1. Joined
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    30 Jan '06 02:29
    “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself afterwards.”

    --Jean-Paul Sartre


    I believe that Sartre is correct and that man is “thrust into” existence. After all, did you ask to be born? Was it your hope, desire, or aspiration to live the human experience? You may well tell me that being born was a boon, but I promise you that you reached that conclusion only after you first grappled with the mere state of existing, of being. At first, I struggled with Sartre’s statement that “existence precedes and rules essence” because I think it is clear that upon accepting this statement, one is flat-out rejecting the possibility that absolute moral values exist. If you accept that existence precedes essence, then absolute moral values cannot exist because you are denying the notion that man has any sort of predetermined nature; as a result, you are denying that there exists any unchanging moral code that delineates what a man necessarily ought to be.

    This is hard to swallow because it leads to the conclusion attributed (wrongly??) to Dostoevsky that “…everything would be permitted.” Indeed, if absolute moral values do not exist, then you must be prepared to entertain the notion of a perfectly possible world in which, eg., The Holocaust would be just fine and dandy, or in which murder, rape, and genocide would all be morally permissible. Whether or not this possible world may ever actually obtain is irrelevant: the point is that you must concede that such a world is indeed possible, conceivable. That is very disheartening, and Sartre well captures this feeling or forlornness when he writes that man is “condemned to be free”:

    “Dostoevsky once wrote ‘If God did not exist, everything would be permitted’; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. [Commentary added by LemonJello: please note, however, that existentialism does not necessarily imply atheism.] Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse. For if indeed existence precedes essence, one will never be able to explain one's actions in reference to a given and specific human nature; in other words there is no determinism - man is free, man is freedom. Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exists, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimate our behaviour. This we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse. We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything that he does.”

    I think many people (a vast majority??) would say that objective moral values do exist and that such “possible” worlds as I described above are not possible at all. I disagree and would rather say that such worlds are possible but extraordinarily unlikely. But then the question is: if indeed everything is possibly permissible, then why are such possible worlds so unlikely? Well, as Sartre says, one exists and then defines himself. And I think that the initial process of learning to exist and coexist as a human necessarily imbues one with a certain mindset that affects the subsequent process of defining oneself. In particular, I think that one learns that acting rationally and in accordance with certain deontological principles promotes existence. In particular, Kant presents a coherent case that one is only acting rationally when one adheres to certain deontological principles. These deontological principles basically collapse into the “golden rule” and an unwavering respect for the autonomy of others, which most people agree is more or less common sense. But note that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” says nothing of absolute morality. It is an unchanging deontological principle, but if anything it reflects the fact that what a person would desire to be done unto them need not be absolute in any sense of the word. However, since a common goal of each human is perpetuating his own existence, it seems only natural that the way in which one would desire to be treated by others should necessarily be consonant with a state of perpetuating existence. Thus, the aforementioned possible worlds are very unlikely indeed if people act rationally and in a way that promotes human existence, which most people do. I also do not think the notion that the process of existing necessarily leads to the adoption of certain deontological principles contradicts the idea that man has no predetermined essence: if anything, it only reinforces Sartre’s notion that man’s first task (by necessity) is existing.

    This post is a complete and utter disorganized and gooey mess. Cheers to those who are still reading. By way of conclusion, I agree with Sartre that existence precedes essence and that morality is neither objective nor predetermined. But we must keep in mind that we are all humans trudging through a thoroughly human existence, and it should be little surprise that in practice rational persons hold very similar ideas concerning what constitutes acceptable behavior. Also, please keep in mind that denying the existence of predetermined human essence and absolute moral values is not even remotely the same as saying that all actions are permissible or acceptable. Rather, the existentialist is charged with the task of defining himself; and in defining himself, he defines all men. From there, one must fight for what he thinks is right.

    I am sure there are many, many dissenting opinions, and I hope to hear some of them.
  2. Standard memberBosse de Nage
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    30 Jan '06 07:30
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    ...one learns that acting rationally and in accordance with certain deontological principles promotes existence. [..]But note that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” says nothing of absolute morality.[...]...the existentialist is charged with the task of defining himself; and in defining himself, he defines all men. From there, one must fight for what he thinks is right.
    "Nothing is true; everything is permissible," said the Old Man of the Mountains.

    The Golden Rule is ambiguous, as you point out--if I were a polymorphously perverse cannibal sociopath, like Albert Fish, I would be pleased if others attempted to harm and consume me, for it would add spice to existence. Fish, the oldest man to be sent to the electric chair, went gleefully to his death, claiming that this would be the crowning experience of his long life. However, for reasons I cannot explain, I am most unlike Fish in that I would rather promote existence than destroy or consume it...my application of the Golden Rule is necessarily different.

