has to live aesthetically, or one has to live ethically. In this alternative, as I have said, there is not yet in the strictest sense any question of a choice; for he "who lives aesthetically does not choose, and he who after the ethical has manifested itself to him chooses the aesthetical is not living aesthetically, for he is sinning and is subject to ethical determinants even though his life may be described as unethical...
The Teleological Suspension of the Ethical
The ethical as such is the universal, it applies to everyone and the same thing is expressed from another point of view by saying that it applies every instant. It reposes immanently in itself, it has nothing outside itself which is its telos, but is itself telos for everything outside it, and when this has been incorporated by the ethical it can go no further. Conceived immediately as physical and psychical, the particular individual is the particular which has its telos in the universal, and its task is to express itself constantly in it, to abolish its particularity in order to become the universal. As soon as the individual would assert himself in his particularity over against the universal he sins, and only by recognizing this can he again reconcile himself with the universal.
Faith is precisely this paradox, that the individual as the particular is higher than the universal, is justified over against it, is not subordinate but superior—yet in such a way, be it observed, that it is the particular individual who, after he has been subordinated as the particular to the universal, now through the universal becomes the individual who as the particular is superior to the universal, inasmuch as the individual as the particular stands in an absolute relation to the absolute. This position cannot be mediated, for all mediation comes about precisely by virtue of the universal; it is and remains to all eternity a paradox, inaccessible to thought. And yet faith is this paradox.
Now the story of Abraham contains such a teleological suspension of the ethical...Abraham's relation to Isaac, ethically speaking, is quite simply expressed by saying that a father shall love his son more dearly than himself. Yet within its own compass the ethical has various gradations. Let us see whether in this story there is to be found any higher expression for the ethical such as would ethically explain his conduct, ethically justify him in suspending the ethical obligation toward his son, without in this search going beyond the teleology of the ethical.
With Abraham the situation was different. By his act he overstepped the ethical entirely and possessed a higher telos outside of it, in relation to which he suspended the former. For I should very much like to know how one would bring Abraham's act into relation with the universal, and whether it is possible to discover any connection whatever between what Abraham did and the universal—except the fact that he transgressed it. It was not for the sake of saving a people, not to maintain the idea of the state, that Abraham did this, and not in order to reconcile angry deities. If there could be a question of the deity being angry, he was angry only with Abraham, and Abraham's whole action stands in no relation to the universal; it is a purely personal undertaking. Therefore, whereas the tragic hero is great by reason of his moral virtue, Abraham is great by reason of a personal virtue. In Abraham's life there is no higher expression for the ethical than this, that the father shall love his son.
Why then did Abraham do it? For God's sake, and (in complete identity with this) for his own sake. He did it for God's sake because God required this proof of his faith; for his own sake he did it in order that he might furnish the proof. The unity of these two points of view is perfectly expressed by the word which has always been used to characterize this situation: it is a trial, a temptation (Fristelse). A temptation—but what does that mean? What ordinarily tempts a man is that which would keep him from doing his duty, but in this case the temptation is itself the ethical—which would keep him from doing God's will... Here is evident the necessity of a new category if one would understand Abraham. Such a relationship to the deity paganism did not know. The tragic hero does not enter into any private relationship with the deity, but for him the ethical is the divine, hence the paradox implied in his situation can be mediated in the universal.
The story of Abraham contains therefore a teleological suspension of the ethical. As the individual he became higher than the universal: this is the paradox which does not permit of mediation. It is just as inexplicable how he got into it as it is inexplicable how he remained in it. If such is not the position of Abraham, then he is not even a tragic hero but a murderer. To want to continue to call him the father of faith, to talk of this to people who do not concern themselves with anything but words, is thoughtless. A man can become a tragic hero by his own powers—but not a knight of faith. When a man enters upon the way, in a certain sense the hard way of the tragic hero, many will be able to give him counsel; to him who follows the narrow way of faith no one can give counsel, him no one can understand. Faith is a miracle, and yet no man is excluded from it; for that in which all human life is unified is passion, and faith is a passion.
Truth is Subjectivity
Inwardness in an existing subject is at its highest in passion; truth as a paradox corresponds to passion, and that truth becomes a paradox is grounded precisely in its relation to an existing subject. Thus the one corresponds to the other. By forgetting that one is an existing subject, passion is lost, and in turn truth does not become a paradox; but the knowing subject becomes something fantastic rather than an existing human being, and truth becomes a fantastic object for its knowing.
When the question of truth is posed objectively, reflection attends objectively to the truth, as an object to which the knower relates himself. Reflection does not attend to the relation, however, but to the truthfulness of that to which he relates himself, the true. If only that to which he relates himself to is the truth, the true, then the subject is in truth. When the question of truth is posed subjectively, reflection attends subjectively to the individual's relation. If only the how of this relation is in truth, the individual is in truth, even if he in this way relates himself to untruth.
The existing one who chooses the objective way goes now into the whole process of approximation intended to bring forth God objectively, which in all eternity is not achieved, because God is a subject, and therefore exists only for subjectivity in inwardness. The existing one who chooses the subjective way comprehends in the same instant the entire dialectical difficulty because he must use some time, perhaps a long time, to find God objectively, he feels this dialectical difficulty in all its pain, because he must have recourse to God in the same instant, because every instant is wasted in which he does not have God. In the same instant he has God, not by virtue of some objective deliberation, but by virtue of the infinite passion of inwardness.
Where objective knowledge rambles comfortably along approximations lengthy road, itself not impelled by passion, for subjective knowledge every delay is life-threatening and the decision is so infinitely important that it is so instantly pressing that it is as if the opportunity had already passed.
Now when the problem is this: to calculate where there is more truth (and, as said, at the same time to be on both sides equally is not possible for an existing person, but is only the happy delusion of a deluded I-I), whether on the side of one who objectively seeks the true God and the approximation of the truth of the idea of God, or on the side of one who, driven by the infinite passion of the need of God, feels an infinite concern that he in truth is related to God: then there can be no doubt about the answer for anyone who has not been thoroughly muddled through the help of science. If one who lives in the midst of Christianity goes up to the House of God, to the House of the true God, with knowledge of the true conception of God, and nowr prays, but prays in untruth; and when one lives in a godless country, but prays with all of the passion of infinity, although his eyes rest upon the image of an idol: where is the most truth? The one prays in truth to God, although he worships an idol; the other prays falsely to the true God, and therefore truly worships an idol.
The Socratic ignorance, firmly maintained with all the passion of inwardness, was thus an expression for the principle that eternal truth is related to an existing individual, and that this truth must therefore be a paradox for him as long as he exists, and yet it is possible that there was more truth in the Socratic ignorance than in the whole System's objective truth, which flirts with what the times demand and adapts itself to assistant professors.
Objectivity emphasizes: what is said; subjectivity: how it is said. Already in aesthetics this distinction applies, and is specifically expressed in the principle that what is in itself true may in the mouth of such and such a person become untrue. This distinction is in these times particularly noteworthy, for if we wish to express in a single sentence the difference between ancient times and our own, we should certainly have to say: In ancient times there were only a few individuals who knew the truth, now all know it, but inwardness stands in an inverse relation thereto. Aesthetically the contradiction that emerges, when truth becomes falsehood in the mouth of such and such a person, is best construed comically. Ethically-religiously, the emphasis is again on: how; but this is not to be understood as demeanor, modulation, expression etc., rather it refers to the relationship maintained by the existing individual, in his own existence, to the content of his utterance. Objectively, the question is only about categories of thought, subjectively, it is on inwardness. At its maximum this "how" is the passion of the infinite, and the passion of the infinite is itself truth.
Here is such a definition of truth: the objective uncertainty, seized in the most passionately inward appropriation, is truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person. At the point where the road swings off (and where that is cannot be objectively told, because it is precisely subjectivity), objective knowledge is suspended. Objectively he then has only uncertainty, but it is precisely this which increases the tension of that infinite passion of inwardness, and truth is precisely the daring venture of choosing the objective uncertainty with the passion of the infinite. I contemplate nature in order to find God, and I do indeed see power and wisdom, but I also see much more that excites anxiety and disturbs. The summa summarum [sum total] of this is an objective uncertainty, but it is therefore that the inwardness is so great, because inwardness grasps this objective uncertainty with infinity's entire passion.
It is impossible to exist without passion, unless existing means just any sort of so-called existence. For this reason every Greek thinker was essentially a passionate thinker. I have often wondered how one might bring a man to passion. So I have thought I might seat him on a horse and frighten the horse into a wild gallop, or still better, in order to bring out the passion properly, I might take a man who wants to go somewhere as quickly as possible (and so was already in a sort of passion) and seat him on a horse that can barely walk. But this is just how existence is, if one becomes conscious of it.
The way of objective reflection makes the subject accidental, and thereby changes existence into something indifferent, something vanishing. The objective way of reflection leads away from the subject to the objective truth, and all the while the subject and his subjectivity become indifferent, and this indifference is precisely its objective validity; for all interest, like all decisiveness, is grounded in subjectivity. The way of objective reflection leads to abstract thought, to mathematics, to historical knowledge of different kinds; and it always leads away from the subject, whose existence or non-existence, and from the objective point of view entirely correctly, becomes infinitely indifferent. Entirely correctly, since as Hamlet says, existence and non-existence have only subjective significance.
What is an individual existing human being? Our age knows all too well how little it is, but just here is the particular immorality of our age. Every age has its own particular immorality: the immorality of our age is perhaps not lust, pleasure and sensuality, but rather a degenerate and pantheistic contempt for the individual. In the midst of all our elation over our age and the nineteenth century there sounds a note of hidden contempt for the individual; in the midst of the selfimportance of the generation there is a despair over being human. Everything must be joined to everything else; people strive to deceive themselves in the totality of things, in world history; no one wants to be an individual human being.
On Becoming a Christian
What now is the absurd? The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into being in time, that God has come into being, has been born, has grown up, and so forth, has come into being just like any other individual human being, quite indistinguishable from other human beings... Precisely in its objective repulsion, the absurd is the measure of the intensity of faith in inwardness. There is a man who wants to have faith, well, let the comedy begin. He wants to have faith, but he also wants to ensure himself with the help of an objective inquiry and its approximation-process. What happens? With the help of the approximation- process, the absurd becomes something else; it becomes probable, it becomes more probable, it becomes extremely and exceedingly probable. Now he is prepared to believe it, and he boldly supposes that he does not believe as shoemakers and tailors and simple folk do, but only after long consideration. Now he is prepared to believe it, but lo and behold, now it has become impossible to believe it. The almost probable, the very probable, the extremely and exceedingly probable: that he can almost know, or as good as know, to a greater degree and exceedingly almost know— but believe it, that is impossible, for the absurd is precisely the object of faith, and only that can be believed.
To want to prove that this unknown something (the God) exists could hardly occur to reason. For of course if God does not exist, it would be impossible to prove it, but if God does exist, it would be folly to try to prove it; for, in the very moment I began my proof, I would have presupposed it, not as dubious but as certain (a presupposition is never dubious, just because it is a presupposition), since otherwise I would never begin, understanding that the whole would be impossible if he did not exist. But if when I speak of proving God's existence I mean that I propose to prove that the Unknown, which exists, is God, then I express myself less fortunately; for then I prove nothing, least of all existence, but merely develop the content of a concept. In general, to try to prove that something exists is a difficult matter, and what is still worse for the bold who would attempt it, the difficulty is of a kind that will not bring fame to those who occupy themselves with it. The whole proof always turns into something entirely different, turns into an additional development of the consequences that come from my having assumed that the object in question exists.
Objective faith: what does that mean? It means a sum of dogmas. But suppose Christianity is nothing of the kind; suppose, on the contrary, it is inwardness, and therefore also the paradox, so as to push away objectively; and thus to acquire significance for the existing individual in the inwardness of his existence, in order to place him more decisively than any judge can place the accused, between time and eternity in time, between heaven and hell in the time of salvation. Objective faith: it is as if Christianity had also been heralded as a kind of little system, although not quite so good as the Hegelian system; it is as if Christ—yes, no offense intended—it is as if Christ were a professor, and as if the Apostles had formed a little professional society. Truly, if it was once no easy thing to become a Christian, I believe now it becomes more difficult every year, because by now it has become so easy to become one—one finds a little competition only in becoming a speculative philosopher. And yet the speculative philosopher is perhaps most removed from Christianity, and perhaps it is far preferable to be an offended individual who nonetheless continually relates himself to Christianity, than to be a speculative philosopher who supposes he has understood it.
Suppose, however, that subjectivity is truth, and that subjectivity is the existing subjectivity, then, to put it this way, Christianity is an exact fit. Subjectivity culminates in passion, Christianity is paradox, paradox and passion fit one another exactly, and paradox exactly fits one whose situation is in the extremity of existence. Yes, in the wide world there could not be found two lovers so well fitted for one another as paradox and passion, and their argument is like a lovers' argument, when they argue whether he first aroused her passion, or she his. So it is here: by means of the paradox itself, the existing person has been situated in the extremity of existence. And what is more delightful for lovers than that they are allowed a long time together without any change in the relationship between them, except that it becomes more intensive in inwardness? And this is indeed given to the highly unspeculative understanding between passion and paradox, since the entirety of life in time is so entrusted, and the change comes first in eternity.
What it is to be a Christian is not determined by the what of Christianity but by the how of the Christian. This how corresponds with one thing only, the absolute paradox. Accordingly there is no confused chatter that being a Christian is to accept, and to accept, and to accept very differently, to appropriate, to believe, to appropriate by faith very differently (all of these merely rhetorical and fictitious characterizations); but to believe is specifically dissimilar from all other kinds of appropriation and inwardness. Faith is the objective uncertainty along with the repulsion of the absurd seized in the passion of inwardness, which just is inwardness potentiated to the highest degree. This formula applies only to the believer, no one else, not to a lover, not to an enthusiast, not to a thinker, but simply and solely to the believer who is related to the absolute paradox.
The proofs which Scripture advances for Christ's divinity— His miracles, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven—are accordingly only for faith, they are not proofs, they have no intention of proving that all this accord exactly with reason; quite the opposite, they would prove that it is at odds with reason and so is a matter of faith.
The Concept of Anxiety
Anxiety (Angest) is freedom's possibility, and only this anxiety is through faith absolutely educative, laying bare as it does all finite ends and discovering all their deceptions. And no Grand Inquisitor has such terrifying torments in readiness as has anxiety, and no spy knows as cunningly as anxiety how to attack his suspect in his weakest moment, or how to lay the traps where he will be snared; and no sharp-witted judge knows how to examine indeed to interrogate the accused as anxiety does, which never releases him, neither in entertainment nor in noise, nor in work, neither in day nor in night. He who is educated by anxiety is educated by possibility, and only he who is educated by possibility is educated according to his infinitude. Possibility is therefore the weightiest of all categories.
In possibility everything is possible, and he who in truth was raised by possibility has comprehended the terrible as well as the cheerful. Therefore when one such goes out from possibility's school, and knows better than a child knows his ABC's that he can demand absolutely nothing from life, and that terror, perdition, annihilation dwell next door to every man, and when he has thoroughly learned that every anxiety about which he is anxious in the next instant came upon him, then he will give reality a different explanation; he will praise reality, and even when it weighs heavily upon him, he will remember that it is yet far, far lighter than possibility was. Only thus can possibility educate...But in order that the individual may thus be educated absolutely and infinitely by possibility, he must be honest towards possibility and have faith. By faith I understand here what Hegel somewhere in his fashion calls quite rightly the inner certainty that anticipates infinity.
What Do I Want?
Quite simply: I want honesty. I am not, as well-meaning people have represented me—for I can pay no attention to the representations of me advanced by exasperation and anger and impotence and nonsense— I am not a Christian severity as opposed to a Christian leniency. By no means, I am neither leniency nor severity—I am: a human honesty.
The leniency which is the ordinary Christianity here in the land, I want to hold up to the New Testament in order to see how these two relate to one another.
Then if it appears, if I or another can show, that it is equal to the New Testament's Christianity: then with the greatest happiness I will agree to it.
But one thing I will not do, not for any, any price: I will not by suppression or by performing tricks try to produce the impression that the ordinary Christianity in the land and the New Testament's Christianity are like one another.
An Absurd Reasoning
It is useful to note that the absurd, hitherto taken as a conclusion, is considered in this essay as a starting-point. In this sense it may be said that there is something provisional in my commentary: one cannot prejudge the position it entails. There will be found here merely the description, in the pure state, of an intellectual malady. No metaphysic, no belief is involved in it for the moment. These are the limits and the only bias of this book. Certain personal experiences urge me to make this clear.
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest—whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.
I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions. How to answer it? On all essential problems (I mean thereby those that run the risk of leading to death or those that intensify the passion of living) there are probably but two methods of thought: the method of La Palisse and the method of Don Quixote. Solely the balance between evidence and lyricism can allow us to achieve simultaneously emotion and lucidity. In a subject at once so humble and so heavy with emotion, the learned and classical dialectic must yield, one can see, to a more modest attitude of mind deriving at one and the same time from common sense and understanding.
In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it. Let's not go too far in such analogies, however, but rather return to everyday words. It is merely confessing that that "is not worth the trouble." Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering.
In a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity. All healthy men having thought of their own suicide, it can be seen, without further explanation, that there is a direct connection between this feeling and the longing for death.
The subject of this essay is precisely this relationship between the absurd and suicide, the exact degree to which suicide is a solution to the absurd. The principle can be established that for a man who does not cheat, what he believes to be true must determine his action. Belief in the absurdity of existence must then dictate his conduct.
Schopenhauer is often cited, as a fit subject for laughter, because he praised suicide while seated at a well-set table. This is no subject for joking. That way of not taking the tragic seriously is not so grievous, but it helps to judge a man. In the face of such contradictions and obscurities must we conclude that there is no relationship between the opinion one has about life and the act one commits to leave it?
In short, the essence of that contradiction lies in what I shall call the act of eluding... Eluding is the invariable game. The typical act of eluding, the fatal evasion that constitutes the third theme of this essay, is hope. Hope of another life one must "deserve" or trickery of those who live not for life itself but for some great idea that will transcend it, refine it, give it a meaning, and betray it.
One kills oneself because life is not worth living, that is certainly a truth—yet an unfruitful one because it is a truism. But does that insult to existence, that flat denial in which it is plunged come from the fact that it has no meaning? Does its absurdity require one to escape it through hope or suicide—this is what must be clarified, hunted down, and elucidated while brushing aside all the rest. Does the Absurd dictate death? This problem must be given priority over others, outside all methods of thought and all exercises of the disinterested mind.
Reflection on suicide gives me an opportunity to raise the only problem to interest me: is there a logic to the point of death? I cannot know unless I pursue, without reckless passion, in the sole light of evidence, the reasoning of which I am here suggesting the source. This is what I call an absurd reasoning. Many have begun it. I do not yet know whether or not they kept to it.
At any streetcorner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face. As it is, in its distressing nudity, in its light without effulgence, it is elusive. But that very difficulty deserves reflection. It is probably true that a man remains forever unknown to us and that there is in him something irreducible that escapes us...This apparent paradox is also an apologue. There is a moral to it. It teaches that a man defines himself by his make-believe as well as by his sincere impulses. There is thus a lower key of feelings, inaccessible in the heart but partially disclosed by the acts they imply and the attitudes of mind they assume.
All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a streetcorner or in a restaurant's revolving door. So it is with absurdity. The absurd world more than others derives its nobility from that abject birth.
One day the "why" arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. "Begins"—this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return or the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery. In itself weariness has something sickening about it. Here, I must conclude that it is good.
The revolt of the flesh is the absurd. A step lower and strangeness creeps: perceiving that the world is "dense," sensing to what a degree a stone is foreign and irreducible to us, with what intensity nature or a landscape can negate us. At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this very minute lose the illusory meaning with which we had clothed them, henceforth more remote than a lost paradise. The primitive hostility of the world rises up to face us across millennia...That denseness and that strangeness of the world is the absurd.
A man is talking on the telephone behind a glass partition; you cannot hear him, but you see his incomprehensible dumb show: you wonder why he is alive. This discomfort in the face of man's own inhumanity, this incalculable tumble before the image of what we are, this "nausea," as a writer of today calls it, is also the absurd.
One will never be sufficiently surprised that everyone lives as if no one "knew." This is because in reality there is no experience of death. Properly speaking, nothing has been experienced but what has been lived and made conscious.
I am interested—let me repeat again —not so much in absurd discoveries as in their consequences. If one is assured of these facts, what is one to conclude, how far is one to go to elude nothing? Is one to die voluntarily or to hope in spite of everything?
Whatever may be the plays on words and the acrobatics of logic, to understand is, above all, to unify. The mind's deepest desire, even in its most elaborate operations, parallels man's unconscious feeling in the face of his universe: it is an insistence upon familiarity, an appetite for clarity. Understanding the world for a man is reducing it to the human, stamping it with his seal.
Likewise, the mind that aims to understand reality can consider itself satisfied only by reducing it to terms of thought...That nostalgia for unity, that appetite for the absolute illustrates the essential impulse of the human drama.
We must despair of ever reconstructing the familiar, calm surface which would give us peace of heart. After so many centuries of inquiries, so many abdications among thinkers, we are well aware that this is true for all our knowledge. With the exception of professional rationalists, today people despair of true knowledge. If the only significant history of human thought were to be written, it would have to be the history of its successive regrets and its impotences.
This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, the gap will never be filled. Forever I shall be a stranger to myself. In psychology as in logic, there are truths but no truth. Socrates' "Know thyself" has as much value as the "Be virtuous" of our confessionals. They reveal a nostalgia at the same time as an ignorance. They are sterile exercises on great subjects. They are legitimate only in precisely so far as they are approximate.
All the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron.
What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world. Were I to trace its entire relief with my finger, I should not know any more.
The intelligence, too, tells me in its way that this world is absurd. Its contrary, blind reason, may well claim that all is clear; I was waiting for proof and longing for it to be right. But despite so many pretentious centuries and over the heads of so many eloquent and persuasive men, I know that is false. On this plane, at least, there is no happiness if I cannot know. That universal reason, practical or ethical, that determinism, those categories that explain everything are enough to make a decent man laugh. They have nothing to do with the mind. They negate its profound truth, which is to be enchained. In this unintelligible and limited universe, man's fate henceforth assumes its meaning. A horde of irrationals has sprung up and surrounds him until his ultimate end. In his recovered and now studied lucidity, the feeling of the absurd becomes clear and definite.
I said that the world is absurd, but I was too hasty. This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together. It binds them one to the other as only hatred can weld two creatures together. This is all I can discern clearly in this measureless universe where my adventure takes place.
From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all. But whether or not one can live with one's passions, whether or not one can accept their law, which is to burn the heart they simultaneously exalt—that is the whole question.
At this point of his effort man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. This must not be forgotten. This must be clung to because the whole consequence of a life can depend on it.
"It's absurd" means "It's impossible" but also "It's contradictory." If I see a man armed only with a sword attack a group of machine guns, I shall consider his act to be absurd. But it is so solely by virtue of the disproportion between his intention and the reality he will encounter, of the contradiction I notice between his true strength and the aim he has in view. Likewise we shall deem a verdict absurd when we contrast it with the verdict the facts apparently dictated.
I am thus justified in saying that the feeling of absurdity does not spring from the mere scrutiny of a fact or an impression, but that it bursts from the comparison between a bare fact and a certain reality, between an action and the world that transcends it. The absurd is essentially a divorce. It lies in neither of the elements compared; it is born of their confrontation. In this particular case and on the plane of intelligence, I can therefore say that the Absurd is not in man (if such a metaphor could have a meaning) nor in the world, but in their presence together...To destroy one of its terms is to destroy the whole. There can be no absurd outside the human mind. Thus, like everything else, the absurd ends with death. But there can be no absurd outside this world either. And it is by this elementary criterion that I judge the notion of the absurd to be essential and consider that it can stand as the first of my truths.
And carrying this absurd logic to its conclusion, I must admit that that struggle implies a total absence of hope (which has nothing to do with despair), a continual rejection (which must not be confused with renunciation), and a conscious dissatisfaction (which must not be compared to immature unrest). Everything that destroys, conjures away, or exorcises these requirements (and, to begin with, consent which overthrows divorce) ruins the absurd and devaluates the attitude that may then be proposed. The absurd has meaning only in so far as it is not agreed to.
But what does life mean in such a universe? Nothing else for the moment but indifference to the future and a desire to use up everything that is given. Belief in the meaning of life always implies a scale of values, a choice, our preferences. Belief in the absurd, according to our definitions, teaches the contrary. But this is worth examining.
If I convince myself that this life has no other aspect than that of the absurd, if I feel that its whole equilibrium depends on that perpetual opposition between my conscious revolt and the darkness in which it struggles, if I admit that my freedom has no meaning except in relation to its limited fate, then I must say that what counts is not the best living but the most living.
The most living; in the broadest sense, that rule means nothing. It calls for definition. It seems to begin with the fact that the notion of quantity has not been sufficiently explored. For it can account for a large share of human experience. A man's rule of conduct and his scale of values have no meaning except through the quantity and variety of experiences he has been in a position to accumulate.
On the one hand the absurd teaches that all experiences are unimportant, and on the other it urges toward the greatest quantity of experiences. How, then, can one fail to do as so many of those men and choose the form of life that brings us the most possible of that human matter, thereby introducing a scale of values that on the other hand one claims to reject?
The mistake is thinking that the quantity of experiences depends on the circumstances of our life when it depends solely on us. Here we have to be over-simple. To two men living the same number of years, the world always provides the same sum of experiences. It is up to us to be conscious of them. Being aware of one's life, one's revolt, one's freedom, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum. Where lucidity dominates, the scale of values becomes useless... The present and the succession of presents before a constantly conscious soul is the ideal of the absurd man.
Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death—and I refuse suicide.
Myth of Sisyphus
The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.
You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.
It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end...At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.
If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisvphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory.
When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man's heart: this is the rock's victory, this is the rock itself.
Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd discovery. It happens as well that the feeling of the absurd springs from happiness...All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols.
The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days.
Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that nightfilled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Will to Power: Life
Causes of the advent of pessimism: 1. that the most powerful desires of life that have the most future have hitherto been slandered, so a curse weighs on life; 2. that the growing courage and integrity and the bolder mistrust that now characterize man comprehend that these instincts are inseparable from rife, and one therefore turns against life; 3. that only the most mediocre, who have no feeling at all for this conflict, flourish while the higher kind miscarries and, as a product of degeneration, invites antipathy—that the mediocre, on the other hand, when they pose as the goal and meaning, arouse indignation (that nobody is able any more to answer any "for what?"); 4. that diminution, sensitivity to pain, restlessness, haste, and hustling grow continually—that it becomes easier and easier to recognize this whole commotion, this so-called "civilization," and that the individual, faced with this tremendous machinery, loses courage and submits.
Waste, decay, elimination need not be condemned: they are necessary consequences of life, of the growth of life. The phenomenon of decadence is as necessary as any increase and advance of life: one is in no position to abolish it. Reason demands, on the contrary, that we do justice to it. It is a disgrace for all socialist systematizers that they suppose there could be circumstances—social combinations—in which vice, disease, prostitution, distress would no longer grow.— But that means condemning life.— A society is not free to remain young. And even at the height of its strength it has to form refuse and waste materials. The more energetically and boldly it advances, the richer it will be in failures and deformities, the closer to decline.— Age is not abolished by means of institutions. Neither is disease. Nor vice.
It was morality that protected life against despair and the leap into nothing, among men and classes who were violated and oppressed by men: for it is the experience of being powerless against men, not against nature, that generates the most desperate embitterment against existence. Morality treated the violent despots, the doers of violence, the "masters" in general as the enemies against whom the common man must be protected, which means first of all encouraged and strengthened. Morality consequently taught men to hate and despise most profoundly what is the basic character trait of those who rule: their will to power. To abolish, deny, and dissolve this morality—that would mean looking at the best-hated drive with an opposite feeling and valuation. If the suffering and oppressed lost the faith that they have the right to despise the will to power, they would enter the phase of hopeless despair. This would be the case if this trait were essential to life and it could be shown that even in this will to morality this very "will to power" were hidden, and even this hatred and contempt were still a will to power. The oppressed would come to see that they were on the same plain with the oppressors, without prerogative, without higher rank.
Morality guarded the underprivileged against nihilism by assigning to each an infinite value, a metaphysical value, and by placing each in an order that did not agree with the worldly order of rank and power: it taught resignation, meekness, etc. Supposing that the faith in this morality would perish, then the underprivileged would no longer have their comfort—and they would perish.
Nihilism as a symptom that the underprivileged have no comfort left; that they destroy in order to be destroyed; that without morality they no longer have any reason to "resign themselves" —that they place themselves on the plain of the opposite principle and also want power by compelling the powerful to become their hangmen. This is the European form of Buddhism—doing No after all existence has lost its "meaning."
In practice, all the reason, the whole heritage of prudence, subtlety, caution which is the presupposition of the priestly canon, is afterwards arbitrarily reduced to a mere mechanism: conformity with the law itself counts as an end, as the highest end, life no longer has any problems; the whole conception of the world is polluted by the idea of punishment; with the object of representing the priestly life as the non plus ultra of perfection, life itself is transformed into a defamation and pollution of hie; the concept "God" represents a turning away from life, a critique of life, even a contempt for it; truth is transformed into the priestly lie, the striving for truth into study of the scriptures, into a means of becoming a theologian—
Christianity has from the outset transformed the symbolic into crudities: 1. the antithesis "real life" and "false" life: misunderstood as "this life" and "the life to come"; 2. the concept "eternal life," the antithesis to transient personal life, as "personal immortality"; 3. brotherhood on the basis of sharing food and drink together after the Hebrew-Arabic custom, as "the miracle of transubstantiation"; 4. "resurrection—" understood as entry into "real life," as a state of "rebirth"; this is made into an historical eventuality which takes place some time or other after death; 5. the teaching that the son of man is the "Son of God," the living relationship between God and man; this is made into the "second person of the divinity"—the filial relationship to God of every man, even the lowliest, is abolished; 6. salvation through faith (namely, that there is no means of becoming a son of God except by following the way of life taught by Christ) reversed into the faith that one is to believe in some sort of miraculous subtraction of sins, accomplished not through man but through Christ's deed: With that, "Christ on the cross" had to be interpreted anew. This death in itself was not at all the main thing—it had been only one more sign of how one ought to behave in relation to the authorities and laws of this world: not to defend oneself— That had been the lesson.
From the time of Adam until now, man has been in an abnormal state: God himself has sacrificed his son for the guilt of Adam, in order to put an end to this abnormal state: the natural character of life is a curse; Christ gives back the state of normality to him who believes in him: he makes him happy, idle and innocent... The true life is only a faith (i.e., a self-deception, a madness). The whole of struggling, battling, actual existence, full of splendor and darkness, only a bad, false existence: the task is to be redeemed from it.
Knowledge and wisdom in themselves have no value; no more than goodness: one must first be in possession of the goal from which these qualities derive their value or nonvalue—there could be a goal in the light of which great knowledge might represent a great disvalue (if, for instance, a high degree of deception were one of the prerequisites of the enhancement of life; likewise if goodness were perhaps able to paralyze and discourage the springs of the great longing) — Taking our human life as it is, all "truth," all "goodness," all "holiness," all "divinity" in the Christian style has up to now shown itself to be highly dangerous—even now mankind is in danger of perishing through an idealism inimical of life.
What are our evaluations and moral tables really worth? What is the outcome of their rule? For whom? in relation to what?— Answer: for life. But what is life? Here we need a new, more definite formulation of the concept "life." My formula for it is: Life is will to power. What is the meaning of the act of evaluation itself? Does it point back or down to another, metaphysical world? (As Kant still believed, who belongs before the great historical movement.) In short: where did it originate? Or did it not "originate"?— Answer: moral evaluation is an exegesis, a way of interpreting. The exegesis itself is a symptom of certain physiological conditions, likewise of a particular spiritual level of prevalent judgments: Who interprets?— Our affects.
Our moral judgments are signs of decline, of disbelief in life, a preparation for pessimism. My chief proposition: there are no moral phenomena, there is only a moral interpretation of these phenomena. This interpretation itself is of extra-moral origin. What does it mean that our interpretation has projected a contradiction into existence?— Of decisive importance: behind all other other evaluations these moral evaluations stand in command. Supposing they were abolished, according to what would we measure then? And then of what value would be knowledge?
To what extent morality has been detrimental to life: a) to the enjoyment of life, to gratitude towards life, etc., b) to the beautifying, ennobling of life, c) to knowledge of life, d) to the development of life, in so far as it sought to set the highest phenomena of life at variance with itself.
The great crimes in psychology: 1. that all displeasure, all misfortune has been falsified with the idea of wrong (guilt). (Pain has been robbed of innocence); 2. that all strong feelings of pleasure (wild spirits, voluptuousness, triumph, pride, audacity, knowledge, self-assurance and happiness as such) have been branded as sinful, as a seduction, as suspicious; 3. that feelings of weakness, inward acts of cowardice, lack of courage for oneself have been overlaid with sanctifying names and taught as being desirable in the highest degree; 4. that everything great in man has been reinterpreted as selflessness, as self-sacrifice for the sake of something else, someone else, that even in the man of knowledge, even in the artist, depersonalization has been presented as the cause of the greatest knowledge and ability; 5. that love has been falsified as surrender (and altruism), while it is an appropriation or a bestowal following from a superabundance of personality. Only the most complete persons can love; the depersonalized, the "objective," are the worst lovers (—one has only to ask the girls!) This applies also to love of God or of "fatherland"; one must be firmly rooted in oneself. (Egoism as ego-morphism, altruism as alter-ation.6* 6. Life as punishment (happiness as temptation); the passions as devilish, confidence in oneself as godless. This whole psychology is a psychology of prevention, a kind of immuring out of fear; on one hand the great masses (the underprivileged and mediocre) seek to defend themselves by means of it against the stronger (—and to destroy them in their development—), on the other all the drives through which they best prosper, sanctified and alone held in honor.
My insight: all the forces and drives by virtue of which life and growth exist lie under the ban of morality: morality as the instinct to deny life. One must destroy morality if one is to liberate life.
And even here, life is still in the right—life, which does not know how to separate Yes from No—: what good is it to hold with all one's strength that war is evil, not to do harm, not to desire to negate! one wages war nonetheless! one cannot do otherwise! The good man who has renounced evil, afflicted, as seems to him desirable, with that hemiplegia of virtue, in no way ceases to wage war, have enemies, say No and act No. The Christian, for example, hates "sin"! Precisely because of his faith in a moral antithesis of good and evil the world has become for him overfull of things that must be hated and eternally combated. "The good man" sees himself as if surrounded by evil, and under the continual onslaught of evil his eye grows keener, he discovers evil in ail his dreams and desires; and so he ends, quite reasonably, by considering nature evil, mankind corrupt, goodness an act of grace (that Is, as impossible for man). In summa: he denies life, he grasps that when good is the supreme value it condemns life— Therewith he ought to consider his ideology of good and evil as refuted. But one cannot refute an illness. And so he conceives another life!—
The "good man" as tyrant.— Man has repeated the same mistake over and over again: he has made a means to life into a standard of life; instead of discovering the standard in the highest enhancement of life itself, in the problem of growth and exhaustion, he has employed the means to a quite distract kind of life to exclude all other forms of life, in short to criticize and select life. I.e., man finally loves the means for their own sake and forgets they are means: so that they enter his consciousness as aims, as standards for aims—i.e., a certain species of man treats the conditions of its existence as conditions which ought to be imposed as a law, as "truth," "good," "perfection": it tyrannizes— It is a form of faith, of instinct, that a species of man fails to perceive its conditionality, its relativity to other species. At least, it seems to be all over for a species of man (people, races) when it becomes tolerant, allows equal rights and no longer thinks of wanting to be master—
The three assertions: The ignoble is the higher (protest of the "common man"); the antinatural is the higher (protest of the underprivileged); the average is the higher (protest of the herd, of the "mediocre"). Thus in the history of morality a will to power finds expression, through which now the slaves and oppressed, now the illconstituted and those who suffer from themselves, now the mediocre attempt to make those value judgments prevail that are favorable to them. To this extent, the phenomenon of morality is, from a biological standpoint, highly suspicious. Morality has developed hitherto at the expense of: the rulers and their specific instincts, the well-constituted and beautiful natures, those who are in any sense independent and privileged. Morality is therefore an opposition movement against the efforts of nature to achieve a higher type. Its effect is: mistrust of life in general (in so far as its tendencies are considered "immoral")— hostility toward the senses (in so far as the supreme values are considered to be opposed to the supreme instincts) — degeneration and self-destruction of "higher natures," because it is precisely in them that the conflict becomes conscious.
