The Absurd, Revolt and Rebellion – Camus

“Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason.” – Albert Camus

1. The Absurd

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The Absurd

For Camus, the Absurd is the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any meaning in a purposeless, meaningless, and irrational universe, with the “unreasonable silence” of the universe in response. Trying to define this, is like water slipping through one’s fingers.

However, this world in itself is not absurd, what is absurd is our relationship with the universe, which is irrational. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. It is all that links them together.

Thus, the universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously.

Camus associates our condemnation to the absurd to the mythological character of Sisyphus, a man condemned by the gods to a lifetime of rolling a boulder up a hill, a back-breaking and gruelling labour, only to reach the top of the hill and have the boulder inevitably roll back down to the bottom for him to start all over again, condemned to a lifetime of pain and anguish and working hard only to have his efforts be completely futile in the end.

File:Sisyphus by von Stuck.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Sisyphus

In perhaps one of his most celebrated quotes, Camus states that:

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Happiness in the sense of living with a full acknowledgment of one’s absurd life, together with a defiant non acceptance of it, becoming enchanted of life, the complete opposite of nihilism.

2. Revolt

Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix (article) | Khan Academy
Revolt

Revolt is an essential concept for Camus, it is the maintenance of a lucid awareness of the absurdity of life. To affirm life and continue, he states that:

“One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity. It is an insistence upon an impossible transparency. It challenges the world anew every second… It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”

To revolt is to say no to one’s own absurd existence, and in the process say yes to some other more desirable existence.

Camus, like Nietzsche, held his embrace of fate to be central to his philosophy and to life itself:

“a will to live without rejecting anything of life, which is the virtue I honour most in this world.”

Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself and the True Value of Education – Brain  Pickings
Nietzsche

This concept of Amor Fati, to love one’s fate, is mostly linked to the Stoics. Marcus Aurelius, wrote that:

A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.”

Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca.

And Epictetus echoed the same idea:

“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.”

Nietzsche expressed it in what he calls the Eternal Recurrence.

3. Rebellion

The Mysteries behind Caspar David Friedrich's “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog”  - Artsy
Rebellion

This affirmation to a more desirable existence leads to rebellion. He wrote in The Rebel, published in 1951 that:

“In order to exist, one must rebel. But rebellion must respect the limits that it discovers in itself. In contemplating the results of an active rebellion, we shall have to ask ourselves whether it remains faithful to its first noble promise or whether it forgets its purpose and plunges into a mire of tyranny or servitude. In absurdist experience, suffering is individual, but from the moment that a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective experience. As the experience of everyone, therefore the first step for a mind overwhelmed by the absurdity of things, is to realise the feeling of strangeness is shared by all men. That the entire human race suffers from the division between itself and the rest of the world.”

Rebellion, from this point of view, is a fabricator of universes and a metaphysical demand for unity.

Unity

However, he also talks about tyranny. Rebellion does not always lead to desirable outcomes. Camus talks about nihilistic forms of rebellion to be common, he lived in the midst of some of the worst totalitarian regimes of the 20th century: Hitler, Stalin, Mao.

He believed them to be forms of rebellion against the absurd, upon the recognition that there is no life beyond this existence. But, contrary to what he espouses, these movements expressed hatred of life and a desire, in a godless universe, to play the role of both god and devil.

He championed what he calls a genuine rebellion, which is not to implement a utopia by destructive means as nihilistic rebellions do, but which recognises the necessity of shared communal values and attempts to bring about solidarity, individual freedom and a relative harmony among human beings.

“If men cannot refer to a common value, recognised by all as existing in each one, then man is incomprehensible to man.”

He concludes with the phrase “I revolt, therefore we exist” implying the recognition of a common human condition. The argument of The Rebel was to replace ideas of revolutionary action with a concept of revolt and rebellion.

Thus, for Camus: 

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”


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Greatest Philosophers In History | Albert Camus

Camus gave rise to Absurdism. He is also considered to be an Existentialist.
This video explores his main ideas: The Absurd, Revolt and Rebellion, as well as his most notable works: The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Rebel, The Plague, and The Fall.
He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957.

