Wisdom of One: The Ultimate Existentialist Quote Book


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Your essence gives your life meaning and purpose. Birds fly and makes nests and feed their young, and humans do that which humans have as their essence being a political animal, or competing, or being friends, or becoming a philosopher maybe a soldier. This is termed essentialism. In fact, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard was an early and influential theistic existentialist.

There is no captain on this ship. The fact that humans are born into this world thrown , as it were and there is no inherent purpose or teleology Greek for the ideal and predecided end; the purpose can be very unsettling. It is known as absurdity. Yes, that nihilism and injustice and freedom is unsettling. Indeed, existentialism sped up a bit after World War II.

Indeed, more than one horror story has been concocted where a person is alone for some reason, and is unable to escape or find belonging, and they are immortal. Their plight will never end. The modern Netflix production Black Mirror specializes in that kind of horror.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961)

French writer Jean-Paul Sartre referred to it as terrifying, or nauseating. If there is no God-given morality, then what limits are there, really? Sartre used this term to mean that you have to accept the full weight of your freedom in light of the absurd. Values of the Wise is distinctly in favor of one knowing what one values — knows why they live, and what gives life meaning — so that one can live authentically and with greater verve and confidence. Evangelical Christianity specializes in providing dogma to its adherents, and therefore, meaning.

They just simply do not know, and for them to pretend to is arrogant. Do you know which moral theory you favor? Take this free inventory and find out! That is not as uncouth as it sounds; really, the reason you go on living what is probably a challenging life sometimes downright depressing is a good reason not to commit suicide.

Kids, honor, love, duty, power, and God are common reasons for being. We all need reasons to get up in the morning…. I can thank many people for helping me to see the bracing wisdom and truth of that quote, and my mom and Denis Hickey, my first philosophy teacher, are first among them. We can, in fact, initiate wholly new chains of causal action. We can launch new things into the world. We can change things and really make a difference by our creative action. We are not puppets of fate, or of logic, or of science.

We can choose our own destinies. This is what makes us human. But it comes with a costly price: the wound of mortality. Our existence is forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom, and, inevitably, diminish and die. That is because morality and freedom are not empirical concepts. For we mean to say that man primarily exists — that man is, before all else, something which propels itself towards a future and is aware that it is doing so. Man is, indeed, a project which possesses a subjective life, instead of being a kind of moss, or a fungus or a cauliflower.

Before that projection of the self nothing exists; not even in the heaven of intelligence: man will only attain existence when he is what he purposes to be. Not, however, what he may wish to be. For what we usually understand by wishing or willing is a conscious decision taken — much more often than not — after we have made ourselves what we are. I may wish to join a party, to write a book or to marry — but in such a case what is usually called my will is probably a manifestation of a prior and more spontaneous decision.

If, however, it is true that existence is prior to essence, man is responsible for what he is. Thus, the first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders. And, when we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men. Subjectivism means, on the one hand, the freedom of the individual subject and, on the other, that man cannot pass beyond human subjectivity.

It is the latter which is the deeper meaning of existentialism. When we say that man chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be.

To choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm the value of that which is chosen; for we are unable ever to choose the worse. What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all. If, moreover, existence precedes essence and we will to exist at the same time as we fashion our image, that image is valid for all and for the entire epoch in which we find ourselves.

Our responsibility is thus much greater than we had supposed, for it concerns mankind as a whole. If I am a worker, for instance, I may choose to join a Christian rather than a Communist trade union. Resignation is my will for everyone, and my action is, in consequence, a commitment on behalf of all mankind. Or if, to take a more personal case, I decide to marry and to have children, even though this decision proceeds simply from my situation, from my passion or my desire, I am thereby committing not only myself, but humanity as a whole, to the practice of monogamy.

I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man. This may enable us to understand what is meant by such terms — perhaps a little grandiloquent — as anguish, abandonment and despair. As you will soon see, it is very simple. First, what do we mean by anguish? His meaning is as follows: When a man commits himself to anything, fully realising that he is not only choosing what he will be, but is thereby at the same time a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind — in such a moment a man cannot escape from the sense of complete and profound responsibility.

