This paper will compare the different principles, problems, methods, and conclusions of the existentialist philosophies of Soren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a very difficult philosophy to define, as many of its critical thinkers have had different subjective opinions on its major aspects. But in essence “Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice… the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe.
.” (Bakewell 33) There are various themes encompassed in this idea; despite this, there are two major subjects of focus for the purpose of this paper. The first is the absurdity of contemporary life, each philosopher takes on why it’s strange in nature as well as the similarities and contrasts on whether not the problem should try to be understood. The second subject of choice will be individual human existence and whether or not humans should live through authenticity or through the so-called leap of faith. Upon comparison, both philosophers accepted the absurdity of life as well as the individual freedom of human existence, but only one was able to accept the full weight of all its implications.Absurdity, “For the existentialists, life is absurd; it makes no sense and has no meaning or ultimate purpose… and when science, religion try to give it purpose, the attempt always fail” (Gale 12) This is the opinion of Dr. Gregory Gale book of Existentialism for Dummies.
This quote, in essence, means when contemporary life is stripped of all it’s normalities and stabilizing assumptions, life can seem as if its nothing more than a weird joke. Jean-Paul Sartre and Soren Kierkegaard discussed this topic in many of their books. Jean-Paul Sartre stated in his title La Nausea that, “Nothing happens while you live. The scenery changes, people come in and go out, that’s all.
..they will have to find something else to veil the enormous absurdity of their existence.”(Sartre 213) In the book Either/Or, Soren Kierkegaard states ” I saw that the meaning of life was to secure a livelihood…its ultimate goal was to attain a high judge position..
.that piety consisted in going to communion once a year. This I saw, and I laughed.” ( Kierkegaard 142) Each philosopher shared a similar perspective in the sense that day to day life is much weirder than it appears to be. That it was not necessarily logical as its believed to be, but rather just a product of social conformity.
Although both philosophers acknowledged the absurdity of life, there is a contrast in dire why they believed life is strange. From a Sartrean perspective life was considered strange not only for its socially proposed purpose but rather every aspect of its existence. This meant Sarte did not seek to destroy knowledge of life but rather understand every aspect of it for a deeper meaning.
Sartre often wrote in books about characters looking for deeper meaning in even the simplest of things: a chair on a bus, a waiter in a cafe or an animal in the street. In this Sartre wanted to understand the existence of every tiny piece of absurdity in life. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, did not believe in trying to understand life but instead wake people it’s to absurdity. Kierkegaard mocked the social pillars of conformity and above all wanted us to “give up our cozy, sentimental illusions.” (Kierkegaard 223) . Kierkegaard wanted to save the people from the absurdity of their lives.All of these proposed theories and ideas lead to one scary philosophical problem.
Once the absurdity of contemporary life is acknowledged, how should philosophy respond to it? Should philosophy from a Sartrean perspective dismantle it and attempt to understand its role in our lives; or should they follow Kierkegaard, merely laugh at its obscurity and remain cautious of its illusion?This is the problem where many existentialists begin to differentiate in their methods and conclusions. Sartre being the great philosopher he was tried to break it down into rational reasons. Sartre differed from Kierkegaard by asking one fundamental question. Why does absurdity exist in the human mind in lieu of logic? The answer is stated as so “The more absurd life is, the more insupportable death is.” (Sartre 297) Sartre showed that the reason for the absurdity of contemporary life comes as a result of social conformity taking the shape of human fear. Humans naturally fear the unknown and meaninglessness. So instead of always justifying beliefs, Sartre was able to reason that humans follow reassuring social systems of absurdity. Religion, government and parents rules are all fake authorities that represent these systems.
When Sartre peared into this problem he was truly able to escape the prison of absurdity. Sartre remained indifferent to all religion, political systems, and social expectancies. But, Kierkegaard was a theist; nearing his death Kierkegaard sought comfort in the simple religious truths learned as a boy.
Kierkegaard was not willing to justify these beliefs through logic and never sought to understand systems of absurdity. As a result of that Kierkegaard was forever caught in the systems that he always mocked. In other words, because Kierkegaard, unlike Sartre, never understood it, he could never overcome it.
Another critical and somewhat similar subject of existentialism was individuality. Existentialists “consider human existence different from the kind of being other things have. Other entities are what they are, but as a human, I am whatever I choose to make of myself at every moment… I am free.”(Blackwell 34) This is the opinion of Sarah Blackwell on existentialism theory in the novel “At the Existentialist Cafe.” This means one core property of what Sartre called “existence preceding essence…
” (Sartre 5) Before the existentialist thinkers, it was believed by the majority of society, that you are born with an inherent purpose or meaning. This was supported by philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, but existentialism was the first philosophy to challenge this belief. Sartre said “It means, first of all, man exists… and, only afterward, defines himself. If a man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first, he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.