    I differ with Sartre in that, rather than seeking to define myself. I want to deconstruct myself progressively, clearing myself of illusion with sweeping blasts of the phaser that is my conscious attention. In not defining myself, I think I am doing others a service, too, by not forcing them to define themselves against me--they are free to pass through me, as through a fog. That doesn't mean that I can't recognise opportunities for harmonious engagement with others.

    Well, I started writing, and look where it got me. All I can say is that the horror that moral relativism is greeted has always nonplussed me, because I see it as freedom.
  3. Forgotten
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    30 Jan '06 08:11
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself afterwards.”

    --Jean-Paul Sartre


    I believe that Sartre is correct and that man is “thrust into” existence. After all, did you ask to be born? Was it your hope, desire, or aspiration to live the human experience? You may well tell me that being born wa ...[text shortened]... right.

    I am sure there are many, many dissenting opinions, and I hope to hear some of them.
    Are there cliff notes available for the post??So I won't have to read all this??
    Freakin Lemon Shakespear here (JK)😉
  4. Hmmm . . .
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    30 Jan '06 16:21
    Originally posted by Bosse de Nage
    "Nothing is true; everything is permissible," said the Old Man of the Mountains.

    The Golden Rule is ambiguous, as you point out--if I were a polymorphously perverse cannibal sociopath, like Albert Fish, I would be pleased if others attempted to harm and consume me, for it would add spice to existence. Fish, the oldest man to be sent to the electric ...[text shortened]... rror that moral relativism is greeted has always nonplussed me, because I see it as freedom.
    I differ with Sartre in that, rather than seeking to define myself. I want to deconstruct myself progressively, clearing myself of illusion with sweeping blasts of the phaser that is my conscious attention.

    Wow! Now we have a real thesis and antithesis—if I may, existentialism versus Zen. Since they are two “favorites” that I keep coming back to—

    Let me try to offer a synthesis: If one does not go through the process of deconstructing what I call one’s fabricated or artifactual self (which Zennist call the small-i, or ego-self, etc.) in order to see the illusory (i.e., artifactual and transitory) nature of it, how can one begin to freely and truly take on the existential task of creation? (“Man is the only creature which must create himself.” Ortega y Gasset.) The process of deconstructing is a willing process of dis-illusionment, recognizing all those “i-thoughts” as just that: another thought. What is behind all those thoughts, images and words? What is the ground from whence they arise? And, vis-à-vis existentialism, can one become aware of that ground without violating Sartre’s insistence on the intentionality of consciousness?

    After “deconstruction” (which, in Zen terms, would be after the experience of kensho or satori), one can make anything one wants, realizing that all such makings are transitory and artifactual. Play in maya, in maya-making.

    Does all of this violate the principle of “existence precedes essence?” Well, I guess it does, since Zen posits an ineffable (ineffable, if for no other reason that than it’s the “all-of-all-of-it” and there are no contrast/comparison handles to “eff” onto) ground of being from which we, as existents, are thrown up like waves on the ocean. Maya consists in seeing the waves as “separate” and perhaps as permanent. As conscious waves, we use this time to play in the separateness—then are particular existence collapses, and...

    But that is why Zen also calls the essence “void.” “Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form” (Heart Sutra, I think). We do not remember anything before we were born, because there is no for—no we—to remember. We find ourselves thrust into an existence we do not understand. During our formative years—through education and conditioning and cultural osmosis—we acquire an artifactual self not entirely of our own making, but at least with our participation. Until we can see that artifactual self for what it is, we cannot truly engage in the existential “self-making” project.

    ____________________________________________

    Two asides: Sartre has too much anguish for me. Camus seems to have learned more from Nietzsche—the possibility of amor fati as an existential attitude.

    Camus says: “I want to know if it is possible to live without appeal.” I want to know if it is possible to do so passionately and joyfully, while knowing that it is an exercise in maya in any event. (If it’s enjoyable to argue about the moon, then do so as long as it’s fun—but when it gets serious, let it go!) And if it’s not possible—then perhaps that’s my Camusian revolt! Viva la absurd!

    Well, the Zen master seem to be a pretty joyful bunch all in all...

