Philosophy Course Index



Course notes are at bottom of page.





PHIL 260-01


Course ID # 002007                                               


T H 11:00 AM-12:30 PM


Winona State U.                      


Spring 2012                      


Gildemeister 223


Instructor: Ed Slowik/325 Minne Hall/Office phone: 457-5663                                                                                                  


Office Hours:  M W 2:30-3:30 PM, and by appointment. I'm usually free in the late afternoon, but the best time to meet with me is just before or after class.



Basic Writings of Existentialism, G. Marino (Modern Library)


Course Objectives:

This course is a subtle take on the philosophical movement known as Existentialism (which was founded in the mid-nineteenth century and reached its peak during the mid-twentieth century). Existentialism involves many issues, but is chiefly known for its approach to the meaning of life, religion, morality, social/political philosophy, and the philosophy of art. We will mainly focus on the meaning of life issue, however. We will read works that span the entire length of this philosophical movement, and which cover a wide range of views. Also, we will examine several literary works of fiction which directly express existentialist themes and problems about the meaning of life.


Course Requirements:

One in-class midterm (25%), in-class final (25%), and two papers (25% each). The papers are 7-10 pages double-spaced, on a topic provided by the instructor. The midterm and final are of the short answer, short essay type. Dates for the midterm and final are as follows:


Midterm: Thursday, March 1; Final exam: Thursday, May 3, 1-3 PM.


The due dates for the papers are listed in the class schedule below.


Web Page:

Information on the course will be posted on a web page. The information will pertain to: syllabus, class notes, description of the term paper assignment, and tips for writing a philosophy paper. The address is: http://course1.winona.edu/eslowik


Phil 260 satisfies both the General Education and University Studies requirements in the Humanities category. Students can review the University Studies criteria satisfied by this course either by checking the WSU web page or by stopping in the Philosophy Department (Minne 329). 


Schedule (extremely vague):

The primary readings will be fairly extensive, and the material difficult, but the lectures and class notes should help greatly. I will announce the specific reading assignments for each upcoming week (and day) in class. I will give several (free) hand-outs in class: but don’t lose them, since I’ll charge you for replacements.


Week 1: Introduction, start Kierkegaard (Jan. 10, 12)


Week 2: Kierkegaard (Jan. 17, 19) 


Week 3: Nietzsche (Jan. 24, 26)


Week 4: Nietzsche (Jan. 31, Feb. 2), Paper#1 assigned, Feb. 2.


Week 5: Nietzsche, start Dostoevsky (Feb. 7, 9)


Week 6: Dostoevsky (Feb. 14, 16) NO CLASS, Thursday, Feb. 16


Week 7: Unamuno (Feb. 21, 23) Paper#1 due, Feb. 23.


Week 8: Heidegger, Midterm (Thurs.) (Feb. 28, March 1)


Week 9: Heidegger (March 6, 8)


Week 10: Sartre (March 20, 22)


Week 11: Sartre (March 27, 29) 


Week 12: Beauvoir (April 3, 5); Paper#2 assigned, April 5. 


Week 13: Camus (April 10, 12)


Week 14: Camus (April 17, 19)


Week 15: Ellison (April 26, 28)


Final Exam and Paper #2 due: Thursday, May 3, 1-3 PM






Paper Assignments



Problems of Philosophy: Existentialism  Phil 260  WSU, Spring 2012


Paper Assignment #1   (5-7 pages, due Thursday, Feb. 23)


You must do ALL four questions:


1) What is Kierkegaard’s theory in Fear and Trembling? What is faith, and what does he think of Abraham’s faith? Explain: infinite/finite, knight of faith, and how faith is a contradiction.


2) Kierkegaard rejects the view that without faith in God one can unify the eternal and temporal aspects of human life (and thus bring meaning to life, etc.). Only the religious life can bring the required meaning to life according to Kierkegaard. How would Nietzsche respond to this argument? That is, what judgment would Nietzsche make with regard to Kierkegaard’s belief that only the religious life (faith in God) can successfully bring meaning to life?