We must in fact seek perfect life where it has become least conscious (i.e., least aware of its logic, its reasons, its means and intentions, its utility). The return to the facts of ban sens, of the bon homme, of the "little people" of all kinds. The stored-up integrity and shrewdness of generations which are never conscious of their principles and are even a little afraid of principles, The demand for a virtue that reasons is not reasonable— A philosopher is compromised by such a demand.
It is a miserable story: man seeks a principle through which he can despise men—he invents a world so as to be able to slander and bespatter this world: in reality, he reaches every tune for nothingness and construes nothingness as "God," as "truth," and in any case as judge and condemner of this state of being— The history of philosophy is a secret raging against the preconditions of life, against the value feelings of life, against partisanship in favor of life. Philosophers have never hesitated to affirm a world provided it contradicted this world and furnished them with a pretext for speaking ill of this world. It has been hitherto the grand school of slander; and it has imposed itself to such an extent that today our science, which proclaims itself the advocate of life, has accepted the basic slanderous position and treated this world as apparent, this chain of causes as merely phenomenal. What is it really that hates here?
Let us abolish the real world: and to be able to do this we first have to abolish the supreme value hitherto, morality— It suffices to demonstrate that even morality is immoral, in the sense in which immorality has always been condemned. If the tyranny of former values is broken in this way, if we have abolished the "real world," then a new order of values must follow of its own accord. The apparent world and the world invented by a lie—this is the antithesis. The latter has hitherto been called the "real world," "truth," "God." This is what we have to abolish. Logic of my conception: 1. Morality as supreme value (master over all phases of philosophy, even over the skeptics). Result: this world is good for nothing, it is not the "real world." 2. What here determines the supreme value? What is morality, really?— The instinct of decadence; it is the exhausted and disinherited who take revenge in this fashion. Historical proof: philosophers are always decadents—in the service of the nihilistic religions. 3. The instinct of decadence which appears as will to power. Proof: the absolute immorality of means throughout the entire history of morality. General insight: the highest values hitherto are a special case of the will to power; morality itself is a special case of immorality.
As soon as we imagine someone who is responsible for our being thus and thus, etc. (God, nature), and therefore attribute to him the intention that we should exist and be happy or wretched, we corrupt for ourselves the innocence of becoming. We then have someone who wants to achieve something through us and with us.
It is of cardinal importance that one should abolish the true world. It is the great inspirer of doubt and devaluator hi respect of the world we are: it has been our most dangerous attempt yet to assassinate life. War on all presuppositions on the basis of which one has invented a true world. Among these is the presupposition that moral values are the supreme values. The supremacy of moral valuation would be refuted if it could be shown to be the consequence of an immoral valuation —as a special case of actual immorality—it would thus reduce itself to an appearance, and as appearance it would cease to have any right as such to condemn appearance.
This is the greatest error that has ever been committed, the essential fatality of error on earth: one believed one possessed a criterion of reality in the forms of reason—while in fact one possessed them in order to become master of reality, in order to misunderstand reality in a shrewd manner— And behold: now the world became false, and precisely on account of the properties that constitute its reality: change, becoming, multiplicity,, opposition, contradiction, war. And then the entire fatality was there: 1. How can one get free from the false, merely apparent world? (—it was the real, the only one); 2. how can one become oneself as much as possible the antithesis of the character of the apparent world? (Concept of the perfect creature as an antithesis to the real creature; more clearly, as the contradiction of life—) The whole tendency of values was toward slander of life; one created a confusion of idealist dogmatism and knowledge in general: so that the opposing party also was always attacking science.
In the actual world, in which everything is bound to and conditioned by everything else, to condemn and think away anything means to condemn and think away everything. The expression "that should not be," "that should not have been," is farcical— If one thinks out the consequences, one would ruin the source of life if one wanted to abolish whatever was in some respect harmful or destructive. Physiology teaches us better! —We see how morality (a) poisons the entire conception of the world, (b) cuts off the road to knowledge, to science, (c) disintegrates and undermines all actual instincts (in that it teaches that their roots are immoral). We see at work before us a dreadful tool of decadence that props itself up by the holiest names and attitudes.
The antagonism between the "true world," as revealed by pessimism, and a world possible for life—here one must test the rights of truth. It is necessary to measure the meaning of all these "ideal drives" against life to grasp what this antagonism really is: the struggle of sickly, despairing life that cleaves to a beyond, with healthier, more stupid and mendacious, richer, less degenerate life. Therefore it is not "truth" in struggle with life but one kind of life in struggle with another.— But it wants to be the higher kind!— Here one must demonstrate the need for an order of rank—that the first problem is the order of rank of different kinds of life.
The will to accumulate force is special to the phenomena of life, to nourishment, procreation, inheritance—to society, state, custom, authority. Should we not be permitted to assume this will as a motive cause in chemistry, too?—and in the cosmic order? Not merely conservation of energy, but maximal economy in use, so the only reality is the will to grow stronger of every center of force—not self-preservation, but the will to appropriate, dominate, increase, grow stronger. The possibility of science should be proved by a principle of causality? "From like causes like effects"— "A permanent law governing things"—"An invariable order"?— Because something is calculable, does that mean it is necessary? If something happens thus and not otherwise, that does not imply a "principle," "law," "order," [but the operation of] quanta of force the essence of which consists in exercising power against other quanta of force, Can we assume a striving for power divorced from a. sensation of pleasure and displeasure, i.e., divorced from the feeling of enhanced or diminished power? Is mechanism only a sign language for the internal factual world of straggling and conquering quanta of will? All the presuppositions of mechanistic theory —matter, atom, gravity, pressure and stress—are not "facts-inthemselves" but interpretations with the aid of psychical fictions. Life, as the form of being most familiar to us, is specifically a will to the accumulation of force; all the processes of life depend on this: nothing wants to preserve itself, everything is to be added and accumulated. Life as a special case (hypothesis based upon it applied to the total character of being:—) strives after a maximal feeling of power; essentially a striving for more power; striving is nothing other than striving for power; the basic and innermost thing is still this will.
If pleasure and displeasure relate to the feeling of power, then life must represent a growth in power, so that the difference caused by this growth must enter consciousness— If one level of power were maintained, pleasure would have only lowerings of this level by which to set its standards, only states of displeasure— not states of pleasure— The will to grow is of the essence of pleasure: that power increases, that the difference enters consciousness. From a certain point onwards, in decadence, the opposite difference enters consciousness, the decrease: the memory of former moments of strength depresses present feelings of pleasure —comparison now weakens pleasure.
"The sum of displeasure outweighs the sum of pleasure; consequently it would be better if the world did not exist"— "The world is something that rationally should not exist because it causes the feeling subject more displeasure than pleasure"—chatter of this sort calls itself pessimism today! Pleasure and displeasure are accidentals, not causes; they are value judgments of the second rank, derived from a ruling value— "useful," "harmful," speaking in the form of feelings, and consequently absolutely sketchy and dependent. For with every "useful," "harmful," one still has to ask in a hundred different ways: "for what?" I despise this pessimism of sensibility: it is itself a sign of deeply impoverished life.
"Man strives after happiness," e.g.—how much of that is true? In order to understand what "life" is, what kind of striving and tension life is, the formula must apply as well to trees and plants as to animals. "What does a plant strive after?"—but here we have already invented a false unity which does not exist: the fact of a millionfold growth with individual and semi-individual initiatives is concealed and denied if we begin by positing a crude unity "plant." That the very smallest "individuals" cannot be understood in the sense of a "metaphysical individuality" and atom, that their spere of power is continually changing—that is the first thing that becomes obvious; but does each of them strive after happiness when it changes in this way?— But all expansion, incorporation, growth means striving against something that resists; motion is essentially tied up with states of displeasure; that which is here the driving force must in any event desire something else if it desires displeasure in this way and continually looks for it.— For what do the trees in a jungle fight each other? For "happiness"?— For power! Man, become master over the forces of nature, master over his own savagery and licentiousness (the desires have learned to obey and be useful)—man, in comparison with a pre-man—represents a tremendous quantum of power—not an increase in "happiness"! How can one claim that he has striven for happiness?—
"The value of life."— Life is a unique case; one must justify all existence and not only life—the justifying principle is one that explains life, too. Life is only a means to something; it is the expression of forms of the growth of power.
In relation to the vastness and multiplicity of collaboration and mutual opposition encountered in the life of every organism, the conscious world of feelings, intentions, and valuations is a small section. We have no right whatever to posit this piece of consciousness as the aim and wherefore of this total phenomenon of life: becoming conscious is obviously only one more means toward the unfolding and extension of the power of life. Therefore it is a piece of naivete to posit pleasure or spirituality or morality or any other particular of the sphere of consciousness as the highest value —and perhaps even to justify "the world" by means of this. This is my basic objection to all philosophic-moralistic cosmoand theodicies, to all wherefores and highest values in philosophy and theology hitherto. One kind of means has been misunderstood as an end; conversely, life and the enhancement of its power has been debased to a means. If we wished to postulate a goal adequate to life, it could not coincide with any category of conscious life; it would rather have to explain all of them as a means to itself— The "denial of life" as an aim of life, an aim of evolution! Existence as a great stupidity! Such a lunatic interpretation is only the product of measuring life by aspects of consciousness (pleasure and displeasure, good and evil). Here the means are made to stand against the end—the "unholy," absurd, above all unpleasant means—: how can an end that employs such means be worth anything! But the mistake is that, instead of looking for a purpose that explains the necessity of such means, we presuppose in advance a goal that actually excludes such means; i.e., we take a desideratum in respect of certain means (namely pleasant, rational, and virtuous ones) as a norm, on the basis of which we posit what general purpose would be desirable—
The fundamental mistake is simply that, instead of understanding consciousness as a tool and particular aspect of the total life, we posit it as the standard and the condition of life that is of supreme value: it is the erroneous perspective of a parte ad totum8* —which is why all philosophers are instinctively trying to imagine a total consciousness, a consciousness involved in all life and will, in all that occurs, a "spirit," "God." But one has to tell them that precisely this turns life into a monstrosity; that a "God" and total sensorium would altogether be something on account of which life would have to be condemned— Precisely that we have eliminated the total consciousness that posited ends and means, is our great relief—with that we are no longer compelled to be pessimists— Our greatest reproach against existence was the existence of God-—
First proposition: There are no moral actions whatsoever: they are completely imaginary. Not only are they indemonstrable (which Kant, e.g., admitted, and Christianity as well)—they are altogether impossible. Through a psychological misunderstanding, one has invented an antithesis to the motivating forces, and believes one has described another kind of force; one has imagined a primum mobile that does not exist at all. According to the valua* tion that evolved the antithesis "moral" and "immoral" in general, one has to say: there are only immoral intentions and actions.
The psychology of the saint, the priest, the "good man" naturally had to be purely phantasmagorical. One had declared the real motives of actions bad: in order still to be able to act at all, to prescribe actions, one had to describe as possible and as it were sanctify actions that are utterly impossible. With the falseness of one's former slanders, one now honored and idealized. Rage against the instincts of life as "holy," as venerable. Absolute chastity, absolute obedience, absolute poverty: the priestly ideal. Alms, pity, sacrifice, denial of beauty, of reason, of sensuality, a morose eye cast on al! strong qualities one possessed: the lay ideal.
Once one is clear about the "why?" of one's life, one can let its How? take care of itself. It is itself a sign of disbelief in a Why, in purpose and meaning, a sign of a lack of will, if the value of pleasure and displeasure step into the foreground and hedonisticpessimistic theories get a hearing; and renunciation, resignation, virtue, and "objectivity" may at least be a sign that what matters most is beginning to be defective.
I set down here a list of psychological states as signs of a full and flourishing life that one is accustomed today to condemn as morbid. For by now we have learned better than to speak of healthy and sick as of an antithesis: it is a question of degrees. My claim in this matter is that what is today called "healthy" represents a lower level than that which under favorable circumstances would be healthy—that we are relatively sick—
In the main, I agree more with the artists than with any philosopher hitherto: they have not lost the scent of life, they have loved the things of "this world"—they have loved their senses. To strive for "desensualization": that seems to me a misunderstanding or an illness or a cure, where it is not merely hypocrisy or self-deception. I desire for myself and for all who live, may live, without being tormented by a puritanical conscience, an evergreater spiritualization and multiplication of the senses; indeed, we should be grateful to the senses for their subtlety, plenitude, and power and offer them in return the best we have in the way of spirit. What are priestly and metaphysical calumnies against the senses to us! We no longer need these calumnies: it is a sign that one has turned out well when, like Goethe, one clings with ever-greater pleasure and warmth to the "things of this world":— for in this way he holds firmly to the great conception of man, that man becomes the transfigurer of existence when he learns to transfigure himself.
What is tragic?— On repeated occasions I have laid my finger on Aristotle's great misunderstanding in believing the tragic affects to be two depressive affects, terror and pity. If he were right, tragedy would be an art dangerous to life: one would have to warn against it as notorious and a public danger. Art, in other cases the great stimulant of life, an intoxication with life, a will to life, would here, in the service of a declining movement and as it were the handmaid of pessimism, become harmful to health (—for that one is "purged" of these affects through their arousal, as Aristotle seems to believe, is simply not true). Something that habitually arouses terror or pity disorganizes, weakens, discourages— and supposing Schopenhauer were right that one should learn resignation from tragedy (i.e., a gentle renunciation of happiness, hope, will to life), then this would be an art in which art denies itself. Tragedy would then signify a process of disintegration: the instinct for life destroying itself through the instinct for art. Christianity, nihilism, tragic art, physiological decadence— these would go hand in hand, come into predominance at the same time, assist one another forward—downward— Tragedy would be a symptom of decline.
It is a question of strength (of an individual or of a people), whether and where the judgment "beautiful" is applied. The feeling of plenitude, of dammed-up strength (which permits one to meet with courage and good-humor much that makes the weakling shudder}—the feeling of power applies the judgment "beautiful" even to things and conditions that the instinct of impotence could only find hateful and "ugly." The nose for what we could still barely deal with if it confronted us in the flesh—as danger, problem, temptation—this determines even our aesthetic Yes. ("That is beautiful" is an affirmation.) From this it appears that, broadly speaking, a preference for questionable and terrifying things is a symptom of strength; while a taste for the pretty and dainty belongs to the weak and delicate. Pleasure in tragedy characterizes strong ages and natures: their non plus ultra is perhaps the divina commedia. It is the heroic spirits who say Yes to themselves in tragic cruelty: they are hard enough to experience suffering as a pleasure.
The suffering, desperate, self-mistrustful, in a word the sick, have at all times had need of entrancing visions to endure life (this is the origin of the concept "blessedness"). A related case: the artists of decadence, who fundamentally have a nihilistic attitude toward life, take refuge in the beauty of form—in those select things in which nature has become perfect, in which she is indifferently great and beautiful—
We have need of lies in order to conquer this reality, this "truth," that is, in order to live— That lies are necessary in order to live is itself part of the terrifying and questionable character of existence. Metaphysics, morality, religion, science—in this book [Birth of Tragedy] these things merit consideration only as various forms of lies: with their help one can have faith in life. "Life ought to inspire confidence": the task thus imposed is tremendous. To solve it, man must be a liar by nature, he must be above all an artist. And he is one: metaphysics, religion, morality, science—all of them only products of his will to art, to lie, to flight from "truth," to negation of "truth." This ability itself, thanks to which he violates reality by means of lies, this artistic ability of man par excellence—he has it in common with everything that is. He himself is after all a piece of reality, truth, nature: how should he not also be a piece of genius in lying!
Art and nothing but art! It is the great means of making life possible, the great seduction to life, the great stimulant of life. Art as the only superior counterforce to all will to denial of life, as that which is anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinihilist par excellence. Art as the redemption of the man of knowledge—of those who see the terrifying and questionable character of existence, who want to see it, the men of tragic knowledge. Art as the redemption of the man of action—of those who not only see the terrifying and questionable character of existence but live it, want to live it, the tragic-warlike man, the hero. Art as the redemption of the sufferer—as the way to states in which suffering is willed, transfigured, deified, where suffering is a form of great delight.
Whbver reflects upon the way in which the type man can be raised to his greatest spendor and power will grasp first of all that he must place himself outside morality; for morality has been essentially directed to the opposite end: to obstruct or destroy that spendid evolution wherever it has been going on. For such an evolution does indeed consume so great a quantity of men in its service that a reverse movement is only too natural: the weaker, more delicate, intermediate existences need to take sides against that gloriousness of life and strength; and to that end they have to acquire a new valuation of themselves by virtue of which they can condemn life in this highest plenitude, and where possible destroy it. A tendency hostile to life is therefore characteristic of morality, in so far as it wants to overpower the types of life.
The existing world, upon which all earthly living things have worked so that it appears as it does (durable and changing slowly), we want to go on building—and not criticize it away as false! Our valuations are a part of this building; they emphasize and underline. Of what significance is it if entire religions say: "all is bad and false and evil"! This condemnation of the entire process can only be a judgment of the ill-constituted!
Dionysus versus the "Crucified": there you have the anti-thesis. It is not a difference in regard to their martyrdom—it is a difference in the meaning of it. Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence, creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilation. In the other case, suffering—the "Crucified as the innocent one"—counts as an objection to this life, as a formula for its condemnation.— One will see that the problem is that of the meaning of suffering: whether a Christian meaning or a tragic meaning. In the former case, it is supposed to be the path to a holy existence; in the latter case, being is counted as holy enough to justify even a monstrous amount of suffering. The tragic man affirms even the harshest suffering: he is sufficiently strong, rich, and capable of deifying to do so. The Christian denies even the happiest lot on earth: he is sufficiently weak, poor, disinherited to suffer from life in whatever form he meets it.
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary— but love it.
Such an experimental philosophy as I live anticipates experimentally even the possibilities of the most fundamental nihilism; but this does not mean that it must halt at a negation, a No, a will to negation. It wants rather to cross over to the opposite of this—to a Dionysian affirmation of the world as it is, without subtraction, exception, or selection—it wants the eternal circulation:—the same things, the same logic and illogic of entanglements. The highest state a philosopher can attain: to stand in a Dionysian relationship to existence—my formula for this is amor fati.
It is part of this state to perceive not merely the necessity of those sides of existence hitherto denied, but their desirability; and not their desirability merely in relation to the sides hitherto affirmed (perhaps as their complement or precondition), but for their own sake, as the more powerful, more fruitful, truer sides of existence, in which its will finds clearer expression.
It is also part of this state to depreciate that side of existence which alone has been affirmed hitherto; to perceive the origin of this valuation and how little a Dionysian value standard for existence is obliged to it: I pulled up and perceived what it really was that here affirmed (on one hand, the instinct of the suffering; on the other the instinct of the herd; and thirdly, the instinct of the majority against the exceptions—).
Thus I guessed to what extent a stronger type of man would necessarily have to conceive the elevation and enhancement of man as taking place in another direction: higher beings, beyond good and evil, beyond those values which cannot deny their origin in the sphere of suffering, the herd, and the majority—I sought in history the beginnings of this construction of reverse ideals (the concepts "pagan," "classical," "noble" newly discovered and expounded—).
Whoever has endeavored with some enigmatic longing, as I have, to think pessimism through to its depths and to liberate it from the half-Christian, half-German narrowness and simplicity in which it has finally presented itself to our century, namely, in the form of Schopenhauer's philosophy; whoever has really, with an Asiatic and supra-Asiatic eye, looked into, down into the most world-denying of all possible ways of thinking—beyond good and evil and no longer, like the Buddha and Schopenhauer, under the spell and delusion of morality—may just thereby, without really meaning to do so, have opened his eyes to the opposite ideal: the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being who has not only come to terms and learned to get along with whatever was and is, but who wants to have what was and is repeated into all eternity, shouting insatiably da capo—not only to himself but to the whole play and spectacle, and not only to a spectacle but at bottom to him who needs precisely this spectacle— and who makes it necessary because again and again he needs himself— and makes himself necessary What? And this wouldn't be—circulus vitiosus deus?
What does "underprivileged" mean? Above all, physiologically— no longer politically. The unhealthiest kind of man in Europe (hi all classes) furnishes the soil for this nihilism: they will experience the belief in the eternal recurrence as a curse... It is the value of such a crisis that it purifies, that it pushes together related elements to perish of each other, that it assigns common tasks to men who have opposite ways of thinking—and it also brings to light the weaker and less secure among them and thus promotes an order of rank according to strength, from the point of view of health: those who command are recognized as those who command, those who obey as those who obey.
Who will prove to be the strongest in the course of this? The most moderate; those who do not require any extreme articles of faith; those who not only concede but love a fair amount of accidents and nonsense; those who can think of man with a considerable reduction of his value without becoming small and weak on that account: those richest in health who are equal to most misfortunes and therefore not so afraid of misfortunes—human beings who are sure of their power and represent the attained strength of humanity with conscious pride.
1. My endeavor to oppose decay and increasing weakness of personality. I sought a new center. 2. Impossibility of this endeavor recognized. 3. Thereupon I advanced further down the road of disintegration— where I found new sources of strength for individuals. We have to be destroyers! I perceived that the state of disintegration, in which individual natures can perfect themselves as never before—is an image and isolated example of existence in general. To the paralyzing sense of general disintegration and incompleteness I opposed the eternal recurrence.
1. The idea [of the eternal recurrence]: the presuppositions that would have to be true if it were true. Its consequences. 2. As the hardest idea: its probable effect if it were not prevented, i.e., if all values were not revalued. 3. Means of enduring it: the revaluation of all values. No longer joy in certainty but in uncertainty; no longer "cause and effect" but the continually creative; no longer will to preservation but to power; no longer the humble expression, "everything is merely subjective," but "it is also our work!— Let us be proud of it!"
To endure the idea of the recurrence one needs: freedom from morality; new means against the fact of pain (pain con- ceived as a tool, as the father of pleasure; there is no cumulative consciousness of displeasure); the enjoyment of all kinds of uncertainty, experimentalism, as a counterweight to this extreme fatalism; abolition of the concept of necessity; abolition of the "will"; abolition of "knowledge-in-itself."
The question of the meaning of Being must be formulated. If it is a fundamental question, or indeed the fundamental question, it must be made transparent, and in an appropriate way.... Inquiry, as a kind of seeking, must be guided beforehand by what is sought. So the meaning of Being must already be available to us in some way. As we have intimated, we always conduct our activities in an understanding of Being. Out of this understanding arise both the explicit question of the meaning of Being and the tendency that leads us towards it conception. We do not know what 'Being' means.
An investigation of the meaning of Being cannot be expected to give this clarification at the outset. If we are to obtain the clue we need for Interpreting this average understanding of Being, we must first develop the concept of Being. In the light of this concept and the ways in which it may be explicitly understood, we can make out what this obscured or still unillumined understanding of Being means, and what kinds of obscuration—or hindrance to an explicit illumination—of the meaning of Being are possible and even inevitable. Further, this vague average understanding of Being may be so infiltrated with traditional theories and opinions about Being that these remain hidden as sources of the way in which it is prevalently understood. What we seek when we inquire into Being is not something entirely unfamiliar, even if at first we cannot grasp it at all.
Basic concepts determine the way in which we get an understanding beforehand of the area of subject-matter underlying all the objects a science takes as its theme, and all positive investigation is guided by this understanding. Only after the area itself has been explored beforehand in a corresponding manner do these concepts become genuinely demonstrated and 'grounded'. But since every such area is itself obtained from the domain of entities themselves, this preliminary research, from which the basic concepts are drawn, signifies nothing else than an interpretation of those entities with regard to their basic state of Being.
Ontological inquiry is indeed more primordial, as over against the ontical inquiry of the positive sciences. But it remains itself naive and opaque if in its researches into the Being of entities it fails to discuss the meaning of Being in general. And the ontological task of a genealogy of the different possible ways of Being (which is not to be constructed deductively) is precisely of such a sort as to require that we first come to an understanding of "what we really mean by this expression 'Being'."
The question of Being aims therefore at ascertaining the a priori conditions not only for the possibility of the sciences which examine entities as entities of such and such a type, and, in so doing, already operate with an understanding of Being, but also for the possibility of those ontologies themselves which are prior to the ontical sciences and which provide their foundations. Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its orvnmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task.
Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it. But in that case, this is a constitutive state of Dasein's Being, and this implies that Dasein, in its Being, has a relationship towards that Being—a relationship which itself is one of Being. And this means further that there is some way in which Dasein understands itself in its Being, and that to some degree it does so explicitly. It is peculiar to this entity that with and through its Being, this Being is disclosed to it. Understanding of Being is itself a definite characteristic of Dasein's Being. Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontological.
That kind of Being towards which Dasein can comport itself in one way or another, and always does comport itself somehow, we call 'existence'. And because we cannot define Dasein's essence by citing a "what" of the kind that pertains to a subject-matter and because its essence lies rather in the fact that in each case it has its Being to be, and has it as its own, we have chosen to designate this entity as 'Dasein', a term which is purely an expression of its Being.
Dasein always understands itself in terms of its existence—in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself. Dasein has either chosen these possibilities itself, or got itself into them, or grown up in them already. Only the particular Dasein decides its existence, whether it does so by taking hold or by neglecting. The question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself. The understanding of oneself which leads along this may we call ' existentiell'. The question of existence is one of Dasein's ontical 'affairs'. This does not require that the ontological structure of existence should be theoretically transparent. The question about that structure aims at the analysis of what constitutes existence. The context of such structures we call 'existentiality'. Its analytic has the character of an understanding which is not existentiell, but rather existential.
Dasein accordingly takes priority over all other entities in several ways. The first priority is an ontical one: Dasein is an entity whose Being has the determinate character of existence. The second priority is an ontological one: Dasein is in itself 'ontological', because existence is thus determinative for it. But with equal primordiality Dasein also possesses—as constitutive for its understanding of existence—an understanding of the Being of all entities of a character other than its own. Dasein has therefore a third priority as providing the ontico-ontological condition for the possibility of any ontologies. Thus Dasein has turned out to be, more than any other entity, the one which must first be interrogated ontologically.
If to Interpret the meaning of Being becomes our task, Dasein is not only the primary entity to be interrogated; it is also that entity which already comports itself, in its Being, towards what we are asking about when we ask this question. But in that case the question of Being is nothing other than the radicalization of an essential tendency-of-Being which belongs to Dasein itself—the pre-ontological understanding of Being.
Ontically, of course, Dasein is not only close to us—even that which is closest: we are it, each of us, we ourselves. In spite of this, or rather for just this reason, it is ontologically that which is farthest. To be sure, its ownmost Being is such that it has an understanding of that Being, and already maintains itself in each case as if its Being has been interpreted in some manner. But we are certainly not saying that when Dasein's own Being is thus interpreted pre-ontologically in the way which lies closest, this interpretation can be taken over as an appropriate clue, as if this way of understanding Being is what must emerge when one's ownmost state of Being is considered as an ontological theme. The kind of Being which belongs to Dasein is rather such that, in understanding its own Being, it has a tendency to do so in terms of that entity towards which it comports itself proximally and in a way which is essentially constant—in terms of the 'world'. In Dasein itself, and therefore in its own understanding of Being, the way the world is understood is, as we shall show, reflected back ontologically upon the way in which Dasein itself gets interpreted.
Thus an analytic of Dasein must remain our first requirement in the question of Being. But in that case the problem of obtaining and securing the kind of access which will lead to Dasein, becomes even more a burning one. . . . We must . . . choose such a way of access and such a kind of interpretation that this entity can show itself in itself and from itself. And this means that it is to be shown as it is proximally and for the most part—in its average everydayness. In this everydayness there are certain structures which we shall exhibit—not just any accidental structures, but essential ones which, in every kind of Being that factical Dasein may possess, persist as determinative for the character of its Being.
In its factical Being, any Dasein is as it already was, and it is 'what' it already was. It is its past, whether explicitly or not. And this is so not only in that its past is, as it were, pushing itself along 'behind' it, and that Dasein possesses what is past as a property which is still present-at-hand and which sometimes has after-effects upon it: Dasein 'is' its past in the way of its own Being, which, to put it roughly, 'historizes' out of its future on each occasion. Whatever the way of being it may have at the time, and thus with whatever understanding Being it may possess, Dasein has grown up both into and in a traditional way of interpreting itself: in terms of this it understands itself proximally and, within a certain range, constantly. By this understanding, the possibilities of its Being are disclosed and regulated.
The ownmost meaning of Being which belongs to the inquiry into Being as an historical inquiry, gives us the assignment of inquiring into the history of that inquiry itself, that is, of becoming historiological. In working out the question of Being, we must heed this assignment, so that by positively making the past our own, we may bring ourselves into full possession of the ownmost possibilities of such inquiry.
When tradition . . . becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it 'transmits' is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial 'sources' from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn. Indeed it makes us forget that they have had such an origin, and makes us suppose that the necessity of going back to these sources is something which we need not even understand.
If the question of Being is to have its own history made transparent, then this hardened tradition must be loosened up, and the concealments which it has brought about must be dissolved. We understand this task as one in which by taking the question of Being as our clue, we are to destroy the traditional content of ancient ontology until we arrive at those primordial experiences in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being—the ways which have guided us ever since.
In thus demonstrating the origin of our basic ontological concepts by an investigation in which their 'birth certificate' is displayed, we have nothing to do with a vicious relativizing of ontological standpoints. But this destruction is just as far from having the negative sense of shaking off the ontological tradition. We must, on the contrary, stake out the positive possibilities of that tradition, and this always means keeping it within its limits; these in turn are given factically in the way the question is formulated at the time, and in the way the possible field for investigation is thus bounded off. On its negative side, this destruction does not relate itself towards the past; its criticism is aimed at 'today' and at the prevalent way of treating the history of ontology, whether it is headed towards doxography, towards intellectual history, or towards a history of problems. But to bury the past in nullity is not the purpose of this destruction; its aim is positive; its negative function remains unexpressed and indirect.
Phenomenology is our way of access to what is to be the theme of ontology, and it is our way of giving it demonstrative precision. Only as phenomenology, is ontology possible. In the phenomenological conception of "phenomenon" what one has in mind as that which shows itself is the Being of entities, its meaning, its modifications and derivatives. And this showingitself is not just any showing-itself, nor is it some such thing as appearing. Least of all can the Being of entities ever be anything such that "behind it" stands something else "which does not appear." "Behind" the phenomena of phenomenology there is essentially nothing else; on the other hand, what is to become a phenomenon can be hidden. And just because the phenomena are proximally and for the most part not given, there is need for phenomenology. Covered-up-ness is the counterconcept to 'phenomenon'.
Our investigation itself will show that the meaning of phenomenological description as a method lies in interpretation. The logos of the phenomenology of Dasein has the character of a hermeneuein, through which the authentic meaning of Being, and also those basic structures of Being which Dasein itself possesses, are made known to Dasein's understanding of Being.
We are ourselves the entities to be analyzed. The Being of any such entity is in each case mine. These entities, in their Being, comport themselves towards their Being. As entities with such Being, they are delivered over to their own Being. Being is that which is an issue for every such entity. This way of characterizing Dasein has a double consequence: The "essence" of this entity lies in its "to be." Its Being-what-it-is (essentia) must, so far as we can speak of it at all, be conceived in terms of its Being (existentia). But here our ontological task is to show that when we choose to designate the Being of this entity as "existence," this term does not and cannot have the ontological signification of the traditional term "existentia"; ontologically, existentia is tantamount to Being-present-at-hand, a kind of Being which is essentially inappropriate to entities of Dasein's character. To avoid getting bewildered, we shall always use the Interpretative expression "presence-at-hand" for the term "existentia," while the term "existence," as a designation of Being, will be allotted solely to Dasein.
Furthermore, in each case Dasein is mine to be in one way or another. Dasein has always made some sort of decision as to the way in which it is in each case mine. That entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue, comports itself towards its Being as its ownmost possibility. In each case Dasein is its possibility, and it "has" this possibility, but not just as a property, as something present-at-hand would. And because Dasein is in each case essentially its own possibility, it can, in its very Being, "choose" itself and win itself; it can also lose itself and never win itself; or only "seem" to do so. But only in so far as it is essentially something which can be authentic—that is, something of its own—can it have lost itself and not yet won itself. As modes of Being, authenticity and inauthenticity (these expressions have been chosen terminologically in a strict sense) are both grounded in the fact that any Dasein whatsoever is characterized by mineness. But the inauthenticity of Dasein does not signify any 'less' Being or any 'lower' degree of Being. Rather it is the case that even in its fullest concretion Dasein can be characterized by inauthenticity—when busy, when excited, when interested, when ready for enjoyment.
The two characteristics of Dasein which we have sketched—the priority of ''existentia' over essentia, and the fact that Dasein is in each case mine— have already indicated that in the analytic of this entity we are facing a peculiar phenomenal domain. Dasein does not have the kind of Being which belongs to something merely present-at-hand within the world, nor does it ever have it. So neither is it to be presented thematically as something we come across in the same way as we come across what is present-at-hand. The right way of presenting it is so far from self-evident that to determine what form it shall take is itself an essential part of the ontological analytic of this entity. Only by presenting this entity in the right way can we have any understanding of its Being. No matter how provisional our analysis may be, it always requires the assurance that we have started correctly.
At the outset of our analysis it is particularly important that Dasein should not be Interpreted with the differentiated character of some definite way of existing, but that it should be uncovered in the undifferentiated character which it has proximally and for the most part. This undifferentiated character of Dasein's everydayness is not nothing, but a positive phenomenal characteristic of this entity. Out of this kind of Being—and back into it again—is all existing, such as it is. We call this everyday undifferentiated character of Dasein 'averageness'...
Dasein is an entity which, in its very Being, comports itself understandingly towards that Being. In saying this, we are calling attention to the formal concept of existence. Dasein exists. Furthermore, Dasein is an entity which in each case I myself am. Mineness belongs to any existent Dasein, and belongs to it as the condition which makes authenticity and inauthenticity possible. In each case Dasein exists in one or the other of these two modes, or else it is modally undifferentiated. But these are both ways in which Dasein's Being takes on a definite character, and they must be seen and understood a priori as grounded upon the state of Being which we have called 'Being-in-the-world'. An interpretation of this constitutive state is needed if we are to set up our analytic of Dasein correctly.
The compound expression 'Being-in-the-world' indicates in the very way we have coined it, that it stands for a unitary phenomenon. This primary datum must be seen as a whole. But while Being-in-the-world cannot be broken up into contents which may be pieced together, this does not prevent it from having several constitutive items in its structure. Indeed the phenomenal datum which our expression indicates is one which may, in fact, be looked at in three ways. If we study it, keeping the whole phenomenon firmly in mind beforehand, the following items may be brought out for emphasis: First, the in-the-world. With regard to this there arises the task of inquiring into the ontological structure of the 'world' and defining the idea of worldhood as such.
Second, that entity which in every case has Being-in-the-world as the way in which it is. Here we are seeking that which one inquires into when one asks the question "Who?" By a phenomenological demonstration we shall determine who is in the mode of Dasein's average everydayness. Third, Being-in as such. We must set forth the ontological Constitution of inhood itself. Emphasis upon any one of these constitutive items signifies that the others are emphasized along with it; this means that in any such case the whole phenomenon gets seen.
The Being of those entities which we encounter as closest to us can be exhibited phenomenologically if we take as our clue our everyday Being-in-the- world, which we also call our 'dealings' in the world and with entities within-the-world. Such dealings have already dispersed themselves into manifold ways of concern. The kind of dealing which is closest to us is, as we have shown, not a bare perceptual cognition, but rather that kind of concern which manipulates things and puts them to use; and this has its own kind of 'knowledge'. The phenomenological question applies in the first instance to the Being of those entities which we encounter in such concern.
In the domain of the present analysis, the entities we shall take as our preliminary theme are those which show themselves in our concern with the environment. Such entities are not thereby objects for knowing the 'world' theoretically; they are simply what gets used, what gets produced, and so forth. . . . An investigation of Being . . . brings to completion, autonomously and explicitly, that understanding of Being which belongs already to Dasein and which 'comes alive' in any of its dealings with entities.
The achieving of phenomenological access to the entities which we encounter, consists rather in thrusting aside our interpretative tendencies, which keep thrusting themselves upon us and running along with us, and which conceal not only the phenomenon of such 'concern', but even more those entities themselves as encountered of their own accord in our concern with them.
We shall call those entities which we encounter in concern 'equipment'. In our dealings we come across equipment for writing, sewing, working, transportation, measurement. The kind of Being which equipment possesses must be exhibited. The clue for doing this lies in our first defining what makes an item of equipment—namely, its equipmentality. Taken strictly, there 'is' no such thing as an equipment. To the Being of any equipment there always belongs a totality of equipment, in which it can be this equipment that it is. Equipment is essentially "something in-orderto. . . . " A totality of equipment is constituted by various ways of the "inorder- to," such as serviceability, conduciveness, usability, manipulability.
