If such a view is not to collapse into contradiction the notions of facticity and transcendence must be elucidated. Risking some oversimplification, they can be approached as the correlates of the two attitudes I can take toward myself: the attitude of third-person theoretical observer and the attitude of first-person practical agent. Facticity includes all those properties that third-person investigation can establish about me: natural properties such as weight, height, and skin color; social facts such as race, class, and nationality; psychological properties such as my web of belief, desires, and character traits; historical facts such as my past actions, my family background, and my broader historical milieu; and so on.
From an existential point of view, however, this would be an error— not because these aspects of my being are not real or factual, but because the kind of being that I am cannot be defined in factual, or third-person, terms. Though third-person observation can identify skin color, class, or ethnicity, the minute it seeks to identify them as mine it must contend with the distinctive character of the existence I possess. There is no sense in which facticity is both mine and merely a matter of fact, since my existence—the kind of being I am—is also defined by the stance I take toward my facticity.
Transcendence refers to that attitude toward myself characteristic of my practical engagement in the world, the agent's perspective. An agent is oriented by the task at hand as something to be brought about through its own will or agency. Such orientation does not take itself as a theme but loses itself in what is to be done. Thereby, things present themselves not as indifferent givens, facts, but as meaningful: salient, expedient, obstructive, and so on. It may be—the argument runs—that I can be said to choose a course of action at the conclusion of a process of deliberation, but there seems to be no choice involved when, in the heat of the moment, I toss the useless pen aside in frustration.
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But the point in using such language is simply to insist that in the first-person perspective of agency I cannot conceive myself as determined by anything that is available to me only in third-person terms. Because existence is co-constituted by facticity and transcendence, the self cannot be conceived as a Cartesian ego but is embodied being-in-the-world, a self-making in situation.
Because my projects are who I am in the mode of engaged agency and not like plans that I merely represent to myself in reflective deliberation , the world in a certain sense reveals to me who I am. For reasons to be explored in the next section, the meaning of my choice is not always transparent to me. Existential psychoanalysis represents a kind of compromise between the first- and third-person perspectives: like the latter, it objectifies the person and treats its open-ended practical horizons as in a certain sense closed; like the former, however, it seeks to understand the choices from the inside, to grasp the identity of the individual as a matter of the first-person meaning that haunts him, rather than as a function of inert psychic mechanisms with which the individual has no acquaintance.
In the first place, though it is through my projects that world takes on meaning, the world itself is not brought into being through my projects; it retains its otherness and thus can come forth as utterly alien, as unheimlich. This experience, basic to existential thought, contrasts most sharply with the ancient notion of a kosmos in which human beings have a well-ordered place, and it connects existential thought tightly to the modern experience of a meaningless universe.
In the second place, the world includes other people, and as a consequence I am not merely the revealer of the world but something revealed in the projects of those others. I am not merely looking through a keyhole; I am a voyeur. I cannot originally experience myself as something—a voyeur, for instance. Only the other can give rise to this mode of my being, a mode that I acknowledge as mine and not merely the other's opinion of me in the shame in which I register it. It is because there are others in the world that I can take a third-person perspective on myself; but this reveals the extent to which I am alienated from a dimension of my being: who I am in an objective sense can be originally revealed only by the Other.
This has implications for existential social theory see the section on Sartre: Existentialism and Marxism below. Finally, the self-understanding, or project, thanks to which the world is there for me in a meaningful way, already belongs to that world, derives from it, from the tradition or society in which I find myself. The idea is something like this: Practices can allow things to show up as meaningful—as hammers, dollar bills, or artworks—because practices involve aims that carry with them norms, satisfaction conditions, for what shows up in them.
But norms and rules, as Wittgenstein has shown, are essentially public, and that means that when I engage in practices I must be essentially interchangeable with anyone else who does: I eat as one eats; I drive as one drives; I even protest as one protests. To the extent that my activity is to be an instance of such a practice, I must do it in the normal way.
Deviations can be recognized as deviations only against this norm, and if they deviate too far they can't be recognized at all. If such standards traditionally derive from the essence that a particular thing instantiates—this hammer is a good one if it instantiates what a hammer is supposed to be—and if there is nothing that a human being is, by its essence, supposed to be, can the meaning of existence at all be thought?
Existentialism arises with the collapse of the idea that philosophy can provide substantive norms for existing, ones that specify particular ways of life. Authenticity—in German, Eigentlichkeit —names that attitude in which I engage in my projects as my own eigen. What this means can perhaps be brought out by considering moral evaluations. In keeping my promise I act in accord with duty; and if I keep it because it is my duty, I also act morally according to Kant because I am acting for the sake of duty.
But existentially there is still a further evaluation to be made. But I can do the same thing authentically if, in keeping my promise for the sake of duty, acting this way is something I choose as my own , something to which, apart from its social sanction, I commit myself.
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But such character might also be a reflection of my choice of myself, a commitment I make to be a person of this sort. In both cases I have succeeded in being good; only in the latter case, however, have I succeeded in being myself. Some writers have taken this notion a step further, arguing that the measure of an authentic life lies in the integrity of a narrative , that to be a self is to constitute a story in which a kind of wholeness prevails, to be the author of oneself as a unique individual Nehamas ; Ricoeur In contrast, the inauthentic life would be one without such integrity, one in which I allow my life-story to be dictated by the world.
Be that as it may, it is clear that one can commit oneself to a life of chamealeon-like variety, as does Don Juan in Kierkegaard's version of the legend.
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Even interpreted narratively, then, the norm of authenticity remains a formal one. As with Kierkegaard's Knight of Faith, one cannot tell who is authentic by looking at the content of their lives. Authenticity defines a condition on self-making: do I succeed in making myself , or will who I am merely be a function of the roles I find myself in?
