Concept Of Human Existence

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Concept Of Human Existence


Soren Kierkegaard is considered the father of modern existentialism. Usually Kierkegaard argued that philosophy should be related not only to abstract theories, but also to the problems that people face as existential human beings. The problem of human existence is completely related to this concept of freedom. Man’s use and abuse also makes him a man different from Mars. This study uses philosophical methods of analysis, criticism and recipes. The existentialists argued that man is not associated with any previous human nature, but is completely free to define his nature. At the same time, existentialist philosophers emphasize the principle of indeterminism, in contrast to various deterministic theories of human nature and behavior. According to Kierkegaard, everyone should be seen as a key property of what essentially belongs to man. To do this, he must act alone, despite the emergency.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

Philosophers such as Hegel, Fichte and Schelling development of metaphysical idealism were take n to be a great fault by Jacob Friedrich Fries. Fries opinion was that philosophical trend ought to have continued in the Kantian tradition. His simple reason for this according to Coqueston (248) remains that “we must investigate the nature and laws and scope of knowledge before we can tackle problems about the object of knowledge”. What Fires means have in that, the question regarding the Corkinty of object of knowledge can be approached by investigating the nature, laws and scope of knowledge. In this point, Fries shares affinity with the attitude of the father of British empiricism, John Locke.

Thus, Fries and his co-believers became the earlier opponents and critics of metaphysical idealism. Another philosopher who joined in the criticism was Christian Hermann Weisse, who opined that Hegel had exaggerated the role of logic for trying to deduce reality from the abstract forms of being. On his own, Immanuel Herman Fichte, son of the famous idealist emphasized the individual human personality. Fichte was strongly in opposition to what he regarded as Hegel’s tendency to submerge the individual in the universal where personality, the end of creation that was assored of immortality, was presented as a moment in the life of universal spirit. So, the chain of reaction against idealism continued and reached screen Kierkegaard. This Dane was described by Ludwig Wittgenstein (cited in Pattison, 1) to be “by far the most profound Thinkers of the last cemtury”.

Soren Kierkegaard, the father of contemporary existentialism

In Omorveghs (39) words, this is a loose system of philosophy that deals “win, concrete existence as opposed essence”. The emergence of this system shifted the attention of philosophy from the study of metaphysical realities as obtainable in traditional philosophy of ancient and medieval periods to the study of the being of man and the tangible or concrete realities of existence.

Kierkegaard’s task was to refute Hegskanism or speculation philosophy as misrepresented by absolute idealism. Philosophy of Hegelianism, according to Copleston (335) misrepresented human existence such “ that man realizes his true self or essence in proportion as he transcends his particularity and becomes a spectator of all time and existence as a moment in the life of universal thought”.

The above approach purged the diet experience of existeritialism rise to his oars to react with scant sympathy for this radiculity. In his reaction, Kierkegaard built his philosophical thoughts in such a manner that, it fended to become “a clarification of issues and an appeal to choose, an attempt to get new to see their existential situation and the great alternatives with which they are faced” according to copleste (336). This clarification is necessary because the important problems of any human being is never resolved by sheer thought or speculation, “but by this act of choice, on the level of existence rather than on that of detached, objectives reflection” as Copestone (338) puts it.

Ordinarily, Kierkegaard posits that philosophy should concern itself not merely with abstract theories rather with questions such that confront individuals as existing beings. Citing Etim (1) question such as “who am I? what is the meaning of life? How can I live a meaningful and useful life? How can I remain there to myself and to others? What is the meaning of freedom for me? How can I use my freedom?” Kierkegaard want on to assert that human existence is not merely an existence but an authentic human existence with paschal relationship with his creator. The authenticity of this individual existences made Kierkegaard to raise questions such as “How should one live authentically as a Christian? How does one live in a personal relationship with God, and respond authentically to the demands of that relationships as …… did? What is the meaning of having a faithful relationship with God?

In this light, it is agreed that existential philosophy concern itself with the ultimate question of the meaning of human existence. By and large, existentialists approach where to discover the meaning and authenticity of …… existence. This work, therefore, seek to examine Soren Kierkegaard’s approach to the question of the meaning of human existence and the question concerning the question: what does it really mean to exist as a human person?

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The question of human existence has attracted so many considerations. There are some who approached it from the point of view of its absurdity and meaninglessness. Most of such people are atheists like Martin Heidegger, with Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre who played down very much, the essence of human existence as Hegel also did. However, there is the other group of existentialists who discussed human existence as a worthwhile venture. Such include the chief founder of contemporary existentialism in the person of Soren Kierkegaard. These philosophers expounded certain existential tenets which according to Lescoe (9) are geared towards “analyzing the basic structures of human existence and to call individuals to an awareness of their existence in its essential freedom”.

