Intellectualism, Existentialism, and…Adventurism

Disclaimer: This post is from the archives, and may not represent the current views of the author. It also may not be at all interesting to read. Continue at your own peril!

Time has flown by way too quickly. I didn’t realize it had been so long since my last update! But at any rate, I fully meant to write something here much earlier; I just didn’t have anything to say. Work has been going fine, but it’s nothing to get excited about. Mostly it involves crunching numbers and doing data analysis, and then writing up and editing papers. So while I enjoy it, it’s not something I’m going to write about a whole lot.

I’ve kind of gotten into an intellectual slump for the past little while. I think I’m just all tuckered out from thinking too much. I’ve been taking an online course in existentialism this term, and while I’ve found it interesting, it just means that I don’t feel like thinking about anything else. So I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like to (other than the five books I’ve had to read for the course), and I haven’t been doing a whole lot of deep thinking like I was when trying to figure out moral obligations or political/economic systems. I guess I’ve just been taking a vacation for the time being. I’ve been watching TV shows and movies, and living life. I’ve also made sure to do some things around the Ottawa area while I’m here, like going to the art gallery and some museums and such. That’s about the extent of my intellectual activity.

At any rate, with that said, since learning about existentialism, I’ve been seeing it everywhere. Existentialism is essentially philosophy that deals with meaning and value, but (roughly speaking) it attempts to answer the question, “How should we live our lives in a world with no objective values?” I find this an interesting question, because as a Christian, I was always taught that life without God or without “ultimate meaning” was meaningless and not worth living. When I lost my faith, I began to discover that this simply was not true. Even a life which has no objective, ultimate purpose – a life that wasn’t “designed” to do anything in particular – can still have meaning which springs up from within. To give an analogy, one can find adventure and meaning even when driving to nowhere in particular. It’s something I discovered on my own, and some of existentialist philosophy attempts to expand on this. (There is more to existentialism than just this, including stuff about the “essence” of objects, etc., but I won’t bore you with that.)

So, like I said, since I’ve learned about existentialism, I’ve seen it everywhere. When I watched Lost, I saw it in the character of John Locke, who previously believed that they had been put on the island for a purpose, and yet at one point in the show, he loses his faith in that and has what one might call an “existentialist crisis.” People have said things to me, and my face has suddenly lit up as I recognize some existentialist theme behind it. At one point, I had a bit of a “revelation”, you might say, and experienced the world in a very strange way. I started seeing the absurdity of the world (a very common theme in existentialism) and literally laughed out loud when walking home from the bus stop one day. It was odd, to say the least. I’ve even had some scattered thoughts which grew out of that experience and related ones that I tried to piece together into a way of living that was very existentialist. But I don’t think it really worked out all that well. Like I said, I’ve been on vacation from intellectual pursuits.

Anyway, I wanted to talk more in-depth about my thoughts on existentialism, but I really am just not up to it at the time being. I do want to say that I have found some merit in the philosophy, even though I don’t entirely agree with its presuppositions. Obviously, like I said, it starts off with the idea that we live in a world with no objective values. I disagree that this is the case. Although I don’t believe in some ultimate meaning or purpose for the universe (which is what they seem to primarily focus on), I do still believe in objective morality. I’ve talked about how I formulate my ethics a little bit elsewhere, but regardless of why I believe it, that means that I can’t entirely accept existentialism. What I also find odd is that most of the existentialist philosophers that we looked at don’t seem to bring up ethics much. Perhaps it is just that we didn’t cover the books/passages where they did so, but it seems that ethics would be one of the primary focal points of any objection to the philosophy. It is a very individualized way of thinking, and in some of my assignments, I’ve pointed out the lack of attention to the fact that humans are creatures that live in society. We are social beings that must interact with each other, and any philosophy that puts out a lifestyle to follow must take that into account.