3) What is Nietzsche’s theory of master and slave morality? What is your estimate of this theory?


4) How would Nietzsche judge Dostoeyevsky’s “underground man”?





Problems of Philosophy: Existentialism  Phil 260  WSU, Spring 2012


Paper Assignment #2   (5 page minimum, no maximum, due: Thursday, May 3)



Answer all of the following questions


1) (a) Camus claims that “one must imagine Sisyphus is happy”. Why? What is Camus’ argument? (b) Compare and contrast the two articles by Taylor and Nagel on the myth of Sisyphus with Camus’ own analysis (i.e., do Taylor and Nagel differ or agree with Camus’ take on the story?).


2) Compare and contrast Sartre’s theory of “good faith/bad faith” with Nietzsche’s account of “master morality/slave morality”: Are there any similarities between these two theories, or are they so different as to exclude any similarities?


3) Compare and contrast both the Tolstoy and the Flew articles on the meaning of life: Who has the most plausible arguments, and why?








These notes are from a previous existentialist course, and will be of use in thinking about the issues. I will add new notes to them and post the date of the new additions.



Kierkegaard (1813 -1855)

Kierkegaard thought that people were not leading fulfilling and meaningful lives, so he wanted to show how people can find this, and be happy and satisfied.


Four reasons why Kierkegaard is important for the development of existentialism

1) Everyday life is deeply unfulfilling.

2) Human existence is a tension between facticity and transcendence (i.e., between what we are, and our capacity to transcend this).

3) Meaning does not come to us naturally, but is something we must obtain by struggle, via our choices and decisions. We are self-constructing beings.

4) Certain decisions lead to more fulfilling lives than do others.


Unlike Hegel, Kierkegaard does not believe reason can bring about a resolution of the tension between our finite existence (temporary experiences, desires, beliefs, and our understanding of our limited being) and our infinite aspirations for some overall unity of the temporary events that comprise our lives (and thus would give meaning and significance to these moments, since Kierkegaard thinks that these separate temporary experiences lack meaning and significance on their own). Reason cannot resolve this dichotomy.


Three ways humans can attempt to reach fulfillment in life

1)      Aesthetic: a person who lives for sensations and feelings, or lives for satisfying temporary desires. This strategy fails because (a) it is too dependant upon luck, chance, and other people (which causes anxiety that undermines the well-being and fulfillment of the aesthetic life), and because (b) Kierkegaard believes that the human essence is comprised of both a temporal (finite) and an eternal (infinite) part, and we must try to bring about a synthesis of the temporal/eternal to become the most fully developed and meaningful humans. It is through a decisive, continuously renewed choice that we obtain this synthesis.

2)     Ethical: a constantly renewed decision, made by our own will alone, to live in accord with ethical duty, and thus provide unity of temporal/eternal aspects of self. Example: marriage, as a constantly chosen act. This must fail, and brings about the third type of despair, since, as he states, no created self can by regarding itself give itself more than it is. (p.9). Thus the temporal self (supposedly) cannot unite the temporal/eternal aspects of the self (and it would seem that Kierkegaard just assumes this, but why should we grant him this assumption?).

3)     Religious: A and B, as will be discussed below.



Three types of despair associated with unsuccessful attempts to express both the temporal and eternal aspects of human nature:

1)      To be unaware of the problem (and be indifferent to the tension): Despair improperly so-called, as he terms it. Living an aesthetic life without being aware of the eternal would be an example. This is the worst type of despair.

2)     To be aware of our temporal/eternal aspects but then trying to resolve the tension by repudiating the eternal and immersing oneself in the temporal: he calls it, despair at not willing to be oneself. This attempt will fail.

