Quick Takes:

  • Many people have tried to answer life’s questions with philosophies
  • Modern philosophers seem to borrow the popular ideas of the past
  • Life is all about the experience, and our life’s philosophy should reflect that
  • Reality is meant to be experienced, not understood

“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

Is existentialism a scam? Is it possible that philosophical greats such as Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Sartre and Nietzsche were wrong in their thinking?

First, before we determine whether or not our past luminaries were more dim than bright, let’s define existentialism, for it’s always better to understand why something can be right before trying to prove it wrong.

Existentialism, then, can be thought of as a philosophical belief that life begins with the individual, and that it’s the individual who places meaning on the world. Further, existentialists believe that all humans start with an “existentialist attitude,” and come from a place of confusion in the face of a seemingly meaningless – and often times absurd – world.

 Absurd. That’s an interesting word to use. In existentialism, the idea of the absurd is that there’s no meaning to the world other than the meaning we individually give it. Ok, that sounds about right, especially if you’ve been following modern day philosophy and how it relates to life’s purpose.

Another interesting word, popularized by Sartre, is facticity. To existentialists, facticity is the idea that even though it’s the individual that creates his or her own reality, all humans are in a state of non-being, due to the fact that “one’s past is what one is.” It speaks to the fact that our past actually limits our freedom in that it consists of as many things we can’t control (i.e. birthplace, upbringing) as much as it consists of things we can control (i.e. freedom of choices).

What’s more, even though existentialists admit that the present and future are also important, to deny the supreme importance of your past is to deny the origin of your life’s trajectory. Even the act of changing that trajectory can only be accomplished through past actions. Think about it.

While we could go on, I think we’ve captured the essence of existentialism: it’s a view of the world that says that humans have the ability to give meaning to a seemingness pointless world, and that a human’s past directly leads to who they are today and tomorrow.

Hmmmm, if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, then you’re thinking that existentialism sounds a lot like the flavor of the week philosophical concepts passed around today, which all – including existentialism – try to answer the question: what’s the point of life?

So, what’s the point of life?

Because when I try to answer that question using both existential beliefs as well as modern philosophies, such as the one pioneered by Eckhart Tolle, I always come up empty. And when the question your asking is one as important as “the meaning of life,” a question that permeates through every facet of your life (whether that be in your career, your personal life, your love life, or anywhere in between), it’s important to define your belief, and not leave it to generic philosophies that have been reused for centuries.

Alright then, lets define our belief!  

It seems to me like existentialism and modern day philosophy – which is an amalgamation of existentialism, positivism and romanticism I’d say –  preach two conflicting things: that life is both a problem to solve and a reality to experience.

When you think about it, although the world is full of nuances, life has to be one or the other: a solvable problem or an experiential reality.

Well, maybe not.

Perhaps in order to solve the problem we have to experience the reality; only through active experimentation can we find the answer to a question. Or, if you want to think about it experience first, the experiences of life can result in you finding  the answer to the question you never really thought about asking.

Regardless of what you place greater philosophical weight on, the solvable problem or the experiential reality, it all seemingly starts with the experience. It’s the experiences of life that really matter. And only through experiences do we equip ourselves with enough knowledge and understanding to even begin to answer the deep, seemingly unsolvable questions of life.

What’s the point of it all? What meaning is there? It may turn out the answer to these questions is “none,” and that existentialists hit the nail on the head when they said that life is pointless other than the individual meaning we give to it, but it’s only through reference experiences that we’re able to know. It’s not solvable actions, but memorable experiences that give us understanding.

What should we call our new philosophy then? Experientialism? Maybe a practitioner of that philosophy could be called an Experientialist?

I really like the idea of Experiential philosophy because it’s seemingly all inclusive. It’s essentially the foundation for which all other philosophies can be built – as long as they agree that at the root of every belief is the experience. And when life is so nuanced that there is a contradiction for every belief, having a philosophy that can piece together other philosophical beliefs seems to be the only philosophy worth having.

Ok, for now, I’m going to go with that: I’m an Eperientialist. I believe that everything in life, from determinism to freedom of choice, comes as a result of the experiences one has in life. So, I guess the point of Experientialism, then, is to maximize the value of your experiences!

What do you think? Would you be an Experientialist? Something different? Philosophical conversations are the best!