The Turn, Technology & The Last God – Heidegger

After Heidegger’s masterpiece Being and Time there is a reorienting shift in Heidegger’s philosophy known as “die Kehre” or “the turn”, he links this to his own failure to produce the missing divisions of Being and Time, as the book remained unfinished.

He also distances his view from Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialism, particularly his Being and Nothingness which retakes the Husserlian and Cartesian point of view of objects and subjects, and he starts to shift his focus to poetry, language and technology.

His later thinking is encapsulated in his Contributions to Philosophy, written in a very poetic style. He famously said that “language speaks.”

Heidegger’s writing shifts to understanding Being historically and Being in language. He had been talking about the modern epoch without realising that each epoch has a different way of understanding of what it is to be. This forges a pathway to a new kind of thinking.

He moves from temporality as Dasein’s distinctive mode of Being to Being consisting most fundamentally in what he calls dwelling.

Human beings dwell in that they stay on earth, under the sky, before the divinities, and among one another as mortals. The underlying unity of these are known as the “simple oneness of the four”, he calls it the fourfold.

In dwelling, then, Dasein is located within a set of sense-making practices and structures with which it is familiar. It is a rethinking of Being in terms of the notion of “ereignis”, translated as “event” or “appropriation”.

The question now becomes not ‘What is the meaning of Being?’ but rather ‘How does Being essentially unfold?’.

We are now asking the question of Being not from the perspective of Dasein, but from the perspective of Being. Dasein is now appropriated by being and man owned by being.

Technology

Technology

The later Heidegger was concerned that in our modern society, we are so immersed in technology that we disconnect ourselves from being, from the world and nature.

Technology was a topic that highly interested Heidegger, in The Question Concerning Technology he tries to explore the essence of technology. Heidegger’s main interest is its fundamental impact on Being, he describes a technological mode of Being. Technology has thoroughly moulded society as a whole, not as a neutral force, but as way of understanding Dasein.

He thinks a large part of modern society’s anxiety is because of a technological and nihilistic understanding of Being. He was not against technology, he simply tried to understand the nature of it and warn us against the potential danger it can have to human existence.

The focal point of our Being-in-the-world is going unnoticed because of the repetitive and trite daily realities of our existence with resources being exploited as a means to an end.

“The circularity of consumption for the sake of consumption is the sole procedure which distinctively characterises the history of a world which has become an unworld.”

Only a God can Save Us

The Gods

The later Heidegger also introduces the concept of “the last god” and famously announces that only a god can save us.

“The last god is not the end but the other beginning of immeasurable possibilities for our history.”

Heidegger has in mind not a religious intervention in an “ordinary” sense of the divine, but rather a transformational event in which a secularised sense of the sacred is restored.

It is a sort of transformational cultural event that is seen as “divinity.” He argued that we are waiting for a god who will reawaken us to the poetic, and thereby enable us to dwell in the fourfold. This task certainly seems to be a noble one. Unfortunately, it plunges us into the most controversial region of Heideggerian philosophy, his infamous involvement with Nazism.

Controversy

Martin Heidegger Portrait

It is quite strange how someone who could author Being and Time and become one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, could also be into Nazism.

Heidegger’s understanding of traditional German rural life as realising values and meanings that may counteract the insidious effects of contemporary technology is tied with the national socialist image of rustic German communities, rooted in German soil, proving a bulwark against foreign influence.

Commentators describe Heidegger wandering into National Socialism because he believed that the German people were destined to carry out a monumental spiritual mission and that his philosophy could contribute to the whole nation.

After the war, he had stated that his participation in the movement had been “the biggest stupidity of his life”.

And yet Heidegger never really truly took responsibility and apologised for his past actions.

Despite this, what we really need to focus on are his ideas – it is through these ideas that we can be critically engaged with his sustained investigation into Being, to think deeply about human life and appreciate his massive contribution to human thought.


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.


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Temporality – Heidegger

The second most important feature of Being and Time, apart from Being is, Time. Heidegger calls it “temporality.” Dasein is time, we are embodied time. We go from being-in-the-world to care to temporality.

Temporality is the ultimate meaning of being-in-the-world and care. The anticipation of death is the ultimate source of meaning of temporality.

Heidegger describes time as openness or unclosedness, it is being present to things not passively, but actively making sense of them.

One of the features of inauthenticity is failing to actualise one’s Being. Heidegger stresses a form of being that is “ecstatically”, rather than passively, oriented toward its own possibilities.

With the concept of historicity Heidegger indicates that Dasein always “temporalises” or acts in time, as part of a larger social and historical collectivity, as part of a people.

Dasein possesses a heritage on which it must act. Historicity means making a decision about how to actualise important elements of a collective past. In other words, history is not a passive force devoid of intentionality – but rather a project that humans consciously and authentically undertake in order to respond to their collective past for the sake of their future.

Being needs to be understood as fundamentally a timebound, historical process. Thus, we are not just temporal beings, but authentically historical beings, belonging not only to ourselves but also to our ancestors, community, and species.


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.