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An Introduction to Albert Camus

Albert Camus was born in Algeria in 1913, a French colony at the time. He studied philosophy at the University of Algiers, then became a journalist.

He was born in a poor working-class family, his mother was an illiterate cleaning lady, and there were no books in his house, he lost his father when he was a few months old in the First World War. When he started going to the lycée or secondary school, he was a stranger. He came from a poor suburb and was suddenly surrounded by young boys with middle-class families.

As time passed, he soon became a well-known character in the university circles and ladies were very attracted to him. He particularly loved football, stating that: “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”

Camus's Absurd Love of Football — M. M. Owen
Camus with his football team (in front, squatting with beret)

However, at age 17 he was struck down by tuberculosis. It interrupted his studies and his physical life. During this time, he became fascinated by theatre and acting. He organised the Theatre de l’Équipe, a young avant-garde dramatic group.

Camus married pianist and mathematician Francine, who gave birth to twins, Catherine, and Jean.

19 Facts About One Of The Best Writers Of Past Century: Albert Camus -  onedio.co
Francine and Camus with Jean and Catherine

In 1939 his play, Caligula appeared,  the story of a Roman Emperor famed for his cruelty and seemingly insane behaviour. Later, he published his famous novel L’Etranger translated as The Stranger (or The Outsider), and the philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus.

After the occupation of France by the Germans in 1940, Camus became one of the intellectual leaders of the Resistance movement. He joined the French Resistance and became the head of the underground newspaper Combat, which he had helped found. All the students at that time read Combat, it was the newspaper that came out of the resistance and carried a daily article.

After the war, he devoted himself to writing and established an international reputation and a celebrity figure with his novels. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. At age 44, the second youngest recipient in history. He said:

“Whatever the circumstances of a writer’s life, obscure or temporarily famous, immersed in the fires of tyranny or free for a time to express himself, he can recover a sense of a living community that will justify him, but only on condition that he accepts, as much as he is able to, the two responsibilities that represent the grandeur of his profession, to serve truth and freedom.”

Albert Camus's Stirring Letter To His Inspirational Teacher After Winning  The Nobel Prize - Flashbak
Camus receiving Nobel Prize in Literature (1957)

At the time Algeria was fighting for independence and there were strong differences in opinions throughout the world. He was distraught by the events there, he could think of nothing else, he did not accept the idea of independence, feeling that he had equal rights to the soil in Algeria that belong to most of his childhood.

He wrote:

“For years I wanted to live according to the morality of the majority, I forced myself to live like everyone else. I said what was necessary to say in order to bond, even when I felt separate. The upshot of all this was catastrophic, now I am wandering among the wreckage, resigned to my singularity and my disabilities and I have to rebuild the truth, having lived all my life inside a kind of lie.”

After receiving the Nobel Prize, he was no longer poor and for the first time had money to spend. He lived a frugal life, apart from dressing elegantly. He exiled himself in France, painfully cut off from Algeria, his native country, his sun. He was living in profound solitude.

Camus’ views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as Absurdism, which has its origins in the work of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who chose to confront the crisis that humans face with the Absurd by developing his own existentialist philosophy. Camus is also considered to be an existentialist, even though he firmly rejected the term throughout his lifetime.

Literary Birthday - 5 May - Søren Kierkegaard | Writers Write
Kierkegaard

He decided that his work as a writer would progress. Each stage would be marked by a play, a novel, and an essay. The first cycle was The Absurd, the second The Rebellion, and then towards the end of his life, he felt he was coming to a completely new cycle, which would be that of Love or Happiness.

However, at this time, in 1960, as he was returning back to Paris, he was killed in a road accident. In his pocket was found an unused train ticket. Also, in the wreckage were pages of handwritten manuscript, an epic novel that he had predicted would be his finest work. It was edited and published 34 years later as The First Man by Camus’ daughter Catherine, becoming an instant bestseller and helped to understand Camus’ character more deeply than any other of his works.