3)     To be aware of the tension, but to try to express the temporal/eternal through our own will alone, while, as he states, detaching the self from every relation to the Power which posited it. This is, he calls, despair at willing to be oneself. This is the attempt to be content with our life no matter how hard it may seem, and doing it all through our own power (no appeals to Gods, etc.). This is the highest form of despair, but the most agonizing.


Truth is Subjectivity: 

(a) When the meaning and fulfillment of our life is at stake, our attitude towards the object of our concern takes precedence over the issue of whether one is actually right about some fact. As thus described, (a) is the weak reading, since it does not deny objective truth, but merely places more emphasis on the passion and intensity of the believer. Problems: (1) it seems anyone (even atheists) could obtain this passion, and not simply the religious (as he believes)?; (2) the passion to believe in God seems irrelevant if it is an objective fact that God does not exist; (3) Many passages from Kierkegaard seem to favor the strong reading below.

(b) The passion and intensity of the belief actually makes it true (this is the strong reading). Problems: (1) believing something is true does not make it true.

Problems for both interpretations (a and b): for Kierkegaard, Christianity is the ultimate paradox because it is the belief that God (infinite/eternal) became human (finite/temporal), or, as he phrases it, the eternal is in time. But, this defies rational understanding and is thus absurd (his term). We must take the leap of faith, as he states, to accept this view: but can we? If our reason tells us that God is absurd (incoherent, illogical, etc.) can we really have a belief in it (or are we just pretending to believe in it)? Alternative reading: by absurd, Kierkegaard simply means not understandable through reason, and not illogical (or contradictory or incoherent): so, God is possibly logical afterall. Problem: he seems to mean the stronger reading, and it is still unclear if you can really believe in something passionately which is not understandable through reason.


Religious life: Two kinds

Religiousness A: an attempt to relate oneself to God by means of a continuously repeated commitment, but solely by our own power.


Resignation: One must be willing to renounce all temporal and finite things in order to achieve a relation to the eternal and infinite. One does this by concentrating all of our desires for the finite into a single finite thing; then, while maintaining this desire, one resigns (gives up) the thing (so one desires and resigns the thing at the same time) thus expressing both the temporal/eternal.

2 examples: (i) the love of the knight for the princess: the knight concentrates all of the content of life and reality in one wish, but at the same time uses all his strength to sacrifice having a relationship with her. By this means, i.e., the (finite) love being desired simultaneously with its being sacrificed, the knight expresses the eternal side of his nature (as he states, love for the princess becomes the expression for an eternal love, assumed a religious character). (ii) the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham: by placing all love for the finite in Isaac, he at the same time plans to sacrifice him, thus expressing his eternal nature.


Suffering: This comes about due to the difficulty involved in psychologically detaching oneself from finite things (he calls it, a dying away from the immediate).


Guilt: This comes about due to the fact that we can only express the infinite by renouncing the finite. So our expression of the infinite is negative, and not positive, and so we are aware of our limitations to express the infinite/eternal (and this causes guilt).


Religiousness A (Socratic Religion): This believes that truth does not come to a person from outside the self, but is contained within. It comes to a person from within, as an innate (inborn) idea which we recall. Problems: Is resignation possible (i.e., to want and reject something at the same time and in the same way)?


Religiousness B: This form of religion comes from outside the person, in contrast to Religiousness A, and is taught to us by God (the Christian God). Christianity provides a powerful means of religious expression which we can use to express our infinite/eternal natures. The irrationality/absurdity of Christianity is the means by which we can inspire passion to express the infinite; which is expressed by the leap of faith. By virtue of the absurd, the knight also accepts back the finite at the same time that he resigns (and desires) the finite: that is, he states, I believe I shall get her, in virtue of the absurd, since in God all things are possible. Abraham thinks the same way, too. Kierkegaard calls this the knight of faith as opposed to the knight of resignation (which is Religiousness A). It is important that the knight/Abraham still resigns the finite while accepting it back (problem: Is this psychologically possible?). By both resigning and accepting the finite, the person is expressing the eternal, since that is a contradictory practice (and paradoxes express the infinite). Kierkegaard accepts that this is very difficult, if not impossible, to do (i.e. to be a knight of faith).