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Authenticity, Inauthenticity and Being-toward-death – Heidegger

When we realise how Heidegger’s care structure affects our behaviour, the relationship of meaningfulness with respect to things, people and to ourselves create the possibility for two modes of Being: authenticity or inauthenticity.

Inauthenticity occurs when a person embodies only their facticity (the reality they have been thrown into) and their fallenness (falling into tasks that other people tell them to do). They live as Das Man, without ever considering the possibilities at their disposal about other ways of living life, their existentiality.

The experience of inauthenticity creates dread and anxiety. One moves right to the frontier between nothingness, absurdity, death and making sense.

For Heidegger, the experience of this thin line that separates us from nothingness, throws us back into the sense-making world, now with the awareness that there is no ground under our feet, that we are doing this alone.

Heidegger walks us through a phenomenological analysis of our whole world, everything that gives meaning to us, fall apart.

We need to develop authenticity. A lifelong process of radically considering the possibilities at our disposal, to understand our facticity and be immersed in it, embracing it, including what Heidegger calls our “historicity” (the cultural and historical context with their rituals and traditions), to be introspective about our fallenness and to avoid the trap of Das Man and become Dasein.

It is to be responsible to one’s whole human nature, to have accepted oneself as thrown, finite and mortal. Authenticity can come into existence when we arrive at the realisation of who we are and grasp the fact that each human being is a distinctive entity.

Being-toward-death

Out of this authenticity comes the idea of Being-toward-Death. The ultimate possibility and inevitability that we all have to deal with is death. This is not a fatalistic orientation that brings Dasein closer to its end, in terms of clinical death, but is rather a way of being.

It is too easy to get lost in the everyday, until we face death and start thinking about who we truly were, ironically, for the first time we actually live for ourselves, without spending time thinking about the approval of other people on who we are.

When asked how we might recover authenticity, Heidegger replied that we should simply “spend more time in graveyards.”

To live authentically, is to recognise the inevitability of death in the context of our everyday living, so as to live life to the fullest. This is Being-toward-Death. 


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.


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Facticity, Existentiality, Fallenness – Heidegger

The things we care about is a central focus in Heidegger’s philosophy. There are three fundamental terms for the care structure of Dasein: facticity, existentiality and fallenness.

1. Facticity

Thrownness

Facticity is a part of what he calls “Geworfenheit” or “thrownness”. We are all thrown or projected into the world, arbitrarily born into a given family, within a given culture and at a given moment in human history, these “givens” are facticities.

The task we decide to be constantly engaged in and care about have very little to do with us, they are sort of decided for us by the particular facticity that we were born into.

We are thrown with neither prior knowledge nor individual opinion into a world that was there before and will remain there after we are gone.

2. Existentiality

Existentiality

The second term is existentiality, the possibilities that we have at our disposal. The reality of  being a Dasein is to be a being that has possibilities, and that is what distinguishes us from every other being, that is why we are part of Dasein.

To describe existentiality we must distinguish between two key terms: Existentiell and existential. These sound almost identical but are written differently and mean very different things for Heidegger.

The first one, “existentiell” refers to the aspects of the world which are identifiable as particular delimited questions or issues, whereas “existential” refers to Being as such, which permeates all things and cannot be delimited in such a way as to be susceptible to factual knowledge. In general it can be said that “existentiell” refers to a “what”, a materially describable reality, whereas “existential” refers to structures inherent in any possible world.

In other words, the term “existentiell” refers to an ontic determination (physical, real, or factual existence), whereas “existential” refers to an ontological determination (dealing with the nature of being).

These two are related as an ontic determination is inherently ontological.

3. Fallenness

The final term that Heidegger uses is “fallenness”. It refers to the inauthentic existence of Dasein. As human beings, we fall into certain tasks by default. Because of social expectations and people telling us how we should be behaving, making us fall into a herd mentality. We have all fallen into tasks as it is part of our nature.

Das Man

Heidegger calls the behaviour of mindlessly following other people the Das Man, translated as “they-self” or “the-they”, which is the opposite of the authenticity of Dasein and Being-in-the-world.

It is a mode of existence of Being-with-one-another. We surrender our existence to a formless entity. Instead of truly choosing to do something that we want, we do it because “that is what one does” or “that is what they do”.

We become mere numbers in the crowd, and live inauthentic lives. Heidegger contrasts this inauthentic Das Man with the authentic Dasein, or “owned self”.


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.


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Ready-to-hand and present-at-hand – Heidegger

Two of Heidegger’s most basic neologisms, present-at-hand and ready-to-hand, are used to describe various attitudes toward things in the world. We are constantly surrounded by “equipment” as stuff we can work with in a “context of significance”.

For Heidegger, most of the time we are involved in the world in an ordinary way or “ready-to-hand.” We are usually doing things with a view to achieving something. The being of the ready-to-hand announces itself as a field of equipment to be put to use.

Heidegger gives the example of a hammer. When we look at a hammer, our initial reaction is not to deconstruct it and break it down into what it is made of. We simply look at it as equipment to carry out tasks.

