For a greater part of my later years in high school and my initial years of college I suffered from a bout of existential despair. There were protracted periods of time when questioning my world view and my way of life resulted in an overwhelming sense of futility and insignificance. I was so overwhelmed as an angst ridden teen that I made desperate attempts at suspending introspection. Addictive gaming. Binge watching shows and movies. A couple of months of aggressive smoking. A couple of months of aggressive drinking. Obsessing over a girl. The usual suspects of teenage waywardness.
YouthKiAwaaz Link: If You’re Dealing With An Existential Crisis This Post is Definitely For You
In one of the first sections of “Fear and Trembling”, Kierkegaard (as his pseudonymous self, Johannes de Silentio) notes,
“ I for my part have devoted a good deal of time to the understanding of the Hegelian philosophy, I believe also that I understand it tolerably well, but when in spite of the trouble I have taken there are certain passages I cannot understand, I am foolhardy enough to think that he himself has not been quite clear.”
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831)
Observe that he sets the tone for opposing Hegelian philosophy over the course of his discussion very early in this work. So it is imperative for one to understand the main themes in Hegelian philosophy in order to fully appreciate Kierkegaard’s discussion about “the second inwardness” in the later sections of “Fear and Trembling”.
Bad faith (mauvais foi) is essentially inauthenticity for Jean Paul Sartre. He thinks of bad faith as an attempt to evade the responsibility of discovering and understanding one’s authentic self. Bad faith is thereby an attempt to escape the freedom that Sartre believes is an inherent feature of our lives. When Sartre says, “Consciousness is what it is not and is not what it is,” he means that consciousness is something that is a constantly integrated combination of facticity and transcendence which can be taken to mean the past and future respectively.
In the section discussing the patterns of bad faith in Being and Nothing, Sartre notes that, “The basic concept which is thus engendered, utilizes the double property of the human being, who is at once a facticity and a transcendence, These two aspects of human reality are and ought to be capable of a valid coordination. But bad faith does not wish either to coordinate them nor to surmount them in a synthesis.” It is thereby imperative to understand these two dimensions of human consciousness to understand bad faith.
In order to understand the relation between Sartre’s understanding of Nothingness (the nihilation of being) and his understanding of human freedom, one must analyze the duality of the Being-for-itself and the Being-in-itself that is at the core of Sartre’s analogy. Sartre notes that human consciousness is always conscious of something else. However human consciousness itself is really nothingness. So without something to be conscious of, our consciousness cannot exist as it defines itself with respect to the things which it is conscious of. So he essentially asserts that consciousness itself is Jean Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980) nothingness and that the things which the consciousness is conscious of has some form of being.
He explores the paradoxical notion of consciousness being self-aware as one might wonder how one can one be aware of a consciousness that is nothing. Sartre introduces the notion of a pre-reflective cogito (built from the cogito of Rene Descartes) to explain this paradox.
The Gay Science: Book III – Aphorism 125 (link)
When the mad man rushes into the market place with a lantern and declares that he seeks God, the men around him mock him and indicate that they don’t believe in God. The mad man then declares that God was killed by all of them.
It is important to point out that stating “God is dead” is a tacit admission that God once existed. What Nietzche is indicating is that we created God to fill up our spiritual voids at one point in time, but we no longer need God and hence we have killed him. It should be highlighted that Nietzche is implying that God is a human conception whose functionality has run out. He goes onto highlight that this lack of reliance on God would be (Friedrich Nietzche 1844 – 1900) chaotic.
The men around him who don’t believe in God eventually greet his outburst with silence. One must understand that Nietzche is trying to indicate that we might have stopped believing in God (or given up our faith in a religion), but we have only replaced this faith in God, with faith in other forms of “truths.” He is indicating that the new systems of scientific positivism, democracy, feminism, utilitarianism and so on, have simply taken the place of the truths that were once represented by God. This is the reason why the men around him greet him with him laughter, followed by an astonished silence.
Nietzche’s general project in the “The Genealogy of Morals” is to provide a historical account of morality. He doesn’t explicitly aim to offer any prescriptions, but rather chooses to provide his account on the manner in which we have come to arrive at morality as it is today.
There are two principle kinds of morality that Nietzche analyzes in the first essay of The Genealogy of Morals. They are the master morality and slave morality.
For Nietzche, the master morality is represented by the values of the individuals who actually exert (what he believes to be) human being’s inherent will to power. In this form of morality, the individuals first establish themselves as good, and then establish that the people who aren’t like them as bad, as an afterthought. He notes that the Greeks referred to their servants and slaves in a fashion that radiated their obvious belief that their slaves were insignificant creatures.
In the Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard explains that man is “a synthesis of the finite and the infinite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.” The components of these two parameters (the finite and the infinite) need to be in a sort of equilibrium through repeated self-reflection “grounded” in the reliance on God to abolish despair. He says that there are two forms of despair: the despair of not willing be one’s Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881) own self and the despair of willing to be one’s own self.
As he explains, the despair of willing to be one’s own self, Kierkegaard uses the example of an individual suffering from vertigo to show that refusing to recognize one’s reliance on the “Power” (or God) through repeated self-reflection causes the self to be out of balance, which in turn leads to despair. So he believes that willing to be one’s own self without relating to the intrinsic God in us through defiance results in further despair. In his words, if “by himself and by himself only he would abolish the despair, then by all the labour he expends, he is only laboring himself into a deeper despair.”
In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard explains the nature of the knights of infinite resignation through the use of an example of a young man who falls in love with a princess he can never get in “reality.”
The knights of infinite resignation allow every fiber of their being to be filled with love for the princess as this love is their sole purpose in life. These knights recognize that everything is possible in the spiritual world but that everything is not possible in the finite world. They make the impossible, possible through a spiritual expression. This spiritual expression is renouncing the impossible in the finite world. So in Kierkegaard’s analogy, the young man renounces his love for the princess in the finite world and allows the pain caused by his unsatisfied desire to reconcile him spiritually.
In order to understand the role of “the Others” in Heidegger’s philosophy, one must first develop an understanding of “Dasein”. Heidegger essentially distinguishes Dasein from the notion of a Cartesian mind which is a sort of an isolated and immaterial being. The word Dasein by itself means existence in the German language, however Heidegger dexterously crafts a technical interpretation of the word to express one of his Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) quintessential philosophical insights.
The word “sein” means “to be”. The prefix “Da” means “there”. So “Dasein” means “being out there”. More explicitly Dasein is supposed to be an understanding of a human being as being out there in the world, interacting with a familiar environment (such as the totality of equipment that are references to one other which are understood in terms of their use), and other beings, with a particular set of moods. Heidegger asserts that every consciousness out in the world is constantly orienting itself to situations. These situations cause one’s consciousness to be directed. Note that all acts of consciousness have meaning in virtue of the objects to which these acts are directed. Now the being of Dasein in the world is nothing like the being of some inanimate object. For instance a pen on a desk can never touch the desk or the air around it because it lacks a consciousness that will allow it to interpret other entities or the world. It is merely “present-at-hand”. Only to the conscious being does the pen make sense as a member of the intricate interconnected web of references connecting a totality of such equipment (the pen, paper, desk and ink are understood in virtue of their references to each other).