Is Existentialism an obsolete philosophy?

I’ve been arguing to no good end with posters in the Does life have meaning thread, about Existentialism.

I’m wondering what the rest of you think about existentialism.

For me personally, the philosophy is reminiscent of religion. All the answers religion offers, but without God at the center.

Are we victims of our own conditions doomed to do what we do no matter what, or is giving meaning to life not as absurd as I thought?

How does a philosophy become obsolete?

By developing into a science, which ain’t about to happen to existentialism any time soon.

Of course, philosophical systems do go out of fashion (and come back in again), and that *has *happened to existentialism (at least compared to the big vogue it had 50-60 years ago).

In one sense, possibly… according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

If you take religion, as I do, to be basically the study of “how do we live peacably with each other in a society? What rules do we need to follow to get along?” then it has its basis in concrete existence similar to existentialism, but can propose concrete “goods” and “evils” unlike existentialism. (of course, those are just the start of the questions.)

From the same Stanford website…

but, according to the next sentence…

from the Wiki on Existentialism

Where religion says there are values and a meaning to life apart from what any one person determines it to be for himself.

So, I don’t see existentialism as giving all the answers of religion. But, then “Organized Religion” doesn’t either. That has basically been an issue of people trying to exercise power and gain wealth. And not a search for the answers to the questions I posed earlier.

Yes but that isn’t what religion is.

had to leave and didn’t finish my thought on existentialism.
If it’s obsolete, it’s because it doesn’t offer any answers other than people imposing their own reasons where none exist. It leads very readily to absurdism as espoused by Albert Camus.

Why don’t you think so? What do you think the base questions of religion are?

I mean, there are others, but the questions, “what does it mean to be a good person, how do I treat my fellow man?” really are at the heart of religion. And that’s why the tenets of so many religions are similar; they’re asking the same questions. Which isn’t what happens with existentialists.

Religion really is the basis for society, and the rules whereby we live together. Those are the questions asked.

If you want to discuss it, you’ll have to tell me why you don’t think those are the questions religion is asking. Or what your view of religion is. And then maybe I would be able to tell you if you’re actually describing “organized religion” as already mentioned.

Instead of just saying, “that isn’t what religion is.”
“yes, it is.”
“no, it isn’t.”
“This isn’t an argument.”

Look - you cannot just redefine terms to mean what you want and you don’t get to then demand reasons why not. Just like I can’t start calling elephants ‘small cheese eating rodents’.

The base question of every religion is: How do supernatural entities affect the behavior of the universe?

Many religions certainly make ethical claims. But prior to that they make ontological claims about the nature of existence which are then used to justify their ethical claims. Religions are much more than just ethical systems.

Religions like to pretend that they’re the source of all goodness to shore up their legitimacy. The existence of ethical atheists proves their claims in this regard to be false.

The landscape of modern and historic philosophy, IMO, can be divided into three regions dealing with the following basic questions: (1) What is fundamental reality (Metaphysics), (2) What is truth and knowledge (Epistemology), and (3) How does one value or judge (Ethics and Aesthetics).

When some person or group develops complete philosophical system, they pick one of these regions as a primary target of inquiry and subjugate the others to their results. Plato and Aristotle for example took (1) as their primary target–the position one took on, say, the problem of universals strongly dictated one’s stance on ethics and education.

IMO nearly all developed philosophical systems have historically followed the same route, although they may draw different answers to the same questions. A few however have blazed into (2) or (3) as their primary area of inquiry. Medieval scholasticism–as far as you can say its a philosophy–made the answer to (2) the sine qua non of a religious world view–the “reality” of the properties of angels, for example, rested on the method used to reconcile the truth of Aristotelian philosophy with the truth of revealation.

Existentialism–like other 20th century philosophical systems–took the answer to (3) as its primary concern. Historically it’s not hard to see why; Sartre for example saw firsthand the horrors of both World Wars–horrors which seemed to be the absurd product of supposedly rational Western thought. Because of its focus on ethics, existentialism has a superficial similarity to modern views of religion. The difference is that the ethics of religion–although very well-developed–are not (in theory) the primary driver of religious philosophy; it’s all predicated on the absolute metaphysical fact of God and how his properties organize the real world.

Existentialism differs from religious ethics in two ways: (1) the individual is placed at the center, and (2) the properties of the individual are defined in terms of ethics–angst, despair, etc. are related to their social/ethical implications, and I think all existentialists share a common disdain for the scientific model of the mind promoted by early psychoanalysts like Freud.