    _____________________________________________

    This has probably been just some mind-meanderings that I foist on you by writing and posting them. But thanks to you both.
  5. Standard memberPalynka
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    30 Jan '06 16:54
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    I agree with Sartre that existence precedes essence and that morality is neither objective nor predetermined. But we must keep in mind that we are all humans trudging through a thoroughly human existence, and it should be little surprise that in practice rational persons hold very similar ideas concerning what constitutes acceptable behavior.
    Great posts by the usual suspects.

    I disagre that morality is not predetermined or that the idea that existence precedes essence means that it rules essence. Simply because everyone is a product of not only its own rationality, but is conditioned by the conditions in which he exists.

    This amounts to a certain Darwinistic notion of morality, where some types of behaviour are muffled by the dominant notion of morality, reducing the possibilities of propagation of such deviant (in the sense of different from the majority) behaviour to the point where they become dominant.

    This means that in a great number of cases, internal morality faces external morality and either adapts, hides or confronts. From confrontation may result an evolution of the existing morality, thus the trend (not without fluctuation) of evolution in time of a dominant morality.

    This does not say that we have imprinted in us an absolute morality, but it underlines the idea that a global steady-state of morality is possible where the deviant behaviours will no longer be sufficient to create enough relevant fluctuations since the global level of this dominant morality is too wide and deviant individuals too dispersed to create sufficient pressure.

    Note that this can be true even if there is no ex-ante trend of morality in humans. It only suffices the "system" to have a tendency to converge towards the majority and a certain randomness in each individual.

    I've also commited the sin of thinking while typing, hence the chaotic reasoning.
  6. Hmmm . . .
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    30 Jan '06 17:02
    Yesterday, after too much “worrying about that moon,” I went outside, gathered my tools—axe; heavy, broad-headed splitting maul; wedges and sledge—and spent the sunshine spitting wood. Ah, the feeling when you get the stroke just right, allowing your body and not just your eyes to focus on the cut, and the wood just separates easily, the axe-blade embedded in the block at the end of the blow, with no jarring of the wrists or elbows. The occasional experience of what athletes call being “in the zone.”

    And then a mis-stroke, when the old back injury cries out painfully: “Careful, you fool! Don’t tear the ligaments again!”

    But this next lovely round of oak—I just know that the axe will slip through this one like light through creekwater...

    And I think of the old Zen saying: “What miracles! I chop wood; I carry water!” Who is to say that this is not a kind of “liturgy?”

    Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. (Form is also form; and emptiness, emptiness.)

    ________________________________________

    Sorry, guys—but that’s where this thread has taken me. I’m off to stack some wood...
  7. Hmmm . . .
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    30 Jan '06 17:07
    Originally posted by Palynka
    Great posts by the usual suspects.

    I disagre that morality is not predetermined or that the idea that existence precedes essence means that it rules essence. Simply because everyone is a product of not only its own rationality, but is conditioned by the conditions in which he exists.

    This amounts to a certain Darwinistic notion of morality, where some ...[text shortened]... ividual.

    I've also commited the sin of thinking while typing, hence the chaotic reasoning.
    And another one by another one of the "usual suspects!"

    Now that I've rec'd all three of you, I really am off to stacking wood...
  8. Joined
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    30 Jan '06 23:43
    Originally posted by Bosse de Nage
    "Nothing is true; everything is permissible," said the Old Man of the Mountains.

    The Golden Rule is ambiguous, as you point out--if I were a polymorphously perverse cannibal sociopath, like Albert Fish, I would be pleased if others attempted to harm and consume me, for it would add spice to existence. Fish, the oldest man to be sent to the electric ...[text shortened]... rror that moral relativism is greeted has always nonplussed me, because I see it as freedom.
    That's interesting you mentioned Fish. I was just reading about his colorful life the other day on crimelibrary.com. Needless to say, his bio is under the "Truly Weird & Shocking" category.

    I differ with Sartre in that, rather than seeking to define myself. I want to deconstruct myself progressively, clearing myself of illusion with sweeping blasts of the phaser that is my conscious attention.

    This deconstruction process is a noble pursuit. It seems that one is not only thrust into the state of existing, but also thrust into a set of circumstances and cultural surroundings over which he initially has no control. Your momma's milk becomes food for the body while a whole bunch of nonsensical crap from all manner of external sources becomes food for the malleable mind. You reach a scary point (or at least I did) when you suddenly realize that maybe not even one of "your beliefs" is really your belief. Come to think of it, such a deconstruction phase is probably essential. That is, the man is confronted with existing, then deconstructing (when he can purge all the excrementitious, illusory hogwash fed to him, if any), then defining himself.

    In not defining myself, I think I am doing others a service, too, by not forcing them to define themselves against me--they are free to pass through me, as through a fog.