The problem of human existence is related wholly to this concept of freedom. Its use and abuse makes and mars man respectively. This is because freedom remains the pivot upon which man asserts himself. It is his relationship to this that categorizes him either as authentic or inauthentic individual. Thus, the measure of the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life is highly subjective but whichever way it is determined by the degree of commitment which one puts in as he tries to assert himself by the exercise of freedom.

Another question to be examined here remains whether one can live authentically when one has no authentic relation to the community which Kierkegaard regard as the crowd? And man existential approaches to the natural phenomenon such as death, dread, or anxiety, despair, and suffering. It also takes into consideration the question of freedom and choice, man’s quest for existential meaning and Kierkegaard’s analysis of man’s stages on life way.

It is therefore in a bid to clarify some of these mind-bogging issues that the researcher is out to expose what Kierkegaard considers to be the gauge or the standard of meaningful human existence. With this in view, the work is a confrontation of man with the naked facts of his freedom and duty through which he makes the best out of his life as an individual.

1.3 Aim of the Study

It is a major tragedy of human existence that many people goes through life failing to express their individual potentialities to an appreciable extent. On the other hand, Fred Baver observes that there are those who concentrate so hard on making a living that they tend to forget to live.

The above insights are what inspired this research. The researcher therefore wishes to awaken from slumber those who are yet to give in or enjoy the latest possibilities in them while those who have lost hope in realizing meaning out of human existence as x-rayed by their excessive obsession or addiction to working so hard are to be reminded that Kierkegaard was right when he said that “until man actualized his essential self in God, his life is full of anxiety” (Ibe 43). It is with confident the belief that this knowledge or wisdom will make all see the difficulties in life as things designed to make all better and not bitter. Thus, this work has the intention of making all realize that human existence is meaningful in so far as it is approached subjectively through individual’s personal experiences, adequate sense and use of freedom, solemn and sincere fear of the creator.

1.4 Justification of the Study

Human day to day challenges impact highly at all levels and leaves us with so many complexities to eventually falling into the disposition of ‘follow the trends’ for existential survival. The weaknesses in human authenticity in nearly every facet of human life or society cause man to almost be a blind copy of itself or the other person. Typically, daily problems of existence sometimes isolate us from engaging in self-realization to fully understand ourselves and deal with questions that impugn our very nature so as to realize our purpose in an ever changing and ever complex world. Man often focuses on thought of others to the detriment of his unique individuality. Other than being an authentic individual, who answers the question of freedom, meaning and faces the existential phenomenon of death, suffering, dread, despair, absurdity etc, man is otherwise subsumed in the crowd thus losing his individuality to abstract objective or societal control. Kierkegaard’s opposition to this trend and his answers to the question “what does it mean to be existing as a human being?” informs the energetic question gingering this research on his notion of human existence. Thereby justifying the rationale behind this research bearing in mind it impact in awakening the contemporary man to the reality of himself as an existing being.

1.5 Significance of the Study

Existential philosophy rest on the conception that man must first exist, then take responsibility of creating meaning or essence for his existence. This task of creating meaning can be says to be enormous. Therefore, man must be at its best to be able to exercise such responsibility. Consequently, questions regarding the human person arise. Questions such as who is a human being? What does existence like? Or what is the meaning of man’s existence. Does man have absolute freedom to make choices? etc. It is in this sense that this research plays a significant role to man as he hopes to realize himself. Thus, the significance of this work can be outline as follows:

It helps man to realize his purpose of existence thereby fashioning his own life through realization and reflection on himself by excluding himself from the crowd.

Kierkegaard proposed three stages on life would benefits contemporary man to come to the actualization of his essence with the understanding that to exist is to be an individual who strives, who considers alternatives, who chooses, who decides and who makes a commitment more importantly, for ensuring existential commitment, worthy of making the individual sound, critical focused, brave, courageous and analytical minded in making decisions for his very life.

It is also of relevance to contemporary man in re-orienting the contemporary world on the fact that self-realization and valuation is possible only if man makes personal decision out of deep personal reflection and free exercise of his will power while being ready to take responsibilities for his subjective decisions than objective crowd following.
Also, bearing in mind the scope of epistemology which deals with the nature, scope and criterion of knowledge. The research contributes epistemologically by revealing such knowledge that qualifies such a conclusion on human nature. It’s also awakes the slumbering man to take responsibility and create his essence or meaning even in the face of existential predicaments.

1.6 Methodology of Study

In order to give this work its required philosophical grounding, the researcher made wide consultation of research materials on Kierkegaard. The outcome of that effort is manifested in the acquisition of deep knowledge of existentialists’ concept of human existence. However, there is strict adherence to Kierkegaardian method. Some necessary opinions or insights of others are employed as and when due as the research progresses.