In dealings such as this, where something is put to use, our concern subordinates itself to the "in-order-to" which is constitutive for the equipment we are employing at the time; the less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is—as equipment. The hammering itself uncovers the specific 'manipulability' of the hammer. The kind of Being which equipment possesses—in which it manifests itself in its own right— we call "readiness-to-hand." Only because equipment has this "Being-initself" and does not merely occur, is it manipulable in the broadest sense and at our disposal. No matter how sharply we just look at the 'outward appearance' of Things in whatever form this takes, we cannot discover anything ready-to-hand. If we look at Things just 'theoretically', we, can get along without understanding readiness-to-hand. But when we deal with them by using them and manipulating them, this activity is not a blind one; it has its own kind of sight, by which our manipulation is guided and from which it acquires its specific Thingly character. Dealings with equipment subordinate themselves to the manifold assignments of the "in-order-to." And the sight with which they thus accommodate themselves is circumspection.
The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, in its readiness-to-hand, it must, as it were, withdraw in order to be ready-to-hand quite authentically. That with which our everyday dealings proximally dwell is not the tools themselves. On the contrary, that with which we concern ourselves primarily is the work—that which is to be produced at the time; and this is accordingly ready-to-hand too. The work bears with it that referential totality within which the equipment is encountered.
To lay bare what is just present-at-hand and no more, cognition must first penetrate beyond what is ready-to-hand in our concern. Readiness-to-hand is the way in which entities as they are "in themselves" are defined ontologico-categorially.
When we concern ourselves with something, the entities which are most closely ready-to-hand may be met as something unusable, not properly adapted for the use we have decided upon. The tool turns out to be damaged, or the material unsuitable. In each of these cases equipment is here, ready-to-hand. We discover its unusability, however, not by looking at it and establishing its properties, but rather by the circumspection of the dealings in which we use it. When its unusability is thus discovered, equipment becomes conspicuous.
In our dealings with the world of our concern, the un-ready-to-hand can be encountered not only in the sense of that which is unusable or simply missing, but as something un-ready-to-hand which is not missing at all and not unusable, but which "stands in the way" of our concern. That to which our concern refuses to turn, that for which it has "no time," is something ready-to-hand in the manner of what does not belong here, of what has not as yet been attended to. Anything which is un-ready-to-hand in this way is disturbing to us, and enables us to see the obstinacy of that with which we must concern ourselves in the first instance before we do anything else. With this obstinacy, the presence-at-hand of the ready-to-hand makes itself known in a new way as the Being of that which still lies before us and calls for our attending to it.
Proximally and for the most part Dasein is fascinated with its world. Dasein is thus absorbed in the world; the kind of Being which it thus possesses, and in general the Being-in which underlies it, are essential in determining the character of a phenomenon which we are now about to study. We shall approach this phenomenon by asking who it is that Dasein is in its everydayness. . . . By directing our researches towards the phenomenon which is to provide us with an answer to the question of the "who," we shall be led to certain structures of Dasein which are equiprimordial with Beingin- the-world; Being-with and Dasein-with. In this kind of Being is grounded the mode of everyday Being-one's-Self; the explication of this mode will enable us to see what we may call the 'subject' of everydayness—the "they".
Dasein is an entity which is in each case I myself; its Being is in each case mine. This definition indicates an analogically constitutive state, but it does no more than indicate it. At the same time this tells us ontically (though in a rough and ready fashion) that in each case an "I"—not Others—is this entity. The question of the "who" answers itself in terms of the "I" itself, the'subject', the'Self'.
But if the Self is conceived 'only' as a way of Being of this entity, this seems tantamount to volatilizing the real 'core' of Dasein. Any apprehensiveness however which one may have about this gets its nourishment from the perverse assumption that the entity in question has at bottom the kind of Being which belongs to something present-at-hand, even if one is far from attributing to it the solidity of an occurrent corporeal Thing. Yet man's 'substance'is not spirit as a synthesis of soul and body; it is rather existence.
In our 'description' of that environment which is closest to us—the workworld of the craftsman, for example,—the outcome was that along with the equipment to be found when one is at work, those Others for whom the "work" is destined are "encountered too." If this is ready-to-hand, then there lies in the kind of Being which belongs to it (that is, in its involvement) an essential assignment or reference to possible wearers, for instance, for whom it should be "cut to the figure." Similarly, when material is put to use, we encounter its producer or "supplier" as one who "serves" well or badly.
By "Others" we do not mean everyone else but me—those over against whom the "I" stands out. They are rather those from whom, for the most part, one does not distinguish oneself—those among whom one is too. This Being-there-too with them does not have the ontological character of a Being-present-at-hand-along-'with' them within a world. This 'with' is something of the character of Dasein; the 'too' means a sameness of Being as circumspectively concernful Being-in-the-world. 'With' and 'too' are to be understood existentially, not categorially. By reason of this with-like Being-in-the-world, the world is always the one that I share with Others. The world of Dasein is a with-world. Being-in is Being-with Others. Their Being-in-themselves within-the-world is Dasein-with. . . .
Dasein finds "itself proximally in what it does, uses, expects, avoids—in those things environmentally ready-to-hand with which it is proximally concerned... Being-with is such that the disclosedness of the Dasein-with of Others belongs to it; this means that because Dasein's Being is Being-with, its understanding of Being already implies the understanding of Others. This understanding, like any understanding, is not an acquaintance derived from knowledge about them, but a primordially existential kind of Being, which, more than anything else, makes such knowledge and acquaintance possible.
One's own Dasein, like the Dasein-with of Others, is encountered proximally and for the most part in terms of the with-world with which we are environmentally concerned. When Dasein is absorbed in the world of its concern—that is, at the same time, in its Being-with towards Others—it is not itself. Who is it, then, who has taken over Being as everyday Being-withone- another?
The analogically relevant result of our analysis of Being-with is the insight that the "subject character" of one's own Dasein and that of Others is to be defined existentially—that is, in terms of certain ways in which one may be. In that with which we concern ourselves environmentally the Others are encountered as what they are; they are what they do. In one's concern with what one has taken hold of, whether with, for, or against, the Others, there is constant care as to the way one differs from them, whether that difference is merely one that is to be evened out, whether one's own Dasein has lagged behind the Others and wants to catch up in relationship to them, or whether one's Dasein already has some priority over them and sets out to keep them suppressed. The care about this distance between them is disturbing to Being-with-one-another, though this disturbance is one that is hidden from it. If we may express this existentially, such Being-with-one-another has the character of distantiality. The more inconspicuous this kind of Being is to everyday Dasein itself, all the more stubbornly and primordially does it work itself out.
One belongs to the Others oneself and enhances their power. "The Others" whom one thus designates in order to cover up the fact of one's belonging to them essentially oneself, are those who proximally and for the most part "are there" in everyday Being-with-one-another. The "who" is not this one, not that one, not oneself, not some people, and not the sum of them all. The 'who' is the neuter, the "they."
We take pleasure and enjoy ourselves as they take pleasure; we read, see, and judge about literature and art as they see and judge; likewise we shrink back from the "great mass" as they shrink back; we find "shocking" what they find shocking. The "they," which is nothing definite, and which all are, though not as the sum, prescribes the kind of Being of everydayness. The "they" has its own ways in which to be. That tendency of Beingwith which we have called "distantiality" is grounded in the fact that Beingwith- one-another concerns itself as such with avemgeness, which is an existential characteristic of the "they." The "they," in its Being, essentially makes an issue of this. Thus the "they" maintains itself factically in the averageness of that which belongs to it, of that which it regards as valid and that which it does not, and of that to which it grants success and that to which it denies it. In this averageness with which it prescribes what can and may be ventured, it keeps watch over everything exceptional that thrusts itself to the fore. Every kind of priority gets noiselessly suppressed. Overnight, everything that is primordial gets glossed over as something that has long been well known. Everything gained by a struggle becomes just something to be manipulated. Every secret loses its force. This care of averageness reveals in turn an essential tendency of Dasein v hich we call the "leveling down" of all possibilities of Being.
Distantiality, averageness, and leveling down, as ways of Being for the "they," constitute what we know as "publicness." Publicness proximally controls every way in which the world and Dasein get interpreted, and it is always right—not because there is some distinctive and primary relationship-of-Being in which it is related to 'Things'. . . . By publicness everything gets obscured, and what has thus been covered up gets passed off as something familiar and accessible to everyone.
Thus the particular Dasein in its everydayness is disburdened by the "they." Not only that; by thus disburdening it of its Being, the "they" accommodates Dasein if Dasein has any tendency to take things easily and make them easy. And because the "they" constantly accommodates the particular Dasein by disburdening it of its Being, the "they" retains and enhances its stubborn dominion. Everyone is the other, and no one is himself. The 'they', which supplies the answer to the question of the who of everyday Dasein, is the ''nobody' to whom every Dasein has already surrendered itself in Being-among-oneanother.... The "they" is an existentiale; and as a primordial phenomenon, it belongs to Dasein's positive constitution. It itself has, in turn, various possibilities of becoming concrete as something characteristic of Dasein. The extent to which its dominion becomes compelling and explicit may change in the course of history.
The Self of everyday Dasein is the they-self, which we distinguish from the authentic Self— that is, from the Self which has been taken hold of in its own way. As they-self, the particular Dasein has been dispersed into the 'they', and must first find itself. This dispersal characterizes the 'subject' of that kind of Being which we know as concernful absorption in the world we encounter as closest to us. If Dasein is familiar with itself as they-self, this means at the same time that the "they" itself prescribes that way of interpreting the world and Being-in-the-world which lies closest. Dasein is for the sake of the "they" in an everyday manner, and the "they" itself Articulates the referential context of significance. When entities are encountered, Dasein's world frees them for a totality of involvements with which the "they" is familiar, and within the limits which have been established with the "they's" averageness.
If Dasein discovers the world in its own way and brings it close, if it discloses to itself its own authentic Being, then this discovery of the "world" and this disclosure of Dasein are always accomplished as a clearing-away of concealments and obscurities, as a breaking up of the disguises with which Dasein bars its own way.
Because the phenomenon of the world itself gets passed over in this absorption in the world, its place gets taken by what is present-at-hand within-the-world, namely, Things. The Being of those entities which are there with us, gets conceived as presence-at-hand. Thus by exhibiting the positive phenomenon of the closest everyday Beingin- the-world, we have made it possible to get an insight into the reason why an ontological Interpretation of this state of Being has been missing. This very state of Being, in its everyday kind of Being, is what proximally misses itself and covers itself up.
If the Being of everyday Being-with-one-another is already different in principle from pure presence-at-hand—in spite of the fact that it is seemingly close to it ontologically—still less can the Being of the authentic Self be conceived as presence-at-hand. Authentic Being-one 's-Self does not rest upon an exceptional condition of the subject, a condition that has been detached from the "they"; it is rather an existentiell modification of the "they"—of the "they" as an essential existentiale.
When we talk in an ontically figurative way of the lumen naturale in man, we have in mind nothing other than the existential-ontological structure of this entity, that it is in such a way as to be its "there." To say that it is "illuminated" means that as Being-in-the-world it is cleared in itself, not through any other entity, but in such a way that it is itself the clearing. Only for an entity which is existentially cleared in this way does that which is present-at-hand become accessible in the light or hidden in the dark. By its very nature, Dasein brings its "there" along with it. If it lacks its "there," it is not factically the entity which is essentially Dasein; indeed, it is not this entity at all. Dasein is its disclosedness.
In having a mood, Dasein is always disclosed moodwise as that entity to which it has been delivered over in its Being; and in this way it has been delivered over to the Being which, in existing, it has to be. "To be disclosed" does not mean "to be known as this sort of thing." And even in the most indifferent and inoffensive everydayness the Being of Dasein can burst forth as a naked "that it is and has to be." The pure 'that it is' shows itself, but the "whence" and the "whither" remain in darkness. . . . This characteristic of Dasein's Being—this "that it is"—is veiled in its "whence" and "whither," yet disclosed in itself all the more unveiledly; we call it the "thrownness" of this entity into its "there"; indeed, it is thrown in such a way that, as Being-in-the-world, it is the "there." The expression "thrownness" is meant to suggest ihefacticity of its being delivered over.
A mood assails us. It comes neither from "outside" nor from "inside," but arises out of Being-in-the-world, as a way of such Being. But with the negative distinction between state-of-mind and the reflective apprehending of something "within," we have thus reached a positive insight into their character as disclosure. The mood has already disclosed, in every case, Being-inthe- world as a whole, and makes it possible first of all to direct oneself towards something. Having a mood is not related to the psychical in the first instance, and is not itself an inner condition which then reaches forth in an enigmatical way and puts its mark on Things and persons. It is in this that the second essential characteristic of states-of-mind shows itself. We have seen that the world, Dasein-with, and existence are equiprimordially disclosed; and state-ofmind is a basic existential species of their disclosedness, because this disclosedness itself is essentially Being-in-the-world.
As we have said earlier, the world which has already been disclosed beforehand permits what is within-the-world to be encountered. This prior disclosedness of the world belongs to Being-in and is partly constituted by one's state-of-mind. Letting something be encountered is primarily circumspective; it is not just sensing something, or staring at it. It implies circumspective concern, and has the character of becoming affected in some way.
State-of-mind is one of the existential structures in which the Being of the "there" maintains itself. Equiprimordial with it in constituting this Being is understanding. A state-of-mind always has its understanding, even if it merely keeps it suppressed. Understanding always has its mood. . . . When we are talking ontically we sometimes use the expression "understanding something" with the signification of "being able to manage something," "being a match for it," "being competent to do something." In understanding, as an existentiale, that which we have such competence over is not a "what," but Being as existing. The kind of Being which Dasein has, as potentiality-for-Being, lies existentially in understanding. Dasein is not something present-at-hand which possesses its competence for something by way of an extra; it is primarily Being-possible. Dasein is in every case what it can be, and in the way in which it is its possibility. The Beingpossible which is essential for Dasein, pertains to the ways of its solicitude for Others and of its concern with the "world," as we have characterized them; and in all these, and always, it pertains to Dasein's potentiality-for- Being towards itself, for the sake of itself.
As a modal category of presence-at-hand, possibility signifies what is not yet actual and what is not at any time necessary. It characterizes the merely possible. Ontologically it is on a lower level than actuality and necessity. On the other hand, possibility as an existentiale is the most primordial and ultimate positive way in which Dasein is characterized ontologically. As with existentiality in general, we can, in the first instance, only prepare for the problem of possibility. The phenomenal basis for seeing it at all is provided by the understanding as a disclosive potentiality-for-Being.
Why does the understanding—whatever may be the essential dimensions of that which can be disclosed in it—always press forward into possibilities? It is because the understanding has in itself the existential structure which we call ^projection.'1'' With equal primordiality the understanding projects Dasein's Being both upon its "for-the-sake-of-which" and upon significance, as the worldhood of its current world. The character of understanding as projection is constitutive for Being-in-the-world with regard to the disclosedness of its existentially constitutive state-of-Being by which the factical potentiality-for-Being gets its leeway. And as thrown, Dasein is thrown into the kind of Being which we call "projecting." Projecting has nothing to do with comporting oneself towards a plan that has been thought out, and in accordance with which Dasein arranges its Being. On the contrary, any Dasein has, as Dasein, already projected itself; and as long as it is, it is projecting. As long as it is, Dasein always has understood itself and always will understand itself in terms of possibilities. Furthermore, the character of understanding as projection is such that the understanding does not grasp thematically that upon which it projects—that is to say, possibilities. Grasping it in such a manner would take away from what is projected its very character as a possibility, and would reduce it to the given contents which we have in mind; whereas projection, in throwing, throws before itself the possibility as possibility, and lets it be as such. As projecting, understanding is the kind of Being of Dasein in which it is its possibilities.
Idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity characterize the way in which, in an everyday manner, Dasein is its "there"—the disclosedness of Being-in-theworld. As definite existential characteristics, these are not present-at-hand in Dasein, but help to make up its Being. In these, and in the way they are interconnected in their Being, there is revealed a basic kind of Being which belongs to everydayness; we call this the "falling" of Dasein. This term does not express any negative evaluation, but is used to signify that Dasein is proximally and for the most part alongside the "world" of its concern. This "absorption in . . . " has mostly the character of Being-lost in the publicness of the "they." Dasein has, in the first instance, fallen away from itself as an authentic potentiality for Being its Self, and has fallen into the "world." "Fallenness" into the "world" means an absorption in Beingwith- one-another, in so far as the latter is guided by idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity. Through the Interpretation of falling, what we have called the "inauthenticity" of Dasein may now be defined more precisely. On no account, however, do the terms "inauthentic" and "non-authentic" signify "really not," as if in this mode of Being, Dasein were altogether to lose its Being. "Inauthenticity" does not mean anything like Being-no-longer-inthe- world, but amounts rather to a quite distinctive kind of Being-in-theworld— the kind which is completely fascinated by the "world" and by the Dasein-with of Others in the 'they'. Not-Being-its-self functions as a positive possibility of that entity which, in its essential concern, is absorbed in a world. This kind of not-Being has to be conceived as that kind of Being which is closest to Dasein and in which Dasein maintains itself for the most part.
Dasein, tranquillized, and "understanding" everything, . . . drifts along towards an alienation in which its ownmost potentiality-for-Being is hidden from it. Falling Being-in-the-world is not only tempting and tranquillizing; it is at the same time alienating. Yet this alienation cannot mean that Dasein gets factically torn away from itself. On the contrary, this alienation drives it into a kind of Being which borders on the most exaggerated "self-dissection," tempting itself with all possibilities of explanation, so that the very "characterologies" and "typologies" which it has brought about are themselves already becoming something that cannot be surveyed at a glance. This alienation closes off from Dasein its authenticity and possibility, even if only the possibility of genuinely foundering. It does not, however, surrender Dasein to an entity which Dasein itself is not, but forces it into its inauthenticity—into a possible kind of Being of itself. The alienation of falling—at once tempting and tranquillizing—leads by its own movement, to Dasein's getting entangled in itself.
The phenomena we have pointed out—temptation, tranquillizing, alienation and self-entangling (entanglement)—characterize the specific kind of Being which belongs to falling. This 'movement' of Dasein in its own Being, we call its "downward plunge" Dasein plunges out of itself into itself, into the groundlessness and nullity of inauthentic everydayness. But this plunge remains hidden from Dasein by the way things have been publicly interpreted, so much so, indeed, that it gets interpreted as a way of "ascending" and "living concretely." This downward plunge into and within the groundlessness of the inauthentic Being of the 'they', has a kind of motion which constantly tears the understanding away from the projecting of authentic possibilities, and into the tranquillized supposition that it possesses everything, or that everything is within its reach. Since the understanding is thus constantly torn away from authenticity and into the "they" (though always with a sham of authenticity), the movement of falling is characterized by turbulence. . . . In falling, nothing other than our potentiality-for-Being-in-world is the issue, even if in the mode of inauthenticity. Dasein can fall only because Being-in-the-world understandingly with a state-of-mind is an issue for it. On the other hand, authentic existence is not something which floats above falling everydayness; existentially, it is only a modified way in which such everydayness is seized upon.
Dasein's absorption in the 'they' and its absorption in the 'world' of its concern, make manifest something like a fleeing of Dasein in the face of itself—of itself as an authentic potentiality-for-Being-its-Self. This phenomenon of Dasein's fleeing in the face of itself and in the face of its authenticity, seems at least a suitable phenomenal basis for the following investigation. But to bring itself face to face with itself, is precisely what Dasein does not do when it thus flees. It turns away from itself in accordance with its ownmost inertia of falling.
Only to the extent that Dasein has been brought before itself in an ontologically essential manner through whatever disclosedness belongs to it, can it flee in the face of that in the face of which it flees. . . That in the face of which one has anxiety is Being-in-the-world as such. What is the difference phenomenally between that in the face of which anxiety is anxious and that in the face of which fear is afraid? That in the face of which one has anxiety is not an entity within-the-world. Thus it is essentially incapable of having an involvement...That in the face of which one is anxious is completely indefinite. Not only does this indefiniteness leave factically undecided which entity within-the-world is threatening us, but it also tells us that entities withinthe- world are not 'relevant' at all...The world has the character of completely lacking significance. In anxiety one does not encounter this thing or that thing which, as something threatening, must have an involvement.
In that in the face of which one has anxiety, the "It is nothing and nowhere" becomes manifest. The obstinacy of the "nothing and nowhere within-the-world" means as a phenomenon that the world as such is that in the face of which one has anxiety. The utter insignificance which makes itself known in the "nothing and nowhere," does not signify that the world is absent, but tells us that entities within-the-world are of so little importance in themselves that on the basis of this insignificance of what is within-theworld, the world in its worldhood is all that still obtrudes itself. What oppresses us is not this or that, nor is it the summation of everything present-at-hand; it is rather the possibility of the ready-to-hand in general; that is to say, it is the world itself.
In anxiety what is environmentally ready-to-hand sinks away, and so, in general, do entities within-the-world. The "world" can offer nothing more, and neither can the Dasein-with of Others. Anxiety thus takes away from Dasein the possibility of understanding itself, as it falls, in terms of the "world" and the way things have been publicly interpreted. Anxiety throws Dasein back upon that which it is anxious about—its authentic potentiality-for-Being-in- the-world.
Anxiety makes manifest in Dasein its Being towards its ownmost potentiality-for-Being—that is, its Being-free for the freedom of choosing itself and taking hold of itself. Anxiety brings Dasein face to face with its Being-free for (propensio in . . . ) the authenticity of its Being, and for this authenticity as a possibility which it always is. But at the same time, this is the Being to which Dasein as Being-in-the-world has been delivered over.
In resoluteness we have now arrived at that truth of Dasein which is most primordial because it is authentic. Whenever a "there" is disclosed, its whole Being-in-the-world—that is to say, the world, Being-in, and the Self which, as an 'I am', this entity is—is disclosed with equal primordiality.
In understanding significance, concernful Dasein submits itself circumspectively to what it encounters as ready-to-hand. Any discovering of a totality of involvements goes back to a "for-the-sake-of-which"; and on the understanding of such a "for-the-sake-of-which" is based in turn the understanding of significance as the disclosedness of the current world. In seeking shelter, sustenance, livelihood, we do so "for the sake of" constant possibilities of Dasein which are very close to it.
Resoluteness, as authentic Being-one's-Self, does not detach Dasein from its world, nor does it isolate it so that it becomes a free-floating "I." And how should it, when resoluteness as authentic disclosedness, is authentically nothing else than Being-in-the-morldt Resoluteness brings the Self right into its current concernful Being-alongside what is ready-to-hand, and pushes it into solicitous Being with Others.
In the light of the "for-the-sake-of-which" of one's self-chosen potentiality-for-Being, resolute Dasein frees itself for its world. Dasein's resoluteness towards itself is what first makes it possible to let the Others who are with it 'be' in their ownmost potentiality-for-Being, and to codisclose this potentiality in the solicitude which leaps forth and liberates. When Dasein is resolute, it can become the "conscience" of Others. Only by authentically Being-their-Selves in resoluteness can people authentically be with one another—not by ambiguous and jealous stipulations and talkative fraternizing in the 'they' and in what 'they' want to undertake.
The term "irresoluteness" merely expresses that phenomenon which we have Interpreted as a Being-surrendered to the way in which things have been prevalently interpreted by the "they." Dasein, as a they-self, gets "lived" by the common-sense ambiguity of that publicness in which nobody resolves upon anything but which has always made its decision. "Resoluteness" signifies letting oneself be summoned out of one's lostness in the "they." The irresoluteness of the "they" remains dominant notwithstanding, but it cannot impugn resolute existence. In the counterconcept to irresoluteness, as resoluteness as existentially understood, we do not have in mind any ontico-psychical characteristic in the sense of Being burdened with inhibitions. Even resolutions remain dependent upon the "they" and its world. The understanding of this is one of the things that a resolution discloses, inasmuch as resoluteness is what first gives authentic transparency to Dasein. In resoluteness the issue for Dasein is its ownmost potentiality-for-Being, which, as something thrown, can project itself only upon definite factical possibilities. Resolution does not withdraw itself from "actuality," but discovers first what is factically possible; and it does so by seizing upon it in whatever way is possible for it as its ownmost potentiality-for- Being in the 'they'.
Existentialism is a Humanism
What can be said from the very beginning is that by existentialism we mean a doctrine which makes human life possible and, in addition, declares that every truth and every action implies a human setting and a human subjectivity.
Actually, it is the least scandalous, the most austere of doctrines. It is intended strictly for specialists and philosophers. Yet it can be defined easily. What complicates matters is that there are two kinds of existentialist; first, those who are Christian, among whom I would include Jaspers and Gabriel Marcel, both Catholic; and on the other hand the atheistic existentialists, among whom I class Heidegger, and then the French existentialists and myself. What they have in common is that they think that existence precedes essence, or, if you prefer, that subjectivity must be the starting point.
In the eighteenth century, the atheism of the philosophes discarded the idea of God, but not so much for the notion that essence precedes existence. To a certain extent, this idea is found everywhere; we find it in Diderot, in Voltaire, and even in Kant. Man has a human nature; this human nature, which is the concept of the human, is found in all men, which means that each man is a particular example of a universal concept, man. In Kant, the result of this universality is that the wild-man, the natural man, as well as the bourgeois, are circumscribed by the same definition and have the same basic qualities. Thus, here too the essence of man precedes the historical existence that we find in nature.
Atheistic existentialism, which I represent, is more coherent. It states that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality. What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence.
Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism. It is also what is called subjectivity, the name we are labeled with when charges are brought against us. But what do we mean by this, if not that man has a greater dignity than a stone or table? For we mean that man first exists, that is, that man first of all is the being who hurls himself toward a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future. Man is at the start a plan which is aware of itself, rather than a patch of moss, a piece of garbage, or a cauliflower; nothing exists prior to this plan; there is nothing in heaven; man will be what he will have planned to be. Not what he will want to be.
If existence really does precede essence, man is responsible for what he is. Thus, existentialism's first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him. And when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men.
When we say that man chooses his own self, we mean that every one of us does likewise; but we also mean by that that in making this choice he also chooses all men. In fact, in creating the man that we want to be, there is not a single one of our acts which does not at the same time create an image of man as we think he ought to be. To choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same time the value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We always choose the good, and nothing can be good for us without being good for all.
First, what is meant by anguish? The existentialists say at once that man is anguish. What that means is this: the man who involves himself and who realizes that he is not only the person he chooses to be, but also a lawmaker who is, at the same time, choosing all mankind as well as himself, cannot help escape the feeling of his total and deep responsibility. Of course, there are many people who are not anxious; but we claim that they are hiding their anxiety, that they are fleeing from it. Certainly, many people believe that when they do something, they themselves are the only ones involved, and when someone says to them, "What if everyone acted that way?" they shrug their shoulders and answer, "Everyone doesn't act that way." But really, one should always ask himself, "What would happen if everybody looked at things that way?" There is no escaping this disturbing thought except by a kind of double-dealing. A man who lies and makes excuses for himself by saying "not everybody does that," is someone with an uneasy conscience, because the act of lying implies that a universal value is conferred upon the lie.
Now, I'm not being singled out as an Abraham, and yet at every moment I'm obliged to perform exemplary acts. For every man, everything happens as if all mankind had its eyes fixed on him and were guiding itself by what he does. And every man ought to say to himself, "Am I really the kind of man who has the right to act in such a way that humanity might guide itself by my actions?" And if he does not say that to himself, he is masking his anguish.
When we speak of forlornness, a term Heidegger was fond of, we mean only that God does not exist and that we have to face all the consequences of this. The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain kind of secular ethics which would like to abolish God with the least possible expense. About 1880, some French teachers tried to set up a secular ethics which went something like this: God is a useless and costly hypothesis; we are discarding it; but, meanwhile, in order for there to be an ethics, a society, a civilization, it is essential that certain values be taken seriously and that they be considered as having an a priori existence. It must be obligatory, a priori, to be honest, not to lie, not to beat your wife, to have children, etc., etc. So we're going to try a little device which will make it possible to show that values exist all the same, inscribed in a heaven of ideas, though otherwise God does not exist. In other words—and this, I believe, is the tendency of everything called reformism in France—nothing will be changed if God does not exist.
The existentialist, on the contrary, thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostoyevsky said, "If God didn't exist, everything would be possible." That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to. He can't start making excuses for himself.
If existence really does precede essence, there is no explaining things away by reference to a fixed and given human nature. In other words, there is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom. On the other hand, if God does not exist, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct. So, in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us. We are alone, with no excuses. That is the idea I shall try to convey when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. The existentialist does not believe in the power of passion. He will never agree that a sweeping passion is a ravaging torrent which fatally leads a man to certain acts and is therefore an excuse. He thinks that man is responsible for his passion.
As for despair, the term has a very simple meaning. It means that we shall confine ourselves to reckoning only with what depends upon our will, or on the ensemble of probabilities which make our action possible. When we want something, we always have to reckon with probabilities. I may be counting on the arrival of a friend. The friend is coming by rail or streetcar; this supposes that the train will arrive on schedule, or that the street-car will not jump the track. I am left in the realm of possibility; but possibilities are to be reckoned with only to the point where my action comports with the ensemble of these possibilities, and no further. The moment the possibilities I am considering are not rigorously involved by my action, I ought to disengage myself from them, because no God, no scheme, can adapt the world and its possibilities to my will. When Descartes said, "Conquer yourself rather than the world," he meant essentially the same thing.
Things will be as man will have decided they are to be. Does that mean that I should abandon myself to quietism? No. First, I should involve myself; then, act on the old saw, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Nor does it mean that I shouldn't belong to a party, but rather that I shall have no illusions and shall do what I can. For example, suppose I ask myself, "Will socialization, as such, ever come about?" I know nothing about it. All I know is that i'm going to do everything in my power to bring it about. Beyond that, I can't count on anything. Quietism is the attitude of people who say, "Let others do what I can't do." The doctrine I am presenting is the very opposite of quietism, since it declares, "There is no reality except in action." Moreover, it goes further, since it adds, "Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life."
A man is involved in life, leaves his impress on it, and outside of that there is nothing. To be sure, this may seem a harsh thought to someone whose life hasn't been a success. But, on the other hand, it prompts people to understand that reality alone is what counts, that dreams, expectations, and hopes warrant no more than to define a man as a disappointed dream, as miscarried hopes, as vain expectations. In other words, to define him negatively and not positively. However, when we say, "You are nothing else than your life," that does not imply that the artist will be judged solely on the basis of his works of art; a thousand other things will contribute toward summing him up. What we mean is that a man is nothing else than a series of undertakings, that he is the sum, the organization, the ensemble of the relationships which make up these undertakings.
Subjectivity of the individual is indeed our point of departure, and this for strictly philosophic reasons. Not because we are bourgeois, but because we want a doctrine based on truth and not a lot of fine theories, full of hope but with no real basis. There can be no other truth to take off from than this: / think; therefore, I exist. There we have the absolute truth of consciousness becoming aware of itself. Every theory which takes man out of the moment in which he becomes aware of himself is, at its very beginning, a theory which confounds truth, for outside the Cartesian cogito, all views are only probable, and a doctrine of probability which is not bound to a truth dissolves into thin air. In order to describe the probable, you must have a firm hold on the true. Therefore, before there can be any truth whatsoever, there must be an absolute truth; and this one is simple and easily arrived at; it's on everyone's doorstep; it's a matter of grasping it directly.
Secondly, this theory is the only one which gives man dignity, the only one which does not reduce him to an object. The effect of all materialism is to treat all men, including the one philosophizing, as objects, that is, as an ensemble of determined reactions in no way distinguished from the ensemble of qualities and phenomena which constitute a table or a chair or a stone. We definitely wish to establish the human realm as an ensemble of values distinct from the material realm. But the subjectivity that we have thus arrived at, and which we have claimed to be truth, is not a strictly individual subjectivity, for we have demonstrated that one discovers in the cogito not only himself, but others as well....In order to get any truth about myself, I must have contact with another person. The other is indispensable to my own existence, as well as to my knowledge about myself. This being so, in discovering my inner being I discover the other person at the same time, like a freedom placed in front of me which thinks and wills only for or against me. Hence, let us at once announce the discovery of a world which we shall call intersubjectivity; this is the world in which man decides what he is and what others are.
At heart, what existentialism shows is the connection between the absolute character of free involvement, by virtue of which every man realizes himself in realizing a type of mankind, an involvement always comprehensible in any age whatsoever and by any person whosoever, and the relativeness of the cultural ensemble which may result from such a choice....In this sense, you may, if you like, say that each of us performs an absolute act in breathing, eating, sleeping, or behaving in any way whatever. There is no difference between being free, like a configuration, like an existence which chooses its essence, and being absolute. There is no difference between being an absolute temporarily localized, that is, localized in history, and being universally comprehensible.
What art and ethics have in common is that we have creation and invention in both cases. We cannot decide a priori what there is to be done. I think that I pointed that out quite sufficiently when I mentioned the case of the student who came to see me, and who might have applied to all the ethical systems, Kantian or otherwise, without getting any sort of guidance. He was obliged to devise his law himself.... Man makes himself. He isn't ready made at the start. In choosing his ethics, he makes himself, and force of circumstances is such that he cannot abstain from choosing one. We define man only in relationship to involvement.
If we have defined man's situation as a free choice, with no excuses and no recourse, every man who takes refuge behind the excuse of his passions, every man who sets up a determinism, is a dishonest man. The objection may be raised, "But why mayn't he choose himself dishonestly?" I reply that I am not obliged to pass moral judgment on him, but that I do define his dishonesty as an error. One cannot help considering the truth of the matter. Dishonesty is obviously a falsehood because it belies the complete freedom of involvement.
Though the content of ethics is variable, a certain form of it is universal. Kant says that freedom desires both itself and the freedom of others. Granted. But he believes that the formal and the universal are enough to constitute an ethics. We, on the other hand, think that principles which are too abstract run aground in trying to decide action. Once again, take the case of the student. In the name of what, in the name of what great moral maxim do you think he could have decided, in perfect peace of mind, to abandon his mother or to stay with her? There is no way of judging. The content is always concrete and thereby unforeseeable; there is always the element of invention. The one thing that counts is knowing whether the inventing that has been done, has been done in the name of freedom.
But there is another meaning of humanism. Fundamentally it is this: man is constantly outside of himself; in projecting himself, in losing himself outside of himself, he makes for man's existing; and, on the other hand, it is by pursuing transcendent goals that he is able to exist; man, being this state of passing-beyond, and seizing upon things only as they bear upon this passing-beyond, is at the heart, at the center of this passing-beyond. There is no universe other than a human universe, the universe of human subjectivity. This connection between transcendency, as a constituent element of man—not in the sense that God is transcendent, but in the sense of passing beyond—and subjectivity, in the sense that man is not closed in on himself but is always present in a human universe, is what we call existentialism humanism. Humanism, because we remind man that there is no law-maker other than himself, and that in his forlornness he will decide by himself; because we point out that man will fulfill himself as man, not in turning toward himself, but in seeking outside of himself a goal which is just this liberation, just this particular fulfillment.
From these few reflections it is evident that nothing is more unjust than the objections that have been raised against us. Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position. It isn't trying to plunge man into despair at all. But if one calls every attitude of unbelief despair, like the Christians, then the word is not being used in its original sense. Existentialism isn't so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God doesn't exist. Rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would change nothing. There you've got our point of view. Not that we believe that God exists, but we think that the problem of His existence is not the issue. In this sense existentialism is optimistic, a doctrine of action, and it is plain dishonesty for Christians to make no distinction between their own despair and ours and then to call us despairing.
Being and Nothingness
Frequently, [bad faith] is identified with falsehood. We say indifferently of a person that he shows signs of bad faith or that he lies to himself. We shall willingly grant that bad faith is a lie to oneself, on condition that we distinguish the lie to oneself from lying in general. Lying is a negative attitude, we will agree to that. But this negation does not bear on consciousness itself; it aims only at the transcendent. The essence of the lie implies in fact that the liar actually is in complete possession of the truth which he is hiding. A man does not lie about what he is ignorant of; he does not lie when he spreads an error of which he himself is the dupe; he does not lie when he is mistaken. The ideal description of the liar would be a cynical consciousness, affirming truth within himself, denying it in his words, and denying that negation as such....The liar intends to deceive and he does not seek to hide this intention from himself nor to disguise the translucency of consciousness; on the contrary, he has recourse to it when there is a question of deciding secondary behavior.
The situation cannot be the same for bad faith if this, as we have said, is indeed a lie to oneself. To be sure, the one who practices bad faith is hiding a displeasing truth or presenting as truth a pleasing untruth. Bad faith then has in appearance the structure of falsehood. Only what changes everything is the fact that in bad faith it is from myself that I am hiding the truth. Thus the duality of the deceiver and the deceived does not exist here. Bad faith on the contrary implies in essence the unity of a single consciousness.
It follows first that the one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and the same person, which means that I must know in my capacity as deceiver the truth which is hidden from me in my capacity as the one deceived. Better yet I must know the truth very exactly in order to conceal it more carefully—and this not at two different moments, which at a pinch would allow us to re-establish a semblance of duality—but in the unitary structure of a single project.