    I can see the allure of not defining oneself, and I certainly see how that would foster a state of mutual respect for the autonomy of others -- after all, if man has no definition in mind of what he ought to be, then he certainly has no basis for presuming to tell other men what they ought to be. Truthfully, I think it would be wonderful to simply live -- without definitions.

    However, I think Sartre would say that such a state is an unstable equilibrium. The moment one man defines himself, then "anguish" gets the better of him. I basically view anguish as the manifestation of what Sartre means when he says that in defining himself, man defines all men:

    "The Existentialists say at once that man is anguish. What that means is this: the man who involves himself and who realizes that he is not only the person he chooses to be, but also a lawmaker who is, at the same time, choosing all mankind as well as himself, cannot escape the feeling of his total and deep responsibility."

    The implication Sartre is trying to make is that man cannot define himself and then keep silent about it. He cannot stand idly by and watch others fail to conform to his definition because an uneasy conscience will get the better of him. So the moment this one man makes his definition known and tries to "enforce" it, then others (to preserve their autonomy) are essentially forced to repose and evaluate his claims. Thus the others are forced into the definition process as well, and you can see the cyclic process that arises that leaves no man without the need to define himself. At least, I think this is what Sartre might say. Personally, I find the "anguish" talk the least compelling part of Sartre's discourse. And you bring up a good point when you imply that the definition process may not be necessary at all. Theoretically, I don't think it is necessary. Realistically, though, when one is thrust into this world, where opinions concerning how you should live are a dime a dozen and pummelled at you from all sides, I think a case could be made that one is thrust into the process of defining oneself just as much as he is thrust into the process of existing.
  9. Joined
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    31 Jan '06 00:082 edits
    Originally posted by Palynka
    Great posts by the usual suspects.

    I disagre that morality is not predetermined or that the idea that existence precedes essence means that it rules essence. Simply because everyone is a product of not only its own rationality, but is conditioned by the conditions in which he exists.

    This amounts to a certain Darwinistic notion of morality, where some ividual.

    I've also commited the sin of thinking while typing, hence the chaotic reasoning.
    That was a damn fine post.

    Your remarks are reminiscent of something Bosse was referring to with his talk of "deconstruction". Namely, that not only is man thrust into existence, but also thrust into a particular set of cultural surroundings that are largely beyond his control. And I agree that this type of "conditioning" plays a major role in bringing about a certain type of herd mentality and a Darwinstic progression. All the more reason, I think, for undertaking the deconstruction process.
  10. Joined
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    31 Jan '06 01:42
    Originally posted by vistesd
    Yesterday, after too much “worrying about that moon,” I went outside, gathered my tools—axe; heavy, broad-headed splitting maul; wedges and sledge—and spent the sunshine spitting wood. Ah, the feeling when you get the stroke just right, allowing your body and not just your eyes to focus on the cut, and the wood just separates easily, the axe-blade embedded ...[text shortened]... _______

    Sorry, guys—but that’s where this thread has taken me. I’m off to stack some wood...
    🙂

    Who is to say that this is not a kind of “liturgy?”

    On my last trip to Yosemite, my brother and I hiked up to the highest accessible point in the park. Starting on the valley floor, we made our way to the mirror-like Sunrise Lakes and then up to Cloud's Rest, the peak of which dwindles out into a wispy little rock ledge that is an acrophobe's worst nightmare. Thousands of feet of rocky plunge on both sides, we sat and shared a slab of Muenster, while wondering how ice of all things could carve such a swath as the valley below us. Not before the wind stole my hat forever, we hiked back down to catch the day's last glimpse of sun from a rocky perch above the Sunrise Lakes. I think that Sunday at Yosemite was more spiritual than all my childhood Sundays combined. For me, a good hike outdoors is like a good session with the axe.
  11. Hmmm . . .
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    31 Jan '06 03:03
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    🙂

    [b]Who is to say that this is not a kind of “liturgy?”


    On my last trip to Yosemite, my brother and I hiked up to the highest accessible point in the park. Starting on the valley floor, we made our way to the mirror-like Sunrise Lakes and then up to Cloud's Rest, the peak of which dwindles out into a wispy little rock ledge that is an acropho ...[text shortened]... hildhood Sundays combined. For me, a good hike outdoors is like a good session with the axe.[/b]
    A bit of synchronicity?

    Tonight I pulled a book off the shelf that I hadn’t read in some years: Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor. I immediately (re)discovered that he translates dukka, not as suffering, but as anguish.

