Existentialism - Lecture by Daniel Bonevac


Centered around the question what does life mean?


  • Alienation: from the world - you are alone in the world, the world is foreign to you.
  • Absurdity: You notice a lack of meaning

Albert Camus: Central philosophical problem is that of suicide. Does life have a meaning?


  • Human being strive for happiness
  • Our excellence consists in fulfilling our function well
  • What is our function? What are we for?

His answer is Rational Activity. Humans can act rationally - which animals can't.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre says "Existence precedes essence". By that he means there is no intrinsic meaning to life. But we are free to define ourself as we choose.

Facticity: There are things that are fixed - they can't be changed. But we are not - we have the power to chose and change as we wish.

We are "Self interpreting animals"(Charles Taylor). Our essence is to chose our own essence.


I give my life meaning thru projects I choose. This is freedom - but a limited freedom. My range of choice is not decided by me.

"I'm thrown into the world". And because of that, I will feel alienated from the world.

The Absurd

We confront the absurd when we seek meaning and can't find it. "We are not what we are - we are what we are not."

Albert Camus

According to Camus, we confront the absurd in various experiences

  • weariness with the routine
  • seeing something out of context
  • recognizing our own inability to act or understand.

His goal was "to live without appeal". Ie. live on my own terms. I don't appeal to anything external.

We create our own meaning - there is no external authority or meaning.

Camus draw from the absurd three consequence...

  • my revolt (I revolt at the idea that life has no meaning - I will make one)
  • my freedom
  • my passion (I live meaning to my life - and that makes it my meaning. I'll be passionate about it)

Saul Bellow

"Seize the day, trusting as little as possible of the future"

This is in opposition to what Aristotle says - act rationally, make plans, act long term. This tells us to be in the movement.

This is an Epicurean view...

  • Materialism: World is only material things - I am my body.
  • Determinism: We have no freedom - everything is determined by physical laws and what has gone before.
  • Hedonism: Seek pleasure, seek freedom from fear, seek tranquility
  • Self Control: To attain pleasure and tranquility you must know the world and limit your desire.
  • Anonymity: "Live Unknown". Don't seek fame, glory or honor. Don't define success in a way that depends on other people - especially strangers.

The Burden of existence - comes from the story by Saul Bellow called 'Carpe Diem'

  • Wilhelm confronts the absurd
  • He feels throws into the world and feels a sense of alienation
  • He mistakenly thinks of his life as a given, as a burden, as being in itself.
  • "He was a little tired. The spirit, the peculiar burden of his existence lay upon him like an accretion, a load, a hump."

"The literal meaning of life is whatever meaning you give to it to prevent you from killing yourself" Albert Camus