Essays Existentialism

Essays Existentialism-50
In Sartre's memorable formulation, man is “condemned to be free”; we have no choice but to choose.While it may feel as though a humanities vocation is a calling, you still have to decide to answer the call.The realization that meaning isn’t something we receive from the outside, from others, but that it always must come from within us, from our conscious, deliberative choices, does not make us crave it any less.

In Sartre's memorable formulation, man is “condemned to be free”; we have no choice but to choose.While it may feel as though a humanities vocation is a calling, you still have to decide to answer the call.The realization that meaning isn’t something we receive from the outside, from others, but that it always must come from within us, from our conscious, deliberative choices, does not make us crave it any less.

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To paraphrase Max Weber, scholarship in the humanities is a vocation, a “calling” in the clerical sense. The problem with this kind of spiritual passion is that it is difficult to describe.

To paraphrase another 20th-century giant, Jimi Hendrix, it’s more about the experience.

The order we discover in literary works may be magical, but it isn’t metaphysical; it comes from the sense that “everything is exactly what and where it has to be.” Art offers a reprieve from a universe governed by chance; what were merely sordid newspaper clippings can become, when transported into artful narratives, , for instance, is foreshadowed by its beginning, when Anna witnesses a woman throwing herself under a train.

If art offered only illusions of necessity, it would hardly satisfy existential longing.

The real challenge that we face today, then, lies in explaining to a perplexed, but not necessarily hostile audience -- and perhaps even to ourselves -- why it is that the study of literature, anthropology, art history, or classics can be so meaningful, and why this existential rationale is equally important as other, more utilitarian ones.

This line of argument stands in opposition to proclamations of the humanities’ uselessness: to declare that the humanities are of existential value is to affirm that they are very useful indeed.

So how might we go about defining this existential value?

A good place to start would be with existentialism itself.

A premise of existentialist philosophy is that we live in a world without inherent meaning.

For atheists, this is often understood as the human condition following the death of God.

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