Even though the existence of bad faith is very precarious, and though it belongs to the kind of psychic structures which we might call "metastable," it presents nonetheless an autonomous and durable form. It can even be the normal aspect of life for a very great number of people. A person can live in bad faith, which does not mean that he does not have abrupt awakenings to cynicism or to good faith, but which implies a constant and particular style of life. Our embarrassment then appears extreme since we can neither reject nor comprehend bad faith.
Upon any one of my conducts it is always possible to converge two looks, mine and that of the Other. The conduct will not present exactly the same structure in each case. But as we shall see later, as each look perceives it, there is between these two aspects of my being, no difference between appearance and being—as if I were to my self the truth of myself and as if the Other possessed only a deformed image of me. The equal dignity of being possessed by my being-for-others and by my being-for-myself permits a perpetually disintegrating synthesis and a perpetual game of escape from the for-itself to the for-others and from the forothers to the for-itself.
A quick examination of the idea of sincerity, the antithesis of bad faith, will be very instructive in this connection. Actually sincerity presents itself as a demand and consequently is not a state. Now what is the ideal to be attained in this case? It is necessary that a man be for himself only what he is.
In order that the concepts of bad faith can put us under illusion at least for an instant, in order that the candor of "pure hearts" can have validity for human reality as an ideal, the principle of identity must not represent a constitutive principle of human reality and human reality must not be necessarily what it is but must be able to be what it is not. What does this mean? If man is what he is, bad faith is for ever impossible and candor ceases to be his ideal and becomes instead his being. But is man what he is? And more generally, how can he be what he is when he exists as consciousness of being? If candor or sincerity is a universal value, it is evident that the maxim "one must be what one is" does not serve solely as a regulating principle for judgments and concepts by which I express what I am. It posits not merely an ideal of knowing but an ideal of being; it proposes for us an absolute equivalence of being with itself as a prototype of being. In this sense it is necessary that we make ourselves what we are. But what are we then if we have the constant obligation to make ourselves what we are, if our mode of being is having the obligation to be what we are?
I am never any one of my attitudes, any one of my actions. The good speaker is the one who plays at speaking, because he cannot be speaking. The attentive pupil who wishes to be attentive, his eyes riveted on the teacher, his ears open wide, so exhausts himself in playing the attentive role that he ends up by no longer hearing anything. Perpetually absent to my body, to my acts, I am despite myself that "divine absence" of which Valery speaks. I cannot say either that I am here or that I am not here, in the sense that we say "that box of matches is on the table;" this would be to confuse my "being-in-theworld" with a "being-in the midst of the world." Nor that I am standing, nor that I am seated; this would be to confuse my body with the idiosyncratic totality of which it is only one of the structures. On all sides I escape being and yet—I am.
To be sincere, we said, is to be what one is. That supposes that I am not originally what I am. But here naturally Kant's "You ought, therefore you can" is implicitly understood. I can become sincere; this is what my duty and my effort to achieve sincerity imply. But we definitely establish that the original structure of "not being what one is" renders impossible in advance all movement toward being in itself or "being what one is." And this impossibility is not hidden from consciousness; on the contrary, it is the very stuff of consciousness; it is the embarrasing constraint which we constantly experience; it is our very incapacity to recognize ourselves, to constitute ourselves as being what we are. It is this necessity which means that, as soon as we posit ourselves as a certain being, by a legitimate judgment, based on inner experience or correctly deduced from a priori or empirical premises, then by that very positing we surpass this being — and that not toward another being but toward emptiness, toward nothing.
How then can we blame another for not being sincere or rejoice in our own sincerity since this sincerity appears to us at the same time to be impossible? How can we in conversation, in confession, in introspection, even attempt sincerity since the effort will by its very nature be doomed to failure and since at the very time when we announce it we have a prejudicative comprehension of its futility? In introspection I try to determine exactly what I am, to make up my mind to be my true self without delay — even though it means consequently to set about searching for ways to change myself. But what does this mean if not that I am constituting myself as a thing? Shall I determine the ensemble of purposes and motivations which have pushed me to do this or that action? But this is already to postulate a causal determinism which constitutes the flow of my states of consciousness as a succession of physical states. Shall I uncover in myself "drives," even though it be to affirm them in shame? But is this not deliberately to forget that these drives are realized with my consent, that they are not forces of nature but that I lend them their efficacy by a perpetually renewed decision concerning their value. Shall I pass judgment on my character, on my nature? Is this not to veil from myself at that moment what I know only too well, that I thus judge a past to which by definition my present is not subject? The proof of this is that the same man who in sincerity posits that he is what in actuality he was, is indignant at the reproach of another and tries to disarm it by asserting that he can no longer be what he was. We are readily astonished and upset when the penalties of the court affect a man who in his new freedom is no longer the guilty person he was. But at the same time we require of this man that he recognize himself as being this guilty one. What then is sincerity except precisely a phenomenon of bad faith? Have we not shown indeed that in bad faith human reality is constituted as a being which is what it is not and which is not what it is?
The essential structure of sincerity does not differ from that of bad faith since the sincere man constitutes himself as what he is in order not to be it. This explains the truth recognized by all that one can fall into bad faith through being sincere. As Valery pointed out, this is the case with Stendhal. Total, constant sincerity as a constant effort to adhere to oneself is by nature a constant effort to dissociate oneself from oneself. A person frees himself from himself by the very act by which he makes himself an object for himself. To draw up a perpetual inventory of what one is means constantly to redeny oneself and to take refuge in a sphere where one is no longer anything but a pure, free regard. The goal of bad faith, as we said, is to put oneself out of reach: it is an escape. Now we see that we must use the same terms to define sincerity. What does this mean?
Bad faith is not restricted to denying the qualities which I possess, to not seeing the being which I am. It attempts also to constitute myself as being what I am not. It apprehends me positively as courageous when I am not so...In addition my effort in bad faith must include the ontological comprehension that even in my usual being what I am, I am not it really.
The essential consequence of our earlier remarks is that man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders; he is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being. We are taking the word "responsibility" in its ordinary sense as "consciousness (of) being the incontestable author of an event or of an object." In this sense the responsibility of the for-itself is overwhelming since he is the one by whom it happens that there is a world; since he is also the one who makes himself be, then whatever may be the situation in which he finds himself, the foritself must wholly assume this situation with its peculiar coefficient of adversity, even though it be insupportable. He must assume the situation with the proud consciousness of being the author of it, for the very worst disadvantages or the worst threats which can endanger my person have meaning only in and through my project; and it is on the ground of the engagement which I am that they appear. It is therefore senseless to think of complaining since nothing foreign has decided what we feel, what we live, or what we are.
Furthermore this absolute responsibility is not resignation; it is simply the logical requirement of the consequences of our freedom. What happens to me happens through me, and I can neither affect myself with it nor revolt against it nor resign myself to it. Moreover everything which happens to me is mine. By this we must understand first of all that I am always equal to what happens to me qua man, for what happens to a man through other men and through himself can be only human. The most terrible situations of war, the worst tortures do not create a non-human state of things; there is no non-human situation. It is only through fear, flight, and recourse to magical types of conduct that I shall decide on the non-human, but this decision is human, and I shall carry the entire responsibility for it. But in addition the situation is mine because it is the image of my free choice of myself, and everything which it presents to me is mine in that this represents me and symbolizes me. Is it not I who decide the coefficient of adversity in things and even their unpredictability by deciding myself?
Thus there are no accidents in a life; a community event which suddenly bursts forth and involves me in it does not come from the outside. If I am mobilized in a war, this war is my war; it is in my image and I deserve it. I deserve it first because I could always get out of it by suicide or by desertion; these ultimate possibles are those which must always be present for us when there is a question of envisaging a situation. For lack of getting out of it, I have chosen it. This can be due to inertia, to cowardice in the face of public opinion, or because I prefer certain other values to the value of the refusal to join in the war (the good opinion of my relatives, the honor of my family, etc.). Anyway you look at it, it is a matter of a choice.
Under these conditions since every event in the world can be revealed to me only as an opportunity (an opportunity made use of, lacked, neglected, etc.), or better yet since everything which happens to us can be considered as a chance (i.e., can appear to us only as a way of realizing this being which is in question in our being) and since others as transcendences-transcended are themselves only opportunities and chances, the responsibility of the foritself extends to the entire world as a peopled-world. It is precisely thus that the for-itself apprehends itself in anguish; that is, as a being which is neither the foundation of its own being nor of the Other's being nor of the in-itselfs which form the world, but a being which is compelled to decide the meaning of being—within it and everywhere outside of it. The one who realizes in anguish his condition as being thrown into a responsibility which extends to his very abandonment has no longer either remorse or regret or excuse; he is no longer anything but a freedom which perfectly reveals itself and whose being resides in this very revelation. But as we pointed out at the beginning of this work, most of the time we flee anguish in bad faith.
By the 1950s and 1960s, the existentialist style and attitude had swept into the English-speaking world, and talk of anxiety, alienation, and absurdity provided a counterpoint to the mainstream thinking of the time. The "Outsider" and "the angry young man" presented alternatives to the prevailing "other-directed" personality type bent on making friends and influencing people. What made the post-war existentialist movement so attractive was its unflinching stance of resistance and refusal toward everything regarded as commonplace and beyond criticism in contemporary life.
Existentialist writers have important things to say about such current topics as the nature of the self, the realism-antirealism debate, computer models of the mind, and the relevance of care or local attachments to ethics. Whatever one makes of the post-war phenomenon called "existentialism," it is hard to ignore the figures who are seen as precursors and exponents of that movement...Although the differences among these thinkers should not be obscured, we hope to show here that they have a great deal in common, and that together they can still be thought of as presenting a united front against standardized ways of thinking.
What is existentialism? The term is notoriously difficult to define, and no single definition will be adequate to fit all the works usually labeled "existentialist." But there are a number of features most existentialists have in common. We might start by saying that existentialism arises as a response to some of the major shifts that occurred with the emergence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of what is called the modern worldview. This modern outlook results in part from the radically new view of reality created by the rise of modern science. The sociologist Max Weber described this shift as the "disenchantment of the world." In his view, traditional or premodern societies experienced the world as an "enchanted garden" in which nature is understood as a meaningful, value-filled order that determines the proper function and aim for each thing in advance. Thus, the ancient Greeks tended to assume that there is a built-in order of nature (the cosmos) that determines what things should be like and how people ought to live. In Medieval Europe when people understood themselves as God's creations they were inclined to see themselves as having a pregiven goal in life—the goal of realizing God's plan for them on earth. Even as late as the Renaissance people generally thought of reality as a "great chain of being" or a "ladder of being" in which each type of thing has a proper place.
For these earlier ways of understanding things, the world is regarded as a familiar home for humans, a place where everything is filled with meaning and significance. To say that the rise of modern science involved a "disenchantment" of the world, then, is to say that science undermines this sense of a pregiven meaning and value in things. The great achievements of the early scientists were made possible by their ability to set aside their belief in the inherent meaningfulness of things in order to look at the world as consisting of a vast aggregate of inherently meaningless entities: the material objects in causal relations posited by natural science.
To see things in this way requires the ability to "objectify" the world; that is to say, it calls for the ability to see the universe as a vast aggregate of meaningless brute objects, lacking any inherent value or significance. From this standpoint, however, the universe is no longer experienced as an "enchanted garden" where meanings and purposes are laid out for us in advance. Thanks to this new outlook, humans come to regard themselves as being merely one type of animal among others, as medium-sized creatures on a small planet at the outer edge of one among billions of galaxies. The religious thinker and proto-existentialist Blaise Pascal, writing soon after the scientifically oriented philosopher Rene Descartes, captured the sense of loneliness and homelessness accompanying this new outlook when he said, "The silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me." Existentialists start out from this feeling of homelessness even though they are quite critical of the scientific outlook that brought it into existence in the first place.
With the shift to the modern outlook, there emerges a new way of under- Banding the relation of the self to the community. The sixteenth city marks the appearance of the concept of a "society" understood as an aggregate of essentially distinct individuals. Because a society is understood as a human creation, the result of some sort of social contract or agreement among initially unconnected individuals, there is no sense of there being abuilt or mternal relations among individuals that are determined in advance by nature or by God. According to the emerging modern view soc, ety is regarded as having "a life of its own, but not a human life," and so" is expenenced as something "other" to the individual, opposing the individual's quest for fulfillment. Lionel Trilling argues that this new sense of society as essentially alien to the individual leads eventually to the profoundly modern ideal of "authenticity." The concept of the individual, seen as caught in a constant struggle against an impersonal and dehumanizing society, is also at the root of much of the sense of alienation and isolation so central to the modern identity.
Nietzsche tries to convey a sense of how these shifts have led to a profound and irreversible breakdown of traditional ways of living in his well-known words, "God is dead." This remark does not just mean that people are less religious than they used to be. Instead, it means that the traditional conceptions of an absolute" in the Western world-ideas about a transcendent basis of meaning and value in life, including the cosmos of the Greeks, God of Christiamty, the Humanism and Reason of the Enlightenment- all of these old absolutes have been found to be only transient human constructs with no binding force in telling us how we ought to act or what we ought to strive for. And where these old absolutes have fail d no new god-term seems to be in the offing. Nietzsche sees this loss of absolutes as quite terrifying. For as people become aware of the loss of a taken-for-granted basis for assessment and aspiration in Western civilization, he predicts, the outcome will be nihilism, the complete disbelief in all values.
Existentialists tend to regard this loss of traditional absolutes as a shattering event. For if God is dead, then we are left with no underlying grounds to legitimate our existence or define our aim in life. We find ourselves "abandoned," "forlorn," "thrown" into a world with no pregiven justifications or sense of direction. And though most of us cling to society for comfort and protection, the fact is that, at the deepest level, we are ultimately alone. We are basically isolated individuals who have to make sense of the world and find meaning for our lives on our own.
In their more dramatic moments, existentialists speak of a feeling of the "anguish," "anxiety," or "nausea" that comes from confronting a brute world of "being" devoid of any built-in design or purpose. In Heidegger's dramatic language, we find ourselves suspended over an "abyss of meaninglessness," standing face to face with our own "being-toward-death," without worldly supports or guarantees. What these formulations point to is an awareness that there are no fixed foundations for our beliefs and practices, no pregiven "essences" that determine the proper goal of humans, so that it is up to each of us to give a determinate content and point to our own lives. With its clear-sighted recognition of our lack of absolutes in the modern age, existentialism makes explicit the understanding of our predicament that lies at the root a wide variety of recent challenges to the essentialism and foundationalism of traditional philosophy.
In attempting to understand our predicament in the modern age existentialists have formulated an insightful new way of thinking about human existence. In contrast to much of the philosophical tradition, which has sought to understand a human as a thing or an object of a particular sort (whether a mind or a body or some combination of the two), existentialists have characterized human existence as involving a profound tension or conflict, an ongoing struggle between opposing elements.
In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel distinguishes two dimensions or aspects that make up a human being...the existence of consciousness (or selfawareness) in humans marks a qualitative difference from the lower orders of animals. As Hegel says, "Consciousness, however, is explicitly the notion of itself." In other words, as conscious beings, humans are capable of reflecting on themselves and evaluating themselves in the light of some overarching vision of what their lives are adding up to. And in this respect consciousness introduces a break into the order of nature. It embodies the ability to step back from its own dealings with the environment in order to question and assess those dealings. Hegel describes this by saying that consciousness "transcends its limits," and because these limits belong to it, "consciousness transcends its own self."
Heidegger and Sartre capture this sense of transcendence by saying that what is unique to humans is that their being is "in question" or "at issue" for them. Humans are not content with simply satisfying their basic desires, for they care about what kinds of beings they are, and they therefore reflect on the worth of the things they desire. Because they are capable of having aspirations and striving for something beyond the immediacy of their basic needs and drives, they are capable of forming second-order desires about their basic desires and can regulate their immediate responses in the light of higher goals and purposes.
The gap opened up in the heart of being by consciousness leads to a perpetual desire: the constant craving to close up the rift by finally once and for all realizing the higher-order aspirations and ideals opened up by reflection. Thus, life is experienced as a lack or emptiness that strives to fill itself up. Human existence is constantly agitated by aspirations and strivings that go beyond its immediate needs and impressions, and so, Hegel says, "it can find no peace."
Hegel therefore presents us with a picture of human existence as a tension between two aspects of the self: the "in itself — our "given," natural functions as finite, empirical beings — and the "for itself — the reflective moment that leads us to interpret and evaluate, and so to transcend or surpass our mere givenness.
Hegel believed that the tension in consciousness between our creaturely givenness and our self-conscious strivings could eventually be resolved through a process of rational "dialectic." For existentialists, in contrast, such a tidy resolution of the tension is not so easy to come by. In their view, so long as we are alive and capable of reflection, we will always be more than what we are as mere factical entities, and so there will always be a gap between what is just "there" in our lives and what could or should be. Given the depth of this rift in the self, the most one can hope for is either to live in the tension with maximum lucidity and intensity (the view of secular existentialists like Sartre and Heidegger) or to find a meaning and content for one's life in a commitment (the view of a theistic existentialist like Kierkegaard).
Human existence has a particular sort of temporal structure. We do not just persist in existence like rocks or cauliflowers, occupying a position in the endless series of "nows" of time. Instead, human temporality has a kind of cumulativeness and goal-directedness that is different from the enduring presence of physical things. First, the temporal unfolding of human existence has a distinctive "futural" character. As Hegel saw, we are relentlessly driven on by a desire to be something, to complete ourselves or to heal up the rift at the core of our being. As a result of this desire (which existentialists call "care" or "the desire to be God"), we are always directed forward into the future, moving toward realizing the fundamental projects that define our transcendence. Humans are futural beings, and their mode of relating to the future in turn defines the temporal modes of being of nonhuman things...We are "time-binding beings" in the sense that our goaldirectedness or futurity leads us to gather up what has come before and carry it forward into the future as resources for our projects.
For existentialists, then, we are what we do in the course of living out our active lives. We are self-creating or selffashioning beings. We define our being through our ongoing choices in dealing with the world. This conception of humans as self-creating beings explains Sartre's famous definition of existentialism as the view that "existence precedes essence." Sartre's point is that there is no fixed essential nature of humans that determines in advance how humans ought to live or inevitably will live. Instead, each of us decides his or her own definitive make up or essence (character, personality, individual lifestyle, and so on) through his or her own choices. For example, if I make a point of having an upbeat attitude toward things, always finding the good in everyone, then all things being equal I will come to be a person of that sort. As Aristotle saw, consistently acting in certain ways creates the corresponding character traits. Thus, my being or essence is something I make, not something I find. It is by taking up the capacities and traits I have and forming them into a particular configuration of life possibilities that I become a person of a particular sort. Whether I realize it or not, I am creating my own being or identity through what I do. To say that "existence precedes essence," then, is to say that we first "exist"—we simply show up on the scene, we are just "there," initially having only inchoate potentialities and prospects—and that it is then up to us to take over what we are given and shape it into an "essence" that is definitive of who we are. For the existentialists, life is a task and a challenge. We can either recoil from our responsibility for our lives, pretending that we are forced to act in certain ways by circumstances beyond our control. Or we can embrace our responsibility for self-fashioning and seize on our lives with clarity, integrity, and courage. The fact that it is up to each of us to make something of our lives explains the age-old counsel, taken up by Nietzsche and Heidegger, that you should "become what you are."
The existentialist insight into the "facticity" of human existence has important consequences for one of the core assumptions of traditional philosophy. Ever since Plato, philosophers have dreamed of finding an external vantage point outside of the cares and concerns of life, a position freed from all local emotions and interests, so that they could get a view of reality from the standpoint of eternity (sub specie aeternitatis)...In the view of existentialists, however, such a disengaged vantage point is impossible. We are always caught up in the midst of things, immersed in a particular context, with specific desires and commitments that affect our perception and thoughts. We must always start out from an "insider's perspective" on things, from a description of the world as it appears to us—to beings like ourselves who are participants in our forms of life, with our emotions, bodily orientation, and perceptual functions. We have no choice but to begin from an account of the thick and complex weave of our actual lives as they are experienced prior to abstraction and theorizing. And because there is no way to get beyond this insider's perspective, there is no way we can ever succeed in achieving a "God's-eye view" of the world, a "view from nowhere" that will give us a totally dispassionate, objective view of reality.
This emphasis on the priority of concrete, engaged existence is central to existentialist writers. One of Kierkegaard's main criticisms of Hegel was that he built a vast abstract system like a huge mansion with no doors or windows, while leaving the existing individual to live in a dog house out back. From his earliest writings Nietzsche insisted on the need to start out from the standpoint of life as it is lived prior to abstract reflection and rationalizing.
Heidegger and Sartre also insist on the importance of starting from a careful "phenomenology" of ordinary existence—a description of our dayto- day practical lives as they are before we adopt a theoretical attitude. What these descriptions reveal is that under normal circumstances we find ourselves up to our elbows in the midst of things, already "out there" in the familiar life world, caught up in day-to-day practical concerns and involvements with others.
Existentialists generally tend to think that our existence as minds or fields of consciousness is derivative from and parasitic on a more fundamental way of being as agents and participants in the stream of life. The ability to see ourselves as subjects of experience is the result of a specialized stance we can take on ourselves, the stance of reflection. Instead of being something that accompanies all our activities, then, self-aware consciousness turns out to be a side-effect of some rather peculiar modes of comporting toward things. Consciousness (understood as a "field" of contents accompanied by self-awareness) is an achievement, not a given.
Heidegger expresses this idea by saying that what is "given" for the most part in our everyday lives is not a mind set distinct from a world of objects, but "the unified phenomenon of being-in-the-world." In our everyday activities, our being as agents is inseparable from the tools, workshops, and practical settings in which we find ourselves. For Heidegger, this absorption in familiar contexts of activity is prior to detached reflection in this sense... It follows from this priority of the practical over the theoretical that the picture of reality we arrive at through detached, objective theorizing is not necessarily a "truer" or more accurate view of things than the tacit sense of the world we have in the midst of our practical interchange with things. For existentialists, the disengaged, dispassionate "spectator attitude" idealized by traditional philosophers actually tends to work as a distorting lens that conceals the richness and complexity of actual life in the world, giving us a one-sided and "privative" way of understanding the world. The standpoint of cool, disinterested inquiry pulls us out of the fabric of concrete existence where things show up as meaningful and value-laden, and it bleaches out crucial aspects of things while concealing the fact that this concealment is occurring.
In the view of existentialists, the problem with science is not that it is false, but that its objectifying approach to phenomena forces things into a particular framework of interpretation that blots out many of the most important things in the world as we actually encounter it. The scientific point of view on things, they contend, is just one optional outlook among others, and a rather narrow and misleading one at that. Because the stance of disengaged objectivity gives us a one-sided and distorted view of things, existentialists make an effort to try to hold on to the "passion" or "engagement" that normally makes manifest the significance and value of what we encounter in actual life...And, finally, it is precisely because the detached spectator attitude dims down reality and creates the impression of meaninglessness that Nietzsche is so critical of the Socratic and Platonic privileging of detached rationality over instinctual drives.
The existentialist conception of being-in-the-world tends to undermine some of the dualistic oppositions that have dominated so much of Western thought. From the existentialist's perspective, the traditional philosophical dualisms begin to look like high-level abstractions with no clear relevance for understanding our basic human predicament. This is the case, first of all, for the "mind-matter" dualism that has come down to us from Plato and Descartes. By showing us that our very being as selves is always inextricably tied up with a practical life-world, existentialists try to deflate the assumption that at a basic level we are "really" minds or fields of consciousness distinct from an "external" world of material objects. From this standpoint, the idea that reality must be understood as consisting of mental and material substances starts to look like an unwarranted prejudice handed down by the philosophical tradition.
Finally, the view that our basic situation is being-in-the-world raises questions about the assumption that humans are essentially isolated individuals only contingently related to one another. Although existentialists are concerned with getting people to recognize their responsibility as individuals, they nevertheless emphasize the fact that the world in which we find ourselves initially is essentially a shared, public life-world, a realm of meanings constituted by our public practices. And this means that, as being-inthe- world, we are at the deepest level participants and place-holders within a social context.
Our being enmeshed in a specific practical and social world with pregiven attachments and concerns is part of our "facticity" as humans. We are always "thrown" into a concrete context with determinate meanings and values laid out by the practices of a particular historical community. But this facticity is only one dimension of human existence, for, as we have seen, humans also have the ability to "transcend" their givenness. Our lives are "at stake" for us, which is to say that we are creatures who care about what we are. Because of this concern about our own being, each of us has taken a stand on his or her life by taking over some specific "sphere of existence" or configuration of meanings from the pool of options available in our world. As beings who transcend their mere givenness, each of us is shaping his or her own identity through what we do. In my actions I am constituting myself as a pleasure-loving aesthete, perhaps, or as a duty-bound, responsible citizen. To be human, then, is to go beyond one's facticity by taking it over, interpreting it, and trying to make something of it in the light of one's longrange projects.
As William James says, even to refuse to make a choice is to make a choice. Because I am the totality of what I do (or fail to do) throughout my lifetime, there is no way to avoid the fact that I am choosing myself as a person of a particular sort through my actions and omissions. This sense of the individual's choice in creating his or her own self is the basis for the central place the concept of freedom has in most existentialist writings. To say that humans "transcend" their facticity is to say that we always stand out into an open range of possible courses of action for the future. According to existentialists, nothing compels us to choose one course of action over the others. For example, nothing forces a professor to persist in trying to build her career in academia. She shows up for work every day and takes care of her responsibilities, but at any moment she could walk away from the university and turn to a life of crime. What this shows is that if she continues to show up for her classes and perform her other duties in the university, then it is because she is choosing to do so. She is assuming this identity for herself. And if she feels that her character as a responsible person or her obligations to her family make it necessary for her to go on doing her job, then she is choosing to let her character or her family count as weighty for her in this way. As Sartre would say, everywhere she turns she encounters her freedom.
According to Kierkegaard, the way the world appears to someone is shaped by the particular sphere of existence that individual has entered into, for example, an aesthete who chooses to live for pleasure in the present might encounter the world as kind of playground, whereas the responsible citizen would see it as an arena of obligations and responsibilities. And Nietzsche holds that reality is accessible only under some "perspective" or other, with the result that there is no such thing as getting in touch with reality as it is in itself, independent of any point of view or framework of interpretation. Though he encourages us to multiply our perspectives in order to expand our ways of experiencing things, he does not believe there can be a pure, perspectiveless access to things.
Heidegger and Sartre, following in Husserl's footsteps, try to lead us to see that the specific stand a person takes on his or her life defines in advance how the world will show up for that person. Heidegger describes how the world we encounter in the midst of our everyday practical dealings with equipment has a very different structure from that of the world encountered in detached, objective, theoretical reflection. And Sartre's writings are filled with vivid descriptions of how things in the world are colored and invested with significance by the particular stance of the individual dealing with those things.
Thus, although our facticity predefines the types of options available to us as agents, the actions we take in interpreting and handling our factical situations define the meaning those situations have. This does not mean, of course, that "thinking makes it so," that reality can be anything we want it to be. But it does mean that the way reality shows up for us is always endowed with a meaning through the stands we take in dealing with things. And, as a result, there is no way to drive in a wedge between the uninterpreted "given" in a situation and the meaning the situation has by virtue of our concrete ways of comporting ourselves in the world.
For Sartre, I never apprehend facts as they are in themselves, but only facts as I choose to interpret them. This means that I freely choose the meaning of all reality, including the meaning of the social world that I draw on for my interpretations of things. In Sartre's words, "facticity is everywhere, but inapprehensible: I never encounter anything except my responsibility. . . . Since others ... are themselves only opportunities and chances [for my interpreting activity], the responsibility of the for-itself [i.e., my interpreting] extends to the entire world as a peopled-world." It is this awareness of our responsibility for the world that appears in the experience of "anguish." "It is precisely thus that the for-itself apprehends itself in anguish: that is, as a being . . . which is compelled to decide the meaning of being—within it and everywhere outside of it." Whether we realize it or not, we are deciding the meaning things have for us through our choices concerning how we relate to them.
Existentialists are aware that people for the most part fail to see that they are self-creating beings, and that they generally try to avoid facing up to their own responsibility for their lives. In our day-to-day existence, we tend to drift along into the public ways of acting, doing what "one" does, and we assume that our lives are justified so long as we are conforming to the norms and conventions accepted in our social world. We are, in John Haugeland's catchy phrase, "censorious conformists."9 We try to fit in with the crowd and we are quick to correct others when they step out of line (as is evident in our response when someone mispronounces a word). There is, in the modern world at least, an overwhelming pressure toward what Michel Foucault has called "normalization": the standardization of every region of life in order to produce and sustain a relatively regimented and manageable set of social practices. At the same time, the fact that we have to play many different roles in our complex society means that our lives lack coherence and focus. We are expected to be "all things to all people," capable of changing gears quickly as we move from family to work to our closest circle of friends. As a result, we tend to be dispersed and distracted, lacking any real cohesiveness and integrity as individuals.
The writings of Heidegger and Sartre carry forward the existentialist critique of everyday social existence. Sartre ridicules the pompous "spirit of seriousness" of the bourgeoisie and is sharply critical of the effect of being brought within a "We." "The one who experiences himself as constituting an Us with other men feels himself trapped among an infinity of strange existences," he writes; "he is alienated radically and without recourse."...Finally, Heidegger criticizes the "tranquilization" and "alienation from one's own self that is characteristic of our ordinary ways of "falling" into step with society. As "average everydayness," we tend to be interchangeable bits in the public mosaic, and we enact parts in various social dramas, guided by socially approved norms and conventions. The roles we fill and parts we play are anonymous in the sense that "anyone" could step in and take our place. As a result, for much of our lives we just are sets of anonymous roles and routines that anyone with comparable skills could fill. In our humdrum activities we simply do what "one" does, following the procedures laid out by the social world. Even when people rebel against social customs, they tend to do so in accordance with strictly defined norms.
In Heidegger's words, we exist as the "anyone" or the "they" (the German term das Man means "the one" as in "One doesn't do that here"). "We take pleasure and enjoy ourselves as one [man] takes pleasure; we read, see, and judge about literature and art as one sees and judges; likewise we shrink back from the 'masses of people' as one shrinks back; we find 'shocking' what one finds shocking." But, once again, this critical tone does not indicate an entirely negative estimation of social existence. On the contrary, for Heidegger, being the "they" or the "one" is a "primordial phenomenon" that "belongs to [our]positive constitution."
What can free us from our complacent absorption in society, according to these authors, is not rational reflection or cognition, but rather a lifetransforming insight resulting from a profound emotion or affective experience... For each of these writers, it turns out that the deepest grasp of our condition in the world occurs as a result of a noncognitive affect rather than through explicit, cognitive reflection.
The concept of authenticity does not necessarily have any ethical or political implications. The ideal of authenticity is supposed to call us back from our ordinary, inauthentic way of being distracted and dispersed in the world. It calls on us to live a more focused and intense life, a way of existing that integrates our feelings, desires, and beliefs into a unified whole. Because an authentic life is given focus by a "fundamental project" or an "ultimate concern," it has the kind of cumulativeness and directedness that is missing in ordinary inauthentic existence.
But there is no reason to believe that a person who is authentic necessarily will be a more benevolent or more principled person. For the most part, the ideal seems to be more concerned with the style of one's life rather than its content. It concerns the how rather than the what. The conception of authentic existence as a matter of giving one's life a focus appears in Nietzsche (who never actually uses the word "authenticity"). In a section called "One thing is needed" in The Gay Science he says that what is crucial is "to 'give style' to one's character," to survey all the strengths and weaknesses of [one's] nature and then fit them into an artistic plan. . . . In the end, when the work is finished, it becomes evident how the constraint of a single taste governed and formed everything large and small. Whether this taste was good or bad is less important than one might suppose, if only it was a single taste." As this quote makes clear, the main idea in authenticity is what we might call "self-focusing": giving coherence and integrity to one's life, creating oneself as a work of art, by imparting a unifying style to everything one does.
Nevertheless, there is an especially influential line of criticism we might explore in some depth. One way of putting this criticism is to say that existentialism reflects the point of view of a group of powerful and relatively affluent intellectuals whose worries about meaninglessness and isolation reveal more about their status as members of the bourgeoisie than about the human condition. This was the point of the criticisms launched by Marxists earlier in the century, and it reappears in recent arguments that existentialism masks or trivializes the concrete forms of suffering of oppressed people in the modern world by shifting attention from real problems to the worries of a cultural elite. Existentialism, these critics suggest, is a. luxury only a group of comfortably ensconced academics can afford. Seen from this angle, the ideal of authenticity looks out of touch with the real needs of the majority of the earth's population. And the glorification of freedom in existentialism threatens to license a kind of self-indulgent capriciousness that might undermine moral obligation and political activism.
The idea that one can be an effective member of society only if one, so to speak, cleans one's own house and cultivates oneself is also central to modern existentialists. Though it is true that there is no particular moral or political theory entailed by existentialism, it does seem that the ideal of authenticity points to a set of character traits that might be seen as providing us with a better basis for making the first-order moral and political decisions we need to make in our active lives. Authenticity calls for a kind of clear-sightedness and honesty that would seem to rule out the possibility of hiding behind roles or remaining blind to Ithe consequences of one's actions. Also, because authenticity involves the lucid awareness that our actions constitute our identity, it forces us to accept our responsibility for what we do.
Kierkegaard viewed his life as governed by a deep melancholy, which he self-consciously attempted to hide with wit and gaiety. An event of crucial importance for Kierkegaard was his breaking of his engagement to Regine Olsen in 1841. His reason for this action is an important but unsolved mystery in his life. First educated at home, he began university as a student of theology, but soon turned to literature" and philosophy. Kierkegaard was especially steeped in the philosophy of Hegel, which he studied in Berlin. A dominant theme in his life was his opposition to official state Christianity, seen by him as encumbered by a passionless conformity to bourgeois respectability and stability. Instead, Kierkegaard advocated a life of intense religious commitment, free from superficiality and empty formalism.
The overriding concern in Kierkegaard's religious and philosophical writings is to provide insight into the meaning and fulfillment of human life: to provide insight into what makes a human life worth living, and what makes it genuinely satisfying for the individual who is living it. He believed that in his own time both secular and religious people were especially unable to attain the meaning and fulfillment of which they are capable. In The Present Age, he describes his own culture as having lost an agreed-upon sense of qualitative distinctions accepted within society as a whole. People no longer make a clear distinction, for example, between fine art and schlock art, or between great writers and hacks. As a result, there is no longer a basis for experiencing things as genuinely worthwhile or significant in life. As such distinctions are leveled down, Kierkegaard claims, the possibility of finding meaning and fulfillment in our lives is diminished. We would then lose any generally accepted bases for making the kinds of commitments that would give our lives a point and a sense of direction.
In his characteristically existentialist view, Kierkegaard believes that achieving meaning in life is not something simply given to us, something that comes with just being alive. Rather, it depends on the choices we make. It is by our decisions, by the stands we take, that we can impart a meaning to our lives. This is why our choices are a matter of the greatest seriousness. In Kierkegaard's view, we only genuinely come to exist as human selves through the life-defining choices we make. Unlike the other existentialists discussed in this volume, however, Kierkegaard does not believe that we are ultimately on our own in making the best possible choice for our lives. His final recommendations are religious, and he argues that the best decision we can make is one in which we are dependent on God. Hence he is called a religious or Christian existentialist, in contrast to such figures as Nietzsche and Sartre, who are often designated secular existentialists.
Many of the major themes in secular existentialism were first developed by Kierkegaard. First, he holds that everyday life tends to be deeply unfulfilling. Second, he claims that human existence involves a profound tension or conflict between two dimensions, facticity and transcendence, that is, between what we always already are and the capacity we have to transcend this existence. Third, Kierkegaard holds that the meaning we find in life is not something that simply comes to us, but is something we attain through struggle, by means of our choices and commitments. And finally, he formulates the view that certain kinds of decisions lead to more fulfilling lives than do others, and that these decisions express and constitute what we truly are. On his view, then, we are, to a certain extent, self-constructing beings: we are what we make of ourselves by means of our decisions.
One set of opposites plays a particularly important role throughout Kierkegaard's thought. In his view, a self is a tension between the finite and the infinite, which he also characterizes as a tension between the temporal and the eternal. For Kierkegaard the notion of the temporal signifies the events of our lives considered as immediate and distinct from one another, as separate particular moments. As temporal beings, we are no different from the other animals, having sensations and trying to satisfy desires. By contrast, the notion of the eternal signifies the overarching unity that these events can have just for humans. This unity has the potential of providing the separate moments of our lives with the kind of meaning and significance they lack without this unity. What is distinctive about humans is their ability to give their lives an enduring meaning.
