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Sartre and authenticity

Fotolia_41409422_XS-300x223In the previous post on Sartre I have provided a very brief overview of his phenomenological and existential philosophy. Like most philosophers, Sartre had plenty to say in regards to how one should live one’s life.

Sartre begins with the existentialist thesis that existence comes before essence. What flows logically from this is Sartre’s idea of human freedom – that because there is no essence or nature to man, he is free to do as he pleases. This similar to Kant’s thesis of man as self-legislator, and in contrast to a natural law thesis under which man’s nature determines what is good for him.

So, what to do with all this freedom? Sartre asserts that a man makes himself through his actions, and key to this are his positive concepts of individuality and authenticity, and their corresponding negative bad faith.

Beginning with bad faith, this is most clearly understood as when the “for-itself” rather chooses to become an “in-itself”. Sartre gives the example of a waiter who comes to identify himself as his role, instead of as an individual choosing to perform a certain set of tasks. In this way, the human as waiter relinquishes his burden of freedom as a “for-itself”. Loosely, bad faith can be approximated as man’s tendency to reject his status as a subject and become an object.

In the opposite, a man that recognises his status as a “for-itself” and fully embraces his freedom will live an individual and authentic life. But at the same time, Sartre more fully fleshes out the psychological problems with Kant’s radical ideas about human freedom; in that while man may be free to act as he chooses towards the world, ultimately he will find only indifference and uselessness.


Karl Popper on science and falsification

Karl_PopperKarl Popper (1902 – 1994) was an Austrian born philosopher that spent most of his academic life working in New Zealand and Britain. In his youth, he worked in road construction and cabinet making, but struggled with the toil of heavy labour. Popper obtained his doctorate in psychology in 1928, and by 1937 he had obtained an academic position in New Zealand that enabled him to flee the rise of Nazism in Europe.

Popper completed many political works, but he is most well known for his work on the philosophy of science. Particularly, his proposal that all scientific theory should be falsifiable; that it is a strict condition that a scientific theory should be overturn-able given empirical evidence to its contrary.

In the modern era, Francis Bacon is the father of scientific philosophy with his inductivist method. Bacon’s idea was that one would observe the world, propose a law, and then confirm that law by further observation of many particulars. This law may later be modified or discarded pending further empirical study.

However, David Hume’s criticism of this method was that human beings do not directly perceive the causal connections between events (a.k.a problem of induction). This is a problem for Baconian science in that while one may see certain things and certain activities at certain times, this is by no means proof of any law of operation in nature.

Popper provides a solution for this problem: scientific theory must be falsifiable. The popular example is of the sun rising every morning. Popper states that while there is no way to prove that the sun will rise every morning empirically, one may formulate a scientific theory that the sun will rise every morning. There is no need to reject this theory until there is a morning where the sun does not rise – in which case a new theory will need to be formulated.

Popper works under the assumption that no scientific theory can be proved true, it can only be falsified. In this way it is like ancient Pyrrhonism, where the thought that one way is better than another lays in the deluded belief that one could prove their prejudice true.


Heidegger: phenomenology and being

Heidegger_1955Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) was a German philosopher and one of the most prominent thinkers of the 20th century. Raised a Roman Catholic, Heidegger attended the University of Freiberg at the Church’s expense to study theology on the understanding that he would become an apologist. However, Heidegger broke with the Church and switched his field of inquiry to philosophy.

He would complete his doctoral thesis on the works of Duns Scotus, but it was Edmund Husserl and his philosophy of phenomenology that would become Heidegger’s greatest influence.

Like most great thinkers, Heidegger begins with a problem. Per Heidegger, the problem with Western Thought in the 20th century was that it had lost it’s concept of being and thus collapsed into nihilism. To clarify, it is the question of nature of being itself that fascinated Heidegger, rather the study of individual beings.

Heidegger developed two important concepts. The first is “Sein”, this is being itself. The second is “Dasein”, which are particular beings that “care” for the question of “Sein”. The main concern of Heidegger’s early philosophy is the phenomenological analysis of Dasein in order to understand Sein.

Heidegger’s search for Sein complicates Husserl’s philosophy. For Heidegger, the idea of the intentionality of the mental world is transformed because the experiences that are key to phenomenological analysis are already grounded in being. Rather, Heidegger argues the Dasein is what it is because the question of Sein matters to it.

For Heidegger phenomenlogy is methodological rather than metaphysical. One may also note the modern and especially Kierkegaardian emphasis on the subject as the starting point of philosophy. Heidegger would go on to influence the wave of existential thinkers of the 20th century.

Russell, realism and analytic philosophy

what-were-plato-s-beliefs_2ebecdd3-b206-467b-bb0e-c3a742b09571In the previous post I discussed some of the reasons for Betrand Russell’s rejection of the idealism of his teachers and peers.

This is remarkable because of how unfashionable realism was in the early 20th century. Russell rejected both the popular “scientific materialism” view criticised by Whitehead that all is matter, and of course the idealistic view that reality is ultimately the mental world of ideas.

Going forward, Russell was to adopt a unique type of Platonism. He writes:

Whatever may be an object of thought,…, or can be counted as one, I call a term. …I shall use it as synonymous with the words unit, individual, and entity. … Every term has being, that is, is in some sense. A man, a moment, a number, a class, a relation, a chimera, or anything else that can be mentioned, is sure to be a term….

Principles of Mathmatics, p. 43

So, according to Russell what has being is “terms” which may or may not exist. This is because for Russell words simply mean objects (or terms). So it follows that a sentence, which contains terms, is an entity of itself i.e. a unity of those terms, which may be particulars or concepts.

Following that, logical analysis consists of the deconstruction of complex unities into increasingly simpler components of concepts and particulars. This is the birth of analytic philosophy in the early 2oth century.


Some pictures from Greece and Italy

The excavations of Aristotle's Lyceum in Athens

The excavations of Aristotle’s Lyceum in Athens

Bust of Aristotle at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

Bust of Aristotle at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The School of Athens by Raphael, Vatican Museum

The School of Athens by Raphael, Vatican Museum

Two years of blogging!


It’s been an exciting two years for me! Moving from monism to dualism, and hopefully this time next year pluralism (and no more celebrations after that!).

Fun times at the Louvre


I ran into these three guys at the Louvre. Do you think that they’re famous or something?