Problems: (a) Kierkegaard seems to believe that paradoxes/absurdities/irrationality are ways to express the infinite, so he believes that the infinite is beyond human reason, but this is false (modern logic refutes this). The infinite is no more irrational than the finite, and it is also true that we have a great rational understanding of the infinite (and this is also true of paradoxes: they are not irrational, nor express the infinite). (b) Even if we were to accept that reason does not give you the infinite, there is no justification for thinking that non-reason gives you the infinite (in fact, Kierkegaard seems to be using the law of excluded middle here). (c) Kierkegaard is heavily in debt to the romantics, who thought God/infinity/etc. were beyond reason, but still true and knowable.


The Teleological Suspension of the Ethical:

Ethics is the universal, and one who makes himself an exception to ethical codes is acting in the particular (which is ethically wrong), and this is, as he calls it, temptation. But, in religion, the particular person stands in a particular relation to God, and this stands in opposition to the universal and rational. For Kierkegaard, religious faith supercedes the universal, since it is a direct relation with God. This is a paradox because faith does not do away with the ethical (universal), since it also maintains/upholds its content. The paradox comes in that we both accept the universal/ethical and the particular/non-ethical on faith.


We also cannot express this faith because language relies upon universal concepts and reason, so it is, he believes, inaccessible to thought, and one who is in faith is condemned to silence.

Problem: If it is inaccessible to thought, how do you know you are having a relationship with anyone at all? It seems that Kierkegaard needs some sort of revelation of God (mystic experience, etc) to save him from this problem (but Kierkegaard does not seem to accept this option).




Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Is Nietzsche an exponent of life-philosophy? (i.e., the view that traditional philosophy has gotten away from life, since it is mainly involved in abstract speculation, and thus philosophy needs to return to human life as its main focus) If so, this only a small portion of his overall message.


Early Work (The Birth of Tragedy)

Dionysian: creative, dynamic life force. It is the Oneness that underlies reality before any distinctions/individualizations are imposed on the world. (It is based on Schopenhauer, since he thinks reality is fundamentally the primitive, irrational will.) Apollonian: form-giving, individuating force; such as reason, control, stability. It provides an attempted control of the Dionysian.


Art is, at its best, is a tension between the Apollonian and Dionysian (and reaches its best conjunction in Greek tragedy and modern German music). Too much Apollonian loses depth of emotion, while too much Dionysian is formless and overly emotional. The Birth of Tragedy is influenced by romanticism, since it is a longing for a by-gone age that is better than the present (Greek civilization before Socrates/Euripides).


Middle-Years (The Gay Science)

One of the main tasks of Nietzsche is the rejection of the reality and appearance dichotomy (which seems to be upheld in Birth of Tragedy by Dionysian, as underlying reality, and Apollonian, as surface appearance/dream). Was Nietzsche influenced by positivism? The duality between reality/appearance is part of the sickness of modern man. The apparent/real distinction brings forth/presupposes a teleological view of life (redemption myth) where we are now seen to be in a bad state but can work towards a better state (actuality vs. potentiality): the will to truth is a will to final closure (reaching the goal) and thus is a will to death. The tragic affirmation of life is the opposite of the teleological story, since it affirms and accepts life and its sorrows without seeing it as an instrumental means of reaching a goal. It rejects the apparent/real distinction.


Death of God: science/reason has destroyed the old teleological myths. This has led to nihilism in some (disbelief of all values) or to a surrogate, alternate absolute or God-figure, which for many is reason/science. The distinctions and concepts of science are an attempt to find a new absolute to take the place of God (Cause and effect, logic, substance), but these concepts are creations of our own minds which may not be applicable to the world in its totality. They are contingent, fallible constructs which tell us more about ourselves than reality. The Death of God also threatens morality: for Nietzsche, morals are constructions of a community and its needs and desires which have been raised to the level of timeless truths (and thus they are also a substitute God-term). So, morality is like science in being a contingent set of beliefs which have been raised to the level of an Absolute. Rather, morality has the sole function of preserving the herd. Overall, Nietzsche is concerned that the Death of God will lead to a form of destructive nihilism. Instead, he hopes Europe will pass on to a creative nihilism where it creates a new form of life which is positive and creative.