In Kierkegaard's thought there is a deep and unresolvable distinction between (1) the abstract speculative outlook on reality found in Hegel's philosophy and (2) the concrete circumstances of a person who is attempting to find meaning in her life—"the existential situation." In the existential situation we find ourselves to be finite, temporal beings who are confronted with the demand to impart a meaning to our lives that goes beyond the transitory and local—the demand to achieve an eternal and infinite significance for our existence. From the existential point of view, these confrontations cannot be resolved by rational dialectic. In fact, it is not clear that the tension can be resolved at all by our efforts. We experience ourselves as finite and temporal, and we sense an impassable divide between what we are at this level and the infinite and the eternal, which stand as demands and ideals for us.
Whereas Hegel posits a rational reconciliation of all opposition in reality, Kierkegaard believes that existential reality exhibits a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict. This conflict is something with which the individual must struggle in taking a stand on his or her life. In effect, Kierkegaard stands in sharp disagreement with Hegelian rationalist optimism. This is no doubt one of the reasons that his views became so influential after European faith in rational progress was so badly shaken as a result of the First World War.
A good way to begin to understand Kierkegaard's positive views is by looking at his threefold classification of the ways we humans can attempt to achieve fulfillment. In his view there are three main "spheres of existence" or modes of life: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious.2 Sometimes Kierkegaard portrays these lives as a sequence of steps, each of which we must take on the path to meaning and fulfillment. Kierkegaard presents these three modes of life as advocated by several different pseudonymous authors. For example, the putative author of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, in which the religious life is discussed, is Johannes Climacus, a philosophically inclined religious writer. The aesthetic, Either part of Either/ Or is presented as written by "A," the ethical, Or part by "B," and the entire book as edited by Victor Eremita. Kierkegaard's reason for presenting a mode of life through the device of a fictitious author might be to detach the ideas from his own authorial position, and thereby to encourage the reader to decide for himself or herself whether such a life is genuinely worthy of choice.
Kierkegaard uses the word 'aesthetic' in a sense closely related to its Greek origin, aisthesis, which means sensation, and especially feeling. An aesthetic person is someone who lives for sensations, and in particular, for feelings. The most fundamental characteristic of the person living the aesthetic life is that his purposes are exhausted by the satisfaction of desires for momentary or short-term fulfillments. An obvious example of an aesthetic person is someone whose purpose in life is solely to satisfy desires for "peak experiences," such thrills as those achieved from, say, bungee-jumping or doing cocaine...The aesthetic life can also be lived with different levels of reflective attention. An unreflective person might simply strive for moments of pleasure without any plan designed to secure them, whereas a strategist like the seducer described in Either devises elaborate designs to ensure frequent moments of satisfaction and infrequent moments of frustration.
Kierkegaard believes that the aesthetic option will always fail as a route to fulfillment. One reason for this failure is internal to the nature of the aesthetic life. An aesthetic person aims at the satisfaction of desires for momentary pleasures, but whether such satisfactions are actually secured often depends on circumstances beyond his control. An experience of intimacy can be thwarted by another's lack of inclination, a sudden loss of confidence can ruin a chance for a gold medal, and the difficulty of an issue can hinder an inquirer from gaining philosophical insight into it. This is so no matter how well crafted one's strategies are for achieving one's aesthetic goals. Success in the aesthetic life, therefore, is dependent on fortune.4 Moreover, even if one often succeeds in one's aesthetic endeavors, one will always be gripped by the anxiety that some misfortune will result in failure in future ventures. This anxiety undermines the sense of well-being that is the aim of the aesthetic life, and hence robs the aesthetic life of genuine success.
Kierkegaard sets out for the first time what is perhaps the most fundamental theme in existentialism: the idea that we can achieve meaning for our lives only through a decisive, life-defining commitment. In fact, only a person who aims to attain unity in this way can properly be called an existing individual. Existence, in this sense, is not a final state or a finished product. This is why Kierkegaard says "existence itself, the act of existing, is a striving."8 To be an existing individual is to engage oneself in a difficult process aimed at expressing what one is, a project that never ends so long as one is alive, but must be continuously taken up and pursued.
Accordingly, the deeper reason the aesthetic life fails is that it expresses only one side of the self, the temporal aspect of our nature, while ignoring the eternal aspect. This failure manifests itself concretely in the aesthetic life. Whenever the aesthetic person achieves the momentary fulfillment she was seeking, and the moment of fulfillment has ended, she must start anew, and the moment of fulfillment loses the meaning it had. "Yea, so long as every nerve in you is aquiver . . . then you feel that you are living. But when the battle is won . . . when the swift thoughts report that the victory is yours — then, in fact, you know nothing, you know not how to begin; for then, for the first time, you are at the beginning." We remain unsatisfied in this type of life, because meaning and fulfillment require a commitment that pulls the various moments of our lives together, and that imparts a significance to our existence by giving these moments an overall coherence.
In Sickness unto Death, Kierkegaard discusses various ways one might attempt to confront the most basic predicament for human existence: the need to express both one's temporal and one's eternal nature. There he describes three unsuccessful ways of managing this predicament, three stances he calls forms of despair. The first stance is to be unaware of the problem and thus to live a life of indifference to the most fundamental tension in one's being. This type of life he describes as "not being conscious of having a self."... The second stance is to recognize, perhaps as a result of a blow of fate, or by self-reflection, that one is not only temporal but also eternal, and then attempt to resolve the tension between these two aspects by repudiating the eternal and immersing oneself in the temporal.
The third type of despair Kierkegaard describes is one that results from trying to express the fundamental tension through one's own power. It is characterized by the attempt to express the eternal through one's own will alone, while "detaching the self from every relation to the Power which posited it." Kierkegaard calls this type of response "despair of willing to be oneself."... In the second part of Either / Or Kierkegaard describes a kind of life, the ethical, that might be thought of as an instance of this third type of despair. The mark of the ethical life is a constantly renewed decision, made by one's own will alone, to live in accord with ethical duty...But for Kierkegaard there is a better solution, which is to be found in the religious life (or at least in one kind of religious life).
In Kierkegaard's view, when finding meaning and fulfillment for one's life is at issue, what is most important is the nature of one's relationship, not being right: "When the question of truth is raised subjectively, reflection is directed subjectively to the nature of the individual's relationship; if only the mode of this relationship is in the truth, the individual is in the truth even if he should happen to be related to what is not true." According to Kierkegaard, one is in the truth subjectively when the degree of passion in one's relationship expresses the nature of the thing or person to which one relates oneself. Thus, in his view, if one is attempting to relate oneself to God, the infinite being, the appropriate kind of relationship is one of infinite intensity.
In his philosophical writings about religion, Kierkegaard distinguishes between two different sorts of religious life. The first, which he calls "Religiousness A," is characterized by an attempt to relate oneself to God by means of a continuously repeated commitment, but solely by means of one's own power. This sort of religiousness can be characterized by three different modes of self-expression, or as Kierkegaard calls them, simply "expressions." The first of these is resignation. An attempt to express the infinite in one's life requires that one be willing to renounce all temporal and finite things in order to achieve a relation to the eternal and infinite. As he says, "if for any individual an eternal happiness is his highest good, this will mean that all finite satisfactions are voluntarily relegated to the status of what may have to be renounced in favor of an eternal happiness."
The second expression of Religiousness A is suffering. Suffering arises in this kind of religious person because of the difficulty involved in psychologically detaching oneself from finite things—"this process is a dying away from the immediate." Because attachment to finite things comes naturally to us, genuine detachment requires a continuously renewed decision and causes us intense psychological pain. Kierkegaard actually demeans those who flagellate themselves in order to express their devotion to God, because the suffering caused by renunciation is much more intense, he believes, than the physical suffering inflicted by the whip.
The third expression reveals why, just as in the case of the aesthetic life, Religiousness A is in some sense deeply unfulfilling. This third expression Kierkegaard calls guilt. The guilt he has in mind here is not the familiar moral attitude, but a special kind of religious guilt. In our attempt to express the infinite by our own efforts, we come to the realization that our expression inevitably will be negative. Guilt "is the expression for the relationship [with an eternal happiness] by reason of the fact that it expresses the incompatibility or disrelationship." To express the infinite we can only renounce the finite—there is no positive expression of the infinite that is within our power...Kierkegaard argues that the highest expression possible within the confines of Religiousness A is an eternal or perpetual recollection of guilt, a constant awareness that one's own powers are insufficient to express infinitude.
In the Philosophical Fragments, he contrasts Religiousness A, or as he calls it here, "Socratic Religion," with Christianity. In Socratic Religion, the truth is not held to come to a person from an outside source, but rather to come from inside a person, as an innate (inborn) idea, and it becomes conscious by a process of remembering what one knew more clearly. The moment at which one recollects is not of particular significance, for there is a sense in which one possesses the truth all along; Socratic religion is one of human self-sufficiency. By contrast, in Christianity, or "Religiousness B" as it is called in the Postscript, we do not possess the truth all along. Instead, we are initially in error. Furthermore, we do not arrive at the truth by discovering something already in us, but rather by being taught by God as teacher. The moment at which one realizes the truth is therefore of decisive significance, because before this moment one had no grasp of the truth at all.
Kierkegaard argues that the ultimate paradox—that the eternal has been in time—in virtue of its very nature defies understanding. Kierkegaard maintains that this incomprehensibility is an asset, for this paradox is precisely the sort of thing that can inspire passion of the kind required for an expression of the infinite. "Subjectivity culminates in passion, Christianity is the paradox, paradox and passion are a mutual fit, and the paradox is altogether suited to one whose situation is to be in the extremity of existence." Thus, to be a Christian requires continuously reaffirmed commitment to the deepest paradox conceivable, and this requires the greatest possible passion. This passion is expressed in a leap of faith, in taking a stand on a religious commitment that is absurd, and thus cannot be rationally established or explained. One who has faith is condemned to silence.
For Kierkegaard, Abraham is the paradigmatic example of the knight of faith. In the biblical account, as he takes the knife to sacrifice his son, an angel calls to Abraham from heaven: "Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Genesis 22: 12). Abraham then sees a ram whose horns are caught in a thicket, and sacrifices it instead of his son. In Kierkegaard's interpretation, Abraham resigns Isaac by agreeing to sacrifice him in obedience to God, and then accepts him back when God provides a ram for the sacrifice. For Kierkegaard it is crucial that when Abraham accepts Isaac back, he does not relinquish the movements involved in infinite resignation. Instead, he maintains his intense love, his resignation, and his acceptance, all at the same time...Abraham resigns Isaac in expression of the infinite, and accepts him back in expression of the finite, and maintains both attitudes at once, thereby expressing the ultimate paradox.
The notion that one can maintain an attitude of resignation toward something and at the same time an attitude of accepting it back is the most central idea in Kierkegaard's conception of faith. Adams argues that in developing this account of the knight of faith, Kierkegaard is presenting a solution to a psychological problem that arises for the religious life, and for any life which involves deep, all-embracing commitments. If I am committed to expressing my relationship with God in my entire life, how am I to be related to such features of everyday finitude as my ordinary physical and psychological needs? The solution of Religiousness A is that I should resign them, but this strategy involves agonizing psychological distress. By advocating Religiousness B, Kierkegaard is recommending a different solution, one that combines psychological detachment with acceptance. According to this solution, I should not consider these finite elements as the aim of my search for ultimate fulfillment, yet I accept them as integrated into a life devoted to this quest. But although a life lived in accordance with this conception escapes the anguish of the three expressions of Religiousness A, it nevertheless involves embracing the ultimate paradox, an act of acceptance that, in Kierkegaard's view, poses an immense challenge.
One of the deepest problems that Kierkegaard raises for faith in Fear and Trembling is whether the requirements of the religious life can ever override the requirements of the ethical life. In Hegel's conception, this could never happen, because ethical requirements are expressions of the universality essential to all rational reflection and agency, and nothing can supersede what is rational and universal. Kierkegaard, in contrast, thinks ethical requirements can sometimes be superseded. To show this, he focuses his discussion of this issue on the divine command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. This sacrifice, Kierkegaard assumes, is ethically wrong, because it requires making of oneself, as a particular individual, an exception to rational and universal principles.
By Kierkegaard's account, faith, in which "the individual as particular stands in an absolute relation to the absolute," is a relationship of a particular person to a particular God. Thus, faith stands in opposition to the rational and the universal. Kierkegaard's crucial claim, then, is that religious faith, as a particular thing, supersedes the universal; in Hegelian terms, it is a "higher immediacy." "Faith," he says, "is precisely this paradox, that the individual as particular is higher than the universal." But faith does not do away with the ethical; rather it supersedes it while preserving its essential content. This is manifest in Abraham's struggle with the command to sacrifice his son. Having faith is not like being an outlaw who rejects ethical principles altogether. If Abraham's faith did away with the ethical, there would be no need for him to struggle with God's command.
In Kierkegaard's view, then, there is a dimension of humanity, expressed in an individual relationship with God, that is independent of one's relationships and obligations to humanity, and that cannot be rationally comprehended but only passionately appropriated. And thus, for the knight of faith, life does not become meaningful through rational acceptance of a coherent system of ethical principles. Rather, it becomes meaningful through a passionate struggle to live in accord with the fundamental and irresolvable paradox that lies at the heart of human existence.
In The Gay Science Nietzsche denies the distinction between perceivable appearances on the one hand and a concealed, underlying reality on the other. In this respect it marks a break with much of Western philosophy. Ever since the time of Plato, there has been a tendency in metaphysics to draw a distinction between the way things appear, which is treated as something derivative, secondary, and inferior, and the way things really are, which is seen as original, primary, and superior. This sort of hierarchically arranged binary opposition, with its invidious contrast between "mere" appearance and "genuine" reality, has cropped up again and again in Western thought, so much so, in fact, that all Western philosophy has been called "Platonism." By attacking various forms of this dualism, then, Nietzsche puts in question one of the most fundamental tenets of Western thinking.
The dualistic opposition between appearance and reality paves the way for a particular conception of our task as humans. There is a tendency to believe that we are currently caught in a veil of mere appearance, out of touch with reality, and that it is our task to extricate ourselves from this illusion and distortion in order to get in touch with what is real. Thus, metaphysical thinking tends to assume that we can rise "above" or "beyond" our current state and finally arrive at the truth about reality. As Nietzsche now sees it, however, it is precisely this belief in a better world to come that is the source of our sickness. What causes illness, he says, is "every metaphysics and physics that knows of a finale, a final state of any sort, every . . . longing for an elsewhere, a beyond, an outside, an above." In other words, sickness results from dreaming of a better way of life we might achieve in the future, a superior state of affairs in contrast to which our present condition seems inferior or worthless.
This kind of fantasizing about a better future, with its accompanying distaste for the present, is deeply ingrained in our thinking. It presupposes a teleological picture of our history that is expressed in a particular sort of story line we use in making sense of where we are now and where we are going. The general structure of this story line is the traditional "redemption myth" that has been so central to Western thought. It assumes that the course of events is guided by a particular "sending" that determines in advance the goal or purpose we ought to be trying to reach. In terms of this idea of a shared sending and purpose we have as a historical people, it holds that we are currently "falling" away from that goal, though we have the ability to get back on track again if we change our ways.
It is this kind of teleological metanarrative that "those who teach the goals of existence" use in trying to motivate people to behave in the ways they want them to behave. According to section 1 of The Gay Science, the ethical teacher "invents a second and different existence, and with his new machinery lifts the common old existence off its common old hinges." Teleological narratives always make a negative judgment about life, because they assume that there is something bad or lacking in our ordinary existence that needs to be rectified by discipline and sacrifice. All talk of "progress," "improvement," "betterment," "development," and "goals" presupposes this essentially negative assessment of life as it is in the here and now.
The Gay Science sets out to undermine the traditional teleological narratives of the West. In the preface to the second edition, Nietzsche attacks many of the aspirations that have been central to Western thought. He characterizes "the will to truth," which has been central to religion and science, as a "will to closure" that aims at freezing over culture by putting an end to all inquiry. The will to truth, he suggests, is really a will to the end, a will to death.
The new, exuberant science Nietzsche has in mind will abandon the old, hierarchically arranged oppositions of surface and depth, darkness and light, appearance and reality, image and original, fiction and truth, and ignorance and knowledge. Instead of tearing asunder veils to get at the hidden truth, this science will be content to live at the level of the surfaces and appearances.
We can read much of The Gay Science as an attempt to undermine traditional teleological narratives and the dualistic oppositions they presuppose. Metanarratives about progress and improvement make sense only on the assumption that there is something genuinely worth striving for, some end or goal that is genuinely superior to the way things are in the present. And this sort of ranking of things into "better" and "worse" assumes the existence of standards and values that are regarded as transcendent and objective, that is, not merely transient products of human feeling or practice. In other words, it assumes the existence of absolutes, where these are regarded as timeless, unchanging, objective bases for assessment and aspiration.
At this stage in the history of skepticism in the West, it'has become increasingly difficult to believe in a transcendent ground for values and belief. God, Reason, the cosmos, providence, divine rights, the noumenal realm, Geist, Humanity, History—all these conceptions of the ultimate foundation for our beliefs and practices have been shown up for what they are: human constructs, expressions of our own hopes and needs, with no basis in a transcendent reality beyond our ways of thinking and acting. The "self-grounding grounds" that traditionally were used to legitimate beliefs and institutions now appear as products of our own "craving for metaphysical comfort," as symptoms of our wishful thinking rather than as foundation stones of reality.
Nietzsche tries to capture the sense of weightlessness or free-fall that results from this awareness with images of falling endlessly into a dark, cold abyss and of the earth being unchained from the sun and spinning madly out of control. For if there is nothing that is universally accepted as an absolute in our culture, if there is no basis for consensus about what is right or wrong, good or bad, then this opens the door to nihilism, the complete disbelief in all values.
To say that God is dead, then, is to say that we should give up the assumption that we can gain access to a "self-grounding ground" or an ultimate basis of intelligibility of the sort imagined by philosophers when they spoke of a causa sui (a self-causing cause, such as the Prime Mover or First Cause). It may be that the complexity of phenomena will never be reducible to a few easily managed, inherently intelligible principles. Nature is under no obligation to measure up to our intellectual standards. And if there is no ultimate grounding for our beliefs, then it would seem to follow that not just our scientific theories, but our moral values as well are our own constructs and have no firm basis in the order of things. They are ultimately matters of choice and preference rather than injunctions issuing from some transcendent source.
Nietzsche envisions another possible outcome of this event. At the end of the initial period of confusion, European civilization might succeed in passing through the stage of reactive, "transitional" nihilism (as it is called in The Will to Power), and pass on to a creative form of nihilism that appropriates the death of God in a positive way and uses it as a basis for creating a new form of cultural life. Such an active, life-affirming nihilism would be the "nihilation of nihilism." Much of The Gay Science could be thought of as an experiment designed to see what that might be like.
If we no longer have the assurance that there is some future state that is really worth striving for, then we seem to be simply drifting through life with no sense of purpose or justification. With the loss of any background "metanarrative" to serve as a ground for our existence, life becomes a meaningless series of episodes without any cumulativeness, coherence, or direction. The doctrine of the "eternal recurrence of the same" is introduced in the section called "The heaviest weight," and it might be thought of as an attempt to provide an antidote to the sense of weightlessness that results from the death of God. The idea of eternal recurrence was an ancient Stoic doctrine, which held that a finite number of elements governed by a fixed number of necessary connections will, over an infinite amount of time, repeat the same patterns over and over again. Nietzsche was fascinated with this idea of the eternal recurrence of the same, and in different places he considers the possibility that everything that has ever happened, is happening, and will happen in a person's lifetime has already happened before in earlier incarnations of our universe, and will happen again and again, an infinite number of times, throughout all eternity. It is not clear whether Nietzsche actually believed in this doctrine, but it turns out not to be very important for the purposes of The Gay Science whether or not it is a reasonable view. For in this work he never assumes that the doctrine is actually true. Instead, he presents the idea of the eternal recurrence of the same as a thought experiment, an exercise in the kind of "transfiguration" he feels authentic philosophy ought to achieve.
To understand the role of the idea of the eternal recurrence in The Gay Science, we need to look carefully at what Nietzsche says. Section 341 begins, "What if one day or one night a demon . . . said to you: 'This life, as you live it now and as you have lived it, you will have to live once more and countless times more; and there will be nothing new about it, ... and everything unspeakably small and great in your life must come back to you, and all in the same series and sequence.'" Note that the idea of the eternal repetition of the same is presented here as a hypothesis we are to entertain: it says "what if rather than "it is the case that." The aim of this passage, it seems, is to encourage you to consider something so unsettling that even the thought of its being true might bring about a radical transformation in your life. What if you had to live every detail of your life over and over again in exactly the same way? What if your life story was to be repeated an infinite number of times? To take such a thought seriously could have a devastating effect on you: "If that thought took control of you," Nietzsche says, "it would change you as you are, and maybe shatter you."..But even though this thought could shatter you, it could also transform you. Nietzsche suggests that facing up to the thought of eternal recurrence might impart a new and greater weightiness to your life, for it would lead you to ask this "question in each and every thing, 'Do you will this once more and countless times more'?" And this question, he says, "would lie as the heaviest weight upon your acts."
To will the eternal repetition of every tiny event in your life, to will it ardently, would require the ability to completely embrace your own life as it is, without any regrets or longing for something different. If you could do this, you would be freed from the need to see your life as part of a wider cosmic story about our purpose on earth, and you would be able to appropriate the events in your own life without worrying about how they contribute to realizing some greater telos. As a result, you would be able to live fully and intensely in each moment, being totally present to your own life. In giving your life an ultimate "sanction and seal" in this way, you would achieve the kind of lifeaffirming, "yes-saying" stance toward life Nietzsche hoped to find after the demise of the old ideological metanarratives.
This conception of a life-affirming stance toward all existence is found in the ideal of amor fati, "loving one's fate." In Nietzsche's words, "My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it ... but love it." The important thing is to make your life your own by willing it. When we give up on the idea of an overarching purpose to life, ordinary existence can seem dispersed and disconnected, lacking any cohesiveness or continuity. It is only when we take over all that has happened and appropriate it by willing it, Nietzsche claims, that our lives begin to have coherence and form.
This ideal of embracing all your life by willing all you have been and will be—willing both backward into the past as well as forward into the future—"annihilates nihilism" to the extent that it grounds your life, imparting the eternal seal of a "Yes" to everything you have done, are doing, and will do. Only by accepting your own life story as it is can you be liberated from the craving for some sort of large-scale teleological legitimation for your existence.
The religious belief system first begins to take shape, according to Nietzsche, when someone comes along and bestows on the community's form of life "an interpretation thanks to which it seems to be lit up by the highest value so that now it becomes a good for which one struggles and, under certain circumstances, gives up one's life." Thus "Jesus (or Paul)" interpreted the impoverished lives of the subjected people in such a way as to read into them the "highest meaning and value." Through their formulation of the significance of this way of life, what had previously looked base and slavish—meekness, humility, chas- tity, mercy—is made to look like the best possible way of living, whereas the lifestyle of the Roman masters—with their strength, pride, sensuality, and retaliation—begins to look harsh, brutal, and "evil." Eventually the new interpretation is crystalized and enshrined in the texts and institutions of an established Church. As it gains control over people's imaginations, it begins to seem self-evidently true, an expression of God's will that only insensitive brutes could fail to acknowledge and bow down to.
What this account implies, however, is that the beliefs treated as obviously true by a people are really only calcified interpretations that took shape in the past and have been passed down through history. And this means that our sense of reality is ultimately "interpretation all the way down": There are only interpretations of interpretations, commentaries on commentaries, texts about texts, redescriptions of descriptions, with no bedrock of "facts" underlying the play of interpretations that have emerged through the millennia.
From the picture of reality as a play of socially constructed interpretations Nietzsche derives his "perspectivism," the view that we have access only to our own perspectives on things, with the result that we can never exit from our perspectives to know reality as it is in itself. This perspectivist outlook is formulated in section 374, "Our new 'infinite'," where Nietzsche claims that we can see things only from "our own corner." What this means is that the world we encounter is always shaped in advance by particular points of view or grids of interpretation that have taken shape as a result of thousands of years of human development. Note that this is not the claim that each person sees things differently, but rather that all humans will tend to see things in specific ways due to their shared heritage and historical formation.
Nietzsche's perspectivism holds that our shared heritage has created us in such a way that we will encounter the world through a specific range of possible perspectives, and that given this repertoire of possible perspectives, we now have the ability to shift our outlook from, say, the cool, objective outlook of theoretical inquiry to the intense outlook of religious fervor. What is important to see is that there is no way we can step outside of all human perspectives in order to get a view of reality as it is in itself, independent of our perspectives.
Nietzsche's vision of an ideal way of life is concerned with the style one imparts to one's existence rather than with its content. We are told that what is important is fitting one's traits into "an artistic plan, until each thing appears as art and reason, and even the weakness charms the eye." In the end what is decisive is that "it was the compulsion of a single taste that was ruling and forming, in things both great and small. Whether the taste was a good or a bad one means less than one thinks—it is enough that it is one taste."
Nehamas recommends that we think of the self as a life story or narrative an individual is composing throughout the course of his or her life. If we assume that the doctrine of eternal recurrence is true, then what gives continuity to such a life cannot be its being directed toward realizing some set of goals. And if that is the case, then the best way to make sense of the idea of becoming what we are is to think of it as meaning that we should embrace all the events of our lives by owning up to (and thereby owning) all we have been, are, and will be. The aim is to shape one's life story into a coherent narrative by imparting a unique, personal style to everything one does. On this way of describing Nietzsche's ideal, becoming the person you are is not so much a matter of realizing a pregiven potential as it is of creating yourself in such a way that you can fully assume the identity you create for yourself.
What we see in living organisms generally, according to Nietzsche, is not just a will to survive, but a will to flourish, to thrive, to realize ever greater possibilities and powers. Living things throughout nature press onward, trying to exceed all limits and constraints in order to achieve superabundance and overflowing life. Instead of resting content with what they are, natural beings strive to go beyond what they have achieved and to be more than what they currently are.
This will to flourish and "become more''' can take two forms. It takes a weak and sickly form when it is merely reactive, intent simply on negating something else. This unhealthy form of the will to power is motivated by resentment and it is always "nay-saying" and negative. But the will to power takes an active, positive form when it spontaneously goes beyond all apparent boundaries in a quest for greater strength and expanded possibilities. This active, "yes-saying" form of the will to power is central to Nietzsche's concept of the most healthy, life-affirming way of life.
The belief in a higher reality correlated with our abstract concepts is the source of the belief in timeless "absolutes" so pervasive in the West. The tendency to treat concepts as if they referred to something real is also the source of the dualism of appearance and reality that shows up in the Platonic distinction between our material world, which is labeled mere "appearance," and an "other," perfect world of Forms identified as true "reality." This Platonic opposition between appearance and reality gets taken up again and again throughout Western history. Nietzsche sees it as the source of the Christian distinction between earth and heaven, which explains why he calls Christianity "Platonism for the masses." It recurs in Kant's distinction between "phenomena," the world as it appears to us, and the "thing-initself," reality as it is independent of our perception and thought.
Nietzsche's own view stands in stark contrast to all these traditional dualisms. He holds that the changing world of material objects we perceive by means of our senses is the only world there is. There is simply no point to positing an "other" world distinct from our world. Views about "higher" types of entities correlated with our abstract concepts—such things as substance, materiality, duration, stability, causality, unity, and so on—are merely projections of our own prejudices onto what we experience. The idea that there is an "other" world beyond our world of flux and change arises only as a result of hatred for the actual world we live in. Nietzsche suggests that it is a product of nay-saying and negativity, a symptom of the resentment of individuals who cannot live fully in the actual world.
Nietzsche now posits as his ideal the person who is freed from the very idea of hidden depths distinct from surfaces, who has engaged in enough self-discipline to create a unique "style" in all he or she does, and who is able to embrace whatever shows up as raw materials for artistic creativity. The tragic artist is someone who, finally freed from the longing for absolutes, yet having a firm sense of "fate," can play in the wreckage left by shattered absolutes.
Heidegger begins his greatest work, Being and Time (1927), with a question as bizarre to our ears as any we have ever heard. The aim of this book, he says, is to answer the question, "What is the meaning of Being?" This, we are told, is the most basic question humans can ask, yet most of us will feel that nothing we have ever thought about or studied prepares us for this question. What does the word "Being" refer to? And what is it to ask about the meaning of Being?
Because Heidegger's project is part of the ancient philosophical discipline called "metaphysics," we might try to make sense of this question by looking at Aristotle's Metaphysics, which begins with the words, "All human beings by nature reach out for understanding." Here Aristotle is making a very straightforward observation about humans. His point is that we find ourselves thrown into the midst of a world where things often seem strange or confusing, and where we need to get a handle on what is going on around us if we are to be able to function. Because of this need to get clear on things, it is natural for humans to try to understand how things add up or what things are all about. If we define "metaphysics" as the attempt to make sense of what things are in the broadest sense of the word, then we can see why Aristotle thinks metaphysics is so deeply ingrained in human nature. Because we need to be able to deal with the things we find around us, we are constantly trying to understand what these things are, that is, to understand their "Being" as entities of particular types.
Like Aristotle, Heidegger holds that "the question of Being, the striving for an understanding of Being, is the basic determinant of [human] existence." He believes we all already have some understanding of the Being of entities, and that we are all concerned with getting a better, clearer understanding of what things are in general. And because it is our nature to ask the "question of Being," the project of working out a "fundamental ontology"—that is, the attempt to formulate a basic overall account of the Being of entities in general—is merely a more rigorous version of what we are all doing all the time.
So even though we all have a background sense of things that guides and orients our ordinary dealings with the world, for the most part that understanding has not been articulated or conceptualized. To ask "the question of Being," then, is to try to conceptualize and clarify the grasp of things we already have in our day-to-day lives. And to ask about the meaning of Being is to ask about how things come to show up as counting or mattering in specific ways in relation to our lives.
Heidegger thinks it is especially important to raise the question of Being once again, because he thinks that our understanding of ourselves and our world has come to be shaped by a way of thinking that is so all-pervasive and powerful that we have difficulty even questioning it today. The dominant understanding of reality in contemporary life is that which emerged with the rise of modern science, the pivotal event that has shaped our modern worldview in the West. The rise of modern science has led to what we might call an "objectified" view of reality. According to this objectified view, the universe is a vast aggregate of material objects in causal interactions. These material objects have such features as mass, space-time position, velocity, and other quantifiable properties—the so-called "primary qualities" identified by the scientists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
What is problematic, given this objectified outlook, is how we can make sense of the idea that these objects contain meanings or values in themselves. Indeed, many scientifically oriented thinkers have assumed that reality consists only of intrinsically meaningless and valueless objects. On such a view, it is natural to assume that values and meanings, if they exist at all, can exist only in our minds, not in objective reality itself. Thus, the objectified view of reality is correlated with a particular view of human beings. According to this view, we are objects among others in the causal order of nature. But we are also subjects or minds who can represent objects in our ideas, and who can develop attitudes and beliefs about those objects. On this "subjectified" view of the self, we are essentially conscious beings or subjects who form ideas about the external world and try to get a correct view of that world in order to function in it efficiently. Thus, it becomes important to clearly distinguish what is really out there in objective reality—the material objects that make up the universe—and what is purely subjective, a projection of our own feelings and desires onto things.
The problem that arises from the modern objectified worldview is a pervasive sense of a "loss of meaning" in life. The modern outlook tends to assume that values and meanings are purely subjective constructs, products of our needs and desires. But if this is the case, then it becomes difficult to see how there could be any solid basis for forming the notion of a genuinely "higher" or "better" way of life beyond just coping and doing what feels good. With no notion of a cosmic order that defines right and wrong, good and bad, we seem to have trouble identifying a stable basis for assessing our behavior and forming aspirations. In other words, we lack the resources for envisioning the kind of "better" life implied in Socrates' words, "What is important is not just to live, but to live well." The concern with confronting this wide-spread sense of a loss of meaning in modern life is one of the central aims of Being and Time.
The real problem, Heidegger suggests, is not naturalism, but the tendency to focus on how things show up for us when we adopt a theoretical attitude toward the world. In his words, "It is not just naturalism, as [Husserl] thinks . . . but the general domination of the theoretical that really deforms the problematic."4 The idea here is that when we adopt a detached, theoretical stance toward things—when we try to be dispassionate and disinterested in the way Plato and Descartes and most other traditional philosophers do—we are going to get something very much like the objectified view of modern science. Once again, Heidegger is not opposed to such a view of things; he does not think it is bad. But he does think that such a theoretical outlook is only one specialized outlook among others—one "regional" way of looking at things—with no privileged access to the truth about the way the world really is.
Heidegger's claim, then, is that the objectified outlook gives us a rather one-sided and distorted view of reality that is out of touch with the concrete, lived realities of everyday life. The dominance of this worldview in contemporary life reflects a deep-seated tendency toward "forgetfulness" or "concealment" in humans. To say that we are prone to forgetfulness is to say that we have a tendency to become so preoccupied with the way things show up for us in our world that we lose sight of the background conditions (what Heidegger calls "worldhood") that first make it possible to encounter anything at all.
The only way to overcome this forgetfulness, Heidegger claims, is to try to recover a more basic understanding of the world and our place in it, a sense of things that is concealed by the objectified view of modernity. This is the aim of the question of the meaning of Being. It sets out to ask how entities in general come to show up for us as mattering in determinate, ways—how they come to mean something to us in relation to our lives. In the course of dealing with this question, we will be led to recover or "retrieve" a forgotten sense of the background conditions that make any experience of reality whatsoever possible. Heidegger therefore sees the aim of "phenomenology" (Husserl's method of description) as looking for the "hidden ground and meaning" of what ordinarily shows up in the world (§7).
If we are to avoid slipping into the assumptions of the objectified view, however, we need to start out from a description of things as they appear not in detached reflection or theorizing, but as they show up in the midst of our ordinary lives as agents when we are dealing with the practical life-world. This is why Heidegger decides to start out from a "phenomenology of everydayness"—from a description of familiar contexts of activity prior to theory and abstract reflection. If it is true, as Heidegger suspects, that the theoretical attitude gives us a one-sided and misleading understanding of the world, then it will be necessary to work out our ordinary pre-reflective sense of things to get a sense of what gets covered over in theoretical reflection.
What Heidegger tries to show is that the whole assumption that we have to understand reality in terms of substances, whether mental or material, is suspect. In his account of being-in-the-world as a unified phenomenon, one of the most basic assumptions of modern ontology—the assumption that we need to make reference either to the mental or to the material in giving an account of reality—is called in question. Given the description of everydayness that emerges in Being and Time, such concepts as those of mind and matter, inner and outer, and subject and object come to appear as rather high-level abstractions with no essential or necessary role to play in making sense of the world as we normally encounter it. From the standpoint of Heidegger's new view of the Being of entities, the problems created by the modern worldview seem to dissolve.
Heidegger tells us at the outset of Being and Time that his preliminary aim is to give an account of that entity that has some understanding of what it is to be, namely human being, or, as he calls it, Dasein, the ordinary German word for existence or "being-there." The first chapters of division one of the work begin with a detailed description of our everyday way of being as agents engaged in activities in practical contexts. The aim of this description is to characterize the world as we encounter it prior to the kinds of reflection and theorizing common to the theoretical attitude. By starting from Dasein as it is in concrete, particular contexts of activity, Heidegger hopes to arrive at a characterization of the Being of everyday life-worlds in general.
Our way of being in ordinary situations, according to Heidegger, is "concernful absorption." In such cases, we "lose ourselves" in the world of our current concerns, handling equipment "without noticing it explicitly" (§16). The equipment shows up in its familiar forms of "serviceability, conduciveness, usability, manipulability" thanks to the web of relations of "significance" opened by our purposes (§15). What is "given" in such ordinary situations, then, is a holistic web of means-ends relationships pointing toward the work to be accomplished.
According to this story, we can begin to explicitly attend to items in the work context only when there is a breakdown in the smooth flow of our competent dealings with things—when the hammer head breaks off, for example, or when a nail bends. It is only when something goes wrong in this way that we begin to pay attention to what is in front of us. And it is this explicit attentiveness that first gives rise to the idea, so central to traditional philosophy, that what has been there "all along" has been mere present-at-hand things existing independent of us, invested by us with a use-value. In the breakdown, Heidegger says, "the ready-to-hand becomes deprived of its worldhood [the background of significance relations organized around our projects] so that just being-present-at-hand comes to the fore" (§16). And because the present-at-hand obtrudes and captures our explicit attention, we begin to think that what is most "basic" in the world is mere present-at-hand objects.
Heidegger's claim is that entities encountered as ready-to-hand are more "primordial" than (or are ontologically prior to) what philosophers have traditionally focused on in their theories, the present-at-hand objects taken as most basic by the tradition. To say that the ready-to-hand is more primordial than the present-at-hand is to make two claims: (1) that our ability to encounter present-at-hand things is derivative from and parasitic on our prior ways of dealing with contexts of what is ready-to-hand, and (2) that there is no way to account for the ready-to-hand solely in terms of characteristics of what is present-at-hand. If this primordiality claim is right, then it follows that the view of reality we get from modern natural science — the assumption that the world at the most basic level consists of inherently meaningless objects that we humans come to endow with significance and value — does not reveal the most basic way of Being of entities. On the contrary, Heidegger wants to show that the world at the most basic level is initially and most fundamentally a meaning-filled context in which we carry out our practical lives. From this standpoint, the belief that what "really" exists is a vast aggregate of present-at-hand objects in causal interactions is an idea that arises only when we adopot the rather specialized stance of detached theoretical reflection.