Ready-to-hand equipment

Let’s say an expert carpenter is hammering nails, after some time he’ll eventually start to forget about the existence of the hammer and can talk to his fellow carpenters or have his thoughts wander elsewhere, without necessarily being a subject contemplating the hammer (an object). The activity becomes a blur and reveals his surroundings. And by revealing one thing, one necessarily conceals and devalues another.

This is Heidegger’s crucial discovery, when look at our ready-to-hand relation to things, we just don’t find subjects contemplating objects.

However, what if the head flies off the hammer? It would immediately lose its usefulness and appear as merely “there”. Heidegger calls this being of an object “present-at-hand”. It happens when we regard an object in isolation and study it with an attitude like that of a scientist, of merely looking at the object’s bare facts as they are present.

This is not usually the way we see things in the world as. When a hammer breaks, it loses its usefulness and becomes present-at-hand. However, it also soon loses this mode of being present-at-hand and becomes something that must be replaced or repaired. In this case its Being may be seen as unreadiness-to-hand.

The ready-to-hand and present-at-hand levels represent the fundamental structure of Dasein’s being-in-the-world, with the more fundamental of the two, readiness-to-hand, being organised and arranged through Dasein’s care.

Heidegger wants us to discover the blurry areas of existence without the layers of perception that hinders experiencing the world fully.


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.


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Dasein and Being-in-the-world – Heidegger

The fundamental concept of Being and Time (Heidegger’s magnum opus) is the idea of Da-sein or “being-there”, which simply means existence, it is the experience of the human being.

The world is full of beings, but human beings are the only ones who care about what it means to be themselves.

“A human being is the entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue.”

Dasein and human beings are interrelated, without one another, there is no being and no meaning. Existence only exists within our being, and the reality without our being is irrelevant.

If a volcano were to erupt without us being there, would it actually have happened? Heidegger would tell us that it would simply be irrelevant.

“We are ourselves the entities to be analysed.”

Dasein is what is common to all of us, and it is what makes us entities.

Dasein is then not a disembodied, transcendent being, but rather the experience of being that is peculiar to human beings, an inherently social being that already operates with a pre-theoretical grasp of the a priori structures that make possible particular modes of Being.

Heidegger stresses it to be pre-theoretical because a theoretical structure would prevent us from seeing things as they are in themselves. This perspective can then allow things to show as they are in themselves and not through some kind of lens.

Being-in-the-world

Being-in-the-world

He associates Dasein as “Being-in-the-world”, they are often used hand-in-hand. Being-in-the-world is an existential concept that emphasises human existence as a state of living with a highly meaningful orientation. Each individual has a unique destiny to fulfil in this world.

This is an essential characteristic of Dasein. It is defined as an a-priori structure being “grounded” in the state of Being.

Being-in-the-world is Heidegger’s replacement for terms such as object, subject, consciousness, and world.

As mentioned before, Dasein is not a Being that can be observed, how can we then understand it? Heidegger would tell us to study beings, and especially what it is like to be a human being.

We need to look at what is unique about our situation as human beings. But what makes Dasein different from all other beings: rocks, plants, and animals?

To answer this, we must look into the various features of Dasein. These features always remain the same regardless of what time period it is in the world: whether its 1000 B.C. or the 21st century.

Feature 1. Being as an issue

The first feature of Dasein is that it is a “being as an issue for it”. It takes its own being as an issue; for it is ontological being. In other words, it asks questions about its own existence, it is always confronted with the question “what shall I be today, tomorrow or next year?”.

And these questions are to be answered by oneself, he calls it “mineness”. We have no other way of experiencing ourselves or the world as being in any other mode than our own existence.

Feature 2. Care

The second feature is “care or concern”. We not only find ourselves in the world, but we care about it as Being-in-the-world. Heidegger uses the word “care” as a technical term which has to do with our engagement with the world for various purposes.

Things are meaningful by themselves; meaning is not an add-on to existence, but rather the definition of existence. In other words, we are embedded in meaning, and there is no exit from making sense of one’s life.

To be a Dasein is to always be doing something and pointing towards something, to be a being that is constantly engaged in doing tasks that we care about. Therefore, the essence of Dasein is its existence. We are instantly turned into the structures of everydayness and being-in the-world.

What is important is that Dasein is its possibilities, it needs some context within which to work these out. In our case, as the beings that are being analysed, that context is the kind of world we find ourselves in.

Heidegger concludes that “care” is the primordial state of Being as Dasein strives towards authenticity.


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.


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“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

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Introduction to Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger is known as one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. Born in Germany in 1889, he is best known for his work in existentialism and phenomenology. Heidegger was influenced at an early age by the Greeks. Aristotle’s Metaphysics which talks about what it is that unites all possible modes of Being, is in many ways, the question that ignites and drives Heidegger’s philosophy.

The most fundamental philosophical question is: “Why does anything exist at all?” Or as Heidegger puts it, “what does it mean to be?”

He was fascinated by the Greeks and spend considerable time reflecting on ancient Greek thought. Heidegger’s thought is a sort of authentic retrieval of the past. He revived the question of Being, which had been largely forgotten by the metaphysical tradition existing from Plato to Descartes. This is why he is also considered as a hermeneut, as he played around with language whilst reinterpreting various philosophical texts.

