Suppose that the Existential Illini arrange a Millercomm event on the
topic “After the Death of God: Despair, Nihilism, or What?” Suppose
that they invite Schopenhauer (AS), Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre (JPS),
and that three of them show up (your choice). Give two-page summaries
of what each of them says.
Hi, my name is Arthur Schopenhauer. I lived from 1788 to 1860
of the Common Era, isn't that exciting? Well, I’m back
at this fine Millercomm event to talk about the death of God, and I hear
that two of my fellow colleagues will be here as well to share their views
on it. Between the three of us, we shall attempt to explain just
what we believe in and how we each interpret what we are to do with ourselves
after the “Death of God”.
God is dead, that much is obvious. How I laugh at those like
Descartes and Kierkegaard, who base so much of their theories on an
omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God that even a stiff wind
can blow their deck of cards over. How I scoff when Descartes says
that even the thought that God could exist as a being just as powerful
but not infinitely good in nature, in fact, causes Descartes greats pains.
In a moment of agitation trying to disprove this notion, he says he felt
“…as if I had suddenly fallen into a deep whirlpool, I am so disturbed
that I can neither touch my foot to the bottom nor swim up to the top.”
(Note Packet, 54)
Just the thought of bashing one of these guys makes me salivate.
How can they possibly look around at this suffering and misery without
thinking it “impossible to believe that this world is the successful work
of an all-wise, all-good, and at the same time, all-powerful Being?” (Packet
209) When I listen to Kierkegaard’s endless platitudes and honorifics
towards God, actually thanking him for creating this torturous ball of
wretchedness we occupy, it makes me want to cry. In addition, it
is preposterous to suppose that such an omnipotent and good being would
create man, its “highest product, who is a burlesque of what he should
be.” (Packet 210) Given the power to create us with infinite happiness
and no suffering, it is inconceivable that he would instead create
the flawed, miserable, unhappy and pained that he did—“Human life must
be some kind of mistake.” (Packet 212) Unless you can believe “that
a God like Jehovah should have created this world of misery and woe,
out of pure caprice, and because he enjoyed doing it,” there is no choice
but to declare God dead, once and for all—and good riddance!
So what is left, then? Despair. Pure despair and suffering.
The only purpose of life is to suffer. Don’t look for a merciful
God to save you, for if there was one He would have done so already.
“Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence
must entirely fail of its aim.” (Packet 205)
Without a God to “watch over us”, as the tired rhetoric goes, it would
seem that humans have the freedom to say whatever they want to say and
do whatever they want to do. I’m sure Mill would be proud of me for
invoking his “holy word” of freedom, so let me go right ahead and cut him
off at the pass. Life is all suffering anyway, all that one is bound
to do by acting on their opinions and desires is to choose their own particular
method of suffering. In the grand scope of things, does it really
matter? If we truly examine one’s life “in all its small details,
as presented, say, in a comedy, how ridiculous it all seems!” Mill
puts us each under a microscope and wants us to examine all our wants,
dreams, opinions, and our individuality…but “it is only in the microscope
that our life looks so big.” (Packet 212)
Life is suffering and pain, and then you mercifully die. If there
is some sort of God, then they created this horrible world and I have a
bone or two to pick with them. If not, than the world is truly just
inherently evil. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Despair,
for you can do nothing else.
I can see by the horrified looks on your faces that my dear colleague
Schopenhauer has depressed you all to the verge of tears—and that some
of you, in fact, are already crying. My name, friends, is Martin
Heidegger, and I shall attempt to explain to you my own hypotheses on
what man is to make of himself after throwing God out the window.
So God does not exist, yes? Does this leave us out in the cold,
as Schopenhauer says? Not entirely. He is overly pessimistic,
as you might have gathered by yourselves. Freedom is out there
for the taking, and I believe that some good can come of having this freedom.
The hard part, as I see it, is not deciding what to do with freedom, but
obtaining it in the first place.
Until we have a specific sort of revelation—I’ll get to that in a bit—our
being is simply a “Being-with.” We are part of a collective (“with”
them), and we really don’t make any original decisions—we are not authentic.
Our thoughts and actions are dominated by what others tell us are right
and wrong; we never really determine for ourselves what is right and wrong.
Even when we are alone—Being-alone, as I call it in my works—we are still
part of the collective, or the Being-with. “Even Dasein’s Being-alone
is Being-with in the world. The Other can be missing only in and
for a Being-with. Being-alone is a deficient mode of Being-with;
its very possibility is the proof of Being-with.” (Packet 308) Even
when we are alone in an empty room, our actions are still affected by others.