There are many, indeed, who show no such anxiety. But we affirm that they are merely disguising their anguish or are in flight from it. By its very disguise his anguish reveals itself. Where are the proofs? A certain mad woman who suffered from hallucinations said that people were telephoning to her, and giving her orders. If an angel appears to me, what is the proof that it is an angel; or, if I hear voices, who can prove that they proceed from heaven and not from hell, or from my own subconsciousness or some pathological condition?

Who can prove that they are really addressed to me? Who, then, can prove that I am the proper person to impose, by my own choice, my conception of man upon mankind? I shall never find any proof whatever; there will be no sign to convince me of it. If a voice speaks to me, it is still I myself who must decide whether the voice is or is not that of an angel. If I regard a certain course of action as good, it is only I who choose to say that it is good and not bad.

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66 Quotes for Taking Action

There is nothing to show that I am Abraham: nevertheless I also am obliged at every instant to perform actions which are examples. Everything happens to every man as though the whole human race had its eyes fixed upon what he is doing and regulated its conduct accordingly. Clearly, the anguish with which we are concerned here is not one that could lead to quietism or inaction. It is anguish pure and simple, of the kind well known to all those who have borne responsibilities. When, for instance, a military leader takes upon himself the responsibility for an attack and sends a number of men to their death, he chooses to do it and at bottom he alone chooses.

No doubt under a higher command, but its orders, which are more general, require interpretation by him and upon that interpretation depends the life of ten, fourteen or twenty men. In making the decision, he cannot but feel a certain anguish. All leaders know that anguish. It does not prevent their acting, on the contrary it is the very condition of their action, for the action presupposes that there is a plurality of possibilities, and in choosing one of these, they realize that it has value only because it is chosen.

Now it is anguish of that kind which existentialism describes, and moreover, as we shall see, makes explicit through direct responsibility towards other men who are concerned. Far from being a screen which could separate us from action, it is a condition of action itself. The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain type of secular moralism which seeks to suppress God at the least possible expense. Towards , when the French professors endeavoured to formulate a secular morality, they said something like this: God is a useless and costly hypothesis, so we will do without it.

However, if we are to have morality, a society and a law-abiding world, it is essential that certain values should be taken seriously; they must have an a priori existence ascribed to them. In other words — and this is, I believe, the purport of all that we in France call radicalism — nothing will be changed if God does not exist; we shall rediscover the same norms of honesty, progress and humanity, and we shall have disposed of God as an out-of-date hypothesis which will die away quietly of itself.

The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori , since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself.

He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse. Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimise our behaviour. Thus we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free.

Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does. The existentialist does not believe in the power of passion. He will never regard a grand passion as a destructive torrent upon which a man is swept into certain actions as by fate, and which, therefore, is an excuse for them.

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He thinks that man is responsible for his passion. Neither will an existentialist think that a man can find help through some sign being vouchsafed upon earth for his orientation: for he thinks that the man himself interprets the sign as he chooses. He thinks that every man, without any support or help whatever, is condemned at every instant to invent man. Only, if one took this to mean that the future is laid up in Heaven, that God knows what it is, it would be false, for then it would no longer even be a future.

If, however, it means that, whatever man may now appear to be, there is a future to be fashioned, a virgin future that awaits him — then it is a true saying. But in the present one is forsaken. As an example by which you may the better understand this state of abandonment, I will refer to the case of a pupil of mine, who sought me out in the following circumstances. His mother was living alone with him, deeply afflicted by the semi-treason of his father and by the death of her eldest son, and her one consolation was in this young man. But he, at this moment, had the choice between going to England to join the Free French Forces or of staying near his mother and helping her to live.

He fully realised that this woman lived only for him and that his disappearance — or perhaps his death — would plunge her into despair. For instance, to set out for England he would have to wait indefinitely in a Spanish camp on the way through Spain; or, on arriving in England or in Algiers he might be put into an office to fill up forms. Consequently, he found himself confronted by two very different modes of action; the one concrete, immediate, but directed towards only one individual; and the other an action addressed to an end infinitely greater, a national collectivity, but for that very reason ambiguous — and it might be frustrated on the way.