Plato and Aristotle

William Dilthey who stressed the role of interpretation and history in the study of human activity profoundly influenced Heidegger.

Heidegger also studied the giants of existentialism Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and most importantly had been a student of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology.

Edmund Husserl

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. In other words, phenomenologists try to understand the phenomena that surrounds our lives, knowing that we live in a self-defined perceptual world.

Husserlian phenomenology proposes intentionality, which is the characteristic of consciousness whereby it is conscious of something. In other words, it’s directedness toward an object. Seeing man’s situation as that of a subject confronted by objects.

Heidegger began his existentialist philosophy with a profound rejection of this Cartesian dualism regarding object and subject and the distinction between mind and body, which can be traced back to rationalist thinker Descartes, who arrives at one single first principle of human existence: I think. Thought cannot be separated from me; therefore, I exist.

René Descartes

This makes up his famous philosophical statement: “I think, therefore I am”, separating subject from object, mind from body.

However, this self-conscious reflection does not exhaust our being. Heidegger says that before you think, you have to be.

In fact, most of the time we’re just busy getting “stuff” done. It’s this feature of us that Heidegger pays special attention to, the “everydayness” of human existence.

Prior to being a rational animal or a brain, we are firstly just Being. Heidegger tries to capture this Being before it is humanly defined.

Being and Time

Heidegger’s masterpiece Being and Time

His early work as a phenomenologist and university professor culminated in his masterpiece and one of the most significant works of contemporary European philosophy: Sein und Zeit (Being and Time).

It is a long and complex book. Many readers initially encounter its strange and peculiar vocabulary. However, he does use it rigorously and economically, so one gets used to his language. Heidegger’s intention is to reveal the hidden meanings of ordinary talk.

The depth of this work intended a profound change of direction for philosophy. Such was the depth of change that Heidegger found it necessary to introduce a large number of neologisms, often connected to idiomatic words and phrases in the German language.

In subsequent posts, we will be exploring the main ideas of his fascinating philosophy:

  1. Dasein and Being-in-the-world
  2. Ready-to-hand and present-at-hand
  3. Care structure (facticity and “thrownness”, existentiality and fallenness)
  4. Authenticity and inauthenticity and Being-toward-death
  5. Temporality
  6. The Turn, Technology and The Last God

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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.


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Finding Meaning in the Pursuit of Meaning

After studying philosophy and psychology by myself for a little less than a year. I’d like to share with you my views on life.

If I were to gave myself labels for my ever-changing and evolving philosophy of life, at this moment I’d consider myself as a mix of the following philosophies:

1. Absurdism

Finding meaning in the pursuit of meaning. Laughing at the comedy of existence, because behind it all, there is nothing. Recognising that the universe is at large indifferent. This is not a cause of conflict as I do not expect to seek meaning from the universe, neither do I believe in a God that can help me find meaning in it, there is no ultimate truth.

The contrary would be philosophical suicide, that is, shutting down one’s mental faculties believing in something that isn’t true but is easy and convenient for us to believe in. This would project us into a supernatural realm, undermining the value and grandeur of this life. We must strive to love this life as much as possible, as it is the only shot we get.

2. Nietschean

Creating value out of the abyss of life, through sheer will to power, which is the inherent condition of all life. Striving to the figure of the Ubermensch while knowing it never to be an end-goal. There is no end, other than Death. Death is something to be embraced, not something that causes anxiety and paralyses us. To recognise what to value in life in the context of the reality of death and of the suffering inherent to life, ultimately to love our fate (amor fati).

3. Stoicism

The stoics are often misunderstood. It is not meant to mean facing pain or hardship without the display of feeling and without complaint. That would be prejudicial as eliminating one’s emotions is bound to end in chaos. It is rather the domestication of your emotions, not the elimination of them.

It is not cold-hearted or lacks empathy but rather deals with life as it is, without illusions. Focusing on everything we can control and not the things we cannot control. Achieving excellence through the virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and temperance (self-control). Not becoming a slave to your vices.

4. Jungian psychology

The psyche is composed of the conscious and the unconscious. We must accept that we have no control over the unconscious and strive to reach individuation or self-realisation, knowing it to be a life-long process.

Avoiding as much as possible having a persona (a mask that conceals our true self), and integrating our shadow (the unknown dark side of the personality). Having a solid foundation in our psyche can help us become much more aware of who we truly are, and that there are elements in our psyche beyond our control.

5. Nihilist Realism

Nihilist realist in the sense that things are meaningful in themselves, it is not an add-on to existence but a phenomena of our mind, it does not exist without our Being as we are embedded in meaning, and there is no exit from making sense of one’s life. Therefore, there cannot be a lack of meaning as we are “condemned” to the pursuit of meaning which is inherent to life.

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your comments on your particular views of life.


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Kierkegaard and Nietzsche – Giants of Existentialism

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche provided the basic foundations of 19th century Existentialism. It is a philosophy that emphasises the existence of the individual as a free and responsible agent determining their own development.

We all suffer and enjoy the same condition, the human condition, and have done so since time immemorial.