How do we break out of this, you ask? We must realize that we
are going to die, or become a “Being-towards-death.” (Packet 313)
We realize that Death is “the possibility of the impossibility of any
existence at all.” (Packet 314) It is the end of being, after
which the Dasein goes from being to “not-being”. Furthermore, the
anticipation of death turns out to be the important part of this discussion,
not death itself. The anticipation of death is unique for each person;
“Anticipation turns out to be the possibility of understanding one’s ownmost
and uttermost potentially-for-Being—that is to say, the possibility of
authentic existence.” (Packet 314) We grapple trying to come to terms
with our own death, not the deaths of others. It is this that allows
us to be “wrenched away from the ‘they’” and become true authentic beings.
The term that encapsulates this freeing of the Dasein is the “freedom
towards death”. (Packet 316) Now, how does the Dasein view
this freedom it has obtained? It does so via the “voice of conscience”.
(Packet 318) Our conscience now tells us what it feels is right and
wrong, what we should and should not do through guilt. When we try
to do something our conscience feels we shouldn’t, we experience the “Being-guilty”…”The
call of conscience has the character of an appeal to Dasein by calling
it to its ownmost potentiality-for-Being-its-Self; and this is done by
way of summoning it to its ownmost Being-guilty.” (Packet 319)
So where does all this leave us, after the “Death of God”? Perhaps
it has shown us that it is possible to break away from other people’s morals
and beliefs, that perhaps we can stop believing in Judeo-Christian ideals
just because “they” do and create our own morals, our own beliefs.
We are now responsible for how we lead our own lives; our conscience created
by our freedom towards death allows us to determine for ourselves what
we should and should not do. We are now authentic.
I can see by the doubly-horrified looks on your faces that not only
has Schopenhauer has depressed you all to the verge of tears, but Heidegger
has confused you to the point of hysteria! I can only give you solace
by telling you that his articles are at least ten times more confusing
than his speeches, if you can believe that. Anyway, my name is Jean-Paul
Sartre, and I will try build upon what Heidegger has already mentioned
by focusing on just what to do with freedom once it has been obtained—through
I know that Schopenhauer touched briefly upon “freedom” in some respects,
but I have a different view of it altogether. Those Christians
who bash existentialism do so because they believe that once “we ignore
the commandments of God and all values prescribed as eternal, nothing remains
but what is strictly voluntary.” (Packet 321) Complete freedom,
in other words! Schopenhauer trivializes this, saying that our freedom
is irrelevant, and my disagreeing contemporaries believed that such freedom
would leave things such that “Everyone can do what he likes, and will be
incapable, from such a point of view, of condemning either the point of
view or the action of anyone else.” (Packet 322) Anarchy!
My rebuttal here is that these folks place an “over-emphasis upon the evil
side of human life”—they underestimate man’s ability to escape from the
anarchy they are so quick to place us in. (Packet 322)
The brand of existentialism I believe in is known as “atheistic existentialism”,
and it can be summed up by saying “If God does not exist there is at least
one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists
before it can be defined by any conception of it…the human essence.” (Packet
323) This is to say, there is no such thing as human nature since
there is no God. “Man simply is…man is nothing else but that which
he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism.”
(Packet 323) Thus, man has complete freedom, as has already been
It should be noted that this is a break from Heidegger, who believed
that one had to have a revelation—the “freedom towards death”—to be totally
authentic, or free to make one’s own choices. I, being an atheistic
existentialist, believe that man’s freedom is inherent, a result of having
existence before essence.
Furthermore…not only is man wholly responsible for himself, “he is also
responsible for all men.” (Packet 323) This may seem counter-intuitive,
but we can think about it as such: Man tends to take the road we would
want others to take, leading by example. The best way for me to show
that I believe that murder is bad is to never murder anyone myself—“In
fashioning myself I fashion man.” (Packet 324)
The question one may ask in response to this, of course, is: “What is
the proof that you, Sartre, or anyone else for that matter, is the right
person to impose your views of man on the rest of us?” The response
is thus: “I shall never find any proof whatsoever.” (Packet 324)
We are totally abandoned, as we existentialists say. There is no
God to lay down laws, nor can we take any core values a priori that were
brought about solely by a belief in God. There is thus no one to
determine for us who the right person to impose their views on others are—our
leaders choose to be leaders, and those who choose to follow make that
choice consciously as well. And, there is no reason why a follower
cannot become a leader tomorrow, or vice versa for that matter. For
this reason, and so many others, we say, “Man is condemned to be free.”
There is no God and no predestination of the essence at all—that is
what I believe; that is the crux of Existentialism. Go out, and be
what you make of yourself!
Philosophy 101 Note Packet (Schacht). University of Illinois,
Fall Semester 2000.