It is the concrete stands we take on our lives in our everyday activities that determine the relevance or significance things can have for us in relation to our projects... As Heidegger says, the particular involvement something has in relation to our undertakings "is ontologically definitive for the Being of such an entity".
Our skillful comportment in the world Heidegger calls "understanding." His point here is that our own self-understanding in familiar roles (for-example, my understanding of myself as a teacher) carries with it a set of skills in dealing with practical contexts (my competence in dealing with department offices and classrooms) that determine how ordinary settings can show up in relation to my projects (encountering a classroom as a site for lecturing).... Heidegger notes that the German word for understanding means " 'being able to manage something', 'being a match for it', 'being competent to do something'" (§31). It is a tacit know-how embodied in our activities. This background mastery of specific forms of life and everyday settings provides the basis on which we are able to go to work addressing the tasks before us.
According to Heidegger's description of the world, our self-understanding as agents comes to be realized and made concrete in specific ways of handling things. Such ordinary ways of dealing with things as "preparing, putting to rights, repairing, improving, [and] rounding out" are called "interpretation" (the German word for interpretation, Auslegung, means literally "laying out"). Heidegger says that in interpretation we "take apart" what is grasped in understanding—the entire context of practical activity—and we appropriate it in some way through our ways of acting there.
We now can see more clearly why Heidegger says that being-in-the-world is a "unified phenomenon." On the one hand, our own Being as agents of specific sorts lets entities of various types show up as the entities they are. On the other hand, the contexts of worldhood in which we find ourselves first let us show up as agents of specific types. In Heidegger's words, "Self and world belong together in the single entity, Dasein. Self and world are not two beings, like subject and object, . . . [rather] self and world are the basic determination of Dasein in the unity of the structure of being-in-theworld."
With this description of the worldhood of the world, Heidegger hoped to resolve the traditional epistemological debate between realism and idealism. Realists are people who hold that there is a real world outside of and independent of our minds, and that we can come to know what this world is like. Idealists, as Heidegger uses this term, are people who believe that because we are always trapped within the veil of our own ideas, we can never know for sure whether there is in fact a real world existing independent of our minds, let alone what it is like.
Heidegger's way of dealing with the debate between realists and idealists is to show that it gets off the ground only if at the outset we presuppose a particular picture of our human predicament. According to this picture, we are essentially subjects forming mental representations (sensations, images, ideas) in our minds, and our task is to correctly represent objects in the world outside our minds. Given this picture of our initial situation, the question naturally arises, Do we ever really gain access to objects as they are in themselves "out there" in the world, or are we forever trapped within our own minds, cut off from any access to an external world?
Heidegger's account of being-in-the-world is supposed to undercut the picture of our human situation that gets this debate going in the first place. If our own being as agents is always such that we are already "out there" in the midst of the practical life-world, and if the world at the deepest level consists not of contextless present-at-hand objects but rather of ready-tohand equipment bound up with what we are doing, then the idea that we are essentially cut off from the world by a veil of representations comes to appear as an illusion. The description of the world was supposed to show that the idea that we are at the most basic level minds or subjects set over against a world of objects can arise only as the result of a breakdown in our ordinary ways of being as agents. But if this is the case, then it is a mistake to assume that we are essentially minds only indirectly in touch with a world of objects. Thus, given this account of our situation, the subject-object model of traditional epistemology turns out to be derivative from a more "primordial" way of being as practical agents. And if this is the case, then the "problem of knowing the external world" turns out to be a pseudo-problem with no relevance for understanding our actual predicament in the world.
On Heidegger's view of our basic situation, science comes to be seen as derived from and parasitic on the background of everyday being-in-theworld. Heidegger develops what he calls an "existential conception of science" according to which science is a useful tool for redescribing the world for particular purposes, but does not necessarily give us any privileged information about "the way the world really is." Science emerges when communities of scientists create a "clearing" in terms of which entities can show up in particular ways, particular sorts of questions make sense, and procedures of confirmation count as appropriate. In terms of such clearings, certain claims about the world will count as true. But the truth of such claims should be understood as relative to the clearing that makes them possible.
In trying to grasp human existence, Heidegger says, we must avoid falling into the rather specialized interpretations of things found in such "regional" sciences as biology, psychology, and epistemology. These theories tend to uncritically presuppose an objectified view of humans as substances or objects of a particular sort. It is precisely assumptions of this sort that are called into question by fundamental ontology. In order to avoid slipping into traditional presuppositions about what humans are, Heidegger focuses on our being as agents doing things rather than on our ways of being when we are subjects engaged in self-reflection. To simplify Heidegger's complex account human existence, we might present his view as a series interrelated claims. The first claim is that humans are beings who care about what they are. What is characteristic of us is that we care about what our lives are amounting to, and because of that we care about our surroundings and what happens to us there. Heidegger formulates this by saying that Dasein is the entity whose being is at stake or in question for it. I care about whether my life makes sense, whether it adds up to something worthwhile, or whether it is really my own. And it is because my own life in the world is of concern to me that things in general mean something to me in the sense that they count or matter to me in some way in relation to my undertakings.
Second, because humans care about who and what they are, they have always taken some stand on their lives. In living out our lives, we have all seized on some set of roles, personality traits, lifestyles, and status relations in realizing our lives in the world. Each of us has taken some stand on his or her own existence, and it is through taking such a stand that we come to have an understanding of Being in Heidegger's special sense of this term.
The third claim is that humans just are teh stands they taking in living out their lives. Humans are what they do. This point follows from the awareness that there is no fixed human essence given to us in advance -- no "Form of Humanity" or "proper function of humans" that determines what we are and ought to be. Instead, humans just are what they make of themselves in growing up within the context of a particular historical culture. We are "self-interpreting" or "self-constituting" beings in the sense that our Being (or identity) is something we make in the course of living out our active lives.
The fourth claim follows directly from this non-essentialist picture of humans. If we are what we make of ourselves in our lives, then what is definitive of our "Being" is not the continuing presence of a substance of some sort, whether that substance be thought of as mind or as physical substance. Instead, the self is an event--Heidegger calls it a "becoming" or a "happening"--that is defined by what one does throughout one's life. In other words, I am what I-emerge-into-presence as being throughout the course of my life, "from birth to death." I am what I become in living out my life story as a whole.
The fifth claim is that, understood as a life-happening, human existence has a distinctive temporal structure. There are two main temporal structures (or "existentialia") definitive of Dasein's existence as an unfolding lifecourse. The first of these existential structures is called "throwness." Dasein always finds itself "thrown" into a particular cultural setting, with certain choices it has already made and obligations it has undertaken... This thrownness into specific situations and entanglements is encountered as a task that I must take up in some way or other. We are, Heidegger says, "delivered over to ourselves" as something we must be...The second temporal structure of Dasein's temporal Being determines the element of "futurity," that is, the future-directedness of Dasein's life story. As agents, we are always already "ahead of ourselves" to the extent that each of us has taken a stand on our thrownness and, through our actions, we are accomplishing something with our lives. To say that as an agent my Being is characterized by future-directedness is to say that each of my actions points toward a realization, and that in everything I do, I am moving toward a final realization of my identity.
Heidegger claims that what is definitive of our lives is best thought of as "being-toward-the-end" or "being-toward-death." Just as the events in a story gain their meaning from the contribution they make to the outcome of the story as a whole, its completion, so the events in one's life gain their meaning from their relation to the overarching projects that define one's life story as a totality, right up to the end. And that means that my actions in the present have to be understood in terms of what they undertake for the future, that is, in terms of the commitments I make (often without any awareness of it) as to what kind of person I am being "in the long run."
The sixth claim about human existence is that the temporal unfolding of a life is always embedded in a wider communal context from which it draws its possibilities of self-interpretation and self-assessment. Just as the story of a character in a novel makes sense only in its interchange with the ongoing stories of the other characters, so my own life story makes sense only within the wider context of my family, community, and culture. For the most part, we are participants within a shared context that provides us with our sense of meaningful options in dealing with things. Thus, my understanding of who I am as a parent is made possible by the guidelines of norms and conventions laid out in the public world. Moreover, in my social context, I am a parent in relation to children, other parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and daycare providers, and it is in constant interchange with these co-participants in the world of child-rearing that I compose and revise my own life story in this role.
Because the meaningful life-world is shaped by the practices of the public, Heidegger says that the "they" itself "articulates the referential context of significance" of the world (§27). In other words, it is the practices of the social world in general that define how things can count and what sorts of self-interpreting activities will make sense for a people. As Heidegger puts it, "Dasein is originally being with others. . . . The different modes of factical being-with-one-another constitute in each case . . . [the] disclosure of the world and . . . the unanimity of world-understanding." And this means that the content we take over for our lives (our roles, careers, lifestyle enclaves, personality traits, and so on) are all taken over from the pool of possibilities circulating in the public. Without such conventions and patterns of acting, we would be not so much "free spirits" or "noble savages" as bundles of utterly diffuse raw capacities lacking any focus or content whatsoever.
One of the most influential ideas in Being and Time for existentialist thought has been the notion of authenticity spelled out in the second half of that work. If we want to understand Heidegger's notion of authenticity, we should be careful not to confuse it with popular notions of "getting in touch with your feelings" or "being true to your inner self." These notions suggest that being authentic is a matter of pulling back from the social world in order to concentrate on oneself as an individual. As we shall see, however, Heidegger's ideal of authenticity is a matter not so much of being in touch with oneself as of becoming more intensely engaged in the world of one's historical culture.
It is only by taking over the concrete roles and possibilities circulating in our communal life-world that we can even become human in the sense of being agents capable of making meaningful choices and understanding what is at stake in life. Only in terms of this backdrop of social practices can we come to create the permutations of our culture's ways of being that make it possible for us to become distinctive, "unique" individuals. But Heidegger also suggests that this absorption in a social world can have a pernicious effect. In our everyday lives, there is a tendency to go with the flow, enacting socially approved roles and getting lost in the mundane chores and rituals approved of by the they. The result, Heidegger says, is a "dimming down of the possible as such," a leveling down of all possibilities to "what one does" in ordinary situations. We tend to get lost in the latest fads and fancies, and we drift along with the crowd in the busy-ness of dayto- day existence. Life then becomes a mere sequence of episodes in which we try to take care of each new thing that comes along. As we struggle to handle the business of practical life, our existence becomes a series of means-ends strategies with no overarching unity or cohesiveness. We become so engrossed in what is in front of us at the moment that we are blind to the larger background that makes our actions possible.
Lacking any wider sense of what life is all about, we come to accept the current, socially accepted outlook as the ultimate truth about reality. And as the prevalent outlook comes to be taken as selfevidently true, we feel assured we are doing well so long as we play by the socially prescribed rules. The result is that we no longer see our own existence as in question or at issue for us. We end up being adrift on the seas of what is called "proper" by the they, and we assume that our lives make sense and are justified so long as we do what "one does." As a result of this forgetfulness, however, we not only lose track of our sense of what life is all about, we lose the ability to take a coherent, focused stand on our lives as a whole. This absorption in the everyday social world is called "falling." Heidegger claims that such falling is not just an occasional slip or bit of carelessness. On the contrary, insofar as our involvements in the world make us the people we are, falling is an "existential" structure definitive of our Being. But falling is pernicious insofar as it aggravates our tendency toward forgetfulness. What we forget in falling is the second existential structure of our temporal being: our existence as an ongoing, future-directed "happening."
When we see that our social roles are really anonymous, "anyone-roles," however, we also confront the fact that we alone are responsible for making something of our own lives. In anxiety, I encounter my own existence as a temporal unfolding or happening that it is up to me alone to define and make my own. Heidegger says that anxiety discloses our "ability to be" as "individualized, pure, and thrown" (§40). Anxiety is characterized by "uncanniness" to the extent that we are no longer "at home" in the familiar world...Anxiety can make us realize that our normal tendency to throw ourselves into publicly approved roles is actually a form of fleeing or evasion. The forgetfulness characteristic of everydayness turns out to be a motivated cover-up designed to conceal from us something we find threatening. What we are running away from in everydayness is the fact that we are finite beings whose lives will be completed.
Heidegger thinks that recognizing our finitude can bring about a transformation in our way of living. When we face up to our "being-toward-death," we are forced to confront the fact that it is up to us to make something of our lives as a whole. This recognition of our own responsibility for our lives can counteract the tendency toward forgetfulness and dispersal running through everydayness. Instead of merely drifting into public roles and losing ourselves in whatever tasks come along, we can begin to take over our own lives and make them our own in all that we do. We can become authentic in the sense of owning up to our lives.
To become authentic, we must first accept the fact that we are ultimately responsible for what our lives are adding up to. If you face up to your finitude and take responsibility for your own existence, Heidegger thinks, you will achieve a level of clear-sightedness and intensity that was lacking in inauthentic everydayness. If you grasp the fact that everything you do is contributing to defining your life in its entirety, you can be led to acknowledge the fact that you are responsible for taking hold of your existence and giving it a coherent shape of your own making...To be authentic is to seize on some set of roles you have drawn from the public world and to make them into your own through a resolute and clear-sighted stand on them. In this respect, authenticity seems to involve a capacity for "selffocusing" that is lacking in everyday falling. "Once one has grasped the finitude of one's existence," Heidegger says, "one is snatched back from the endless multiplicity of possibilities which offer themselves as closest to one— those of comfortableness, shirking, and taking things lightly."
Heidegger calls this more focused stance toward .one's own life "resoluteness," and he says that such resoluteness involves "choosing to choose." As agents dealing with situations in the world, we have all already made choices for our lives. But, as we have seen, these choices usually take the form of dispersal and drifting into public possibilities, so that we have not really made them our own. To say that we should "choose to choose," then, is to say that we should embrace the choices we make, and that we should give structure to our lives by continuously reaffirming those choices in everything we do....If we think of living out our own lives as composing our own autobiographies, then authentic self-focusing might be thought of as a way of imparting a narrative continuity to our life stories. Seeing that our Being is at issue for us, we take over social roles with a lucid sense of what we are trying to accomplish for our lives overall, right up to the end. The aim here is to shape our actions into a cohesive story of our own making. For the resolute individual, life is no longer a disjointed series of means-ends strategies; instead, it comes to be organized around a coherent set of commitments that shape the past, present, and future into a unified flow.
Now it is certainly true that this concept of authenticity does not entail any particular moral theory or position. But even though Heidegger does not intend to make any pronouncements about morality, a closer look at his concept of authenticity suggests that it might have some substantive things to say about what constitutes a good life.26 First, Heidegger's description of an ideally coherent and focused way of living points to certain character traits an individual needs to have in order to be authentic. We might call these ideal traits "second-order values," because they are necessary for making coherent, meaningful first-order choices about what sort of person one wants to be (choosing to be, for instance, a utilitarian or a libertarian or a Christian in acting in the world). Authenticity is said to require such traits as resoluteness, clearsightedness, and a "sober understanding" of what is demanded in current situations. In order to achieve the kind of continuity and cohesiveness of an authentic life, Heidegger says, one must develop such traits as steadfastness, integrity, and openness to change. And authenticity is also said to require courage and a willingness to take a stand despite the uncertainties of life. If all these traits are necessary to being authentic, however, then it seems that the concept of authenticity does have something to say about what it is to be a good person. A person who is authentic would be less likely to slip into the kinds of self-deception and dishonesty involved in hiding behind roles or thinking of one's actions as justified because they are "what one does."
The second way that the ideal of authenticity can define higher ideals for us is found in Heidegger's concept of "historicity." The idea of historicity arises from the description of human existence as an unfolding life course or "happening" that is enmeshed in the wider drama of a community's history. According to Heidegger, the lucid awareness of one's complicity in the "cohappening" of one's community can lead to a way of existing he calls "authentic historicity," a mode of existence that brings about a transformed understanding of one's historical context. As authentic historicity, Heidegger says, one grasps the past of one's community as a "heritage" or "legacy," that is, as a "sending" that is filled with promise and potential. And this brings with it a sense of our future as a shared "destiny" with specific tasks we need to fulfill through cooperative action. An authentically historical person therefore tries to "retrieve" the possibilities laid out by the past in order to realize certain "monumental" possibilities that are definitive of his or her culture.
The concept of authenticity makes is possible for us to envision a better, more meaningful life beyond mere subsisting and having fun. In this respect it gives us an image of the kind of life Socrates had in mind when he said, "What is important is not just to live, but to live well." The idea of authenticity therefore points to an alternative to what Heidegger saw as the flattened out life of modernity...Thus, in the kind of existentialist view we find in Heidegger, becoming an authentic individual is at the same time being a committed participant in the wider social and historical context. This is a crucial part of the ideal Heidegger has in mind when he says that in becoming authentic you can "become what you are" (§31).
Of the writers whose works appear in this volume, Sartre is the only one who explicitly characterized himself as an existentialist. It is Sartre, in fact, who lays out what is widely accepted as the defining idea in existentialism. This is the idea that, for humans, existence precedes essence: that what we are, and what gives our lives significance, is not pre-established for us, but is something for which we ourselves are responsible. The meaning of this idea is worked out in "The Humanism of Existentialism," where Sartre contrasts existentialism with the traditional view that, for humans, essence precedes existence.
Sartre thinks that there do exist entities for which their essence precedes their existence. Tools are one example. A tool like a hammer has an essence: it is a tool designed for a particular purpose, driving in nails, and that purpose defines its nature as the particular tool it is. To say that this essence precedes the existence of any particular hammer means that for a thing to exist as a hammer at all, it must have this essence—it must be a tool designed for driving in nails. If something doesn't have this essence, if it isn't a tool designed for driving in nails, then it cannot exist as a hammer.
For human beings, by contrast, existence precedes essence. This means, first of all, that there are no characteristics whatsoever that we must have in order for us to exist as human beings. Sartre's view is illuminated by a contrast to the religious belief that God creates human beings as having an essence. In this picture, God has endowed us with certain characteristics that make up our true nature as human beings, for example, the characteristic of having the purpose to glorify God. Now Sartre suggests that this sort of "essentialism" is untenable once we realize the force of Nietzsche's claim that God is dead. He thinks that if there is no "absolute" lying above or beyond the world, if there is no transcendent First Cause or Rational Principle governing the universe, then it becomes difficult to see how there could be a pre-established set of characteristics that determines our true nature and proper function on earth. And this leads to Sartre's radical rejection of essentialism: his claim that, for human beings, existence precedes essence. "If God does not exist," he says, "there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, and . . . this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality." Sartre thinks that humans initially just exist: they show up on the scene; they just appear one day in the midst of beings, with no fixed characteristics or plan determining what they are or what they ought to be. And thus, there is no Form of Humanity or proper function of humans, no genetic code or neurophysiology that fixes our identity in one specific set of traits or accomplishments rather than others. Sartre expresses this idea dramatically by saying that humans find themselves "forlorn" in a world that is not of their choosing; they are "abandoned" in the midst of beings, with no pregiven nature or identity that gives purpose to their lives.
Once we exist, however, it is up to each one of us to create an essence for ourselves through our actions. Specifically, we create an essence for ourselves through our "projects," life-defining plans that we freely choose. In Sartre's view we do not create a single essence for human beings as a whole in this way, but rather by deciding on projects each individual creates an essence just for him or herself. It is therefore up to each one of us to shape his or her own individual identity and defining traits by choosing projects. And thus, each human being is a self-making or self-constituting being: we are what we make of ourselves throughout our lives.
Sartre's point, then, is that I always have the ability to rise above my condition and transform it through my actions. This is what he means when he says, "Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself." My essence or identity as a human is not something forced upon me; it is something I make in my actions. And so: "Man . . . exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life."
Sartre holds that humans can be understood as having two aspects or dimensions of their being. On the one hand, humans zrefactical beings to the extent that they just exist in the world (like cauliflowers and lecterns). They are embodied beings with specific traits, and they find themselves already engaged in situations and in social contexts where they must deal with other people. Our facticity includes particular sexual desires and bodily needs that are just there, as things we have to make something of. At the level of facticity, humans are not much different from other animals: they have bodies, immediate needs, and desires and cravings that push them to do certain sorts of things. In Sartre's view, however, humans are different from animals in an important respect. For human consciousness at its deepest level always goes beyond the level of mere facticity. This "going beyond" Sartre calls transcendence. Humans transcend their facticity to the extent that they are never simply trapped by their drives and desires, never forced to act in certain ways.
The idea that human existence is characterized by transcendence explains why Sartre says that "if existence really does precede essence, [then] man is responsible for what he is. Thus, existentialism's first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him."
In saying that subjectivity is the starting point, he means that, because there are no transcendent truths that are given to us to serve as foundations for our inquiries, existentialism must begin with the concrete, existing individual and that individual's own sense of self and world. The bedrock for description and theory must be "the absolute truth of consciousness becoming aware of itself."...Our aim must be to avoid introducing uncritical ontological assumptions taken from various specialized disciplines (for example, from physics or psychology), and instead build up our account of reality in terms of what Husserl called "the things themselves." Like Heidegger before him, Sartre believed that it is only on the basis of such a bedrock account of life as it is actually experienced that we will have a way of evaluating the various views of reality presented by religion, science, and so-called common sense.
Sartre's conception of human existence borrows two fundamental ideas from Husserl's phenomenology. First, Sartre adopts Husserl's view that the defining characteristic of consciousness is "intentionality." To say that consciousness is intentional is to say that whenever one is conscious, one is conscious of something. Consciousness always points beyond itself toward something—it is always directed toward some object. Thus, when I feel fear, the fear is of, say, this bee buzzing around my head, and when I have a desire, it is a desire for a pizza or for world peace. Second, Sartre takes from Husserl the idea that consciousness is always a meaning-giving activity. My conscious acts do not just passively represent some object in the world. On the contrary, in consciously intending any object, I simultaneously endow that object with a meaning. Even ordinary perception involves more than simply receiving sense impressions and registering them in my awareness. For when I perceive something, I always perceive it as such and such.
In Sartre's view, then, if there were no such thing as consciousness, there would be no distinctions or differentiations within the realm of being. Taking over from Spinoza and Hegel the basic principle that "all determination is negation," Sartre claims that determinate reality with its differentiations and distinctions is possible only because one thing is distinguished from another, and this means that there must be negations within being. And it is consciousness that introduces determinations into reality by introducing negations.
Sartre's claim that distinctions require consciousness is opposed to the scientific realist position, according to which the fact that the world is carved into natural kinds such as electron and proton is independent of consciousness. Even if there were no conscious beings, in this view, the world would still really be cut up into electrons and non-electrons. Hence, there are distinctions in being without consciousness. For Sartre, by contrast, distinctions are made, not found. They are our creations, not our discoveries. They are produced by our introducing nothingness into the realm of beingin- itself.
Another example of how a "not" or "negativity" can appear in the heart of being is found in experience of destruction (§2). According to Sartre, without consciousness there could be no such thing as destruction. Beingin- itself can contain no destruction. Earthquakes and storms "do not destroy," he says, "or at least they do not destroy directly; they merely modify the distribution of masses of being. There is no less after the storm than before." A storm can knock down a field of wheat and tear apart a house. But all this is, at most, a redistribution of matter within the totality of being. In Sartre's view, it is only if there is a consciousness who cares about these events (a farmer, for example) that this rearrangement or displacement of matter can count as "destruction." Similarly, the biological functions of cattle can be terminated by a flood. But only if there is some conscious being who makes a project of caring for the cattle could those biological transformations count as the destruction of a herd. Thus, only when being-in-itself is apprehended by a consciousness is room made for the possibility of destruction in reality. So again, it is consciousness that first makes possible negation within being-in-itself.
Sartre calls this dimension of facticity in humans their being as "in-itself (en sot), and he sees it as correlated with the past—what we have been up until the present moment. On the other hand, as we have seen, humans are beings who can transcend their being as mere facticity. Sartre tries to capture this dimension of transcendence by saying that, for humans, their own being is in question for them. That is, humans have an ability to see their own lives as mattering or as being at stake for them in some determinate sense. And because our being is in question for us in this way, our facticity is always encountered not as something fixed and unchangeable but as presenting a task or undertaking that we must accomplish in living out our lives. We have to make something of our facticity, and we do so by endowing our lives with a meaning that is defined by the projects we choose for our lives. To be human, then, is not just to be in-itself, but also "for-itself (pour sot). To the extent that we are always taking some stand on our own existences and making something of our lives in what we do, our being is something that is for us.
The most central concept in Sartre's account of human beings is freedom. In Sartre's view, nothingness first arises only because human existence is characterized by a particular kind of freedom. As we have seen, human consciousness embodies a gap between facticity and transcendence, between the in-itself and the for-itself. This gap implies that, as for-itself, humans are not ever the same as they are in-itself, and they are always more than they are in-itself. For us, there can never be a perfect coincidence of the in-itself and the for-itself. Or, as Sartre puts it, "human reality, in its most immediate being, in the intrastructure of the pre-reflective cogito, must be what it is not and not be what it is" (§5).
Anguish results from the awareness that I have several possibilities of action available to me, none of which is determined in advance, and that I can choose any one of them. This means that I might go on protecting myself from danger, or that I might hurl myself over the precipice. My anguish, then, is my experience of myself as a being which is capable of freely choosing from among an array of possibilities. In anguish, I encounter my own life as not determined by forces beyond my control, but instead as something I must choose. Thus, anguish is not directed toward some object outside me in the world, but rather toward my own self as a for-itself capable of choosing from a range of open possibilities. As Sartre puts it, "fear is fear of beings in the world whereas anguish is anguish before myself."
Sartre's notion of ontological freedom has the radical consequence that we can always transform our situation through our free choice of projects. It is because of this freedom that Sartre says in "The Humanism of Existentialism" that we are "condemned to be free." Each of us "carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders; he is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being."...The point here is that by taking a concrete stand—by choosing to engage myself in the world in some determinate way or other—I simultaneously confer a meaning on the worldly context in which I find myself. If I choose to encounter the war as a terrible force befalling me from outside myself, then that interpretation of the war is my choice, and I am responsible for it. This is so because there are always other ways of interpreting the war available to me: I could see it as a chance to develop my character, for example, or as a noble crusade to stamp out a tyrant.
Even though our condition is characterized by facticity, we can never gain access to that facticity as it is in itself, but only as it shows up in a specific way as a result of the choices we make. What we deal with in life is not raw facts, but opportunities for creating specific meanings through our choices. As Sartre says, "every event in the world can be revealed to me only as an opportunity." And because even other people "are themselves only opportunities and chances, the responsibility of the for-itself extends to the entire world as a peopled-world." To be human, then, is to be "a being which is compelled to decide the meaning of being—within it and everywhere outside of it" (§8). The only thing we are not free about is whether or not we are free.
Sartre believes that the structure of human existence as a combination of facticity and freedom results in a pervasive tendency toward bad faith (§§4- 6). Bad faith occurs when a conscious being denies her freedom to choose from among a range of possibilities, or when she denies an aspect of her facticity, for instance, that there are certain choices that she has made in the past, or that these choices make up a certain pattern. Sartre believes that these are cases of a certain kind of self-deception^ the kind in which the subject is conscious that she is free and at the same time denies it to herself, or is conscious that her past actions have a certain character and simultaneously denies it to herself.
For Sartre, there are two sorts of bad faith. In one kind of bad faith, a person denies (some aspect of) her being-for-itself, her freedom, and in the second, a person denies (some aspect of) her being-in-itself. Sartre thinks that bad faith is a pervasive feature of human beings, and further, that it is very difficult to avoid because of the structure of consciousness. He considers one sort of attempt to avoid bad faith, the pursuit of sincerity, a quality he characterizes as trying "to be what one is" (§5). Sartre argues that any attempt to achieve sincerity will itself result in bad faith.
In Sartre's view, no one can ever simply be anything. This is because being something in particular (for example being a student or a woman) is always a matter of assuming a particular identity and sustaining its existence. But inso- far as our own identity is something we make, it is not something we really are. There is always a gap or a not between ourselves as for-itself and what we are as in-itself, and of this we are always in some sense aware. Thus sincerity—trying to be what you are—always results in bad faith. In Sartre's view, bad faith is extremely difficult to avoid due to certain structural features of human ontology. We are a combination of being-foritself, whose nature it is to strive perpetually to complete itself, and beingin- itself, which does not strive because it is already complete.
As a combination of being-in-itself and beingfor- itself, we are perpetually unstable or "metastable" constructions: we are constantly flipping back and forth between regarding ourselves solely as being-in-itself and solely as being-for-itself (§5). Because we aim at completeness, we tend to regard ourselves as being-in-itself and deny our beingfor- itself, and because we aim to affirm our freedom we tend to regard ourselves as being-for-itself and deny our being-in-itself. The pervasiveness of bad faith is therefore grounded in our being metastable constructions of this sort.
According to Simone de Beauvoir in The Ethics of Ambiguity, authenticity involves, first of all, a lucid awareness of the structural ambiguity in a person between being-in-itself and being-for-itself. The authentic person is lucidly aware of her past actions and what they add up to, but at the same time does not view these past actions as determining what she will be, for she clearly sees herself as being able to freely choose from among the possibilities that open up for her. In addition, according to Beauvoir, the authentic person assumes her freedom as opposed to fleeing it, and she does this by being actively engaged in her projects in the world, and also in rejecting all forms of oppression.
In "The Humanism of Existentialism," Sartre says that "if God does not exist, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct." For Sartre, all values are products of individual choices, and, furthermore, any criteria by which we might evaluate values are also products of our choices. "So, in the bright realm of values," he concludes, "we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us.
Sartre believes that this type of conflict extends throughout human relationships. Human relationships are characterized by a struggle for selfassertion that will never result in stable and tranquil co-existence. In attempting to assert his transcendence, the other will objectify me. I will then resist the other's objectification of me by trying to make him recognize me as a free and creative subject capable of transcendence. But in this process, I objectify him. In response, he will resist my attempts at domination, and will try to assert himself as the truly free and creative subject, but he will thereby objectify me again. This struggle for self-assertion has been vividly described by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex. There she claims that what motivates people is not just a desire for happiness, but a desire or need to realize one's transcendence: "Every individual concerned to justify his existence feels that his existence involves an undefined need to transcend himself, to engage in freely chosen projects."
The distinctive way of philosophizing which today calls itself "Existenzphilosophie" or "Existential" philosophy emerged as one of the major currents of German thought under the Weimar Republic, counting among its leaders such men as Heidegger and Jaspers. But its history goes back at least a century, to the decade of the 1840's, when its main contentions were formulated by thinkers like Schelling, Kierkegaard, and Marx, in sharp criticism of the reigning "rationalism" or panlogism of the Hegelians; and in the next generation Nietzsche and Dilthey were among its protagonists. Its roots are still more ancient, deeply embedded in the pre- Gartesian German tradition of supra-rationalism and "Innerlichkeit" represented by Bohme.
"Existential" Philosophy thus seems a specifically German creation. It sprang originally from the tensions of the German intellectual situation in the early nineteenth century. It has been strongly influenced by the political and spiritual catastrophes of the Germans in our own generation. Its terminology has been largely determined by the genius and often by the demon of the German language—a fact which makes the translation of Heidegger's Sein und Zeit practically impossible.
In calling men back to "Existence," these German thinkers are criticising the identification of Reality or Being with Reality-as-known, with the object of Reason or thought. Starting from the traditional distinction between "essence" and "existence," they insist that Reality or Being in its concreteness and fullness is not "essence," is not the object of cognitive experience, but is rather "existence," is Reality as immediately experienced, with the accent on the inner and personal character of man's immediate experience...They consequently take their place with all those who have regarded man's "immediate experience" as revealing more completely the nature and traits of Reality than man's cognitive experience. The philosophy of "Existence" is hence one version of that widespread appeal to immediate experience which has been so marked a feature of recent thought. In its influence not only on ideas but also on historical events, the international character of the movement is obvious—as witness the names of Marx, Nietzsche, and Bergson.
The contemporary form of Existential philosophy has resulted from a combination of this "Philosophy of Life" with Husserl's shift of emphasis from existent objects to the mind that makes them its objects, and with the rediscovery of Kierkegaard and of the early developments of Marx. On the one hand Heidegger and Jaspers, on the other the Existential interpretation of history found in German "Religious Socialism," are the main representatives of this third period of the philosophy of experienced Existence.
The philosophy of "Existence" derives its name, and its way of formulating its critical opposition to rationalistic views of Keality, from the traditional distinction between "essence" and "existence." The scholastic distinction between essentia and existentia was the first step toward giving a more significant meaning to the word "existence." The assertion of the scholastics that in God essence and existence are identical is the second step in the development of the meaning of ''existence.'' The third step in the enrichment of the term "existence" came from the discussion of the ontological argument, from its criticism by Kant and its re-establishment in a changed and broadened form by Hegel. This discussion brought out the fundamental fallacy involved. The ontological argument relies on the sound principle of the identity of Being and thinking, which all thinking presupposes... But the argument surreptitiously transforms this principle into a highest Being, for the existence or nonexistence of which demonstrations can be advanced...Hegel not only re-establishes the ontological argument in a purified form, he extends the principle of the identity of Being and thought to the whole of Being in so far as it is the "selfactualization of the Absolute." In this way he tries to overcome the separation of existence from essence in finite beings: for him, the finite is infinite both in its essence and in its existence.
The post-Hegelian attack on Hegel's dialectical system is directed against his attempt to absorb the whole of reality, not only in its essential but also in its existential and especially in its historical aspect, into the dialectical movement of "pure thought." The logical expression of this attempt is found in statements like these concerning essence and existence: '' Essence necessarily appears." It transforms itself into existence. Existence is the being of essence, and therefore existence can be called "essential being." Essence is existence, it is not distinguished from its existence.
The impotence of the "philosophy of essence" to explain existence is manifest in the fact that reason can deal only with possibilities: Essentia est possibilitas. Schelling writes: "Reason reaches what can be or will be—but only as an idea, and therefore, in comparison with real Being, only as a possibility." Kierkegaard may have learned this from Schelling; he writes: ''Abstract thought can grasp reality only by destroying it, and this destruction of reality consists in transforming it into mere possibility.".. "The only reality to which an existing individual may have a relation that is more than merely cognitive is his own reality, the fact that lie exists."
The approach of Existential philosophy to "Existence" is completely a posteriori. We experience "Existence" in the same way we experience a person through his actions. We do not draw conclusions from observed effects to their causes, but we encounter a person immediately in his utterances.
Since they assumed that Existence is given immediately in the inner personal experience or concrete "Existence" of men, they all started with the immediate personal experience of the existing experiencer. They turned, not to the thinking subject, like Descartes, but to the existing subject—to the "sum" in cogito ergo sum, as Heidegger puts it. The description of this sum, of the character of immediate personal experience, is different for each representative of Existential philosophy. But on the basis of this personal experience each of them develops a theory in rational terms, a philosophy. They all try to "think Existence," to develop its implications, not only to live in "Existential" immediate experience.
For Kierkegaard [the approach to existence] is the immediate personal experience of the individual in the face of eternity, his personal faith—although interpreted by a most refined dialectical reasoning. For Nietzsche it is the immediate personal experience of a biologically determined being, his Existence as an embodiment of the Will to Power—although expressed in a metaphysics of Life. For Jaspers it is the immediate personal experience of the inner activity of the Self, man's Existence as "self-transcendence"— although described in terms of an immanent psychology. For Heidegger it is the immediate personal experience of that kind of being who is "concerned" with Being, his Existence as care, anxiety, and resoluteness—although claiming to describe the structure of Being itself.
The approach to Existence or Reality through immediate personal experience leads to the idea of the "Existential thinker," a term coined by Kierkegaard but applicable to all Existential philosophers. "The way of objective reflexion makes the subject accidental and thereby transforms his Existence into something impersonal—truth also becomes impersonal, and this impersonal character is precisely its objective validity; for all interest, like all decision, is rooted in personal experience."
Feuerbach and Kierkegaard prefer the term "passion" for the attitude of the Existential thinker. In his beautifully written Grundsatze der Philosophic der Zukunft Feuerbach says: "Do not wish to be a philosopher in contrast to being a man . . . do not think as a thinker . . . think as a living, real being . . . think in Existence." "Love is passion, and only passion is the mark of Existence." In order to unite this attitude with the demand for objectivity, he says: "Only what is as an object of passion—really is." The passionately living man knows the true nature of man and life.
Kierkegaard tries to show through the example of Socrates that the Existential thinker can be a philosopher. "The Socratic ignorance which Socrates held fast with the entire passion of his personal experience, was thus an expression of the principle that the eternal truth is related to an Existing individual." The validity of the truth which appears in a passionate personal experience is based on the relation of the Eternal to the Existing individual.
