One of the things I have a hard time getting across to people is my existential angst - the feelings that trouble me, regarding my existence. Ploughing my way through the great works of civilisation, I've started reading Daniel Dennett's 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea'. It is a very thorough examination of the implications of Darwin's work (and I'll talk more about the book in future posts). An extract:
Friedrich Nietzsche saw - through the mists of his contempt for all things English - an even more cosmic message in Darwin: God is dead. If Nietzsche is the father of existentialism, then perhaps Darwin deserves the title of grandfather. (p.62).
I certainly blame Darwin for a lot of my angst. From Wikipedia on existentialism:
In Repetition, Kierkegaard's literary character Young Man laments:
How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought by a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn't it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager—I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?
Bloody hell, that's how I feel! Now I'm a scientist not a philosopher, but the same names keep cropping up (Nietzsche, Dostoevsky etc) and on my intellectual adventures I've found an interesting speech, by the French atheist existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre:
Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism. And this is what people call its “subjectivity,” using the word as a reproach against us. But what do we mean to say by this, but that man is of a greater dignity than a stone or a table? For we mean to say that man primarily exists – that man is, before all else, something which propels itself towards a future and is aware that it is doing so. Man is, indeed, a project which possesses a subjective life, instead of being a kind of moss, or a fungus or a cauliflower
For instance, if I ask myself “Will the social ideal as such, ever become a reality?” I cannot tell, I only know that whatever may be in my power to make it so, I shall do; beyond that, I can count upon nothing. Quietism is the attitude of people who say, “let others do what I cannot do.” The doctrine I am presenting before you is precisely the opposite of this, since it declares that there is no reality except in action. It goes further, indeed, and adds, “Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realises himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.” Hence we can well understand why some people are horrified by our teaching. For many have but one resource to sustain them in their misery, and that is to think, “Circumstances have been against me, I was worthy to be something much better than I have been. I admit I have never had a great love or a great friendship; but that is because I never met a man or a woman who were worthy of it; if I have not written any very good books, it is because I had not the leisure to do so; or, if I have had no children to whom I could devote myself it is because I did not find the man I could have lived with. So there remains within me a wide range of abilities, inclinations and potentialities, unused but perfectly viable, which endow me with a worthiness that could never be inferred from the mere history of my actions.”
I didn't agree with everything Sartre had to say, but a lot of what he said must be absolutely correct. The thought that depresses me the most, is the question of why I am having to discover that people have been feeling the same way as I have, seemingly afresh. Mental note to self - give offspring obligatory existential lessons from as early as possible!Go Top