El accidente de tráfico "más idiota" de la historia - Ecomotor.es
Car accident that killed Camus instantly

This is an introduction to Camus, in later posts we will be exploring his main ideas: The Absurd, Revolt, Rebellion, as well as his most notable works: The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Rebel, The Plague, and The Fall.

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Albert Camus

Camus gave rise to Absurdism. He is also considered to be an Existentialist.
This video explores his main ideas: The Absurd, Revolt and Rebellion, as well as his most notable works: The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Rebel, The Plague, and The Fall.
He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957.

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The Look and Hell is Other People – Sartre

The Look is a central concept in Sartre’s phenomenology. It is the exploration of the experience of being seen. You are a subject, but if someone gazes into you for a long time, you start becoming hyper aware of yourself as an object in other people’s views.

What we think of self-consciousness is actually our consciousness of the world, for Sartre, there is no such thing as a self, an essential being that we truly are. This is merely a security blanket of an idea which he tries to get people to abandon. His whole argument is that there is no predetermined character which makes you be who you are, who you are is a function of what you do.

Sartre gives the example of a person looking through a keyhole into a bedroom. He is behaving as a subject, but the experience of being caught seeing through the keyhole immediately makes this person aware that they are a person looking at a bedroom behind a closed door, whereas before they were just looking at the scene.

Man looking through key-hole

This person has been transformed into something that was just trying to see and listen to the conversation, to a person with a nauseating feel of shame, proving that we are always under the eyes of other people. Thus, we are all objects in the eyes of others.

There is no way that people can feel entirely comfortable with each other, it is always going to be impossible to think of yourself simultaneously as someone who is going around the world acting in it and being an agent, and also to think of yourself as being an object that other people are observing.

Hell is Other People

Feeling observed

The entire social realm is based on adversarial aspects. In his book No Exit, Sartre illustrates the difficult coexistence of people, because we are unable to escape the watchful gaze of everyone around us, which alienates us and locks us in a particular kind of being, which in turn deprives us of our freedom.

“All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So, this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!”

Why Sartre is worth reading

Sartre’s physical condition deteriorated, in part because of his workaholism, but also because he was a notorious chain smoker. He died in 1980 from swelling of the lung. Over 50,000 people took to the streets of Paris to follow his coffin and millions watched on television. No philosopher had ever had a bigger following.

Sartre’s funeral

He was a philosopher who thought against himself, against everything given to him by society and education, he spent his life testing the limits of traditional thinking. The fact that life is meaningless gives us the opportunity to give it a meaning. It is precisely because it doesn’t have a meaning in advance that we are justified in creating one.

In a world with increasing anguish and despair, Sartre teaches us that we are in control of our lives, that we are allowed to build it the way we want with our own values. Life is your own work of art.

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Being and Nothingness – Sartre

Sartre´s masterwork and major philosophical work of his life is Being and Nothingness, which became the core of Existentialism. He speaks of consciousness, bad faith, the existence of “nothingness”, free will and authenticity. The idea that individuals can always choose their own actions, even in situations which appear to enslave them.

He begins with the origin of negation, the empty nothingness or opposite of being. Our conscious existence introduces the idea of nothingness into the world. What this means is that we are able to conjure up things that aren’t physically visible to us.

For example, you might see your bed because its right in front of you, but you can also not see a pyramid, you can imagine it being there, and thus your experience of the current room is altered and structured around the fact that there is not a pyramid in it.

Sartre believes consciousness involves making ongoing distinctions between things and yourself. He explains that making these distinctions that make things appear as they do in our experience, also involves their continuing to not appear to be other things. It is a process of negation.

A table continues to be a table, it is not an animal, an automobile, or an abstract formula. In other words, things are what they are by their continuing to not be what they are not.

Thus, perception is a negative process and consciousness affects it by nihilating, to encase in a shell of non-being.

The Being For-itself and The Being In-itself  

The theory of nothingness is central to Sartre’s philosophy. He distinguishes between two kinds of being: consciousness or what he calls the Being For-Itself, which is the source of all meaning. And on the other hand, a mode of existence that simply is, which is not conscious and is relevant only to inanimate objects, the Being In-Itself.