Thus to be authentic can also be thought as a way of being autonomous. Being a father authentically does not necessarily make me a better father, but what it means to be a father has become explicitly my concern. It is here that existentialism locates the singularity of existence and identifies what is irreducible in the first-person stance. At the same time, authenticity does not hold out some specific way of life as a norm; that is, it does not distinguish between the projects that I might choose.
Thus existentialism's focus on authenticity leads to a distinctive stance toward ethics and value-theory generally. The possibility of authenticity is a mark of my freedom , and it is through freedom that existentialism approaches questions of value, leading to many of its most recognizable doctrines. Existentialism did not develop much in the way of a normative ethics; however, a certain approach to the theory of value and to moral psychology, deriving from the idea of existence as self-making in situation, are distinctive marks of the existentialist tradition.
Existential moral psychology emphasizes human freedom and focuses on the sources of mendacity, self-deception, and hypocrisy in moral consciousness. The familiar existential themes of anxiety, nothingness, and the absurd must be understood in this context. As a predicate of existence, the concept of freedom is not initially established on the basis of arguments against determinism; nor is it, in Kantian fashion, taken simply as a given of practical self-consciousness.
Rather, it is located in the breakdown of direct practical activity. Both Heidegger and Sartre believe that phenomenological analysis of the kind of intentionality that belongs to moods does not merely register a passing modification of the psyche but reveals fundamental aspects of the self. Fear, for instance, reveals some region of the world as threatening, some element in it as a threat, and myself as vulnerable.
In anxiety, as in fear, I grasp myself as threatened or as vulnerable; but unlike fear, anxiety has no direct object, there is nothing in the world that is threatening. And with this collapse of my practical immersion in roles and projects, I also lose the basic sense of who I am that is provided by these roles. In thus robbing me of the possibility of practical self-identification, anxiety teaches me that I do not coincide with anything that I factically am. Further, since the identity bound up with such roles and practices is always typical and public, the collapse of this identity reveals an ultimately first-personal aspect of myself that is irreducible to das Man.
The experience of anxiety also yields the existential theme of the absurd , a version of what was previously introduced as alienation from the world see the section on Alienation above. So long as I am gearing into the world practically, in a seamless and absorbed way, things present themselves as meaningfully co-ordinated with the projects in which I am engaged; they show me the face that is relevant to what I am doing. But the connection between these meanings and my projects is not itself something that I experience. Rather, the hammer's usefulness, its value as a hammer, appears simply to belong to it in the same way that its weight or color does.
So long as I am practically engaged, in short, all things appear to have reasons for being, and I, correlatively, experience myself as fully at home in the world. In the mood of anxiety, however, it is just this character that fades from the world. As when one repeats a word until it loses meaning, anxiety undermines the taken-for-granted sense of things. They become absurd. Things do not disappear, but all that remains of them is the blank recognition that they are—an experience that informs a central scene in Sartre's novel Nausea.
As Roquentin sits in a park, the root of a tree loses its character of familiarity until he is overcome by nausea at its utterly alien character, its being en soi. While such an experience is no more genuine than my practical, engaged experience of a world of meaning, it is no less genuine either. An existential account of meaning and value must recognize both possibilities and their intermediaries. To do so is to acknowledge a certain absurdity to existence: though reason and value have a foothold in the world they are not, after all, my arbitrary invention , they nevertheless lack any ultimate foundation.
Values are not intrinsic to being, and at some point reasons give out. In commiting myself in the face of death—that is, aware of the nothingness of my identity if not supported by me right up to the end—the roles that I have hitherto thoughtlessly engaged in as one does now become something that I myself own up to, become responsible for. This is not to say that Heidegger's and Sartre's views on freedom are identical. But the theory of radical freedom that Sartre develops is nevertheless directly rooted in Heidegger's account of the nothingness of my practical identity. Sartre 70 argues that anxiety provides a lucid experience of that freedom which, though often concealed, characterizes human existence as such.
For instance, because it is not thing-like, consciousness is free with regard to its own prior states. Motives, instincts, psychic forces, and the like cannot be understood as inhabitants of consciousness that might infect freedom from within, inducing one to act in ways for which one is not responsible; rather, they can exist only for consciousness as matters of choice. I must either reject their claims or avow them. For Sartre, the ontological freedom of existence entails that determinism is an excuse before it is a theory: though through its structure of nihilation consciousness escapes that which would define it—including its own past choices and behavior—there are times when I may wish to deny my freedom.
This is to adopt the third-person stance on myself, in which what is originally structured in terms of freedom appears as a causal property of myself. I can try to look upon myself as the Other does, but as an excuse this flight from freedom is shown to fail, according to Sartre, in the experience of anguish.
For instance, Sartre writes of a gambler who, after losing all and fearing for himself and his family, retreats to the reflective behavior of resolving never to gamble again. This motive thus enters into his facticity as a choice he has made; and, as long as he retains his fear, his living sense of himself as being threatened, it may appear to him that this resolve actually has causal force in keeping him from gambling.
In order for it to influence his behavior he has to avow it afresh, but this is just what he cannot do; indeed, just this is what he hoped the original resolve would spare him from having to do. As Sartre points out in great detail, anguish, as the consciousness of freedom, is not something that human beings welcome; rather, we seek stability, identity, and adopt the language of freedom only when it suits us: those acts are considered by me to be my free acts which exactly match the self I want others to take me to be.
Characteristic of the existentialist outlook is the idea that we spend much of lives devising strategies for denying or evading the anguish of freedom.
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