The Existential thinker cannot have pupils in the ordinary sense. He cannot communicate any ideas, because they are just not the truth he wants to teach. He can only create in his pupil by indirect communication that "Existential state" or personal experience out of which the pupil may think and act. Kierkegaard carries out this interpretation for Socrates. But all Existential philosophers have made similar statements—naturally, for if the approach to Existence is through personal experience, the only possibility of educating is to bring the pupil by indirect methods to a personal experience of his own Existence.
The Existential thinker needs special forms of expression, because personal Existence cannot be expressed in terms of objective experience. So Schelling uses the traditional religious symbols, Kierkegaard paradox, irony, and the pseudonym, Nietzsche the oracle, Bergson images and fluid concepts, Heidegger a mixture of psychological and ontological terms, Jaspers what he calls "ciphers," the Religious Socialist concepts oscillating between immanence and transcendence. They all wrestle with the problem of personal or "non-objective" thinking and its expression—this is the calamity of the Existential thinker.
The thinking of the Existential thinker is based on his immediate personal and inner experience. It is rooted in an interpretation of Being or Reality which does not identify Reality with "objective being." But it would be equally misleading to say that it identifies Reality with "subjective being," with "consciousness" or feeling. Such a view would still leave the meaning of "sub- jective" determined by its contrast with that of "objective"; and this is just the contrary of what the Existential philosophy is aiming at. Like many other appeals to immediate experience, it is trying to find a level on which the contrast between "subject" and "object" has not arisen. It aims to cut under the "subjectobject distinction" and to reach that stratum of Being which Jaspers, for instance, calls the "Ursprung" or "Source."
Jaspers declares that personal Existence ("Existential Subjectivity") is the center and aim of Reality. No being who lacks such a personal experience can ever understand Existence. But those beings wrho do possess it can themselves understand such defective and sub-human creatures to be the result of a tragic loss of personal Existence. Heidegger denies that it is possible to approach Being through objective reality, and insists that '' Existential Being," Dasein, self-relateclness, is the only door to Being itself. The objective world is a late product of immediate personal experience.
If the philosophy of personal Existence is right in maintaining that immediate experience is the door to the creative "Source" of Being, it is necessary for the concepts describing immediate experience to be at the same time descriptive of the structure of Being itself...It is in this way that Heidegger and many other philosophers of personal Existence are to be understood. Heidegger fills his book Sein und Zeit not with definitions of Sein-as-such or Zeit-as-such, but with descriptions of what he calls Dasein and Zeitlichkeit, temporal or finite Existence. In these descriptions he speaks of Sorge (care) as the general character of Existence, or of Angst (anxiety) as the relation of man to nothingness, or of fear of death, conscience, guilt, despair, daily life, loneliness, etc. But he insists again and again that these characterizations are not "ontic," describing merely a particular being, Man, but are rather " ontologieal," describing the very structure of Being itself. He denies that their negative character, their seemingly pessimistic connotations, have anything to do with actual pessimism. They all point to human finitude, the real theme of the philosophy of personal Existence. It remains, of course, an open question how the psychological meaning of these concepts can be distinguished from their ontological meaning. Most of the criticism directed against Heidegger deals with this problem; and it appears that Heidegger implicitly admitted that he was unable to explain the difference clearly, and that he himself has increasingly emphasized human nature as the starting-point of the Existential ontology.
All the Existential philosophers agree on the historical character of immediate personal experience. But this fact that man has a fundamentally "historical Existence" does not mean merely that he has a theoretical interest in the past; his Existence is not directed toward the past at all. It is the attitude not of the detached spectator, but of the actor who must face the future and make personal decisions.
Nietzsche states emphatically the historical character of human experience. "The word of the past is always an oracle uttered. Only as builders of the future, as knowing the present, will you understand it." In this Heidegger follows Nietzsche: The historical character of human experience lies in its orientation toward the future. Mere historical knowledge is not man's real role as an historical being. Absorption in the past is an estrangement from our task as the makers of history.
Every personal Existence is unique, says Jaspers: "We are completely irreplaceable. We are not merely cases of universal Being." Heidegger speaks of the Jemeinigkeit of personal Existence, its belonging to me and nobody else. Men usually live in the common experiences of daily life, covering over with talk and action their real inner personal experience. But conscience, guilt, having to die, come home to the individual only in his inner loneliness. The death of another as an objective event has nothing to do with our personal attitude toward our own death. Nietzsche praises the higher type of man who is lonely and cut off not only from the masses but also from others like himself. Nietzsche's estimate of the average man is exactly that of Heidegger and Jaspers. Kierkegaard goes even beyond them in emphasizing man's inner experience of loneliness before God. Anything objective and universal has no other meaning for him than an escape from the ethical decision each individual has to make.
In all the Existential philosophers it is this loss of community that has provoked the flight from the objective world. Only in that world—in what Herakleitos called'' the common world in which we live our waking lives''—is genuine community between man and man possible. If this common world has disappeared or grown intolerable, the individual turns to his lonely inner experience, where he is forced to spin out dreams which isolate him still further from this world, even though his objective knowledge of it may be very extensive. Here is suggested much of the social background of the philosophy of Human Existence.
What all philosophers of Existence oppose is the "rational" system of thought and life developed by Western industrial society and its philosophic representatives. During the last hundred years the implications of this system have become increasingly clear: a logical or naturalistic mechanism which seemed to destroy individual freedom, personal decision and organic community; an analytic rationalism which saps the vital forces of life and transforms everything, including man himself, into an object of calculation and control; a secularized humanism which cuts man and the world off from the creative Source and the ultimate mystery of existence. The Existential philosophers, supported by poets and artists in every European country, were consciously or subconsciously aware of the approach of this self-estranged form of life. They tried to resist it in a desperate struggle which drove them often to mental self-destruction and made their utterances extremely aggressive, passionate, paradoxical, fragmentary, revolutionary, prophetic and ecstatic. But this did not prevent them from achieving fundamental insights into the sociological structure of modern society and the psychological dynamics of modern man, into the originality and spontaneity of life, into the paradoxical character of religion and the Existential roots of knowledge. They immensely enriched philosophy, if it be taken as man's interpretation of his own existence; and they worked out intellectual tools and spiritual symbols for the European revolution of the twentieth century.
To understand the fundamental drive and function of Existential philosophy, it is necessary to view it against the background of what was happening in the nineteenth-century religious situation, especially in Germany. For all the groups that appeared after 1830 had to face a common problem, the problem created by the breakdown of the religious tradition under the impact of enlightenment, social revolution, and bourgeois liberalism. First among the educated classes, then increasingly in the mass of industrial workers, religion lost its "immediacy," it ceased to offer an unquestioned sense of direction and relevance to human living. What was lost in immediacy Hegel tried to restore by conscious reinterpretation. But this mediating reinterpretation was attacked and dissolved from both sides, by a revived theology on the one hand and by philosophical positivism on the other. The Existential philosophers were trying to discover an ultimate meaning of life beyond the reach of reinterpretation, revived theologies, or positivism. In their search they passionately rejected the "estranged" objective world with its religious radicals, reactionaries, and mediators. They turned toward man's immediate experience, toward "subjectivity," not as something opposed to "objectivity," but as that living experience in which both objectivity and subjectivity are rooted. They turned toward Reality as men experience it immediately in their actual living, to Innerlichkeit or inward experience. They tried to discover the creative realm of being which is prior to and beyond the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity.
If the experience of this level of living is "mystical," Existential philosophy can be called the attempt to reconquer the meaning of life in "mystical" terms after it had been lost in ecclesiastical as well as in positivistic terms. It is however necessary to redefine "mystical" if we are to apply it to Existential philosophy. In this context the term does not indicate a mystical union with the transcendent Absolute; it signifies rather a venture of faith toward union with the depths of life, whether made by an individual or a group... Historically speaking, the Existential philosophy attempts to return to a pre-Cartesian attitude, to an attitude in which the sharp gulf between the subjective and the objective "realms" had not yet been created, and the essence of objectivity could be found in the depth of subjectivity.
In understanding Existential philosophy a comparison with the situation in England may be helpful. England is the only European country in which the Existential problem of finding a new meaning for life had no significance, because there positivism and the religious tradition lived on side by side, united by a social conformism which prevented radical questions about the meaning of human '' Existence." It is important to note that the one country without an Existential philosophy is that in which during the period from 1830 to 1930 the religious tradition remained strongest. This illustrates once more the dependence of the Existential philosophy on the problems created by the breakdown of the religious tradition on the European continent.
In their struggle against the meaninglessness of modern technological civilization, the several philosophers of Existence used very different methods and had very different aims. In all of them the Existential emphasis was only one factor among others, more or less controlling.
Kierkegaard represents the religious wing of Existential philosophy. He himself claimed not to be a philosopher, and those who consider him the classic type of Existential thinking often assert that a genuinely Existential thinker cannot be one. But Kierkegaard's actual work reveals a much more intimate connection. As a religious thinker he encountered the obstacle of a church which had become "bourgeois" in both theory and practice, and he was able to maintain his own radical Christianity only in terms of an absolute paradox and of a passionately personal devotion. As a philosophical thinker, however, he produced a "dialectical" psychology which has contributed greatly to an anti-rationalistic and anti-mechanistic interpretation of human nature.
Heidegger, and less emphatically Jaspers, returned to the Kierkegaardian type of Existential philosophy, and in particular to the dialectical psychology of Kierkegaard. They reintroduced the term "Existential" to designate a philosophy that appealed to immediate personal experience, and they cooperated with a theology that was profoundly influenced by Kierkegaard, especially by his attack on the secularized bourgeois churches. But with the help of Aristotle and the "Lebensphilosophie" [philosophy of life] Heidegger transformed the dialectical psychology into a new ontology, radically rejecting the religious implications of the Existential attitude, and replacing it with the unchecked resoluteness of the tragic and heroic individual.
It is immediately evident that, through its problematic nature, philosophy is not and cannot be a divine knowledge of the world. It is not, therefore, the firm, definitive and total possession of all possible knowledge; it is not even the possession of any knowledge whatsoever. It is, rather, the problem of knowledge—a problem which is continuously reborn from its own solutions. If the clarifications advanced on the nature of philosophy are accepted, every divinizing philosophy, that is, every philosophy that considers itself the activity of a pure intellect, an absolute reason, or of an intellectual intuition, must be rejected as illusory. Every philosophy of that kind makes the problem of philosophy impossible, and deprives of any significance the very inquiry on which it is founded.
Man is the only thinking finite being. Problematic knowledge constitutes, therefore, the condition and the mode of man's being. If the mode of man's being is called existence, then problematic knowledge defines and expresses existence. We detect at this point that feature from which existentialism gets its name: the identity between existence and philosophy. This is certainly not a novelty. What else has philosophy ever been if not man's ceaseless attempt to bring a certain clarity to the being that is proper to him? But, if this attempt has always been philosophy, it has not always been the explicit problem of philosophy. And when it has not been the explicit problem, there has also been lacking the fundamental explanation about man: that of man's being a problem to himself. This is precisely the ultimate meaning of the recognition that philosophy is problematic knowledge that defines and expresses the condition or the mode of being of a finite being. Philosophy is immediately connected to the very constitution of man, which appears invested and illuminated by its own acknowledged problematic nature.
At its [philosophy's] origin there is no gratuitous and vain curiosity to know, but a vital movement through which man, in the instability of his problematic nature, seeks the being which is proper to him and strives to attain it and possess it in some way. The seriousness and the value of the philosophical quest are thus guaranteed in a most resolute way. This quest is not a luxury that may be omitted or held superfluous; it is the intrinsic constitution of existence as such.
The ideal of a disinterested self-knowledge and, therefore, of philosophy as a rigorous science of objective meanings, characterizes some currents of contemporary philosophy, above all, phenomenology. However presented or defended, this ideal constitutes, nevertheless, a grave deviation from the problematic structure of philosophy. Granted that man can become the disinterested spectator of his own I [person] and that he can contemplate his own life without being involved with it, it must be quickly recognized that we deal precisely with a possibility, constitutive of the problematic condition of man, which is actualized by means of a decision and a choice. Now this very problematic constitution, the possibilities that form it and the choice and decision that it makes possible, fall completely outside of a philosophy understood as science or knowledge, because these are not attitudes or experiences reducible to objective meanings. The ideal of philosophy as objective science, even as it is represented in the most modern and critical forms of phenomenology, cuts itself off from its primary moment—the problem—of this philosophy itself. It is, therefore, a manifestation of philosophical naivete and a kind of philosophizing that does not achieve a critical hold on itself.
Philosophy cannot base itself on the illusion of making man a disinterested spectator of himself. Every clarification that man succeeds in attaining about himself and even that which he only deludes himself into attaining, goes immediately into forming his existence, which is consequently modified. This means that philosophy does not have an object, in the proper sense of the term; but only a task, and that this task consists in committing man to that form or that mode of being which he comes to consider his own. This does not imply, on the other hand, that philosophy is practical rather than theoretical, or that it concerns action more than speculation. Theory and practice, action and speculation are modes of conventional classification and are useless for philosophy, which is always concerned with man in his totality, in the problematic being proper to him, and which wholly commits him to the form or the attitude that it allows him to choose.
The position which is at the basis of science is that man is only one of the possible objects of scientific consideration, without any title or privilege with respect to others. Man is subjected by science to the same procedures of observation and measurement to which other objects, whatever they may be, are subjected, and he has no claim to any special treatment. According to physics, for example, he is a body subject to the same laws that govern other natural bodies; for biology he is a living organism, subject, like all the others, to the requirements and the laws of organic life; even for psychology he is a center of psychophysical actions and reactions similar to those of all other animals, only more complicated. The essential characteristic of every scientific consideration and problem is that man figures as one of the possible objects or possible terms. The foundation of this characteristic is that science is, in general, the study of the world and, therefore, man, for science, counts only as a part or an element of the world.... Scientific, like ordinary knowledge, which prepares and stimulates scientific research, is essentially connected to existence and is a fundamental aspect of it. The claim that man can do without science is chimerical and expresses only an adherence to a more crude and less effective form of scientific knowledge.
It is evident that philosophy cannot and should not close its eyes to this aspect of man's situation. It cannot insist on the pure interiority of man to himself, on his spirituality, without recognizing at the same time his exteriority and corporeity, which make him a being among other beings and, in some measure, a thing among things. The illusion of exalting man leads to his diminution; it reduces him to only one aspect of his structure, forgetting the other, without which he cannot exist.
The existential character of philosophy rejects the possibility that it could be organized as knowledge or science in the sense of the physicomathemarical disciplines, and therefore it rejects, on the one hand, positivism, and on the other, phenomenology, which also accepts the ideal of philosophy as a logico-contemplative discipline. The unity which his relation to himself and his relation to the world achieve in the problematic nature of man excludes any personalism that hinges exclusively on the interiority or consciousness of man.
From the viewpoint of problematic reason, no necessitating nature, no immutable datum, no determining law can be perceived in man nor in any other reality that enters into a relationship with him. Only possibilities can be perceived or recognized, always individuated and singular—possibilities before which man is ceaselessly called upon to decide and to choose. Neither within nor outside himself can man ever discover anything more stable, more durable, more resolute than possibility.
That man cannot cling to anything stable and definitive either within or outside of himself, that he must ceaselessly work and struggle, decide and choose, at his own risk and responsibility, is certainly the most disquieting prospect that has ever been put before men; and it is no wonder that they wince at it and seek to hide it from their eyes. Philosophy, however, cannot assume the easy and pleasant task of fondling man with illusions and assuring him with fictitious prospects. It must, instead, assume the more difficult, but also the more dignified, task of awakening him, if he is lulled to sleep by an illusory security, and of committing him to vigilance, to the struggle and to work. What it has the duty to clarify, however, is the guidance and the orientation that this prospect offers to man.
Man cannot perceive anything inside or outside of himself but possibilities, each of which implies a threat and a risk. How will he choose and find his way? By what sign will he recognize those that are real from those that are imaginary and how will he secure and be certain of the former?
The first response that is presented to these questions is the acknowledgment of the absolute equivalence of all human possibilities, an acknowledgment that implies that every choice, by the very fact of being such, is justified; and that man is essentially free, that is, indifferent, before all the possibilities that are proposed to him. This is the response of the latest French brand of existentialism (Sartre, Camus). This is undoubtedly the most obvious answer, but also the most paralyzing. A choice that is not supported by the faith in the value of what one chooses is not possible since the acknowledgment of equivalence is already the renunciation of choice. That acknowledgment is equivalent, therefore, to the nullification and the loss of all possibilities indiscriminately, and hence, to the negation of existence as such.
The second response to the same questions is the recognition of the equivalence of all human possibilities except one—the one which expresses and sums up the possible nullification of each and every single possibility—the possibility of death. This is Heidegger's response. From this point of view, the only possible choice for man is to live for death, and in the face of this, other choices are fictitious and improper. This response certainly represents a step forward from the first. It implies the possibility of a choice; but this possibility is, in effect, a necessity because there is only one possible choice. It is easy to see how, from this viewpoint, the problematic nature of existence is inverted to its contrary, that is, to necessity. The only authentic possibility of existing is the impossibility of existing. Now, impossibility is necessity, and if existence has a problematic nature, then it cannot be reduced to an impossibility. And once again existence as possibility is negated in the very act of its acknowledgment.
The third response is that all the possibilities of existence neutralize themselves through their common impossibility of being more than possibilities, that is, of grasping the being that is beyond them, transcendence. This is Jaspers' response. It is symmetrical and opposite to Heidegger's, but it leads to the same conclusion. For Heidegger existence is the impossibility to emerge from nothing and to be something; for Jaspers existence is the impossibility to be Being, to achieve transcendence. Both responses reduce existence to a fundamental impossibility; they negate, moreover, its problematic character, which makes it live and constitute itself through concrete possibilities.
If all the "possibilities that constitute existence are, for one reason or another, equivalent, then existence is impossible. This recognition shows how much importance the consideration of value and of normativity has for existentialism although the trends cited have completely neglected this consideration. Without a positive solution of the question of value, the problematic character of existence is transformed into necessity—possibility into impossibility; existence is negated in the very act of recognition.
There is nothing—as we have said before—inside or outside of man that is not a concrete and live possibility. Consequently the same possibilities, as such, ought to have within them the criterion and measure of their value. What is this criterion? Let us consider the importance of this question. If this criterion were lacking, neither a commitment to nor a faith in existence would be possible. Commitment and faith are, indeed, nothing more than the effective and working recognition of the value of the possibility in which man recognizes himself. Without the recognition of value, or even worse, with the acknowledgment of the equal value of all human possibilities, there is nothing left for man but to hurl himself headlong in one direction or another, yielding at random to this or that form of life, without seriousness, without faith and without reason. The problem of faith in existence and that of reason as guides and orientation for man meet at this point.
The possibility of a possibility is the criterion and the norm of every possibility. The possibility of possibility can be denoted with the name transcendental possibility. Transcendental possibility is, then, what justifies and establishes every concrete human attitude, every choice and every decision. A choice is not indeed justified because it has been made, but because it is still possible to make it. A decision is not good and valid because it was once made, but because it can still be made and still be carried out. An attitude of any kind does not derive its value from the fact that it has been assumed or can in fact be assumed, but only from the possibility that assuming it would not make it intrinsically impossible.
Man, it is true, is constituted only by possibilities and has nothing more solid nor stable to hold on to. But precisely in the alternative of ceaselessly keeping open the instability which is proper to him, can he find and realize his equilibrium. He can, therefore he should. But this is not to say that he is compelled to do it, nor that he always succeeds in doing it. Nothing can offer him an infallible guarantee: error is possible and everything is at his own risk. But he can, with effort and work, through doubt, error and struggle, arrive at a reasonable faith in himself, that is, in the possibility that he recognizes as his own, and in other men bound to him by this same possibility. This reasonable faith is all that can constitute his dignity and his value as man.
Freedom is not the indiscriminate character of every human choice or decision, of every possible attitude. It is not the condition in which man finds himself almost by right of birth and from which there is no possibility of his deviation or decline. It is not even the love of fate (amor fati), the pure and simple acceptance of fact, the choice of that which has already been chosen, the decision of that which has already been implicitly decided by a necessitating situation.
The existential possibilities are never offered to man in their indifference. Among those which he can in fact choose, only one is authentic, that is, the one that is not reduced to impossibility. He must choose this one because it alone guarantees him the possibility of choice. And this alone is freedom. It is, therefore, related to the value of possibility of the chosen possibility, that is, to transcendental possibility. And it is obvious that not every choice is free, but only the one which includes the guarantee of its own possibility.
Man is free only through and with other men on the condition that his relationships with them are possible precisely because of the foundation he has chosen and decided. But for this to be possible, the decision of the individual, whatever it may be, must always include and ensure the possibility of relationship with others, and only in this case is it a free decision.
The road of freedom is the most difficult for man and he usually finds it only after many attempts, detours and errors. Much more easy and obvious is the road of nonfreedom, or of fictitious freedom, which soon after the choice turns out to be, an unbearable constriction, a split with himself and with others. Spinoza said that the free man never thinks of death; Heidegger, that the only freedom possible for man is freedom for death. In reality the free man neither forgets death nor lives only for it. He recognizes death as the impending risk in each of his projects or achievements, in every relation with himself and with others. He does not lose time, therefore, in getting to work on the essential things that remain to be done, nor does he neglect, at any moment, those on which the threat of death rests most gravely and menacingly. The free man remains faithful to death because he remains faithful to the problematic character of his existence, which is at every instant the possibility of nonexistence. But he remains faithful to it in works and in concrete projects, that is, in the possibilities that he recognizes and makes his own. His fidelity is expressed in the duty that he feels constantly to consolidate these possibilities and in the refusal of the illusory belief that they can be kept forever secure without his own effort.
Heidegger, in claiming to construct a new ontology, says that the concept of being is very obscure. Pure being is an abstraction and it is in an abstraction that men seek to lay hold upon primary reality, primary life. Human thought is engaged in the pursuit of its own product. It is in this that the tragedy of philosophical learning lies, the tragedy, that is, of all abstract philosophy. The problem which faces us is this: is not being a product of objectification? Does it not turn the subject matter of philosophical knowledge into objects in which the noumenal world disappears?
In the processes of thought the human mind sought to rise above this world of sense which presents itself to us, and in which everything is unstable, above a world which is a world of becoming, rather than of being. But by that very fact the search for being was made to depend upon thinking, and the impress of thought lay upon it. Being became an object of thought and thereby came to denote objectification. What reason finds is its own product. Reality is made to depend upon the fact that it becomes the subject matter of knowledge, in other words an object. But in actual fact the reverse is true, reality is not in front of the knowing subject but 'behind' him, in his existentiality.
Various kinds of being are formed through the abstraction and hypostatization of attributes and qualities. In this way ontologies have been built up which have constituted a doctrine of abstract being, rather than of the concrete existent. Buf the real subject-matter of philosophy ought to be, not being in general, but that to which and to whom being belongs, that is, the existent, that which exists. A concrete philosophy is an existential philosophy.
It is not true to say that being is: only the existent is, only that which exists. What being tells of a thing is that something is, it does not speak about what is. The subject of existence confers being. The concept of being is logically and grammatically ambiguous, two meanings are confused in it. Being means that something is, and it also means that which is. This second meaning of "being" ought to have been discarded. Being appears as both a subject and a predicate, in the grammatical sense of those words. In point of fact, being is a predicate only. Being is the common, the universal. But the common has no existence and the universal is only within that which exists, in the subject of existence, not in the object.
There is something else still more important in characterizing ontologism in philosophy. The recognition of being as the supreme good and value means the primacy of the common over what is individual and this is the philosophy of universals. Being is the world of ideas which crushes the world of the individual, the unique, the unrepeatable. The same thing happens when matter is regarded as the essence of being. Universalist ontologism cannot recognize the supreme value of personality: personality is a means, a tool of the universally common.
Real philosophy is the philosophy of the concrete living entity and entities and it is that which corresponds most closely to Christianity. It is also the philosophy of concrete spirit, for it is in spirit that value and idea are to be found. Meaning also is something which exists and by its existence is communicated to those that exist. Being and becoming must have a living carrier, a subject, a concrete living entity. That which concretely exists is more profound than value and comes before it, and existence goes deeper than being.
Heidegger is perhaps the most extreme pessimist in the history of philosophical thought in the West. In any case his pessimism is more extreme and more thorough-going than Schopenhauer's, for the latter was aware of many things which were a consolation to him. Moreover, he does not in actual fact give us either a philosophy of being, or a philosophy of Existenz, but merely a philosophy of Dasein. He is entirely concerned with the fact that human existence is cast out into the world. But this being cast out into the world, into das man, is the fall. In Heidegger's view the fall belongs to the structure of being, being strikes its very roots into commonplace existence. He says that anxiety is the structure of being. Anxiety brings being into time.
But from what elevation can all this be seen? What intelligible meaning can one give it? Heidegger does not explain whence the power of getting to know things is acquired. He looks upon man and the world exclusively from below, and sees nothing but the lowest part of them. As a man he is deeply troubled by this world of care, fear, death and daily dullness. His philosophy, in which he has succeeded in seeing a certain bitter truth, albeit not the final truth, is not existential philosophy, and the depth of existence does not make itself felt in it. This philosophy remains under the sway of objectification. The state of being cast out into the world, into das man, is in fact objectification.
I do not begin at the beginning when I ask questions such as 'What is being?' or 'Why is anything at all? Why not nothing?' or 'Who am I?' or 'What do I really want?' These questions arise from a situation in which, coming from a past, I find myself. When I become aware of myself I see that I am in a world in which I take my bearings. Previously I had taken things up and dropped them again; everything had been a matter of course, unquestioned, and purely present; but now I wonder and ask myself what really is. For all things pass away, and I was not at the beginning, nor am I at the end. Even between beginning and end I ask about the beginning and the end.
I would like an answer that will give me support. For though I can neither fully grasp my situation nor see through its origin, the sense of it oppresses me with a vague fear. I can see the situation only as a motion that keeps transforming me along with itself, a motion that carries me from a darkness in which I did not exist to a darkness in which I shall not exist. I concern myself with things and doubt if they matter. The motion takes its course and frightens me with the idea that something will be lost forever if I do not seize it now - yet I do not know what it is. I look for a being that will not just vanish.
The only way in which I might hold on to some allegedly objective, teachable 'being' would be to forget myself, to turn myself into an object among others. My situation would no longer be the way whose perils are unknown, besetting me, at first, only as fear; it would be something deducible in which I can act correctly because I know whence it comes and whither it goes. But there is no achieving the self-obliviousness in this deceptive escape from my situation. I might indeed let myself drift awhile, tied to the supposedly known, the supposedly objective, which is and happens without me. But I no sooner start questioning this objectivity than I feel lost again and keep facing myself in the situation along which I change. I remain between beginning and end, fearful of nonexistence, unless I take hold, decide, and thus dare to be myself.
The situation comes out of the past and has historic depth; it is never finished, harboring within itself the possibilities and inevitabilities of the future. There is no other form of reality for me, as I exist in it. It is what I start thinking from and what I return to. Here, at each moment, lies the immediacy of the present, the only thing I am sure of. When I conceive my situation as such, directly, I am drafting patterns only; as a real situation it is always different. There is always more to it. It is never something purely immediate. As something that has come to be, it contains past realities and free decisions. As something that is now, it lets me breathe the possible future. It is never merely general - though we can draft general structures of it, as the network of an analysis of existence. In essence, the situation is the historically conveyed, momentarily complete appearance of being.
A philosophizing that begins by casting light on the situation remains in flux because the situation is nothing but a ceaseless flow of mundane events and free choices. For all the determinacy of detail, therefore, philosophizing as a whole remains as incomplete as the situation itself. If I take the illumination of the situation for the starting point of philosophizing, I renounce objective explanations that would deduce existence from principles as one whole being. Instead, each objective thought structure merely has its own function. Awakening to myself, in my situation, I raised the question of being. Finding myself in the situation as an indeterminate possibility, I must search for being if I want to find my real self. But it is not till I fail in this search for intrinsic being that I begin to philosophize. This is what we call philosophizing on the ground of possible Existenz, and the method used is transcending.
As long as there have been men and they have lived, they have all felt this tragic ambiguity of their condition, but as long as there have been philosophers and they have thought, most of them have tried to mask it. They have striven to reduce mind to matter, or to reabsorb matter into mind, or to merge them within a single substance. Those who have accepted the dualism have established a hierarchy between body and soul which permits of considering as negligible the part of the self which cannot be saved. They have denied death, either by integrating it with life or by promising to man immortality. Or, again they have denied life, considering it as a veil of illusion beneath which is hidden the truth of Nirvana. And the ethics which they have proposed to their disciples has always pursued the same goal. It has been a matter of eliminating the ambiguity by making oneself pure inwardness or pure externality, by escaping from the sensible world or by being engulfed in it, by yielding to eternity or enclosing oneself in the pure moment.
At the present time there still exist many doctrines which choose to leave in the shadow certain troubling aspects of a too complex situation. But their attempt to lie to us is in vain. Cowardice doesn't pay. Those reasonable metaphysics, those consoling ethics with which they would like to entice us only accentuate the disorder from which we suffer. Men of today seem to feel more acutely than ever the paradox of their condition. They know themselves to be the supreme end to which all action should be subordinated, but the exigencies of action force them to treat one another as instruments or obstacles, as means. The more widespread their mastery of the world, the more they find themselves crushed by uncontrollable forces. Though they are masters of the atomic bomb, yet it is created only to destroy them. Each one has the incomparable taste in his mouth of his own life, and yet each feels himself more insignificant than an insect within the immense collectivity whose limits are one with the earth's. Perhaps in no other age have they manifested their grandeur more brilliantly, and in no other age has this grandeur been so horribly flouted. In spite of so many stubborn lies, at every moment, at every opportunity, the truth comes to light, the truth of life and death, of my solitude and my bond with the world, of my freedom and my servitude, of the insignificance and the sovereign importance of each man and all men.
Since we do not succeed in fleeing it, let us therefore try to look the truth in the face. Let us try to assume our fundamental ambiguity. It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our life that we must draw our strength to live and our reason for acting.
From the very beginning, existentialism defined itself as a philosophy of ambiguity. It was by affirming the irreducible character of ambiguity that Kierkegaard opposed himself to Hegel, and it is by ambiguity that, in our own generation, Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, fundamentally defined man, that being whose being is not to be, that subjectivity which realizes itself only as a presence in the world, that engaged freedom, that surging of the for-oneself which is immediately given for others. But it is also claimed that existentialism is a philosophy of the absurd and of despair. It encloses man in a sterile anguish, in an empty subjectivity. It is incapable of furnishing him with any principle for making choices. Let him do as he pleases. In any case, the game is lost. Does not Sartre declare, in effect, that man is a 'useless passion,' that he tries in vain to realize the synthesis of the for-oneself and the in-oneself, to make himself God? It is true. But it is also true that the most optimistic ethics have all begun by emphasizing the element of failure involved in the condition of man; without failure, no ethics; for a being who, from the very start, would be an exact co-incidence with himself, in a perfect plenitude, the notion of having-to-be would have no meaning. One does not offer an ethics to a God.
The failure described in Being and Nothingness is definitive, but it is also ambiguous. Man, Sartre tells us, is 'a being who makes himself a lack of being in order that there might be being.' That means, first of all, that his passion is not inflicted upon him from without. He chooses it. It is his very being and, as such, does not imply the idea of unhappiness. If this choice is considered as useless, it is because there exists no absolute value before the passion of man, outside of it, in relation to which one might distinguish the useless from the useful.
The first implication of such an attitude is that/the genuine man will not agree to recognize any foreign absolute. When a man projects into an ideal heaven that impossible synthesis of the for-itself and the in-itself that is called God, it is because he wishes the regard of this existing Being to change his existence into being; but if he agrees not to be in order to exist genuinely, he will abandon the dream of an inhuman objectivity. He will understand that it is not a matter of being right in the eyes of a God, but of being right in his own eyes. Renouncing the thought of seeking the guarantee for his existence outside of himself, he will also refuse to believe in unconditioned values which would set themselves up athwart his freedom like things.
It is human existence which makes values spring up in the world on the basis of which it will be able to judge the enterprise in which it will be engaged. But first it locates itself beyond any pessimism, as beyond any optimism, for the fact of its original springing forth is a pure contingency. Before existence there is no more reason to exist than not to exist. The lack of existence can not be evaluated since it is the fact on the basis of which all evaluation is defined. It can not be compared to anything for there is nothing outside of it to serve as a term of comparison. This rejection of any extrinsic justification also confirms the rejection of an original pessimism which we posited at the beginning. Since it is unjustifiable from without, to declare from without that it is unjustifiable is not to condemn it. And the truth is that outside of existence there is nobody. Man exists. For him it is not a question of wondering whether his presence in the world is useful, whether life is worth the trouble of being lived. These questions make no sense. It is a matter of knowing whether he wants to live and under what conditions.
But if man is free to define for himself the conditions of a life which is valid in his own eyes, can he not choose whatever he likes and act however he likes? Dostoievsky asserted, 'If God does not exist, everything is permitted.' Today's believers use this formula for their own advantage. To re-establish man at the heart of his destiny is, they claim, to repudiate all ethics. However, far from God's absence authorizing all license, the contrary is the case, because man is abandoned on the earth, because his acts are definitive, absolute engagements. He bears the responsibility for a world which is not the work of a strange power, but of himself, where his defeats are inscribed, and his victories as well. A God can pardon, efface, and compensate. But if God does not exist, man's faults are inexpiable.
One can not start by saying that our earthly destiny has or has not importance, for it depends upon us to give it importance. It is up to man to make it important to be a man, and he alone can feel his success or failure. And if it is again said that nothing forces him to try to justify his being in this way, then one is playing upon the notion of freedom in a dishonest way.
However, even among the proponents of secular ethics, there are many who charge existentialism with offering no objective content to the moral act. It is said that this philosophy is subjective, even solipsistic. If he is once enclosed within himself, how can man get out? But there too we have a great deal of dishonesty. It is rather well known that the fact of being a subject is a universal fact and that the Cartesian cogito expresses both the most individual experience and the most objective truth. By affirming that the source of all values resides in the freedom of man, existentialism merely carries on the tradition of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, who, in the words of Hegel himself, 'have taken for their point of departure the principle according to which the essence of right and duty and the essence of the thinking and willing subject are absolutely identical.' The idea that defines all humanism is that the world is not a given world, foreign to man, one to which he has to force himself to yield from without. It is the world willed by man, insofar as his will expresses his genuine reality.
For existentialism, it is not impersonal universal man who is the source of values, but the plurality of concrete, particular men projecting themselves toward their ends on the basis of situations whose particularity is as radical and as irreducible as subjectivity itself. How could men, originally separated, get together?
As for us, whatever the case may be, we believe in freedom. Is it true that this belief must lead us to despair? Must we grant this curious paradox: that from the moment a man recognizes himself as free, he is prohibited from wishing for anything? On the contrary, it appears to us that by turning toward this freedom we are going to discover a principle of action whose range will be universal. The characteristic feature of all ethics is to consider human life as a game that can be won or lost and to teach man the means of winning. Now, we have seen that the original scheme of man is ambiguous: he wants to be, and to the extent that he coincides with this wish, he fails. All the plans in which this will to be is actualized are condemned; and the ends circumscribed by these plans remain mirages. Human transcendence is vainly engulfed in those miscarried attempts. But man also wills himself to be a disclosure of being, and if he coincides with this wish, he wins, for the fact is that the world becomes present by his presence in it.
Freedom is the source from which all significations and all values spring. It is the original condition of all justification of existence. The man who seeks to justify his life must want freedom itself absolutely and above everything else. At the same time that it requires the realization of concrete ends, of particular projects, it requires itself universally. It is not a ready-made value which offers itself from the outside to my abstract adherence, but it appears (not on the plane of facility, but on the moral plane) as a cause of itself. It is necessarily summoned up by the values which it sets up and through which it sets itself up. It can not establish a denial of itself, for in denying itself, it would deny the possibility of any foundation. To will oneself moral and to will oneself free are one and the same decision.
We have said that it would be contradictory deliberately to will oneself not free. But one can choose not to will himself free. In laziness, heedlessness, capriciousness, cowardice, impatience, one contests the meaning of the project at the very moment that one defines it. The spontaneity of the subject is then merely a vain living palpitation, its movement toward the object is a flight, and itself is an absence. To convert the absence into presence, to convert my flight into will, I must assume my project positively. It is not a matter of retiring into the completely inner and, moreover, abstract movement of a given spontaneity, but of adhering to the concrete and particular movement by which this spontaneity defines itself by thrusting itself toward an end.
