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+4 votes

i have never really grokked what existentialism was, and i never got far enough into sarte to discern his concept of it. now i have a minimal understanding, based somewhat on this (from wikipedia):

"A central proposition of Existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the most important consideration for individuals is that they are individuals—independently acting and responsible, conscious beings ("existence")—rather than what labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories the individuals fit ("essence"). The actual life of the individuals is what constitutes what could be called their "true essence" instead of there being an arbitrarily attributed essence others use to define them. Thus, human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life."

definitions, clarifications, and of course how folks see this from an anarchist perspective - everything welcome!

by (13.4k points)
Sarte: To be is to do. ;)

Existence precedes essences = one is born without a purpose. If one wants to find a purpose they will and there's a lot of things that'll give it to you, like authority figures, belief systems, responsibilities...etc. You're not bound to one particular purpose and can change at anytime. So, like for me, it's in my own interests to avoid beliefs/ideologies that are disempowering. Although, in the grand scheme of things, I generally feel life has no inherent purpose, per se.

I could've possibly somewhat described existential nihilism or wrote nothing at all. Philosophy hurts my brain. Not that that matters. :P
i hear ya, philosophy has always kinda hurt my brain too.
I hope this won't seem like a pedantic/unhelpful answer, but I am wondering what you mean by existentialism exactly, because it's a term that is used to refer to a very broad range of thinkers whose views aren't always compatible --->

Often I feel like when people say it they are thinking primarily of existential marxists e.g. Sartre. But obviously there are many precedents like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, even Hegel in a way. hard to say in a general way what my attitude is to all of these!

It's something that interests me and I am gradually becoming better informed about it - but my own answer is that most of the thinkers that I spend a lot of time on (like foucault and deleuze) were in one way or another reacting against this type of thought where the thinking subject is @ the center of philosophical reflection. I wouldn't say I'm hostile to it, I'm open to learning from it but its trajectory mostly points away from mine.

i've never studied philosophy, and i don't actually know what i mean by "existentialism" :-).  though the quote i put in the original question description is a brief explanation of it that i was basing the question on. while also asking others for their take.

"the thinking subject is @ the center of philosophical reflection"

it seems you reject that perspective, or at least you tend to agree with others (like foucault and deleuze) who reject it. have i understood correctly?

i have a hard time imagining a perspective that does NOT place the subject (the thinker) at the center of their philosophical thought; at least not without placing something else above themselves - which is key to my own anarchist perspective.

ah f@, you're treading into waters that you know you hate, you brave thing you.

philosophical jargon uses "subject" to mean something that is not just "a person." (further than that i cannot explain, since i don't know either.) and my sense of "at the center" is that it is the most important thing, which i don't think you actually agree with (this would, i think?, mean that relationships, the rest of the world, are less important)... ie think web vs hierarchy.

i look forward to being corrected!

hmmm... interesting, dot. let me fake some philosophical waxing (or more likely, waning)...

to the extent that i can imagine myself as a distinct, whole being - in and of myself - then that "me" IS in fact more important (to me) than anything/anyone else. i do not consider everything/everyone that i relate with to be part of me, and so i have no problem saying i am the most important thing in my life. which is of course not to trivialize my relationships; they absolutely contribute a great deal to who i am and how i understand the world and my place in it. but i do not see myself as merely the sum of my relations.

i like the web vs hierarchy analogy, but there is no question (in my mind) that: a) i am at the center of the web, and b) there is a significant difference in relevance among the web "nodes" (for lack of a better term) - some are far more important to me than others (at different times), starting with the "me" node at the center.

i have sometimes described my relative world as analogous to a series of concentric (somewhat nebulous) circles, with myself at the center. the further out from my center things are, the less significant they are to (they have less impact on) my life, generally speaking. and of course things move between the circles as life moves on. when i was young, my parents were right in the next circle outside me. today, they would be a few circles out. 

i am probably misunderstanding, but this subject (existentialism) seems to have a bit of the "individual vs collective" (false) dichotomy embedded in it. or is that me imposing something?


hi funkyanarchy, sorry I forgot about this!

what I was trying, clumsily, to explain in my comment is that existentialist philosophy is basically asking a different set of questions than the ones I am into (i.e., the ones that my fave philosophers are focused on).

when you call someone an existentialist, I think what you're saying is that they are worried about the problem of existence. how can one rely upon one's own consciousness, as just this one dude, and so on.  i think you get this - it's kind of the same thing that's stated in the definition you included in your question

an example of this that I know a little better would be how Hegel gives you an incredibly elaborate "bildungsroman" of how consciousness develops in a person, only in the end consciousness doesn't really develop or turn out to be certain of itself.

in foucault, (who you might have noticed is my go-to for pretty much everything) this is no longer the problem. instead he wants to think about how the individual is itself an effect of power, not a real thing and definitely not the starting point for philosophizing. that (in part) is why he was rebelling against people like Sartre.
I consider myself an existentialist and an anarchist. I've presented on this topic recently, especially in relation to post-structuralism ...especially in relation to Foucault. Here is a link to my blog entry about that. I hope it's helpful. If you want elaboration or anything, respond and I'll get an email about it.

squee, the stuff about binswanger is cool. i'd also never thought about the later ethical writing as being related to, or a partial return to, existentialism. it's an interesting suggestion that I'll have to think more about. thanks for sharing this!

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