One of the problems of human existence for Sartre is the desire to attain Being-In-Itself, which he describes as the desire to be God, a longing for full control over one’s destiny and for absolute identity, only attainable by achieving full control over the destiny of all existence.

The world is meaningful to us because we, the For-Itself, give meaning to the In-Itself. The For-Itself uses the world to try to give itself some kind of definition, but it is pure nothingness.

Sartre doesn’t believe you can define humanity, whatever we are is so free that we can constantly redefine whatever we are. Nothing could ever become necessary for us. Therefore, we are a kind of nullity. But we must have some kind of content, we need to become, what he calls an In-Itself For-Itself. That is, we need to become conscious of having some meaning and content.

All of our activity is understood by trying to cover up our nothingness and delude ourselves into thinking that we have an identity, some kind of content and meaning in our lives. But since we really don’t and can’t have it because we are pure freedom and nothingness, we are a futile passion or in despair. So, we are constantly in bad faith, we are the kind of being that needs something that we can’t have.

The Being For-Others

Giant Crowd Painting by Emily Grenader

In addition, he later adds the Being For-Others, which englobes the whole of society. He states that many relationships are created by people’s attraction not to another person, but rather how that person makes them feel about themselves by how they look at them. Whenever Sartre thought about what other people were thinking when they were looking at him is fundamental to his existence and to all his writing.

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This video explores Sartre’s main ideas including: Nausea, the Absurdity of the World, Existence precedes Essence, Freedom, Bad Faith, The Look and Hell is Other People, among others.

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Bad Faith – Sartre

A common trap that people fall into is what Sartre calls Bad Faith, a dominant theme of his work. Bad faith is a way of denying the fundamental nature of our freedom and responsibility, it is a way of making excuses for ourselves.

We accept something as true that really isn’t that convincing to us, but because it is convenient and easy for us to believe in.

Sartre talks about a hypothetical waiter, he does not like his job, he goes to work day after day and does not feel fulfilled, but when he thinks of applying to a different job or asks himself the difficult questions that would come along with that sort of life choice, he convinces himself that it’d be better to just to remain a waiter.

For Sartre, this is nonsense, it is Bad Faith. We are free individuals that can choose the meaning of our life. We convince ourselves that we actually don’t have a choice: we need the money, to pay the bills, feed our family, and so on. And that being unhappy at the current job is just how life is.

Sartre would say that it is entirely self-imposed, it is self-deception. It is something that people do to avoid making difficult life decisions, desperately trying to avoid temporary discomfort in the present moment, which comes from the ability to choose and be free, telling oneself excuses. We put ourselves in long-term agony, in an attempt to avoid short-term discomfort.

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Freedom and Responsibility – Sartre

For Sartre human beings live in anguish, or the feeling of total and deep responsibility, not because life is terrible, but because, as he says:

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

We are born without a choice, yet here we are born into a world with so much freedom to choose while simultaneously held responsible for everything we choose to do in this existence that we didn’t choose to have. We are condemned to be free.

In Existentialism, this is known as thrownness, a word coined by Martin Heidegger. It is the condition of an individual’s existence upon being thrown into the absurdity of the material world, arbitrarily born into a given family, within a given culture, at a given moment in human history. Heidegger calls these “givens” facticities.

Martin Heidegger

Sartre addresses that these limiting things that we don’t have control over do not limit our freedom. As he says: “freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”

Since existence precedes essence, there is no design for a human being, there is no God. For Sartre, phenomenology has to be atheistic. Assuming that God exists and has created everything would mean that essence precedes existence, the opposite of Sartre’s view. We therefore exist first and only then do we end up trying to make sense of things by way of science, religion, political ideology, philosophy, or anything else.

That is quite a difference from Kierkegaard’s view of Existentialism, for him, you can’t do Existentialism without God, for Sartre it works the other way around. As you can see, these existentialists have really different ideas even while pertaining to the same philosophical movement.