That last comment points up another difficulty associated with existentialism–existentialists are usually pretty united in what they are against, but all over the map in what they favor. As such it can seem incoherent, though I doubt it is obsolete. With the dawn of postmodernism, all philosophical systems are called into question; existentialism suffers the most in this broad sweep because it is the most recent established system and its own lack of unity makes it an easy target.

But doesn’t that just push it back a step?

I mean, sure, figure a postmodern thinker interrupts some would-be philosopher to patiently explain why assorted claims to objective truth are off the table: context is often king, subjective claims routinely get passed off as dispassionate reflections of reality even though underlying power relationships are covertly doing much of the work – all that stuff. What comes next?

Like existentialism, postmodernism excels at uniting against various stuff while being all over the map when it comes to favoring this or that after knocking down ostensible justifications. So once the postmodernist has convincingly argued that universal answers won’t be forthcoming, don’t the decidedly different answers of existentialism neatly follow up the usual quip about “what should one do if there’s no there there?”



coito ergo sum

No way man. I think the most when I’m taking a dump. so…
Caco ergo sum


I consider myself an Existentialist. I think it’s a very misunderstood philosophy, much like its precursor, Nietzsche.

Existentialism doesn’t offer neat answers like religion does. It offers some new questions, and some starting points, and some methodologies, but no pat answers.

Camus and Beckett are not the whole of Existentialism, as your reference to the absurd would indicate. We are not “victims”, that’s the first thing to toss out - we are not, in fact, “doomed” to do what we do, we are blessed to be able to decide for ourselves, to shape ourselves as authentic beings, ones that respond to the world as thinking, feeling beings.

We are not bound by a set of rules - where’s the freedom in that? Religion, (or, in fact, any of the old dualistic, moralistic philosophical frameworks,) would have us be automatons, either obedient to our rules or defective and disobedient. Existentialism breaks away from that, says no - man may be a creature of circumstance and Society, but that’s just projection - chiefly, those circumstances that most bother us are created by other people, and so the moral “problem” is the human problem. Once we understand ourselves, truly, authentically, we understand others, a little bit. How, then, can we be “victims”, if we move through the world as actors, not bit-players. Hell, even Shakespeare knew this, better than most modern philosophers.

I’m an existentialist, because it offers real answers, and because it agrees with all my other beliefs - atheism, anti-Cartesianism, functionalism, verificationism, Buddhism, anarchism…

well mr. dibble i’ve got to say that you have a point.

The comparison to religion however was only a personal opinion. It’s not religion, but it reminds me of religion. Not the functionality, not as a system, and none of the consequences of religion have been emulated by existentialism.

However, existentialist phrases, are almost pseudo-spiritual sounding (keep in my this is my personal opinion) in a way that keeps me feeling a like its a religious sort of thinking. The other reason is that it does offer an answer. And I am currently in a position where i don’t feel any answers are possible or necessary. Often time this is considered nihilism.

The quesion here is… are we maybe heading into an alleged post-postmodernist world where all these philosophies must and will be shot down

Could you possibly summarize what you think the answer is that existentialism offers?

Starting a new thread to respond to The Hamster King and tagos so as not to hijack this one.

I can see where you would say that. And with that clarification, my comments on how it differs from religion are no longer necessary and I will take that discussion elsewhere. I’m still interested in this question though.

I thought that maybe it was dying because the only answer it gave was that everyone decides the answers for themselves. (simplistic, but I’m short on time today.)

I originally considered the question of whether existentialism was dying, for that same reason.

It offers only the answer that everyone decides the answers for themselves. Which at least for me doesn’t suffice as an answer, but rather the conclusion that anyone settles with when they realize any answer is obscure and difficult to prove. In that sense, it make existentialism seem to me, a sort of categorization of many people who are very uncertain as a loosely grouped philosophy

Not really. I mean, you won’t find much about that in Buddhism, but it’s definitely a religion. (Buddhism allows for the existence of supernatural beings but they’re kinda beside the point, and you can’t get enlightenment by praying to them – they’re no nearer to enlightenment than you are.)

I just posted this in the is-existentialism-a-religion thread, forgetting that this one even existed. Oh well, it was a small joy to disrupt yet another endless thrash about theism/atheism.


I think existentialism is the best possible philosophy for the current age, or any age short of utopia. Why?

Because when you come right down to it, it’s just you and the bullshit. And you don’t matter.

But if you fight the bullshit, you at least mean something - even if you matter nothing.