Kierkegaard is commonly regarded as the Father of Existentialism. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard had very strong religious upbringings and both of them studied theology and philosophy planning to work in the Church as a minister and a pastor, respectively, but ultimately changed their minds.

Nietzsche was convinced that people created God and not the other way around. At the age of 20, he wrote to his sister Elisabeth, who was deeply religious, a letter regarding his loss of faith.

“Hence the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire.”

Nietzsche, Letter to His Sister (1865)

Kierkegaard on the other hand, wanted to follow his father’s footsteps and become a pastor. However, his hatred of Christendom, which was represented by the Danish Established Church, didn’t help him with becoming one.

The meaning of Kierkegaard’s whole life hung under a decision and he now saw that choice is everything. He wrote in his journals:

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

They both ended up savagely criticising Christianity, recognising that God no longer exists in the minds of most people. God had died in the hands of men. Kierkegaard’s country and religion were morally bankrupt, the established church made individuals lazy in their religion and many of the citizens were officially “Christians” without having any idea of what it meant to be one.

In 1840, almost one hundred years before it became a historic fact, Kierkegaard had prophesised nothing less than the “total bankruptcy toward which the whole of Europe seems to be heading.”

He wrote:

“So little do people understand me that they will not even understand my complaint that they do not understand me.”

In contemporary western society people go about their daily lives disregarding an all-powerful God, yet surprisingly, they proclaim their devotion to God when questioned. 

In other words, people live falsely religious lives. He hated the crowd and the social scene. When religion is integrated into society, the social scene becomes the religious scene, and for that reason, religion had died.

All extraordinary men who had previously lived, had aimed at spreading Christianity, his task was to put a halt to a lying diffusion of Christianity. For him, Christianity which wants every man to be an individual has been transformed by human bungling into precisely the opposite.

He wrote in his journals:

“My task is so new that in the 1800 years of Christianity there is literally no one from whom I can learn how to go about it.”

Kierkegaard feared that in modern consumer society the individual was becoming absorbed into the crowd, a mere member of a herd. The spiritual life of the individual was being stifled by communal, political, and religious illusions. He writes, it is:

“too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier and safer to be like the others, to become an imitation, a number, a cipher in the crowd.

The Sickness unto Death

Nietzsche also despised the herd mentality, he calls it a “slave morality”, which is at the very heart of Christianity. Thanks to the self-deception of the resentful man, weakness is turned into merit. He writes:

“I suffer: it must be somebody’s fault – so thinks every sick sheep. But his herdsman, the ascetic priest, says to him, “Quite so, my sheep, it must be the fault of someone; but thou thyself art that same one […]

Genealogy of Morals. Essay III: What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals? §15

However, despite their hatred towards Christianity – they both showed appreciation for Jesus.

Nietzsche presents a Christ whose own inner life consisted of:

“wit, the blessedness of peace, of gentleness, the inability to be an enemy.”

The Antichrist §29

And he goes on further saying that:

“The very word “Christianity” is a misunderstanding—at bottom there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.”

The Antichrist §39

Kierkegaard was a Christian, but a completely different one in his era. He wanted to become, as he put it: “a Christian in Christendom”. To live an authentically religious life while surrounded by people who are falsely religious

For Kierkegaard, the relationship with God is a personal matter, and he saw the established church as a distraction and interference from the personal relationship a true Christian must undertake.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche both felt that life is irrational. They were problem thinkers who chose not to follow the systematic approach to philosophy as their predecessors did. In this regard, they stood on common ground.

Both of them decided that alternatively, they could develop the other side of themselves, in which case they should remain outsiders.

They wrote extensively but only sold a few copies of their books and were not much recognised during their short lives.

Kierkegaard, like Nietzsche, collapsed in the street and shortly died after, refusing to take the last sacraments at the hands of a “state official”; and asked only to be remembered to all the people whom he had loved but who had never been able to understand his sufferings. Nietzsche collapsed in the street after seeing a horse being flogged by its owner, throwing himself towards the animal and embracing it, although this is a famous event – there is little evidence of it ever occurring. The episode seems similar to a passage which occurs early on in Crime and Punishment, a book of one of Nietzsche’s most revered writers: Dostoevsky. All we know is that shortly after, he remained in a near catatonic state for the last 11 years of his life.

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard never met and never could have met: Nietzsche was a boy eleven years old growing up in Germany when Kierkegaard died in his native Copenhagen. By the end of Nietzsche’s life, however, Kierkegaard was becoming known in Germany. In 1888, the year before the onslaught of Nietzsche’s madness, Danish intellectual Georg Brandes called the work of Kierkegaard to Nietzsche’s attention, he wrote the following letter:

“There is a Nordic writer, whose work would interest you, if it only was translated, Søren Kierkegaard; he lived from 1813-1855 and is, in my opinion, one of the most profound psychologists there is.”

Georg Brandes, Letter to Nietzsche – January 11th  1888.

Nietzsche wrote a letter back to him, stating:

“During my next journey to Germany I plan to study the psychological problem of Kierkegaard, also to renew my acquaintance with your earlier writings. This will be, in the best sense of the word, useful to me – and will serve to “bring home” to me the severity and arrogance of my own judgments. […]”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Letter to Georg Brandes – Nice, February 19, 1888.