The 'Self-Actualizing' Spirituality of Søren Kierkegaard | Christianity  Today
Søren Kierkegaard

Sartre tries to rebuild the idea of freedom taken out of the Christian culture, getting rid of the power of God on human life. He believes that if God exists man is not free, and if man is free God does not exist. If God is dead, or as Dostoevsky said:

“if God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

So, if there is nothing that preordains our human nature, then we must be free. We can then begin to set our own meaning to our life. Once we exist, it is our job to discover our essence. Freedom is one of the most important aspects of Sartre’s philosophy, to understand how truly free you actually are.

However, once you realise that you are completely free – you begin to feel dread of the amount of possibilities that are open to you, everything is possible.

It is you who has to decide the meaning of your life, when you realise that your freedom is completely without direction or guidance, it produces a sort of dizziness or nausea, which is why Sartre regards freedom as a condemnation.

Man is nothing but his life and actions, and this is horrifying.

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This video explores Sartre’s main ideas including: Nausea, the Absurdity of the World, Existence precedes Essence, Freedom, Bad Faith, The Look and Hell is Other People, among others.

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Existence precedes Essence – Sartre

Sartre is also a leading figure in phenomenology, a branch of philosophy that offered a radical account of the workings of human consciousness. In other words, it is experiencing reality as we experience it with our perceptions, distinguished from the world as it really is.

He studied under Edmund Husserl, the world’s leader in that field. He felt that he found an entirely new way of seeing man’s existence in the world.

Editorial Trotta Edmund Husserl
Edmund Husserl

To understand Sartre’s view of what phenomenology is, a good starting point is his 1945 public lecture Existentialism is a Humanism, which was later made into a book, he declared his famous proposition that for human beings “Existence precedes essence”, that is the fundamental tenet of Existentialism.

Ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle believed that every object had within it an essence. The essence of a thing is a specific thing within an object that need to be there for that thing to be considered as whatever it is. If this thing for some reason did no longer have this specific property, it’d lose its identity and would therefore become something else.

Plato and Aristotle: How Do They Differ? | Britannica
Plato and Aristotle

Take for instance a knife, if it lacked its blade, it would just be a colourful handle of a sort. In other words, it’d have lost its essential property or the essence of that knife, a quality that is necessary to make it what it is.

This extends to every single object, including human beings. Every human being is born with this essence; thus, essence precedes existence. This is the core philosophy of Essentialism.

This theory remained strong since the time of ancient Greek philosophy right until the 20th century. Here is where Sartre comes in, and asks: what if we are born without an essence? What if when we are born, we are to determine what our essence will be? What if existence precedes essence? In other words, an individual creates himself through what he does, he is what he does. Just as a painter paints on a blank canvas, we invent what will eventually appear on the canvas. In that way, our life is a work of art and every action defines us.

Life is a work of art

However, the moment when you realise that your existence is not founded upon any past objective facts, that your existence consists of what you’re going to make of it, it becomes a slightly horrifying realisation.

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Nausea & The Absurdity of the World – Jean Paul Sartre

Sartre’s first novel, Nausea, gave a name for existential angst. He considered it as one of his most precious novels, it portrays Antoine Roquentin, a French writer who is horrified at his own existence and finds it meaningless. He lives alone, has no friends, and usually eavesdrops on other people’s conversations and watches their actions. It is written in the form of a diary, in which he documents his every feeling and sensation about the world and people around him.

Antoine Roquentin

He finds situations and inanimate objects imbued with meanings which bear the stamp of his existence, all that he encounters in his everyday life is permeated with a horrible taste, evoking in him a sense of nausea, especially his freedom.

In a passage from the book, he states:

“Nothing looked real. I felt surrounded by cardboard scenery which could suddenly be removed. The world was waiting, holding its breath, making itself small – it was waiting for its attack, its Nausea”.

It is believed that Sartre used the term Nausea after reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where it is used and associated with contemplating the mediocrity of humanity.