    And he speaks of Buddhism, before it becomes corrupted by “religiosity,” as being a method and means (the dharma) of existential confrontation, rather than consolation. His treatment of craving, as the source of anguish, is also existential: craving is rooted in our attempts to escape from, distract ourselves from, console ourselves from the existential dilemma of having been born into a world not of our own choosing and being faced with the inevitability of death—of the uncontrollable, transient flux. This treatment of craving (and I’m not very far into the book yet) seems to have some analogy perhaps to Heidegger’s inauthenticity and Sartre’s mauvoise foi.

    A quote from the book:

    “When asked what he was doing, the Buddha replied that he taught ‘anguish and the ending of anguish.’ When asked about metaphysics (the origin and end of the universe, the identity or difference of body and mind, his existence or nonexistence after death), he remained silent. He said the dharma was permeated by a single taste: freedom. He mad no claims to uniqueness or divinity, and did not have recourse to a term that we would translate as ‘God.’ ... [However] It was not long before a self-respecting Buddhist would be expected to hold (and defend) opinions about the origin and end of the universe, whether body and mind were identical or different, and the fate of the Buddha after death.”

    Batchelor poses a kind of Zen koan for meditation: “Since death alone is certain and the time of death is uncertain, what should I do?” But he also (again, Zen-like) says: “Such a question is a mystery, not a problem. It cannot be ‘solved’ by meditation technique, through the authority of a text, upon submission to the will of a guru. Such strategies merely replace the question with beliefs in an answer.” (my italics)
  12. London
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    31 Jan '06 11:35
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself afterwards.”

    --Jean-Paul Sartre


    I believe that Sartre is correct and that man is “thrust into” existence. After all, did you ask to be born? Was it your hope, desire, or aspiration to live the human experience? You may well tell me that being born wa ...[text shortened]... right.

    I am sure there are many, many dissenting opinions, and I hope to hear some of them.
    I think Sartre is simply wrong about existence preceding essence.

    First, although we can talk of "pure existence" as a concept, it is meaningless until we talk of something existing or not-existing, or existing in reality vs. existing in the mind etc. The moment we talk about 'something' we are talking about essence.

    Second, as Kant showed, existence is not a property or attribute of essence. So, existence cannot add or take away anything from essence.

    Third, read Sartre's statement again: "Man first of all exists". Right from the very beginning of our existence, we have an essence; i.e. humanity. Everything that follows is an accidental change to that essence. Man can change his appearance, his hairstyle, his outlook on life; but he cannot change the fact that he is human. Any meaning he assigns to his life will be a human meaning.

    If existence does not precede essence, then objective morality is possible.
  13. London
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    31 Jan '06 11:45
    Originally posted by Bosse de Nage
    "Nothing is true; everything is permissible," said the Old Man of the Mountains.

    The Golden Rule is ambiguous, as you point out--if I were a polymorphously perverse cannibal sociopath, like Albert Fish, I would be pleased if others attempted to harm and consume me, for it would add spice to existence. Fish, the oldest man to be sent to the electric ...[text shortened]... rror that moral relativism is greeted has always nonplussed me, because I see it as freedom.
    So did Sartre.

    In any case, however, you choose to define (or not-define) yourself, it isn't going to change the essentials. You're not going to suddenly sprout wings and fly. Nor are other people going to treat you as anything different from what you are - a human being.

    You say that you would rather "promote existence[sic] than destroy or consume it" - that is a value in itself. In holding to that value you are defining yourself.
  14. London
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    31 Jan '06 11:48
    Originally posted by vistesd
    I differ with Sartre in that, rather than seeking to define myself. I want to deconstruct myself progressively, clearing myself of illusion with sweeping blasts of the phaser that is my conscious attention.

    Wow! Now we have a real thesis and antithesis—if I may, existentialism versus Zen. Since they are two “favorites” that I keep coming back to—
    ...[text shortened]... some mind-meanderings that I foist on you by writing and posting them. But thanks to you both.[/b]
    How is the 'ineffable ground of being' not another 'i-thought'?
  15. London
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    31 Jan '06 11:54
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    I can see the allure of not defining oneself, and I certainly see how that would foster a state of mutual respect for the autonomy of others -- after all, if man has no definition in mind of what he ought to be, then he certainly has no basis for presuming to tell other men what they ought to be. Truthfully, I think it would be wonderful to simply live - ...[text shortened]... ble equilibrium. The moment one man defines himself, then "anguish" gets the better of him.
    The problem is that even the act of not-defining defines yourself, as a person "who does not define himself".
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