Eternal Recurrence of the Same: an attempt to undermine all teleology, since all worldly events return over and over again for eternity. To affirm the eternal recurrence is to accept ourselves and the world for what it really is, and in all of its actual detail. It is much like loving fate, and this is accomplished by a willing it.


Perspectivism: Religions often provide an interpretation of life which favors a people and its own condition and state as the best or most holy/good, and the people who have impoverished them are seen as evil. This story explains how a community through its beliefs, values, and practices become the means of interpreting the whole world. Consciousness is also a side-effect of social interactions and cooperation (language in particular), so our natures as individuals are thus social constructions. From these insights, Nietzsche develops his theory of perspectivism: we only have access to our own perspectives on things, with the result that we can never exit from our perspectives to know reality as it is in itself (although, of course, there is no reality as it is in itself, since this assumption is based on the appearance/reality dichotomy, which he rejects). Our perspectives are shaped by the contingencies of human development and social history, and thus we cannot get out of our perspectives. Is our own perspective privileged?: No, since our knowledge that there are other perspectives leads us to believe that there are an infinity of them. (But, can we really know this?) Can this infinity of perspectives lead to a new God-term that contradicts what we believe as good, beautiful, etc: No, because this infinity of perspectives include many ungodly perspectives that contradict what we believe as good, beautiful, etc. (But, can he really know this?)


Problems: (1) A philosophical absolute could tolerate an infinity of perspectives, just as long as these perspectives do not directly contradict the perspectives that we do hold. That is, if Nietzsche really believes that these alternate perspectives directly contradict our perspectives (as in logical contradiction), then Nietzsche would seem to be embracing a Relativism about truth (since, according to relativism, it is conceivable that a flat earth perspective could be held to be as legitimate a perspective as a round earth perspective, to take a far-fetched example). That is, according to a (logical) relativist, it is possible to deny the Law of Non-Contradiction, which states that it is impossible for something to be both true and not true at the same time and in the same way (i.e., same perspective). So, if a relativist does, in fact, reject the law of non-contradiction, then it is possible for a flat-earth and a round-earth perspective to both be true at the same time, and in the same way (which is quite silly, and thus an embarrassment for a devoted Nietzschean). But, since Nietzsche supposedly rejects a strong form of relativism, then it must be the case that not all perspectives are allowable. But does he really state this clearly, and thus deny a strong relativism concerning perspectives? (2) Also, do we really know that there are an infinite number of possible perspectives? Maybe it is the case that there are only a limited number of perspectives that are structurally related to one another by an abstract rule or law (as in the concept of an invariant that is preserved among a group of perspectives). If this is the case, then would Nietzsche claim that this abstract rule which inter-relates all the perspectives become the new God-term? Or, is it the case that this rule (which inter-relates the perspectives, as an invariant of all of the perspectives), since it is concerned with what stays the same from within all perspectives, as opposed to being separate from all perspectives, is thereby rendered acceptable to Nietzschean philosophical inclinations? It is hard to tell, but these are the really deep issues involved in the appearance/reality dichotomy, and in his criticism of that dichotomy.


Overman: (section 290) An authentic form of life is one where a style is given to our life, an artistic plan formed by a taste/style. Since the self has no pre-given essence or potentiality, we must create our own self by a self-given plan (which is artistic). Will to power is the means of creating yourself, since it is the continued desire to become more. All living things strive to become more (to go beyond/over). This will takes a sickly form when it is merely negative/reactive (nihilism), but is healthy when it tries to become more through development/growth. To be healthy is to realize the limitations and contingencies of your own perspectives and create/work them into new, original perspectives that are creative/artistic. So, being healthy is to be aware of our own perspectives. For Nietzsche, a healthy will to power is a nihilation of nihilism. The overman is thus a new type of man that will overcome the present-day loss of confidence and general pessimistic nihilism.