The Absurdity of the World

Have you ever looked at a word hard enough and had the thought of it seeming unusually strange? Almost as if it were the first time you’ve heard the word?

For Sartre, this feeling extends way beyond words and things and encapsules the whole of life. He calls it “The Absurdity of the World.

Consider having dinner with your partner. You are essentially part of a habitable planet called Earth, in the midst of the milky way galaxy, sitting down on chopped up wood which people use to make chairs and tables and you put pieces of plants and meat in your mouth along with your partner, with whom you one day hope to procreate with and start a family.

The Dinner by Claude Monet

This is the true absurdity of the world and we live our lives immersed in it.

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An Introduction to Jean Paul Sartre

Jean Paul Sartre had a great influence on many areas of modern thought. A writer of prodigious brilliance and originality, Sartre worked in many different genres: as a philosopher, a novelist, and a cultural critic.

Sartre is one of the key figures in the philosophy of Existentialism, which emphasises the existence of the individual or human subject who faces existential angst in an apparently absurd world. He is credited for revivifying and popularising Existentialism to the world after it had remained quite stagnant since the death of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Søren Kierkegaard: "El amor no busca lo suyo" – Culturamas
Søren Kierkegaard

It was no accident that his philosophy reached a wide public for the first time during the immediate aftermath of World War Two, France was an exhausted country and Sartre’s ideas brought a message of hope, the old frameworks of value on which people lived on were collapsing, including family values and Christian beliefs. Sartre saw that people were starting to take responsibility for their actions and for him this was a great opportunity for his philosophy.

Sartre was born in Paris, in 1905. The only child of his father, an officer of the French Navy, who died when he was just two years old. He was raised by his mother Anne-Marie, whom he was very fond of and his grandfather Charles Schweitzer, who introduced Sartre to classical literature at an early age.

As a teenager, he was frequently bullied, in part for having a strabismus in his right eye, a problem with eye alignment. He was also very short, standing at around 5 feet tall in his adulthood, he felt that he had an ugly physically appearance and focused all his energy on his mind.

Jean-Paul Sartre: Biography of an Existentialist Philosopher
Young Sartre

He studied philosophy and psychology at the École Normale Supérieure, one of the most prestigious graduate schools in Paris that was the alma mater for several prominent French thinkers and intellectuals.

He quickly developed a reputation as an unconventional bohemian figure. The student who came second to him in their final philosophy exams was the writer Simone de Beauvoir, a prominent feminist and fellow existentialist philosopher. The two became inseparable and lifelong companions, initiating a romantic relationship, although it was quite open and they were not monogamous.

Jean Paul Sartre, por Simone de Beauvoir: los últimos años de un ímpetu  revolucionario - Sociedad - Mundiario
Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir

Sartre served as a meteorologist in World War Two and was captured by German troops, spending nine months in prison. During this time, he read Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time and was greatly influenced by it.

Sartre was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature, but he declined it. He was the first Nobel laureate to voluntarily decline the prize. He was horrified by the idea of being incorporated into the establishment.

By this time, Sartre had become a household name. He was often seen frequenting cafés where he wrote while he chatted with his colleagues. He remained a simple man with few possessions and was actively committed as an activist, taking part in various strikes.

Los cafés son un rasgo característico de Europa, George Steiner |  Sociología crítica
Sartre in a café

On one occasion he was arrested for civil disobedience. French president Charles de Gaulle intervened and pardoned him, saying that “you don’t arrest Voltaire”.

Although Sartre spend much of his later life trying to reconcile the individualist philosophy of Existentialism with the collective vision of Marxism, ending up in a sort of anarchism, we’ll be focusing on thoughts of the Existentialist Sartre, not his later controversial political life.

We’ll be exploring his main ideas which include: Nausea, the Absurdity of the World, Existence precedes Essence, Freedom, Bad Faith, The Look and Hell is Other People, among others.

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An Introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher of the 19th century, apart from having one of the most bad-ass mustaches in history (just look at it!), he is one of the most revolutionary thinkers in Western philosophy and intellectual history. He was a cultural critic of his era, of traditional European morality and religious fundamentalism, especially of Christianity.

