Ryerson Computer Science CPHL605: Existentialism

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1 Immanuel Kant


  • pre-existentialism; essence-based philosophy
  • first modern thinker on human relationships and morals

Critique of Pure Reason

  • influenced by British Empiricism who claimed that A POSTERIORI (knowledge from the senses) is the only legitimate form of knowledge
  • argued that A PRIORI (knowledge prior to sensation) was legitimate, though not provable
  • also argued that God cannot be proved or disproved; must be accepted "on faith"
  • critical of the Empiricists' "thinking God into existence"
  • heavily influenced also by Newton and his laws of physics - thought that there must be a parallel for what drives humans

Critique of Practical Reason

  • focused on rational faculty of human conduct
  • ideal of freem of will means WILLING obediance to moral law
  • act only on maxims or principles that could be accepted by every person -- UNIVERSALLY

2 Friedrich Schleiermacher

  • suggested that religion is a "lived" experience (subjective, unique to each person), not to be directed by dogmas
  • tried to move religion out of the domain of knowlege and morals, cannot be confined to any single department of human selfhood, rather underlies the whole of it
  • this is a hesitant departure, but departure nonetheless from essence-based philosophy, thus perhaps F.S. the first existentialist philosopher

3 Soren Kierkegaard

  • religious truth is subjective
  • 3 stages of authentic self-hood:
    1. aesthetic
    2. ethical
    3. religious
  • full realization of authentic selfhood requires "leap of faith"

4 Friedrich Nietzsche

  • pastor father died when Nietzsche was 6 - event likely shaped his life and how he viewed religion and God (why would God take his father)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

  • God is no longer a concept deserving serious philosophical attention
  • suggests that waning Christian morals "killed God"
  • clear departure from essence-based philosophy; in existentialist territory
  • authentic human experience, ideal, transcendance to Ubermensche (over-man), higher level of morality, "beyond good and evil"

5 Jaspers

  • god speaks through ciphers, displayed in all forms of being: history, art, nature, etc
  • felt that people should not try to translate
  • said that myths are the means by which people can gain access to ultimate reality

6 Heidegger

  • brilliant existentialist thinker
  • was a nazi

7 Jean-Paul Sartre

  • considered 'classic' example of modern existentialist
  • asserted that human existence comes before essence (main tenet of existentialism)
  • discussions of God not considered useful philosophical exercises
  • if we are completely free, then we may be in a valueless universe
  • you are responsible; you have the right and duty to choose
  • wrote "Nausea"; character discovers that life is meaningless; "hell is other people"


  • facticity is that about ourselves that we cannot change; like race, gender, nationality, etc
  • everything else is a choice