However, like I said, I do think that there is some merit to existentialism. Because of the lack of external values on which to base one’s life, these philosophers place a strong emphasis on responsibility for one’s actions. The man living in the absurd universe cannot make excuses for his actions by pointing to some reference point or rule outside of himself – he has to own each action he takes, and take full responsibility for it. Regardless of the fact that I think there are objective moral values to point to, I do appreciate the merit of living conscious of the fact that one’s actions are one’s own. It’s an empowering concept, but it’s terrifying at times as well. We are free to do whatever we want, but we are fully responsible for the choices that we make and the consequences that come from them. That mindset is a good one to keep in mind.

As well, several existentialist philosophers have come up with the idea of “projects”. These are essentially conscious lifestyles that we take on, which create meaning for our own lives. Albert Camus gives the example of an actor, who consciously takes on a role, but then becomes so immersed in that role that he “becomes” that person. However, when the role ends, he doesn’t mourn the end of the character or try to take it on again. He moves on and creates the next role. It’s always a conscious process, and Camus likens this to the projects that we take on. We are free to create any project we so choose, and because it is our project, we are free to discard it when we wish. I like this idea. There are a lot of things that we take on seemingly because we “have to”, because it is expected of us. We wake up, we take a shower, we go to work, we sit at a computer all day, then we come home, we eat dinner, we watch TV, we go to bed. At some point, most of these activities become so routine that we just perform them like a robot. They no longer have any meaning to us. They are done because they must be done, and that is that. While of course it would be naive to simply quit our jobs, existentialism would say that we need to take responsibility for that. We need to treat our job as a project that we choose to take on – and if we need to constantly remind ourselves that it is an act that we have chosen to do, so be it. Living life consciously and aware that one still has freedom is a big theme, and it’s something that I think can be adapted for those who still believe in some form of objective values.

There are certain other topics that I found persuasive, but I don’t want to get much more in-depth. I certainly find existentialism an interesting philosophy, and I intend on playing around with it a little while to see whether it’s something worth keeping. I actually have already applied it in one respect, almost subconsciously. I have noticed that, for the past little while, I’ve become more spontaneous. This is something that I’ve sort of wanted to do for myself for the past little while, and it seems that existentialism has helped. I’m not talking about anything radically impulsive or dangerous, but…well, let me give you an example. I was walking through one of the smaller malls here in Ottawa, on the way back from a haircut, and I was mulling over these thoughts of existentialism in my mind. I was thinking about a sense of adventure and creating meaning in one’s own life, and as I walked through the mall, I saw an escalator. Bingo! Without any particular reason, and without any regard for the social norms I was breaking, I ran down the “up” escalator. Why? Because I could! I was being spontaneous. And the old lady going down the “proper” escalator gave me a strange look. But it didn’t matter. Instead of performing the boring, routine task of going down the “down” escalator, I chose to put meaning back into that act. Maybe it’s a silly example, but why not be silly? Perhaps the world has lost a sense of silliness. Often we’re just too serious.

So I’ve been trying to be a bit more spontaneous, since I tend to be the kind of guy who thinks things over so long that the opportunity passes me by. I also tend to be the one who cares what everyone else is thinking, as if somehow the thoughts of random strangers that I will never see again should for some reason be important to me. I still fully remain a person who advocates thinking things through, but I am starting to become a person who can be excited about small things and find adventure in unlikely places. And I count that as a good thing. When we can create meaning for ourselves, why focus so much on the purposes that other people try to impose on us? I see a root of truth in existentialist philosophy, and so I am going to try to hang onto that. And who knows? Mayble I’ll have a bit of adventure along the way.

8 responses to “Intellectualism, Existentialism, and…Adventurism”

feeno

Jeff

I'm glad we've stayed in touch a little bit at other places, because you were long over due for a post.

I want you to know that your thoughts and writings are cool. And I truly look forward to them. But until I can shake the shackles of my beliefs, I will read them in a prejudiced light. So I think that you will disagree with me, but I also think you'll understand as well?