Nietzsche’s life was not an easy one. It is the story of a man who from the beginning of his adult life, until the sudden and devastating end of his productive period, was ostracised from the intellectual community of his time and plagued by ill health.

In 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown. As he was taking a walk through the city streets, he saw a horse being whipped by its owner, he ran to the horse and threw his arms around its neck to protect it, then collapsed to the ground. He never recovered.

torpedo the ark: Sensitive Hands on a Cyclops
Nietzsche embracing a horse

He was diagnosed with syphilis, but this claim has since been challenged and a diagnosis of manic-depressive illness with a periodic psychosis followed by dementia, explained by the slow growth of a tumour, was put forward. He died in 1900.

As a writer, Nietzsche achieved very little success, often times selling only a few copies of his books per year. It wasn’t until his death that his work began to flourish and become popular.

His sister, Elisabeth assumed the role of editor of her brother’s unpublished works and manuscripts, to fit her own views which were heavily associated with Nazism. This is why Nietzsche has been misrepresented as a predecessor to Nazism. He actually despised anti-Semitic people, which was apparent in his works. He thought highly of the Jews, as intellectuals, and as an important contribution to European culture.

Far right, misogynist, humourless? Why Nietzsche is misunderstood | Books |  The Guardian
Elisabeth and Friedrich Nietzsche

After his mental breakdown that would consume the last 11 years of his life, he wrote letters for a short period of time called the “Madness Letters” and signing them alternatively as “Dionysus” or “The Crucified”.

The Madness Letters: Friedrich Nietzsche and Béla Tarr
Nietzsche after his mental breakdown

Dionysus is the Greek god of fertility and wine, the ultimate “yes” to life, and The Crucified is an allusion to Jesus, which Nietzsche called “the one and last true Christian” with his authentic Christianity dying with him on the cross, this may be less an attack on Jesus himself and more an attack on Christianity and its willingness to escape reality into an imaginary afterlife, it is the ultimate “no” to life.

The root of our misery and suffering is our constant tendency to divide our lives into “Yes” and “No”. By declaring that happiness means the presence of “yes” and that misery means the presence of “no”, we surrender control of our happiness into the hands that we cannot control. His solution was what he called amor fati, the love of fate, to love everything that happens. To become a Yea-sayer.

The book which set the stage for everything he had to say was Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which he considered his greatest work. After this, he published Beyond Good and Evil, another of his most famous works. Nietzsche did not write for the general public, but for an intellectual minority.

He is also credited to being an early psychologist, developing certain concepts related to psychology such as the will to power. He considered psychology to be the queen of science, playing a huge role in our decisions, thoughts, and philosophy.

His criticisms rely on a psychological point of view of the popular belief of his time, and questioning our most fundamental beliefs by pointing out their shakiness and scrutinising available alternatives in a new vision of the value of life.

Nietzsche shares his views on how he wants us to perceive the world liberating ourselves from oppressive tradition. The main concepts revolve around self-overcoming, perspectivism, human nobility, the Will to Power, the Eternal Recurrence, and the Overman.

Perhaps his most misunderstood statement is God is Dead, not a celebratory, but a tragic statement.

Nietzsche encourages us to continue to confront our doubts about the well roundedness of many of our most fundamental ideals about ourselves and our world.

We conceive of ourselves as subjects trying to live a decent life, guided in our doings by aims that fit the normal expectations of our social and cultural environment; we believe certain things to be true beyond any doubt, and we hold others and ourselves to many moral obligations.

For Nietzsche, to give life a meaning, it isn’t something to be discovered, but rather to be created. The overman is the truth that shall be. The overman, the will to power, self-overcoming, to live dangerously, amor fati, the eternal recurrence, these are all signs by which Nietzsche found meaning in life.

“I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous — a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.”

And he was right, he is dynamite. One of the greatest philosophers to have ever lived.

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s main concepts on living life revolve around self-overcoming, amor fati, perspectivism, human nobility, the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the overman.

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