Existential Reflections: The Shadow Side of Human Existence (3)

In our two previous articles, we explored the ‘shadow’ side of Kierkegaard, Levinas, Heidegger, and Sartre’s philosophies. In this article, the last in the series, we look at the fundamental role emptiness or negativity plays in Watsuji Tetsuro’s analysis of human existence, before summarising some of the main themes driving this series of articles.

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Existential Reflections: The Shadow Side of Human Existence (2)

In the first article of this series, we looked at two religious thinkers; Kierkegaard and Levinas, and explored their respective notions of anxiety and separation. In this article, we turn to Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre as we continue to investigate the idea that human existence is fundamentally and unavoidably characterised by what we would usually consider unpleasant or undesirable features, features we also typically believe we can overcome or otherwise eliminate.

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Existential Reflections: The Shadow Side of Human Existence (1)

One thing that marks almost all existential thought is the acknowledgement of a ‘dark side’ to human existence. Now, this has nothing to do with psychology. You won’t find any reference in this series of articles to notions of a Freudian ‘death drive,’ an unconscious teeming with all manner of nasties looking to cause mischief, or experiments that show how easily people who aren’t normally cruel or mean can become so in certain situations (c.f. The Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments). The ‘dark side’ existential thought concerns itself with is not about behaviour, personality, or character; rather, it is the recognition that in exactly the same way that the light of the sun always and inevitably brings with it the dark of shadows, i.e. absence of light, the ‘light’ of human existence also inevitably comes with certain ‘dark’ patches, that, although we usually think of them as negative and things to be avoided, diminished, or overcome are just what it is to exist as human beings. To investigate this, this series of articles (I anticipate three) will look at some of these ‘shadow’ features of human existence through five key philosophers before wrapping up with a short section bringing their thoughts together.

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The Irreconcilability of Death

They say that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Since I’m not much of an expert on accounting, that leaves me with death. My goal in this article, then, is to explain why I think, contrary to a lot of opinion on the subject, that our deaths are events we fundamentally cannot come to terms with. In the first section, I’ll argue that it is impossible to (truly) imagine our deaths, before arguing in the second section that the only possible attitude towards death is one of anxiety. Finally, I’ll outline a couple of possible exceptions (one more possible than the other) to my first argument.

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Time in Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty

Your Mind in Time

In this article, I plan to explore how Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty attempted to understand time in their respective magnum opuses, Being and Time and Phenomenology of Perception. Both philosophers discuss time at the end of the above treatises, where it appears as the ultimate ground for the phenomenological/ontological issues they raise in earlier chapters. However, despite this formal similarity, and the significant similarities in their philosophical projects as a whole, I have come to see their interpretations of time as quite divergent. Exactly how they differ, and the relative success of each is what will concern us in what follows.

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The Metaphysics of Da-sein

A Guide to the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger

Heidegger deliberately eschewed the term ‘consciousness’ (a strategy for which I have developed the utmost sympathy of late), and even coined his own word to describe human beings; Da-sein, literally: there-being. In Being and Time, ‘Da-sein’ didn’t really go beyond a synonym for human being, although the idea was to emphasise human being; specifically denoting the way our mode of being is considerably different from that of other objects, and even other living beings. In Heidegger’s post-B&T work, however, Da-sein gets a fuller treatment, where it is revealed as the ground, or site, for the opening up of Being.

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Moving Beyond the Absurd

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Human life is meaningless, absurd; so said Albert Camus (1913-1960), the philosopher novelist who made the notion of the absurd the centrepiece of his philosophy. It’s hard to fault Camus for thinking this way considering the tumultuous times in which he lived, and yet, there is something about the absurd that resonates with people from all eras and all walks of life. When we stop to think about this life we are living (and particularly the death we will all ‘be dying’ at some point), it becomes clear that the absurd isn’t just referring to an unfortunate string of events that may or may not befall a particular individual; rather, it goes straight to the heart of human existence. It isn’t that this or that life or circumstance is absurd; it’s that life itself is absurd. In this article, we’ll investigate exactly what this means, and see if, or to what extent, it is possible to go beyond the absurd.

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Demystifying Heidegger’s Beyng

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German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) spent his entire philosophical career circling one idea: Beyng. (Since Heidegger used the word ‘being’ in a number of different contexts with different meanings, I have decided to follow him in using the archaic form of the word, which he temporarily adopted in the 30s, to clearly indicate the difference). Despite having written a daunting number of books and articles, and delivered countless speeches and lectures about beyng, exactly what he meant by the word is still shrouded in mystery, and often considered to be something absolutely mysterious. Rather than actually explaining beyng, although I will give a crude, partial outline of it, this article will argue that while beyng is mysterious in the sense that it cannot be articulated, summed up, or concluded like a theory or research project in any other discipline, it is not mysterious in any absolute sense, such that we can only vaguely gesture towards something that captured the reflection of beyng for just a moment.

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Of Muses and Gods

Brandl's ART Articles: The Nine Arts and the Nine Muses

Imagine your spouse ran off with a houseguest, leaving you with the young child you had together. Imagine then that he/she returned, and you (somehow) agreed to take them back. Finally, imagine that many years later, your spouse relayed this tale at a dinner party you were hosting, and not only was no one shocked, the guests found the story entertaining. Even you congratulated your spouse for the “…excellent tale, my dear, and most becoming.” This unlikely sequence of events is precisely what happens in Homer’s telling of the Trojan War. The runaway spouse was Helen of Troy, the husband she left behind was King Menelaus, and the irresistible houseguest was Paris. How is it that Helen’s tale was so well-received by their guests, and why did Homer describe her in glowing terms after her supreme act of betrayal? (And what does any of this have to do with control?)

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A Life without Regrets

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Take a moment to think about your life. Have you ever done anything you regret? Silly question, right? Who hasn’t? If you google “life without regrets,” you’ll find scores of self-help, motivational ‘be all you can be’ websites all offering to share with you “10 secrets to live your life without regrets.” Rest assured, this article will be absolutely nothing like that. Instead, I want to bring an existentialist perspective to regret and see if we can actually learn something about this emotion.

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