We could indeed assert our freedom against all constraint if we agreed to renounce the particularity of our projects. If a door refuses to open, let us accept not opening it and there we are free. But by doing that, one manages only to save an abstract notion of freedom. It is emptied of all content and all truth. The power of man ceases to be limited because it is annulled. It is the particularity of the project which determines the limitation of the power, but it is also what gives the project its content and permits it to be set up. There are people who are filled with such horror at the idea of a defeat that they keep themselves from ever doing anything. But no one would dream of considering this gloomy passivity as the triumph of freedom. The truth is that in order for my freedom not to risk coming to grief against the obstacle which its very engagement has raised, in order that it might still pursue its movement in the face of the failure, it must, by giving itself a particular content, aim by means of it at an end which is nothing else but precisely the free movement of existence. Popular opinion is quite right in admiring a man who, having been ruined or having suffered an accident, knows how to gain the upper hand, that is, renew his engagement in the world, thereby strongly asserting the independence of freedom in relation to thing.
My freedom must not seek to trap being but to disclose it. The disclosure is the transition from being to existence. The goal which my freedom aims at is conquering existence across the always inadequate density of being. However, such salvation is only possible if, despite obstacles and failures, a man preserves the disposal of his future, if the situation opens up more possibilities to him.
Not only do we assert that the existentialist doctrine permits the elaboration of an ethics, but it even appears to us as the only philosophy in which an ethics has its place. For, in a metaphysics of transcendence, in the classical sense of the term, evil is reduced to error; and in humanistic philosophies it is impossible to account for it, man being defined as complete in a complete world. Existentialism alone gives - like religions - a real role to evil, and it is this, perhaps, which make its judgments so gloomy. Men do not like to feel themselves in danger. Yet, it is because there are real dangers, real failures and real earthly damnation that words like victory, wisdom, or joy have meaning. Nothing is decided in advance, and it is because man has something to lose and because he can lose that he can also win... Therefore, in the very condition of man there enters the possibility of not fulfilling this condition. In order to fulfill it he must assume himself as a being who 'makes himself a lack of being so that there might be being.' But the trick of dishonesty permits stopping at any moment whatsoever. One may hesitate to make oneself a lack of being, one may withdraw before existence, or one may falsely assert oneself as being, or assert oneself as nothingness. One may realize his freedom only as an abstract independence, or, on the contrary, reject with despair the distance which separates us from being. All errors are possible since man is a negativity, and they are motivated by the anguish he feels in the face of his freedom.
Existentialism found an especially strong foothold in France just before the war, perhaps due to circumstances of the sort that Paul Guerin remarked on in the spring of 1939: 'The political regime is paradoxical, conservative in purpose, revolutionary at heart, extremist and idealist in its programmes, opportunist and moderate in its actions.' In those extraordinary years of upheaval and danger, threat and promise, several publications by a number of mostly unknown philosophers would dramatically reshape the central topics of immediate philosophical concern. They were not so much influenced in a thoughtful, meditative way by the events unfolding about them as provoked and threatened by a challenge to the dominant worldview; thus, one could say that these writers became engaged in articulating a new vision. For the first time, in these essays and lectures, they will seek to define the philosopher's own intellectual and moral responsibility, a task which could only have been conceived as the consequence of their radically new understanding of the unique status of human being. For the Existentialist thinker, a human being is not the subject of his or her circumstances, nor an instance of a timeless essence, but a unique manner of existence.
These philosophical statements were in large measure an indication of a profound crisis in philosophy itself, as well as in the European cultural milieu. They were responses, in one way or another, to a complex situation which artists, architects, novelists, film-makers and others were addressing, often in a subversive fashion. Some of the intellectual and cultural issues which were expressed by these cultural agents were also driving forces behind the Existentialist philosophers: the failure of the Enlightenment Project for Reason, the anonymity of bureaucracy in the modern state, the alienation of human beings through oppression, the collapse of an elitist ethics, and the falling away of Christian beliefs, at least among the intellectuals.
Existentialism as a philosophical orientation can be difficult to define; in fact, numerous attempts by commentators to proffer a comprehensive definition often fall foul of one or another Existentialist writer who denies or in some other way contradicts some component of the definition. It looks like a grand name for a philosophical orientation or discipline that focuses on 'existence'.
To denominate this philosophical orientation as Existentialist means that existence, properly speaking, belongs only to human beings; in a famous phrase, human being is the only Being for whom Being is an issue. Second, there are various modes in which or through which humans live their existence, various ways in which they comport themselves toward the radical contingency at the root of their existence. Third, in Sartre's famous phrase, 'human existence precedes essence', that is an individual's essence, his 'real' nature, is not fixed in advance, at least not completely fixed beyond his genetic makeup. Rather, in the most significant sense, an individual's essence is determined through his or her own choices. Fourth, an individual can 'fall away' from the difficult task of choosing him or herself and become lost in the public, the herd, or the 'they' (as in, 'they say that you should always say "thank you" to your host'). If you live your life within this public mentality, with the public's beliefs and values, knowing you haven't really faced your task in making a choice, you are in 'bad faith'. And finally, only human beings are always in the process of becoming, they are always ahead of themselves and oriented toward the future.
David Cooper summarises this core Existentialist point of view in the following manner, with the proviso that each of the key terms will need to elucidated: "Existence ... is a constant striving, a perpetual choice; it is marked by a radical freedom and responsibility; and it is always prey to a sense of Angst which reveals that, for the most part, it is lived inauthcritically and in bad faith. And because the character of a human life is never given, existence is without foundation; hence it is abandoned or even absurd."
Existentialism took its point of departure from a profound dissatisfaction with a core doctrine of most modern philosophical considerations of human nature. In a crude picture, to be refined as we proceed, the Existentialists discerned a previously undisclosed problem in the presupposition that humans had a nature (or essence) in the same way that worldly things had natures, that is things had invariant natures as entities in the natural world. Subjectivity was conceived in opposition to objectivity, and a subject was characterised in terms of the essential feature of thought.
One of [Descartes'] metaphysical principles was that inquiries should first be directed toward the essence of the thing in question and then only later toward its existence. One cannot establish whether some thing exists until one has determined what the thing is - essence precedes existence for all things. The laws of nature in general were ordained by God, whose continuous agency preserves or maintains everything in its being. One's human 'nature' is the union of mind and body maintained by living in accordance with physical laws which teach us about pain and pleasure, hunger and thirst. Human freedom, for Descartes and other rationalists like Spinoza and Leibniz, consists in the voluntary capacity to affirm or deny what one has clearly and distinctly perceived. One is free to the extent that one understands the causes of one's beliefs and actions. In ignorance, one may feel some licence to do whatever one chooses, but this notion shows that one is deceived about the real constraints on action which are explicable on mechanical principles. Moral laws are also ordained by God and living according to the 'light of grace' means opening your eyes to what God commands of you in terms of your status as one of His creatures.
Kierkegaard is generally regarded as the first thinker to explicitly make his philosophical concerns into what we now understand to be central Existentialist themes. Kierkegaard enters our story through his appropriation of the Hegelian dialectic of the in-itself and the for-itself and his rejection of Hegel's universal 'spirit' of Reason, the telos of which is to bring about all that which is Real. Kierkegaard also rejects Hegel's endorsement of conventional morality and the subjugation of the individual in the realisation of the political good of the state. Instead, he promotes a logic and a truth which is found within the individual conscience, a morality where the individual is higher than the universal, and the incitement to make a leap of faith on the strength of the absurd.
The central point of Kierkegaard's insight into the leap of faith is that the ethical universal ignores the deeply private, the unique character of the individual. There are some beliefs and values which are a matter of such deep conviction that, unless one acted in accordance with them, one could not be true to oneself. In acting in a conventional moral sense, a person becomes anonymous or falls back into the public way of behaving; anyone could have or should have behaved in the way that you did. But this would be to give up one's identity, the self one had chosen for the purpose of realising certain deeply held beliefs. Personal faith stands above the claims of conventional morality, since there are occasions when competing claims for moral action cannot resolve the question of how one should behave. However, Kierkegaard does think that most of the time, as a general rule, one should follow moral guidelines; the significance of his analysis of Abraham's unusual dilemma is to bring to the surface what factors allow one to make an exception of oneself.
Kierkegaard: "Whether truth is defined more empirically, as the conformity of thought and being, or more idealistically, as the conformity of being with thought, it is in either case important to carefully note what is meant by being ... Take heed lest the knowing spirit be tricked into losing itself in the indeterminate, so that it fantastically becomes a something that no existing human being ever was or can be, a sort of phantom with which the individual occupies himself upon occasion ... That the knowing spirit is an existing individual spirit, and that every human being is such an entity existing for himself is a truth which I cannot too often repeat."
The lesson here is that abstract thought, in its contemplation of the essence of human being, its efforts to grasp in rational insight the invariant within the variant, only ever discovers human being in general, in its biological or social or economic character. But this will never avail a person who asks questions of his or her own life; this perspective adopts the view of conventional, publicly agreed upon value standards, whether moral or non-moral values. Conventional value codes, such as ethical precepts, can only ever treat each agent as an example of the type, i.e. as an instance of the universal, human being. One should bear in mind that this universal, absolute feature of Kantian ethics is usually considered to be one of its strongest points. But the example of Abraham confronted with the demand to murder his son Isaac is a perfect illustration of the utter failure of such moral principles to make sense of his actions (or projected actions). This failure occurs for the simple reason that Kierkegaard emphasises again and again - Abraham is addressed through God's injunction as a unique individual. No one can replace Abraham, no one can stand in his place, just as no one can stand in my place in terms of some of the direct duties that I have to others and they have to me.
It was through the process of 'abstraction' in the Second Meditation that Descartes arrived at the essence of the meditating self as a 'thinking thing'; in another connected passage he claims that one must know what some thing is before one can know that some thing is (or exists). Thus Kierkegaard rejects both of these claims, since on his view these assertions transform the human into another kind of object, one which is privileged by being conscious and aware of itself.
The task which is set for every human being engages him in existence, but it is not a task which can be completed within one's life, like sailing round the world, or publishing a great book, it is the task of living one's life as one's own. 'The task of becoming subjective furnishes a human being with enough to do to suffice him for his entire life; so that it is not the zealous individual but only the restless one who manages to get through with life before life gets through with him.' The task of becoming subjective leads the individual to the insight that there are four, not just three, spheres of existence: the aesthetic, the ethical, religious 'A' and religious 'B'. An individual in the aesthetic sphere is committed to enjoyment, in the ethical sphere to absolute choice, and in the first sphere of the religious attitude, after the leap of faith, to self-annihilation before God.
Religious 'A' defines the finite in terms of a person's desires and the infinite in terms of a person's absolute indifference to the satisfaction of those desires. To maintain an absolute relation to the absolute goal and a relative relation to relative goals is to be absolutely indifferent to the satisfaction of one's desires and thus to allow all of these desires to have only relative significance. The point of this religious attitude is to attempt to satisfy one's needs and desires in the present while remaining absolutely indifferent to their being satisfied in the future. But now another contradiction becomes apparent, since how could anyone be said to have specific, personal needs and desires if one is indeed absolutely indifferent to their satisfaction? In this case, a person can neither overcome the levelling of the everyday nor can he or she become invulnerable to his or her needs and desires not being satisfied. Kierkegaard proposes a second faithful attitude, religious 'B', in which a person comes to understand that only a personalised commitment to something concrete and specific, something that is intrinsically one's own, can overcome both levelling and immunity to the hazards of fortune. But one must never forget that even this more advanced and enlightened state of faith is maintained only through the leap in the face of the absurd. The person who avows the religious 'B' attitude can learn 'to live joyfully and happily ... every moment on the strength of the absurd, every moment... to find, not repose in the pain of resignation, but joy on the strength of the absurd.'
On Nietzsche's view the will to power comes in one of two basic forms, either active or reactive. The contrast between wills to power which strive for optimal growth and those which are directed towards rest and quietude is crucially important for Nietzsche's constructive philosophy as a whole; it shows up on many different levels and through many different topics. The reactive or deficient human will to power is one which is, more often than not, obedient to another will to power, not through some external compulsion, but through the internalisation of the stronger will's beliefs and values, and its adoption of those in preference to its own beliefs and values. A reactive will to power is one which has a tendency, perhaps ingrained through habit, to obey another by being persuaded into willing and valuing goals or end-states which are alien to its original goals. Moreover, a reactive will can do so not only by obeying the stronger through slavish allegiance, but also by taking over the other's goals and values as something to struggle against.
In contrast with the slave as member of the herd who adopts the master's values in a positive manner, the resentful individual holds these values close to his heart, so to speak, in order to repudiate them. On the other hand, the active will to power is more rare, it keeps allegiance with itself and to the values which favour its own personalised balance of internal drives. The active will commands others from an internal perspective through the appropriation of their perspective and the incorporation of their own first-order end-states. These are the 'free spirits', those who are able to overcome their own limitations, to make others' reactive wills subordinate to their own. They are confident in the worth of the values they are directed towards, confident in the strength to bring about a world which exemplifies those values. For Nietzsche, the value of a will to power lies in its specific, personal form or style, that is a style which confers commitment on its own original goals and values.
The subtitle of Nietzsche's last book Ecce Homo is 'How One Becomes What One Is', and here he affirms one of the most powerful Existentialist themes. Those philosophers of the future whom he often addresses, the free spirits who sail on open seas, look toward an exemplary individual who will show them that a true human being is 'a way, an episode, a bridge, a great promise'.31 As early as in the Third of the Untimely Meditations Nietzsche had already formulated his thoughts on the central idea that a person with a good conscience creates his or her own goals and values, or at least aligns their strongest pregiven drives toward a future project of their own design. 'Those who do not wish to belong to the mass need only to cease taking themselves easily; let them follow their conscience, which calls to them: "Be your self! All that you are now doing, thinking, desiring, is not you yourself."' Thus Nietzsche provides the attentive reader with a clear expression of the Existentialist thesis of authenticity, the clear-headed apprehension of one's own limitations, the projection of personal goals and values, and the resolution to follow through this project. An aphorism in The Gay Science succinctly states this view: 'What does your conscience say? You shall become the person your are.'
This becoming who one is pertains not to the selection of various options in the future, but to an affirmative attitude towards everything that one has done in the past and will do in the future; in his famous phrase, it means that you are willing to say 'yes' to every moment, to make that moment your own. Becoming is a continual process of integration of one's ownmost (i.e. authentic) features, habits and beliefs within one whole whose overall 'profile' is a matter of style. One can attain a level of self-understanding sufficient to realise that even older, discarded features, ones that have been disowned are one's own, in the sense that they were necessary for one's subsequent development.
Although the strong person or 'free spirit' can no more choose options and traits than he or she could choose his or her drives, the free spirit has the flexibility to make use of all the contributive elements within his or her character in a never finally completed whole. And last, the flexible or plastic way in which one expresses this personalised integration is a form of artistic creation, and the 'profile' this integration process assumes over time is an artistic style. Nietzsche's remark that for a person to exist as a concrete individual is an art should remind the reader of Kierkegaard's claim that 'the subjective thinker is not a man of science, but an artist; existing is an art', and further, that 'the subjective thinker has a form ... and this form constitutes his style.'
The hardest thought is an Existentialist challenge, a test of one's resolve; according to Nehamas: "The question therefore is not whether I would or would not do the same things again; in this matter there is no room for choice. The question is only whether I would want to do the same things all over again. This is simply the question whether I am glad to have done whatever I have done already, and therefore the question whether I would be willing to acknowledge all my doings as my own."
The Existentialists claim that human beings have (or are) a unique manner of existence - a compact slogan, to be sure, but what is the sense of this claim? It is not the case, they argue, that humans are a unique kind of being, unlike, for example, an animal, vegetable or mineral. Sometimes Existentialists seem to argue that there are no natural kinds at all, though it is true that humans have some properties not shared by any other thing or group of things. Instead, they propose that humans have a unique manner or way of being, namely a being for whom being is an issue, and further that the specific individual being that one becomes is not given in advance. It is this way of being that is marked out by the term 'existence'. Heidegger derives a great deal of insight from the root sense of the Greek word 'ex-sisto' which literally means 'to stand out from'. As conscious, sentient and self-moved beings, humans stand out from everything else; moreover, their attention to and interest in things makes these things 'stand out' from the background. Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre insist that each human being has the capacity to become an individual that does not yet fully exist, and this doctrine underlines the significance of time for human being. Only through the passage of time, experienced as the horizon of one's projects, can possible options become one's own actualities. An inanimate thing has no choices at all, an animate thing is constrained by its biological nature and instincts, but a conscious being is aware of its ability to bring about that which would not even be otherwise, that is it can also bring about what it would not itself be otherwise.
In Sartre's famous formula, for human beings alone 'existence precedes essence'; this formula explicitly reverses the maxim that Descartes proffered in the Meditations...Thus the essence of any thing can be specified by way of the precise fixing of determinate variables; the essence of a thing was what remained invariable through all conceivable variations. Now, on one hand, this seems to be true of the Existentialists' notion of human being. It is indeed the being for whom being is an issue, the being who can become what it is not at the present, but will be in the future if it so chooses, and so forth. Only on the level of individual being, as Husserl argued, does each human not have its own essence in advance. Thus the focus of an existential analysis of the being of human being has to be as close to each person as the person is to him or herself.
On the Existentialist account it is characteristic of human beings alone that they are bound to make choices, or as Kierkegaard expressed this insight, one cannot choose not to choose. If each choice brings with it some belief or value or property, and the motivation to achieve the 'object' of each the beliefs and values of the person who will have these properties. As Ortega stated it: "I am free by compulsion, whether I wish to be or not. To be free means to be lacking in constitutive identity, not to have subscribed to a determined being, to be able to be other than what one was, to be unable to install oneself once and for all in any given being."
Another reason why the Existentialists reject the interpretation of human being as a special kind of being is that division into kinds plays into the hands of the dualism between subject and object. Human beings cannot adequately be described by saying that they are the subjects of their own experience, as though the term 'subject' already started your interrogation on the right track; between subject and object lies 'a veritable abyss of being'. Having shut himself up within the realm of his own thoughts (or so the story goes), Descartes struggled in vain to bring the natural world back into being; all the lines that linked him to things and other beings had been cut and thus had to be restored. Kant remarked that it was a scandal that philosophy had never offered a conclusive proof of the existence of the external world, but Heidegger responded that the real scandal was that such a proof should have ever been sought.
The Existentialist thinkers, to one degree or another, were devoted to the 'destruction' of western metaphysics; in some cases, this tearing down left tangled, smoking ruins and not clear ground. But their destruction was an effort to dismantle or collapse every dualist opposition. Perhaps one of the most entrenched, deeply buried oppositions, between inner and outer, between an internal and an external world, is the most difficult for philosophy to dispense with.
Heidegger coined a new name for this being of human being, its unique manner of existence - Dasein, which literally means 'being-there'. Where? Inthe- world, absorbed in things and actions, objects of interest, desire, disgust and so forth. Human being can sever the distance between its desire and the desired thing, bring it closer and make it one's own. In fact, we say of someone who is insane or deeply disturbed that he is 'not all there', and we do not mean that the person is not in the place he stands, that he is not actually at that spot, but that he is not there for himself. Ortega's best known statement about this has become almost his epitaph: the human being in its unique mode of existence is the unity of ego and its circumstances. All those things that 'stand around' one's ego are indissolubly parts of one's being, and thus human being 'makes nothing' of the distance that separates self from not-self. Merleau-Ponty's enunciation of this principle is stated with greater exactitude.
The primary function of freedom on the Existentialist view is to cut off the causal influence of one's own past, to negate all those things which might determine the self one way rather than another. It is within your freedom to put out of play all those factors which would have given you good 'cause' to do just this and not otherwise.5 Now if freedom is the defining mode of being of consciousness, then the structure of consciousness must be such as to take account of this freedom; there must be some 'indication' within consciousness which shows up or illustrates this state of being free. Here Sartre introduces the key term anxiety (or anguish) - it describes a spectrum of human feelings which runs from mere unease to outright terror. The main features of existential anxiety are uncertainty, loneliness and responsibility, in Peter Caws' adroit synopsis. You can be said to be afflicted with this form of anxiety when, left to your own devices and without any help, you are still under the necessity of making a choice, making a decision, and moreover committing yourself (and perhaps other persons) to a course of action which may be heavy with consequences. Anxiety must not be confused with fear, for fear has an object; whether it is a danger or a threat, your fear can be dispelled by overcoming or avoiding the object. But anxiety arises in confrontation with oneself and, unless one is in bad faith, one cannot attack or run away from oneself. Nevertheless, both fear and anxiety are oriented toward the future: you are afraid because you anticipate some danger to your values, one of which may be the value of being alive. But in anxiety, the threat or danger is toward values which you may not know about, values which you have yet to realise. Thus the uncertainty about the future in this sense attaches not to the being of worldly things but to your own being.
The origin of anxiety is the sudden realisation of freedom on the part of a conscious being that naively supposed everything to be ordered and stable, only to discover that this order and stability were its own creation, and thus able to be discarded at will. This insight may cause a feeling of vertigo or nausea, another key Sartrean term - the dramatic and vivid sensation of being suspended over an abyss, looking down into great depths, as Nietzsche described so well.
The existential significance of 'subject' is that it is the ground under which, or on the basis of which, the world appears at all; the significance of 'object' is that it is inert, unaware of itself, the correlate of conscious awareness; and the significance of 'project' is that a conscious being is future-oriented, a conscious being throws ahead of itself the being which it wishes to become. It is through the thrown character of human being that the for-itself can exploit the layer of nothingness which separates it from causal determinism, and hence from any notion that its own future is inevitable. Through the free commitment to a life-project, human being can make actual some (if not all) of its ownmost possibilities.
Heidegger proposes a similar line of thought in Being and Time: "In each case Dasein is mine to be in one way or another. Dasein has always made some sort of decision as to the way in which it is in each case mine. That entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue, comports itself towards its Being as its ownmost possibility. In each case Dasein is its possibility, and it 'has' this possibility ... It can, in its very Being, 'choose' itself and win itself; it can also lose itself and never win itself; or only 'seem' to do so."
Heidegger here introduces his version of one of the key concepts in our discussion, authentic [eigentlich], which literally means 'ownmost', in contrast with inauthentic [uneigentlich], 'not-ownmost'. Thus, in so far as an individual follows his or her own freely chosen project, he or she is authentic, has 'good faith' (in Sartre's terms), or is an active will to power (in Nietzsche's terms). But if an individual remains lost in the 'they'-world, alienated from her self and her possibilities, then she has or lives in 'bad faith', or is a reactive will to power. In this context Kierkegaard refers to the crowd, Ortega to mass mentality and Jaspers to the tranquillising affect of being an average person.
Ortega declared that to love someone means to affirm more than one knows about the loved one, to say 'yes' to all the unknown things that lie in the loved one's past and future. For Sartre, to love in good faith is to move beyond the oppressive dialectics of having or owning another person toward 'a deeper recognition and reciprocal comprehension of freedoms'. For this kind of love, Sartre says, 'tension is necessary - to maintain the two faces of ambiguity, to hold them within the unity of one and the same project'.
Rejection of traditional assumptions about the 'nature' of human being, especially the tacit thesis that humans have essences, the way that objects have invariant properties, creates an abyss or fissure in the monolithic realm of being. Only one thing can make an object of itself, can take what its being is to be an issue about its being, only for human being can failure or success in being defined by its essence matter.
Antiquity and modernity coincide in seeking, under the name of philosophy, a knowledge of the Universe, or whatever there is. But on taking the first step, on seeking the first truth about the Universe, the two of them begin to draw apart. The ancient starts off in search of primary reality, understanding by primary that reality which is most important in the structure of the Universe. If this reality is theist, this means that the most important reality, the one which explains the rest, is God: if it is materialist, the most important will be matter; if pantheist, it will be an undifferentiated entity, at once God and matter—natura slve Deus. But the modern will hold up all this searching and will dispute it, saying, "It is possible that this reality or that may, in fact, be the most important in the Universe, but even after we have demonstrated this we will be not one step further ahead because you have forgotten to ask yourselves whether that reality which explains all the rest is a reality with full evidence; and more, whether those other less important realities which it explains are realities that exist beyond the shadow of a doubt."
The first problem of philosophy is not one of finding out which reality in the Universe is the most important, but which is the most sure, the one beyond any trace of doubt, even though it be perhaps the least important, the most humble and insignificant. In short, the primary philosophic problem consists in determining what of the Universe is given to us, the problem of fundamental data. The ancients never posed this problem formally; hence, whatever their skill in regard to the other questions, their level is below the level of modernity. So we install ourselves on this level, and the only thing we do is to dispute with the moderns about which reality is fundamental and indubitable. We find that it is not the conscious self, the subject, but life which includes both the subject and the world. In this way we escape from idealism and win to a new level.
If we believe that this datum is our own life, that of all the Universe what is given to each of us is only his own life, we do not allow ourselves the slightest opinion on the question as to whether, in addition to what is given us, there are not other realities which, though not given us, are much more important. The problem of that which is given or indubitable is not philosophy but only its doorstep, its preliminary chapter. I want to remind you that this was said in the beginning.
If we have recognized that the only indubitable reality is as we have already defined it, nothing else that we may say will ever be able to contradict the attributes which, with all evidence, make up that basic reality. Because all the other things of which we speak, different from that primordial thing, are doubtful and secondary, and firm only insofar as they rest on that reality which is beyond doubt.
The new fact, the new fundamental reality, is "our life," the life of every one of us. Let anyone try to talk of any other reality as being freer from doubt, more primary than this, and you will see that such a thing is impossible. Even thinking is not anterior to living—because thinking is found to be a piece of my life, a particular act in that life. This seeking for an indubitable reality is something that I do because I live and inasmuch as I livethat is to say, it is not isolated and done for its own sake. I seek reality because I am now busying myself with philosophy, and I do this as a first act in philosophizing. And philosophizing is, in turn, a particular form of living which assumes this living— for if I work with philosophy it is because of an earlier desire to know what the Universe is, and this curiosity, in turn, exists because of what I feel as a desire of my life which is restless about itself, and perhaps finds itself lost in itself. In short, whatever reality we set up as primary, we find that it assumes our life to be a fact; the act of giving it place is in itself a vital act, is "living."
It may seem very surprising that the only indubitable reality should be "living" and not thinking—the idealist "cogito" (which in turn was very surprising in its day), or Aristotle's "form," or Plato's "idea," each of which in its own moment seemed an intolerable paradox. But what can we do? This is the way it is. But if it is thus, there is no remedy but to fix the attributes of that new fundamental reality, and no remedy but to accept them even though they may seem to give the lie to all our preexistent theories and to all the other science we follow, while recognizing them as true at certain points. In a system of philosophy, we would, then, have to show how, taking the reality of our life as a point of departure, and without contradicting our concept of living at a single point, there are also organic bodies, moral and physical laws, and even theology. But what I say does not include any statement that in addition to that indubitable life of ours—that life which is given to us—there may not perhaps exist die "other life." What is certain is that that "other life" is, from the point of view of science, problematical, as are organic reality and physical reality—and that, on the other hand, this life of ours, this life of every one of us, is not problematical but indubitable.
Life is not a mystery, but quite the opposite; it is the clearest and most present thing there is, and being so, being purely transparent, we find difficulty in studying it closely. The eye goes beyond it, toward wisdoms that are still problematical, and it is an effort for us to stop it at these immediate evidences. Thus it is obvious that to live is to find myself in the world. If I should suddenly find myself alone with myself, I would be existing, but that existing would not be living—it would be merely the subjective existence of idealism.
The world is what I find confronting and surrounding me when I find myself, the thing that clearly exists for me and acts upon me. The world is not the same as nature, not the same as that cosmos familiar to the ancients, which was an underlying reality subsisting by itself, a reality of which its subjects may know this bit or that, but which reserves to itself its own mystery. The vital, living world has no mystery at all for me, because it consists exclusively of what I observe in it and just as I observe it. Nothing intervenes in my life except what presents itself to me.
The primary attribute of this basic reality which we call "our life" is the fact of existing on one's own account, of entering into an understanding of oneself, of being transparent to oneself. Only thus is it, and whatever forms part of it, indubitable —and only because it is the uniquely indubitable is it the fundamental reality. This "finding oneself," this "understanding oneself," this "being transparent," is the first category of living.
As our reality, "living," is very different from the ancient cosmic reality, it will be made up of a group of categories or components, all of them essential, equally original and inseparable among themselves. It is these categories of "our life" that we seek. Our life is the life of "each one of us"; therefore mine is different from yours, but both of them are "my living," and both of them will have a series of common ingredients—the categories of "my life." Nevertheless, there is a radical difference between the reality called "my life" and the reality which the older philosophy called "being." "Being" is a general thing which does not pretend in itself to be the character of the individual. The Aristotelian categories are categories of being in general— 6v fj ov. But "my life" is different; whether this name is applied in my case, or to any one of you, it is a concept which then involves the individual; hence we have found one of those very rare ideas which is equally "general" and "individual."
The first category of our lives is "to find oneself," "to understand oneself," "to be transparent," and once more I want to warn you not to forget that here it is not merely the self which is the subject, but also the world. I take account of myself in the world, of myself and the world, that is to say, I live. But this "to find oneself" is, after all, to find oneself occupied with something in the world. I consist in an occupying of myself with what there is in the world, and the world consists of everything with which I occupy myself, and of nothing else. To occupy oneself is to do this or that—it is, for example, to think. Thinking is living because it is occupying myself with objects in that peculiar dealing with them which is thinking them. To think is to make; for example, to create truths, to make a philosophy. To occupy oneself is to make a philosophy, or to make a revolution, to make a cigarette, to make a footing, to make time. This is what I am during my lifetime.
Theory, and its extreme form, philosophy, are the attempt which life makes to transcend itself; it is to de-occupy oneself, to de-live, to cease to be interested in things. But this dis-interesting of oneself is not a passive process. On the contrary, it is a form of being interested... To be dis-interested is, then, to be interested in the inner self of each individual thing, to dower it with independence, with substance, one might almost say with personality—putting myself in a position to look at it from within its own point of view, not from mine. Contemplation is an attempt at transmigration.
The Greeks, having no books which could properly be called philosophic, when asked by someone like Plato, "What is philosophy?"—thought of man, of the philosopher, of life. For them, philosophizing was first of all 'a theory of life'. Strictly speaking, the first philosophic books which they had were books of the lives of the seven sages, biographies. All that which does not define philosophy as philosophizing, and philosophizing as an essential type of life, is neither sufficient nor basic.
Before my life as I make it comes a process of deciding to make it—of deciding my life. Our life decides itself, anticipating itself. It is not given to us ready-made, but it consists in deciding, because living is finding oneself in a world which, by no means hermetically sealed, is always offering opportunities. For me the vital world, every instant of it, is composed of being able to do this or that, not of having perforce to do this and only this. On the other hand, these possibilities are not unlimited—if they were, they would not be concrete possibilities but a purely indeterminate collection, and in a world of absolute indetermmation, in which everything is equally possible, it is not possible to decide on anything. In order that there may be decision there must be both space and limitation, relative determination. This I express in the category called "circumstances." Life always finds itself amid certain circumstances, in an arrangement surrounding it, filled with things and other people. One does not live in a world which is vague; constitutionally the vital world is circumstance, the things and the people about one, this world, here and now. And circumstance is something determined, closed, but at the same time open and with internal latitude, with space or emptiness in which to move about and to make one's decisions; circumstance is a riverbed which life goes on cutting within a valley from which it cannot escape. To live is to live here, now; the here and the now are specific, not to be exchanged for others, but they are ample.
All life is a constant process of deciding between various possibilities. Life is at the same time freedom and fatality; it is being free within a given destiny. This fate offers us a determined and inexorable repertory of possibilities, that is to say, it offers us different destinies. We accept the fatality and within it we decide on a destiny. Life is destiny.
And do not overlook the fact that when I say life is at one and the same time fate and freedom, a possibility that though limited is still a possibility and therefore open—do not fail to note what I am saying. I myself cannot reason about it, that is to say, prove it, nor do I have to reason it out—more than that, I consciously flee from all reasoning and limit myself purely to expressing myself in concepts, to describing the basic reality which I have before me and which is assumed in every theory in all reasoning and in every proof.
So life is that paradoxical reality which consists in deciding what we are going to do, therefore in being what we not yet are, in starting to be the future. Contrary to the ways of cosmic being, the living being begins by being the creature over there, the one that comes afterwards.
"Our life" is set and anchored in the immediate present. But what is my life at this moment; It is not the process of saying what I am saying; what I am living this moment is not a matter of moving the lips; that is mechanical, outside my life, it pertains to the cosmic being. On the contrary, my life is the process of thinking what I am going to say; at this moment I am anticipating, I am projecting myself into the future. But in order to say this I make use of certain means—of words—and that gives me a portion of my past. My future, then, makes me discover my past in order to realize that future. The past is now real because I am re-living it, and it is when I find in the past the means of realizing my future that I discover my present. And all this happens in an instant; moment by moment life swells out into the three dimensions of the true interior time. The future tosses me back toward the past; the past toward the present, and from here I go again toward the future which throws me back to the past, and the past to another present, in a constant rotation.
In this extreme measure and up to such a point is human living a constant anticipation, a pre-forming of the future. We are always very perspicacious with regard to those things in which the qualities that we prefer are realized; on the other hand, we are blind to those which, though of equal or even superior perfections, belong to a type of thing that is foreign to our innate sensibility. The future comes first: incessantly we press it with eager attention so that its favorable juices may drip into our hands; and only in terms of what we demand of it, what we hope of it, do we turn our eyes toward the present and the past in order to find within them the means with which to satisfy our desires.
Psychologically, then, the decisive thing is not the sum of what we have been, but of what we yearn to be: the appetite, the desire, the illusion, the ambition. Whether we like it or not, our life is in its very essence futurism. Man goes being carried du bout du nez by his illusion—a baroque and picturesque image which is justified because the end of man's nose is, in fact, what usually goes ahead; it is the part of us which goes into the spatial "over there," the thing that anticipates and precedes us.
The process of deciding on this or that is a portion of our lives which has about it a certain breath of freedom. We are constantly deciding our future being, and to realize it we must count on the past and make use of the present as it operates on the actuality, and all of this within the "now"; because that future is not just any future, but the possible "now," and that past is not the past of someone who lived a hundred years ago, but the past up to now.
Because life is part fate, and part the freedom we need to make decisions for ourselves, there is at its very root the stuff of art; nothing symbolizes this better than the position of the poet who bases his lyric freedom on the exigencies of rhyme and rhythm. All art implies the acceptance of a shackle, of a destiny; as Nietzsche said, "The artist is he who dances in chains."
Imagine for a moment that each one of us takes only a little more care for each hour of his days, that he demands in it a little more of elegance and intensity; then, multiplying all these minute pressures toward the perfecting and deepening of each life by all the others, calculate for yourselves the gigantic enrichment, the fabulous ennobling which this process would create for human society. This would be living at the top of one's form; instead of drifting through hours that pass like rudderless ships, we would find them moving before us, each with its new imminence and importance. And do not say that fate does not allow us to improve our lives, for the beauty of life does not lie in the fact that destiny is or is not favorable to us, but in the grace with which we accept the challenge and out of its fatal material fashion a noble figure.
We have seen that living consists in the process of deciding what we are going to be. Heidegger says very delicately, "then life is concern"—Sorge—what the Latins call cura, from whence comes cure, procure, curiosity, and so on. In ancient Spanish the word "cuidar" (to care for, to take care) had precisely the meaning which we now find in such terms as curator, procurator, curate of souls. But I prefer to express a similar, although not identical, idea with a word which seems to me more exact: I say that life is preoccupation, and not only in moments which are difficult, but all the time; in essence it is no more than this, to be preoccupied. Every moment of the day we are having to decide what we are going to do the next moment, what it is that will occupy our lives. This is occupying ourselves in anticipation, pre-occupying ourselves.
Here is the whole secret of failure to be preoccupied. When we believe ourselves not to be preoccupied with life, we let that life float rudderless, like a buoy without anchor chains, coming and going as it is pushed by social currents. And this is what makes man common and woman mediocre, that is to say, what puts them in with the vast majority of human beings. For them, to live is to surrender to the unanimous, to let customs, prejudices, habits, topics, be installed within them, give them life, and take on the task of making them live. They are weak animals which, on sensing the weight of their own lives at a moment either dolorous or delightful, feel themselves apprehensive, and then eager to free their shoulders from the very weight which is their being and throw it on the collective group: that is to say, they are preoccupied with becoming un-preoccupied. Under their apparent indifference throbs a secret fear of having to solve for themselves the problems posed by their acts and emotions— a humble desire to be like everybody else, to renounce the responsibility of their own destiny, and dissolve it amid the multitude. This is the eternal ideal of the weak, whose preoccupation it is to do what everyone else is doing... This is what the un-preoccupied try to do—to substitute for their own being another one. This is what obsesses them. Since there is no way to escape the essential condition of living, and as living is reality, the best and most discreet course is to emphasize it, to underline it with irony.