Twilight of the Idols

Socrates is a degenerate figure, symptomatic of the decline and decadence of later Greek culture. Socrates tried to replace the older myths with a teleological plan based on the idea that reason can give us higher truths about the world. This rational view of life presupposes the appearance/reality distinction and stands against change/becoming (since truth never changes according to Socrates/Plato). Socrates also glorifies his own life over others. Of course, Nietzsche rejects the entire appearance/reality dichotomy: to reject appearance is not to embrace reality (and visa-versa); rather, Nietzsche rejects the entire dichotomy as meaningless. In Nietzsche final view, the Dionysian is not the quest to find the primal Oneness underlying the world; instead, it is a spontaneous and disciplined mode of life that has both confronted the death of God and has gotten over the feeling that something is missing when God dies.


The Genealogy of Morals


Part 1: Morality is not the timeless morality of Christianity. Morality, for Nietzsche, is not timeless, but a particular social arrangement or code of behavior that is situated in a time and place for a particular type of people, and is a natural reaction to what they like and dislike in their lives, “good” and “bad”. This is “master morality”. Modern European morality, which started with the ancient Jews and Christians (against the Romans), is a morality of resentment, whereby the weaker party tries to control the stronger party by changing the morality to favor them (i.e., the weaker). This is the origin of “good” and “evil”, which arises with “slave morality”. When the weaker party can turn against the values of the stronger, such as the free exercise of power, and turn that value into something that is now considered potentially evil, then slave morality has succeeded. Nietzsche thinks that this the morality currently in place in 19th century Europe.


Part II: This is a wild section of the work, which is quite social-anthropological in orientation, at least in that 19th century form commonly used by the many other mythologist, historians, and quasi-evolutionary theorists of the day, all of whom put forward theories similar to Nietzsche’s in many respects. Nietzsche strives to explain the origins of the human notion of “conscience”, and, in particular, a “bad conscience”. He ultimately argues that conscience grew out of the awareness of the responsibility of our debts, and thus bad conscience as guilt. Through the addition of some kind of internalized cruelty, guilt takes on a further meaning and importance. Overall, these natural human processes are central to the rise of modern moralities.



Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)


Being and Time (1927)


The meaning of being: the modern world’s view has lead to many problems

1)      Subject/object dichotomy, which leads to the mind/matter dualism

2)      Values and meanings are seen as subjective, and thus relative and unimportant (as opposed to objective science)

The objective outlook gives a misleading, one sided view of reality. Heidegger wants to show how starting from an ordinary, everyday view of things (as they show up in the practical life-world) can help uncover the meaning of things to us. It overcomes our theoretical, objectifying tendency. One of Heidegger’s tasks is to undermine the subjective/objective and mind/matter dichotomy by showing that they do not play a role in the practical life-world of human agency.


Human being (“Dasein”) as being-in-the-world: In normal contexts, ordinary objects show up as “ready to hand”, which means we assign a purpose and meaning to them within the context of our human practices and purposes (e.g., a hammer is a hammer only within the practice of hammering—this is how it gets its value and significance). Only when there is a problem in the use of the object for its purpose do we look at it as something which is independent of, and separate from, our practices (such as when the hammer breaks): this is the “present-at-hand”. But, philosophers make the mistake of thinking that the object has really been only a “present-at-hand”, which we then place a use-value on to become a “ready-at-hand”.


Heidegger thinks that the real-at-hand is ontologically prior to the present-at-hand (or is “more primordial” than the present-at-hand) for 2 reasons:

1)      Our ability to encounter present-at-hand is derived from, and parasitic on, our prior ways of dealing with contexts of the real-at-hand.