The work therefore employs the philosophical methods of analysis, criticism and prescription. Analytical, as to how it relates the existential ideas to subjective experiences. Critical, in that it does not assimilate all Kierkegaard’s assumptions, rather it appraises his strong points but criticizes the unwholesome aspects of his notion or teachings in regard to human existence.

1.7 Scope of the Study

What formed the scope of this work stems eventually from what Kierkegaard applied in his effort to ascribe meaning to human existence through authentic individuality. This implies his ideas of the individual and the mode of the individual’s existence. Also, the scope of this research covers Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy, particularly on his notion of human existence and, by extension, his thought as it affects the contemporary man.

1.8 Definition of Terms

What is Existentialism?

Existentialism as a philosophical endeavour is seen differently from the perspective of different philosophers. According to R. C. Solomon, existentialism “is the explicit conceptual manifestation of an existential attitude–a spirit of ‘the present age’. It is a philosophical realization of a self-conscious living in a “broken world”… a world into which we are “thrown” or “condemned” yet “abandoned” and “free”…a world which appears to be indifferent or even “absurd”…” (ix), this definition sees existentialism “as an attitude which begins with a disoriented individual, facing a confused world that he cannot accept” (Olawonyin 24). On his part, G. O. Ozumba sees existentialism as “the philosophy of human existence…concerned with the individual in the uniqueness of his existence. It therefore renounces reason, universality, abstraction and objectivity in favour of privacy, particularity, randomness and subjectivity” (87-88). Supporting this view, Idang (99) writes that “it would seem, man with his problems, is the main focus of existentialism. It is a manner of philosophizing, a way and manner of looking at the world especially of man and his place in the universe.” For Aqulanna (147) existentialism “is concerned with the ambiguities and paradoxes that constitute the inner being of man”.

From the foregoing, existentialism, generally, is a philosophical outlook that stresses man’s predicament, and lay emphasis on man existence as an individual rather than an abstract being.

Chapter Five

Summary of Study and Conclusion

Summary of Study

The existentialists maintain that the question “what is man?” must wait upon an answer to the problem of explaining what it means to say that man is. How can we search for essence before we have even explained the existence of the thing we seek the essence of?”. Existentialists view man as pure existent who is devoid of any essence whatsoever. Man is not bound by any antecedent human nature but is completely free to determine his own nature. In this sense existentialist philosophers emphasize the principle of indeterminism as opposed to various deterministic theories of nature and human behaviour. If man has an essence it isliterally his freedom from essence and his consequent freedom to choose and become what he wills. To be a man is to be undetermined, to be free. Man can choose which way he will take and this freedom to choose distinguishes him from all other phenomena in the universe. Kierkegaard viewed man not as a specie but as an existing individual. Every man according to Kierkegaard, must be assumed in essential possession of what essentially belongs to being a man. He says “man is spirit”. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self or it is that in the relation (which account for it) that the relation relates itself to its own self (Kierkegaard, 2008. p.9).

Conclusion of Study

For Kierkegaard, man exists in a state of natural crisis and the foremost task before him is to become subjective. For this he must have to choose, to act for himself without ignoring his contingency. Though man does not contain within himself the resolution of his crisis, but he has the possibilities of raising the question of his crisis and of feeling the importance to himself of his own contingency.

Man is a free entity having freedom of choice. He even makes choice when he chooses not to make any choice. Man can become whatever he wants to become through his choices, but at the same time he cannot avoid the consequences of his choices. Thus he cannot escape despair. Only the true Christian, who has authentic relation with God, can escape despair.

Like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche again experienced man in a peculiarly personal and nihilistic form. According to him the nature of man is highly problematic. He is the most dangerous animal holding in his hands the most dangerous power of blowing himself but at the same time the most courageous and will be able to survive even after killing God. Nietzsche believes that death of God has led to arousal of a new situation which would see the emergence of a new man whom he called “Superman”. The Superman is one who will not surrender himself to rules, who refuses the will of the community or the common good, he is the individualist, the conqueror with the courage to define his own morality and values in his own interest. From the concept of man, Nietzsche takes a step ahead to see him a Superman who is beyond ordinary good and evil and has elevated spirit while having been in this world. In reality he is his soul though aged in his body.

Kierkegaard believed that individual’s union with God is possible and this union does not wipe out the individual. The individual, even when he establishes rapport with God, preserves his individuality and God remains an absolute ‘Other’. He further held that the individual’s confrontation with God is hindered by the conventional organized religion. He further argues that it is God- man relationship that makes man a man. Relationship with God cannot be made merely through reason but with faith. He insisted that there is no evidence that Christianity is true. There is evidence, however, that it is a logical contradiction for God to have had a life or a history. The man of faith believes in God despite the absence of positive evidence and despite the negative evidence.

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