Unfortunately, it was too late for Nietzsche as he fell into insanity soon after.

The Roots of Divergence

In much Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are alike, in the moral decline of society and the corruption of religion, in their existential orientation and in their psychological interests, however they were absolutely opposed on what it means to live a human life to the fullest.

This is largely precipitated by Nietzsche’s complete disillusionment with religion in contrast to Kierkegaard’s continued faith in the existence of God.

For Kierkegaard, Christ is the absurd paradox, that God became man. The notion of the Godman is both beautiful and haunting in Kierkegaard. It is too absurd to be defended with rational arguments, it is a matter of a leap of faith, and this is the highest form of human life, that frees us from despair.

For Nietzsche, the death of God is a historical event in response to the decline of Christianity with the Enlightenment bringing about scientific rationality. God, who played a central role in most people’s lives, has now become one of many facets of some people’s lives.

There are still believers and churches, but god no longer defines the role of our world, it is for this reason that god is dead.

This represents a crisis in the existing moral values opening the possibility for nihilism. Nietzsche’s ubermensch or overman is meant to be the solution to nihilism, one who puts faith in himself and creates his own meaning and value. Thus, man must become God.

“Man is something to be overcome. Man is a rope tied between the animal and the Overman – a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.”

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Kierkegaard tells us that man cannot in any way become God, and a central feature of despair is the inability of a person to manufacture his own identity, something essential is missing, something that would prevent you from simply demolishing the ideal and beginning all over again with a new ideal, such a person lacks something “eternally firm”.

To become truly oneself, an individual – man must stand before God transparently and in truth, with the only self that exists being God’s infinite self, the self that overwhelms our self.

“The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing: every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.

The Sickness unto Death

Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard saw the problem of religious downfall as an opportunity for renewal in Christian beliefs, a chance to embrace Christianity’s original teachings and return to a dynamic and living faith. In his critique of modern-day religious expansion, he claimed the very dominance of Christianity over his country showed that it is not the way of the few.

As a direct consequence of this widespread moral decline, Kierkegaard stressed the subjective truth over the objective truth. Subjectivity is one of his most recurrent themes.

Truth is not just a matter of discovering objective facts. While objective facts are important, there is a second and more crucial element of truth, which involves how one relates oneself to those facts. Since how one acts is, from the ethical perspective, more important than any matter of fact, truth is to be found in subjectivity rather than objectivity.

While he did believe in the objective truth of Christian theism, he emphasised its personal power to existentially transform the individual. This became the panacea for restoring human salvation through absolute faith in conviction. Kierkegaard called for a leap of faith: to strive for the attainment of a purely Christian life. 

Reason has no place in faith, as God is beyond reason. Kierkegaard rejected both the rationalist tradition and systematic philosophies because they used abstract concepts that had nothing to do with everyday existence. Devotion to a single external principle allows one’s self-identity to remain firm and unwavering in a fluid and unstable environment. Without this external pillar of strength Kierkegaard believed man would be trapped in a state of despair, with no firm basis for the construction of self-identity.

Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s solution was an antithesis to Kierkegaard’s faith. God is a concept of our own creation, we can no longer base our moral beliefs on the idea of a divine, omnipotent being.

Christianity had at its base a slave morality which resents the virtues of the powerful and promotes turning the other cheek.

Nietzsche was appalled by this, he calls for the master morality, which does not intend to oppress others, but rather create new values and ways of life.

While both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche discouraged adherence to the dominant ethos, Nietzsche demanded a renunciation of all established values. He called for a “Revaluation of All Values”.

A new paradigm of thought with human creativity and the creation of new values and meaning. He seeks to offer an alternative in the absence of a divine order so human beings might stop turning their eyes toward a supernatural realm and begin to acknowledge and embrace the value of this world.

In order to avert the nihilism caused by the death of god, he proposes the highest life-affirming individual who loves life and embraces his fate – the ubermensch. A man whose values are independent from external values and affirms life without resentment. One who acknowledges and celebrates the Will to Power.

The Will to Power is the fundamental component of human identity and a psychological analysis of all human action.

It is a constant self-overcoming of an individual for his own sake with power and growth as the driving forces of an individual. Anything not in a state of growth reverts to a state of decay.

The ubermensch who celebrates the will to power is a self-possessed man who has no fear of other men, of himself, or of death and whose simple personality changes the lives of those who meet him and even imposes itself in their minds.

The emphasis on power and sheer force of will is a key factor in Nietzsche’s divergence from Kierkegaard’s philosophy.

Our Present Course

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog – Caspar D. Friedrich

We face a crossroads at the dawn of the 21st century. The rapid advances and widespread successes of modern science force us to examine the same questions posed by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. As the domain of science grows ever more rapidly in explaining the features and behaviours of the empirical world, there is no need for appeal to God or any other transcendental reality.

Is a return to a Christian worldview objectively possible? In the absence of a religious model to explain the universe, can those who do not possess such a faith in God construct their own moral standards, value and meaning to fill the nihilistic void? This issue is so vital, that it reaffirms the crucial importance of both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in modern-day society.