2)      There is no way to account for the real-at-hand in terms of the characteristics of the present-at-hand.


Problems: (A) just because we understand objects through our practices, that does not mean that their ultimate meaning is subjective to our practices (e.g., just because I can only see objects through my glasses, that doesn’t mean that they are dependent on my glasses). (B) What were objects (present-at-hand) before humans arrived on the earth? Did they lack some fundamental reality? This seems absurd.


Human Agency


1)      Care: we care about what we are, which gives meaning to things for us.

2)     Stand: we take a stand on who we are, and this gives us an understanding of being.

3)     We are what we do—the stands we take in life determine who we are.

4)     The self is an event, a “becoming”—we are always involved in a process of becoming who we are through out choices of what we do. We don’t discover who we are through introspection, but through choices and actions. This is an Expressionist view of human action: since there is no mind/matter distinction, it is not the case that we first have a mental event, then a bodily event. Rather, human action is direct, without any mental prior event.

5)     Humans action has a distinct temporal structure:

a.      “thrown-ness”: we are already in a world scene or setting.

b.      “futurity”: we are future in that our being is always in a state of development (in the making) without final form (being-towards-the-end)

6)     Temporal development of the self always occurs in a social context. The social norms and practices give us our sense of values and meanings of things.




People have a tendency to become too involved in social norms and practices to the extent that they forget that we are individuals responsible for our self-choices. (We only concentrate on present concerns, and don’t reflect on the unity or over-all meaning of our lives).


“Anxiety” occurs when we realize that our actions determine who we are, and that social norms can’t provide the meaning for our lives.


To become authentic we must take responsibility for our lives and be aware of statements #1-6, above. We do this by (1) being honest with ourselves (clear-sightedness, integrity, openness to change) which can involve shared projects in a community of other like minded people. (2) “Historicity”, which is an understanding of a persons shared heritage in a wider community, and the attempt to make these goals and plans become realized in the future.



Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)


Existence precedes essence. We are not born with a pre-established defining characteristic or trait, which would supply our teleological goal or function. Humans have just appeared on the scene, without a defining goal. Unlike inanimate objects made by humans, whose essence does precede their existence, humans must find their own meaning. We find our own meaning through our actions and our choices in life: we must create our own meaning. It is our free choice to make our own essence.


Facticity/Transcendence. Humans are factual beings in that they just exist in the world (like any other being, such as a table, pen, etc.). However, humans also posses transcendence (i.e., consciousness) since we are not just trapped by our facticity (i.e., our actions and drives). Rather, our facticity always presents itself to us as already endowed with a meaning that is constituted by the projects we freely choose. We cannot directly apprehend our facticity, for our past and present situation always presents itself to us through a web of meanings that are determined by our transcendence.


Subjectivity. There are no transcendent truths that are given to us to serve as the foundation of our inquires into the world and meaning. Thus, humans must start with their consciousness becoming aware of itself (which is derived from Husserl). We must not assume anything about the ontology of the world (i.e., what exists, or being) apart from the way the world presents itself to us in our pre-theoretical experience. All claims to ontology must be based/built up from our actual lived experiences. (Sartre shares this assumption with Husserl.)


Consciousness. (1) Consciousness is intended (i.e., it is about something) so it is always conscious of something (such as objects we are touching etc.). We are not conscious of ourselves when engaged in actions. (2) Consciousness is a meaning giving activity. We perceive things as having a meaning for us: we do not passively represent objects in our consciousness. (Objectivity is just one way of conferring meaning on things; we endow it with: item that exists independently of our consciousness.)


Being–in–itself. Being apart from our consciousness is undifferentiated and neutral stuff: it has no distinctions or order. Humans introduce distinctions and differentiations into the world by acts of consciousness (i.e., by questioning). Negations are introduced into the world by questions that provide divisions into the being-in-itself (e.g., the book is not part of the table, etc.). Sartre argues that the world is not carved into natural kinds (such as electrons, protons, etc.), but that distinctions are made by us (i.e., we do not find them in the world, but introduce them). Examples of how we introduce negativity (negation) into the world: (i) seeing the absence of a friend in a café (ii) seeing the effects of a storm on a farm as destruction.