At the same time, he was hesitating between two kinds of morality; on the one side the morality of sympathy, of personal devotion and, on the other side, a morality of wider scope but of more debatable validity. He had to choose between those two. What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine? Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbour, deny yourself for others, choose the way which is hardest, and so forth.


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But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more brotherly love, the patriot or the mother? Which is the more useful aim, the general one of fighting in and for the whole community, or the precise aim of helping one particular person to live? Who can give an answer to that a priori? No one. Nor is it given in any ethical scripture. The Kantian ethic says, Never regard another as a means, but always as an end.

Very well; if I remain with my mother, I shall be regarding her as the end and not as a means: but by the same token I am in danger of treating as means those who are fighting on my behalf; and the converse is also true, that if I go to the aid of the combatants I shall be treating them as the end at the risk of treating my mother as a means.

If values are uncertain, if they are still too abstract to determine the particular, concrete case under consideration, nothing remains but to trust in our instincts. If I feel that I love my mother enough to sacrifice everything else for her — my will to be avenged, all my longings for action and adventure then I stay with her.


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  7. If, on the contrary, I feel that my love for her is not enough, I go. The value of his feeling for his mother was determined precisely by the fact that he was standing by her. I may say that I love a certain friend enough to sacrifice such or such a sum of money for him, but I cannot prove that unless I have done it.

    I can only estimate the strength of this affection if I have performed an action by which it is defined and ratified. But if I then appeal to this affection to justify my action, I find myself drawn into a vicious circle. Moreover, as Gide has very well said, a sentiment which is play-acting and one which is vital are two things that are hardly distinguishable one from another. To decide that I love my mother by staying beside her, and to play a comedy the upshot of which is that I do so — these are nearly the same thing.

    In other words, feeling is formed by the deeds that one does; therefore I cannot consult it as a guide to action. And that is to say that I can neither seek within myself for an authentic impulse to action, nor can I expect, from some ethic, formulae that will enable me to act. You may say that the youth did, at least, go to a professor to ask for advice.

    But if you seek counsel — from a priest, for example you have selected that priest; and at bottom you already knew, more or less, what he would advise. In other words, to choose an adviser is nevertheless to commit oneself by that choice.

    21 Viktor Frankl Quotes on the Meaning of Life, Love, and Suffering

    If you are a Christian, you will say, consult a priest; but there are collaborationists, priests who are resisters and priests who wait for the tide to turn: which will you choose? Had this young man chosen a priest of the resistance, or one of the collaboration, he would have decided beforehand the kind of advice he was to receive.

    Today's Quote

    Similarly, in coming to me, he knew what advice I should give him, and I had but one reply to make. You are free, therefore choose, that is to say, invent. No rule of general morality can show you what you ought to do: no signs are vouchsafed in this world. While I was imprisoned, I made the acquaintance of a somewhat remarkable man, a Jesuit, who had become a member of that order in the following manner.

    In his life he had suffered a succession of rather severe setbacks. Later, about the age of eighteen, he came to grief in a sentimental affair; and finally, at twenty-two — this was a trifle in itself, but it was the last drop that overflowed his cup — he failed in his military examination. This young man, then, could regard himself as a total failure: it was a sign — but a sign of what? He might have taken refuge in bitterness or despair. But he took it — very cleverly for him — as a sign that he was not intended for secular success, and that only the attainments of religion, those of sanctity and of faith, were accessible to him.

    He interpreted his record as a message from God, and became a member of the Order. Who can doubt but that this decision as to the meaning of the sign was his, and his alone? Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sort of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with.

    To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. Print from Picadilly Printables. He gazed keenly into the distance and looked as if he would quite like the wind to blow his hair back dramatically at that point, but the wind was busy fooling around with some leaves a little way off. There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath.

    Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number. There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.

    TOP 20 Terry Pratchett Quotes

    The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes. Shirt from the Book Riot Store. Eskimos had over two hundred different words for snow, without which their conversation would probably have got very monotonous.

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