From what we have talked about in class it seems to me that existentialism is mostly a reaction to the rational, universal, democratic, scientific, and religious view of the world. Everyone we have studied seems to want to reject this view because it is unsatisfying.
Kierkegaard claimed that we can not understand Christianity in a universal, ethical way: God does not have to be rational and one’s religion is not one’s morality. Dostoevsky argued that humans do not make rational decisions, and in fact can delight in their irrationality. Nietzsche points out that when slavish morality claims everyone has a soul and gives everyone equal value, we ignore the genuine ubermensch. Heidegger claims that we are inauthentic when we do not create our own meaning but merely clothe ourselves in the accepted views of society.
But I was wondering why we find this original view unsatisfying. Why do we need to reach beyond what is rational? Why is it so important to us to make our own decisions and meaning?
Is it a part of our human nature in some way? It could be that we have a desperate need to recognize our individuality against others and against what is held to be universal.
I had a similar existential reaction while reading a book about feminist ethics. In the book, the female author states that she believes that no woman could have written Genesis from the Old Testament Bible. She believes this because of the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, which ignores the traditionally feminine value of caring for one’s child above rules and principles. Even though I know from empirical surveys that most women have an ethic of caring and in many ways my ethical views are based on caring, I hate to think that I’m in some way captured by this generalization. I want to think that I could choose to write or believe anything.
It is said that existentialism is more of an attitude than certain, defined beliefs or a logically formal argument. And it seems as if certain aspects of this attitude are shared by everyone. No one wants to live a life devoid of meaning. No one wants to be a “sheep” that just follows the herd. No one wants to “catch” beliefs from those around them like catching a cold. (At least, I think everyone in this class would agree that those things are awful.) Therefore, I think that existentialism is based on an innate part of human nature that craves meaning and recognition of one’s individuality.