I do agree that no matter who you are life is worth living. But for me it ends there. Because if there ain't a god then there is no such thing as "ultimate meaning". We live for 70-80 years then we die. No matter what you did or how cool or smart or nice we were it's over.

I saw the absurdity of the world when I was about your age as well. And every year that I'm alive it rings more and more true. This life and world is completely and absolutely absurd. The difference between the two of us is that the absurdity brought me to the the Lord and it has seemed to drive you away from the Lord?

How do you come to the conclusion that there is no meaning or purpose for the universe, yet our lives can still have meaning and purpose. If we are here by accident I really don't see a ultimate purpose. Or what is your definition of ultimate meaning for someone who will rot and decay and be forgotten about by 99% of all people probably within a day or two after were dead?

Philosophers are pretty much dumb asses. Do you remember the movie "Bill and Ted's excellent adventure"? Bill and Ted go back in time and I think they met with Socrates. And Socrates was so impressed with these 2 stoners because they quoted from some song by Kansas, "all we are is dust in the wind". Anyways if we agree with these "philosophers", does that mean that any thing we do is OK as long as we are willing to take responsibility for our actions and suffer the consequences if we get caught? So as long as Jeffery Dahmer is willing to suffer the penalty for drugging people, drilling holes in the heads, having sex with their dead or dismembered bodies it's all good?

I certainly believe that we should have freedom, but so does God, that's why he gave us free-will. But you will never convince me why any one should have a form of "objective values" unless there is an "objective value" giver. Who gets to decide what those values are and why?

I know I may be full of shit. I don't know" But even if I could take God out of the equation, life would not make sense to me. All of those wonderful feelings you get when you discover random things on random road trips etc. all have a meaning to me. I can't say I know what they are, but they leave me thinking how great and big my God is. Btw, me and my wife often go on one or two road trips. Stopping in old forgotten towns and read the headstones of people who have died 100 or 150 years ago. There is a lot of stories you can piece together walking around some of these grave yards. We like to meet people at yard sales in town like Mayberry. I like to stop at old diners and meet the cooks and flirt with the waitresses. Matter of fact we will be taking off work Friday, driving 3 hours south into the heart of God's country (Kentucky) to spend the weekend together. I can't wait for what God has in store for us, and who we will get to meet.

If I could make Christianity into a philosophy I think it would be something like this: We are just strangers in this world, passing through, experiencing our creators love and enjoying this present world and all it has to offer, giving him the glory until he returns to take me to a special place he has prepared for me and those that love Him.

feeno

Jeff

I also agree with you that the world is way to serious. I figured that out when I figured out how absurd the world is. I hope you always enjoy life and have lots of fun and live life to the fullest. And when someone looks at you funny because you did something cool or spontaneous, where it as a badge of honor. Life is short, here for a little while, then poof, it vanishes.

I wrote some other stuff but It wouldn't let me post because I guess it was to long. So I erased a bunch of stuff and don't have the memory or energy to try to remember all what is was?

P.S. New haircut? Maybe time to update your picture as well? And try that spontaneous crap out on the next babe you see.

Later, feeno

Jeff

Hey feeno, thanks for your thoughts. You asked me, "How do you come to the conclusion that there is no meaning or purpose for the universe, yet our lives can still have meaning and purpose. If we are here by accident I really don't see a ultimate purpose."

Well, I wasn't trying to imply that if we are here by accident that we have ultimate purpose. I draw a very large distinction between "ultimate" purpose and purpose in general. My point (and one of the points of existentialism) is that we can create purpose and meaning in our own lives. So yes, if we are simply the effects of a chaotic universe, then there's no ultimate meaning for our lives. But that doesn't mean that there is no meaning at all.

I gave the example of driving down the road and having an adventure, even though you have no specific destination. Let me take a different route and ask you this: If you were to find out definitively today that God didn't exist, would you stop loving your wife? Would you stop loving your children, caring for your friends, stop having ambitions and goals and hopes and dreams?