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Kierkegaard and Nietzsche | Giants of Existentialism

Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche provided the basic foundations of 19th century Existentialism. They can both be considered as the Giants of Existentialism.


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Lovecraftian Cosmicism – Existentialism, Absurdism and Nihilism

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American writer of weird and horror fiction, who is known for his creation of what became the Cthulhu Mythos and the creator of the literary philosophy known as Cosmicism, emphasising the cosmic horror of the unknown.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927)

H. P. Lovecraft

The main idea in Cosmicism is that there is no god in the universe and that human beings are insignificant in the vast realms of space and time. Some of Lovecraft’s greatest work portrays us human beings as ants on a vast stage. The main theme being humanity’s fear of their insignificance in the face of an incomprehensibly large universe: a fear of the cosmic void.

We are going to be exploring this peculiar philosophy and its similarities with absurdism, existentialism, and nihilism.

These three movements arose from the human experience of anguish and confusion stemming from the Absurd, ultimately diverging to different perspectives on life.

But before this, I’d like to give a brief new perspective on what could be improved from the definition of these three movements explained by Nihilist Enigma:

In this framework, Existentialism is viewed as the pursuit of meaning (most often in the context of death and or suffering).

Nihilism is recognising the reality that meaning is a phenomena of mind. That, in other words, meaning is not a thing that exists in any other context beyond minds.  

And absurdism as being defined in the adherence to existentialism, despite the reality of nihilism.

In other words, the nature of absurdism is in the stark contrast between the seeming meaninglessness of the universe, and our endeavour to forge it.

It is the pursuit of meaning, with awareness of the reality that existence precedes the creation of meaning.

If you are interested in learning more about this, check out Nihilist Enigma.

But for now, let’s move on to the current belief of absurdism, existentialism, and nihilism.

Absurdism

Sisyphus | Characteristics, Family, & Myth | Britannica
Sisyphus

Albert Camus, who gave rise to the philosophy of Absurdism, describes the Absurd in The Myth of Sisyphus as:

“the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.”

In other words, the inherent meaninglessness in the universe in which humans, nevertheless, are compelled to find or create meaning. In The Stranger, he refers to the universe as a “benign indifference”.

The solution to the absurd is embracing it as a human condition, without falling into the trap of physical suicide (which is going along with the absurd) and philosophical suicide (which is believing in a ready-made belief system).

Camus proposes us to rebel against the Absurd creating our own meaning, while simultaneously accepting it as a reality. In this way, the pursuit of inherent meaning is not possible, but the pursuit itself may be meaningful.

This is the only way our resolution to seek meaning can be found, until one is inevitably annihilated by death – rendering the activity “ultimately” meaningless.

Camus devalues or rejects free will, encouraging that the individual live authentically and defiantly in spite of the psychological tension of the Absurd.

Existentialism

Existentialism - Wikipedia
Existentialists

In Existentialism we can find two different paths: monotheistic existentialism and atheistic existentialism.

Monotheistic existentialism is most commonly associated with Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote extensively on the absurdity of the world a century before Albert Camus. He proposes that one can only find inherent meaning in the universe through a leap of faith, believing in God – instead of embracing the absurd, which he regarded as “demoniac madness” in the Sickness unto Death.

Atheistic existentialism strongly diverges from this point of view – this path is mainly attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche.

Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche provided the basic foundations of 19th century Existentialism, with Atheistic existentialism being formally recognised after the publication of Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre in the 20th century.

Without God, however, there is no inherent meaning in the universe – this became a reality, expressed in Nietzsche’s proclamation of the Death of God, with the decline of Christianity opening the possibility for the void of existence.

Nihilism

The Difference Between Nihilism, Pessimism, Cynicism, and Skepticism |  Daniel Miessler
Nihilism

Of all types of nihilism (epistemological, metaphysical, moral, and so on), we are going to focus on existential nihilism, which has received the most literary and philosophical attention. It is the belief that we are insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in existence’s totality.

We sometimes experience an existential crisis, a state in which we re-examine our life in the context of death and are impacted by the contemplation of the meaning, purpose, or value of life.

This opens the possibility for passivity (a sign to stop the search for meaning) or to find a meaning regardless of the meaninglessness of life. Nietzsche who was the first philosopher to seriously study and write about existential nihilism, tells us to create new values, through self-overcoming and being one’s autonomous creator – avoiding passive nihilism.

In Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the main character can be seen as achieving a superhuman status because he laughs at the comedy of existence, including his own existence, because he knows that in the background there is nothing but absurdity and emptiness.

If you are interested in learning more about this, I have made a post specifically on Nietzsche’s notion of Superhuman Laughter.

The very goal of atheistic existentialism is then precisely this meaning-making in a world without inherent meaning, through an individual’s free will.

Let’s now move to Lovecraft’s Cosmicism. Although it is a literary philosophy, it has some interesting parallels with the other three philosophies mentioned earlier.

In Cosmicism, one is not to feel terror of the absence of meaning, but rather of one’s powerlessness in the vast, indifferent universe that one is surrounded by. This is similar to Camus’ “benign indifference” of the world.