Problem: Is this a form of idealism or relativism? Sartre may have just been trying to make the claim that we introduce these distinctions into the world through our interests and questions, and not that we create these entities in the world (such as electrons, tables, etc.). It is important to remember that Sartre is concerned with the world as it appears in our phenomenal perceptions, and not with the world as it exists apart from the phenomenal realm. That is, he is concerned with epistemology (what we know) and not ontology (what exists), thus he should probably not be interpreted in the stronger sense as a radical relativist (i.e., where we create what exists, in an ontological sense).


The gap between being-for-itself and being-in-itself. Being-for-itself is transcendence: i.e., conscious of our own existence, and the realization that our own being is in question. Transcendence thus introduces a nothingness into the world by this questioning, and thereby introduces a gap between being-for-itself and our facticity (being-in-itself).


Freedom. Anguish is introduced because we are made aware of the many possibilities of action that are open to us (which are not pre-determined by forces outside of us). We are aware that we will become the person we choose to be, but since we are not yet that person, we are also not the self which we will be: this is a nothingness in our self that is introduced by transcendence. Sartre relies on the fact that we are not aware of any deterministic laws in our mental perceptions of our self and the world, since we seem free to choose our actions, thoughts, desires, etc., without being constrained by any type of determined laws (i.e., the phenomenal realm does not support determined beliefs, desires, mental thoughts, etc.). 


Problems: are we really free to choose our own futures (such that we are not conditional/determined by our psychology and biology, etc.), or does it merely seem as if our choices are free? Of course, Sartre does not seem to want to make claims about how the world really exists outside the phenomenal realm, so maybe he would accept a determinism as it applies to the ontology of the world, although the phenomenal realm must remain neutral on the issue (since we have no phenomenal perceptions of determined mental content/thought).


Bad Faith. This occurs in two ways: (1) when a conscious being denies their transcendence (being-for-itself) by denying their freedom to choose from a range of possibilities or, (2) when they deny aspects of their facticity, or being-in-itself, by denying their past choices, or by denying that their past choices add up to a pattern. Bad-faith is a self-deception. (1) denies being-for-itself: e.g., the waiter who acts/plays the role of a waiter without acknowledging that this is merely a role that they freely choose to play (that is, the waiter thinks that being a waiter is like a being a book). A waiter is not a thing-in-itself, but is still a for-itself person. (2) denies being-in-itself, as when the homosexual denies that his/her past actions and choices define him/her as a homosexual. In this case, the person is deceiving himself or herself. But the person would also be deceiving himself or herself if they decided that they are a homosexual by past actions alone (since this would be case (1) again, where they think they are a homosexual as a table is a table). It is very difficult to avoid bad-faith: it is a problem for human existences since we are always treating ourselves as (1) or (2) alternately. We are striving to be completed being-in-itself or being-in-and-for-itself; that is, we are trying to unite being-in-itself with being-for-itself to become a united, whole person; but, this is impossible, because being-for-itself can never be completed (due to its introduction of nothingness).


Others and Ethics. Our awareness of our own self is often dependent on others (e.g. we only feel shame when we are aware of someone watching us do an immoral act). People are turned into in-itself in the view of another person, and we try to do the same to them. Thus people are always trying to dominate and objectify other people (our judgments of them as an in-itself is what we want to get them to believe as well, which is a way of controlling them). If ethics is a personal choice, what is to stop a person from choosing Nazi ethics or becoming a murderer? For Sartre, he believes that the actions and choices we make are what we would want everyone else to make as well (a universal principle).


Problem: Why should I care what others choose? Or why should I care having what I value as good become the value of good of another person?