Of course not. We all have meaning within our lives, and it's not because there's some big dude up there in the sky forcing us to have friends or forcing us to set goals. We simply do that because we get satisfaction from doing those things. You love your wife, and that love provides meaning for you – independent of the fact that both you and she will (hopefully not for a long, long time) one day die. That doesn't prevent you from loving each other. At least I hope not. So I'm talking about subjective meaning (as opposed to objective, "ultimate" meaning). But when you get down to it, I really don't think that objective meaning "feels" any better to us than subjective meaning – it all gives us satisfaction.

Anyway, lol it's funny that you mention Bill and Ted, since I literally just watched that for the first time this past weekend! Great movie 😀 But anyway…I disagree very strongly that philosophers are dumbasses. I love philosophy lol. But you're right that sometimes philosophers (and wanna-be philosophers) get caught up in flowery language that really doesn't mean anything, it just sounds like it means something.

Anyway, as I mentioned, existential philosophers have a noticeable lack of discussion about moral issues. However, I think that essentially they would focus on the consequences. Their answer would be "yes, anything is okay as long as we accept the consequences for our actions." But like I said, they're working from the starting point of "no objective values." That essentially requires them to say that. There's no external force telling us what is "right" or "wrong". But as I also mentioned, I don't agree with that because I still believe that there are objective moral values. And no, I don't think it requires an "objective value giver". But I don't really want to get into that right now unless you want me to elaborate.

Anyway, all I have left to say is to ask you if your road trips and gravestone-reading and yard sales and diners would have any less meaning to you if you knew that when you died, things would be over for good. I mean, really, would they not still be meaningful? You're spending time with your wife, you're having a good time, you're finding out interesting things. And the fact that one day that will end just means that you need to spend more time enjoying it now, right? Doesn't seem to rob those acts of meaning at all…

Anyway, have a good one. Peace out.

Jeff

feeno

Jeff

I wont dodge your question, yes I would still love my wife etc. But maybe, just maybe if there wasn't a god or a Christian "philosophy" to follow I might still be single planting my seed in everything that moves to ensure our species would survive? Who knows? I'm thankful to God for my wife and family, because I believe he gave
them to me.

Back to Bill and Ted. When I was about 23 years old I drove about 7 or 8 kids from our church in Natalia Texas an hour north to San Antonio to a drive inn movie theater in my 1972 Chevy Impala to see that movie. It was the most fun ever. I still laugh about that trip. And yes, it was a little "questionable" I think it was rated R or something. One of my badges of honor.

Late, feen

Jeff

Lol well alright, I guess that's a fair enough answer. Although I don't think most people consciously act based on the "survival of the species" idea…lol

Haha well it's a great movie…Be excellent to each other! And party on, dudes!

Cori-Beth

Hey Feeno! I've been doing okay! How about you? I've been busy with my online businesses in the morning and at night so I haven't been able to check out Jeff's blog lately. Okay, so I've been on FaceBook a bit, too…

I updated my shoe shop and am now in the process of creating a watch shop and then a Flip Flop Shoes Shop to go with my Shoe Boutique. Sales have been okay, but could do better. Restructuring and recreating things, and adding watches and flip flops, etc!

Also, I've been recovering from a bout of fibromyalgia. So much fun! NOT! I'm not so bad that I have to be on meds, but it's still frustrating. Pray for me in this area. (-:

Anyway, my blog is now at coribeth.wordpress.com if you want to check it out. It has sections over there where I can have my thoughts, musings, shop info., product features and more all at one blog. Blogger doesn't offer that and was limited to my needs.

Anyway, nice typing at you and I'll stop with the hijacking of Jeff's blog now! lol

Corinne

feeno

CB

Dang girl, you have been busy. I don't do the facebook thing. I mean after all, me blogging is a bit of a stretch. My business has been struggling for a few years now, but the Lord is still providing. Hopefully we will both get busier in that area of life?

"pray for me in this area" Done did Sistah, done did.

Peace be wit ya, feen

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