Cosmicism shares some characteristics with existential nihilism. However, an important difference is the emphasis on the insignificance of humanity and its doings, rather than rejecting the existence of a higher purpose.

Lovecraft wrote a famous statement when he submitted his first major story on this subject in The Call of Cthulhu, which encompasses the main idea of his philosophy:

“[…] all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large … To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all […]”

Lovecraft had a pretty bleak view of life therefore Cosmicism may strike one as nihilistic and extremely pessimistic, however this is not quite so. Lovecraft thought of himself as neither a pessimist nor an optimist but rather as a “cosmic” indifferentist, a theme expressed in his fiction.

Things are important to humans on the human scale, but we simply don’t matter in the cosmos.

Lovecraft created his own fictional universe with powerful extraterrestrial beings and other cosmic forces, which function as symbols for the extent to which we don’t know about the universe, emerging from the depths of space and having accidental relations with human beings, casting us aside as if we were mere ants. In other words, they are not so much malevolent as they are indifferent toward humanity.

H.P. Lovecraft Print - The Art of Matthew Childers
Lovecraft

We can have no view of the scheme of things or our place in it because there may be no such scheme. The final result of scientific inquiry could well be that the universe is a lawless chaos. This is a disturbing vision with which Lovecraft would struggle throughout his life.

Lovecraft believed myth existed in order to shield the human mind from reality, however his own mythos seems to do the opposite: the “Outside” is more frightening than the world in which human beings live.

Universe

Many philosophies and religions are focused on the human, that humanity is the aim and end of everything, Lovecraft says no – that we are mere little specks in the midst of the Cosmos, and that there is so much out there that has nothing to do with us. He was a strong and antireligious atheist, considering religion not merely false but dangerous to social and political progress.

On the other hand, although fascinated by science, he was sceptical of our ability to cope with scientific discoveries that would reduce our inflated self-importance in the universe. In the opening paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu”, he states:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

The crucial question here seems to be whether there can be in principle any fact, any phenomenon or any knowledge that would really have for humankind in general, or for that vanguard who will have to bear the brunt of “first contact” with alien spheres and the unknown, such devastating consequences as set in this quotation.

This idea has never happened in human existence, even with such harsh blows to human pride as those struck by Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, none of which caused any such reaction of cosmic despair, but rather rage. In other words, to settle the matter of science and truth into a matter of politics.

In Lovecraft’s fiction “hideous” knowledge is suppressed and locked up, but in our world, what was outrageous to one generation has been accepted almost as a banality by the next.

The human mind is not the centre of the universe. For Lovecraft, human beings are too feeble to shape a coherent view of the universe. He describes humanity as:

“miserable denizens of a wretched little flyspeck on the back door of a microscopic universe.”

This is a refreshing alternative to the anthropocentric philosophies in which so many find intellectual reassurance. It may seem an unsettling view of things; but an inhuman cosmos need not be as horrific as Lovecraft seems to have found it.

One might strike him as misanthropic, but this isn’t quite right – a true misanthrope would find the inhumanity of the universe liberating. There is no intrinsic reason why a universe in which people are marginal should be a horror-inducing place. A world vastly larger and stranger than any the human mind can contain could just as well evoke a sense of excitement or an acceptance of mystery.

Rejecting any belief in meaning beyond the human world, he also rejected the meanings human beings make for themselves. He had no interest in the lives of most people, and from his early years seems to have believed his own would count for very little. He was left without any sense of significance.

So, obeying an all-too-human impulse, he created his own realm of dark forces as a shelter from the deadly light of universal indifference, as a way of expressing this confusing and contradictory reality.

It seems that he found his way to express the paradoxical claim that the absence of meaning to be some sort of meaning.

Lovecraft’s indifference of the cosmos and the insignificance of human beings in it might be imbued with an overwhelming negative feeling. However, it might be argued that conventional religion puts mankind in a much worse position. For compared to an infinite being: omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God, man as a finite being is much more insignificant. Psychologically it is quite satisfying to give oneself up to a powerful father-figure, and a consolation to have been created in “God’s image” and therefore to partake a little of His properties.

But is it really as depressing as Lovecraft puts it? Can a world without God, where there exists only a number of other finite species in the universe, perhaps wiser and more powerful than us, but in principle of the same limited and finite nature, however strange in appearance, and therefore logically more similar to us strike as much fear as an all-powerful God?

This non-existence of absolute values in the cosmos might very well guarantee our independence and autonomy and our freedom to establish our own meaning and value, unfettered by external laws imposed on us by a god.

That is, it could be a source of extreme optimism, a feeling of freedom – to construct and to pursue our meaning, ultimately serving as a resolution to our desire to seek meaning in an apparently meaningless universe.


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Lovecraftian Cosmicism | Existentialism, Absurdism and Nihilism

This video explores the peculiar philosophy of cosmicism and its similarities with absurdism, existentialism, and nihilism, three movements that arose from the human experience of anguish and confusion stemming from the Absurd, ultimately diverging to different perspectives on life.

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“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

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