existentialism; philosophy; meaning; self; Kierkegaard; Nietzsche; Heidegger; Sartre
Try not to cast existentialism aside prematurely. Although often misbranded as the philosophy of egocentric, chain-smoking melodramatics, when given the careful attention it deserves, existential philosophy proves to be more empowering and hopeful than anything else. Existential questions – questions of meaning and purpose – are central not only to the major questions in philosophy, but to the particular individual’s daily existence, as well. Confronting these questions and becoming a reflective, autonomous being proves to be an extraordinary task, but one that is essential in order to create a colorful, self-chosen narrative.
This project delves into some of these pressing existential concerns through an independent study of classic philosophic texts, along with an active research investigation. Focusing on four of the main players in existential philosophy, I explore Kierkegaard’s understanding of individuality, Nietzsche’s concept of the will that allows one to continue on in a seemingly meaningless world, how to lead the authentic life Heidegger describes, and the notion of freedom according to Sartre. In addition to the written profiles on each topic, I have paired my academic study with a more intimate, human element by conducting interviews with a handful of individuals in an attempt to understand how each perceives her life and her place within the world. My hope is that these recorded interviews help to illustrate the respective existential concepts concretely, merging the more formal analysis with the lived experience.
Despite the fact that the central concern of this project stems from the thoughts of four dead European men (a demographic I have become very familiar with as a philosophy major), their insights remain both inspiring and timely. Each of these thinkers provide a vehicle for self-awareness – a way for the individual to pull herself out of and away from the humdrum of her daily routine, the societal norms, and the external pressures – in order to freely carve out a path of her own. From country songs urging listeners to “Live like you were dying!” to tank tops with messages like “Be yourself” and “Follow your dreams!” splashed across the front, all too often these original existential concepts are diminished to cliché slogans. The mission of this project is to revive the radicalness of these four thinkers, for the messages they project are much louder than anything that could ever be reduced to a bumper sticker.