“(Sarte 7) This was to become one of Sartre’s most famous quotes from the book “Existentialism and human emotions.” In addition, Kierkegaard stated, “The crowd, in fact, is composed of individuals; it must, therefore, be in every man’s power to become what he is, an individual.”(Kaufmann 56) This idea was by far one of the most similar in a comparison of all of their works.Both Jean-Paul Sartre and Soren Kierkegaard agreed on the idea that we are born to be free.
That each of us as individuals is born or exist and it is only after that we can find our purpose or essence. As a result of this similarity, both philosophers also shared the idea that we as humans are free to do it whatever we desire. That each us does not have to follow systems of absurdity in contemporary life but are free to exist as individuals. Consequently, both Sartre and Kierkegaard encountered the same philosophical problem. Both philosophers discussed the idea if every human exists and only after can find their essence; what is their essence? As free individuals life is terrifying, anxiety-ridden and most of all possess a sense of forlornness because humans as individuals now need to figure out everything out on their own. Sartre acknowledged this problem head-on in many of his writings. “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give life a meaning… We are our choices.
“(Sartre 33) Kierkegaard also shared a similar idea saying “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”(Kierkegaard 135) and “It is certain that we cannot escape anguish, for we are anguish.” (Kierkegaard 157). This problem still exists as one of the most painful aspects of existentialism.This problem led both philosophers to very similar theories of anxiety. In an attempt to further explain this problem Sarte introduced a word called “Angoisse” (Sartre 15) otherwise known as the anguish of existence. Meaning that everything is terrifying possible, there is no teleology, no rules, so we are all forced to “design a morality to live by.” (Sartre 17) Kierkegaard also noted a very similar theory in the novel Concept of Anxiety.
The theory was known as “Angest” or angst; a condition where we are fully aware of the abundance of choices we have and how little understanding we will ever have on how to pick the right choice properly. As Kierkegaard said in his novel “It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backward. But they forget… that it must be lived forwards.”(Kierkegaard 183) Meaning both men shared a similar understanding of just how scary this problem actually was. So if both philosophers shared the idea of terrifying free existence in the world than how are humans supposed to deal with freedom and finding meaning.
Afterall we have an overwhelming abundance of choices within our lives, so how are we supposed to live. Now the most glaring contrast begins when the philosophers describe their methods to solving this problem. Sartre had two solutions on how humans should deal with the implications of individuality. First is that we should not live in bad faith or “mauvaise fois.
” (Sartre 74) This is where humans force ourselves to believe or live by a decision that was not unique to our true values. Where we lie to ourselves and hide in systems of absurdity, so we never truly have to find our own path. Sartre then proposed that we lived a life of authenticity. In which we fully accept that weight of all of our choices and that the only meaning our lives can is one we gave it. “In life man commits himself and draws his own portrait, outside of which there is nothing.
..it helps people to understand that reality alone counts.”(Sartre 115) By doing this Sartre did not remove the sense of individual responsibility and instead proposed a way for people to live completely unique to them. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, did not embrace the same level of self-purpose. Kierkegaard wrote about one answer how to live one’s life, the teachings of Christianity. Despite Kierkegaard hating much of the religious system in place, Kierkegaard loved the simple teachings of the catholic church.
Instead of Authenticity Kierkegaard proposed the idea of a so called “Leap of faith”(Kierkegaard 213) In which one would not apply their mind into proving or understanding the existence of God or meaning of life through logical reasoning but to instead follow the gospels as the total solution. As Kierkegaard wrote in his book Sickness Until Death “To have faith is to lose your mind and to win God.” (288) Meaning that even though both knew of individuality unlike Sartre, Kierkegaard never had to face the true weight of individualism and freedom of choice. Instead of creating values unique to himself, it could be said that Kierkegaard felt victim to a “cozy sentimental illusion.”(Kierkegaard 223) This paper compared several principles, problems, methods, and conclusions of the existentialist philosophies of Soren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Existentialism is very broad subject with many philosophers having different opinions on its implications. But in essence “Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice… the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe..” (Bakewell 33) There are two main subjects from this philosophy that have been compared. Firstly, the absurdity of contemporary life, each philosopher take on why it’s strange in nature and whether not this somewhat complex problem could be understood.
Secondly, individual human existence and how we as humans should choose to deal with the implications. In conclusion, both philosophers accepted the absurdity of life as well as the individual freedom of human existence; but only one truly faced the full weight of all its implications.