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  • One of the touching signs of the influence of philosophy on everyday life,

  • is that people can sometimes be heard to complain that they're

  • going through something what they call an Existential Crisis.

  • "No!"

  • The phrase maybe used rather casually and vaguely

  • but it nevertheless touches on one of the major traditions of European philosophy

  • closely associated with the ideas of five philosophers in particular.

  • Kierkegarrd, Camus, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre.

  • Though these thinkers disagreed on many things, it is possible via their thought

  • to come to a coherent view of what an existential crisis really is,

  • and when it might therefore be helpful to refer to ourselves as going through one.

  • The crisis is marked by five distinctive features

  • Firstly, it's a period when a lot that are previously seemed like common sense or normal

  • reveals its contingent, chance, uncanny and relative nature.

  • For example, we might start to wonder "Why we live in THIS part of the world rather than ANY other?"

  • "Why we're doing THIS job and NOT something else?"

  • "Why are we with THIS partner and following THIS set of social norms?"

  • In short, we realize rather disturbingly there are far more options beneath the surface than we normally allow ourselves to imagine.

  • We are more freer than we thought.

  • Secondly, this revelation is acutely anxiety inducing.

  • A recognition of our freedom doesn't bring with it calm; quite the opposite.

  • We recognize we've been deluding ourselves about what HAD to be.

  • No one really cares quite as much as we'd thought about what we are and have chosen to do.

  • We could change everything around.

  • We come to a disturbing awareness that our ultimate responsibility is to ourselves, not the social world.

  • Thirdly, we develop a heightened awareness of death.

  • Time is short and running out, we need to re-examine our lives,

  • but the clock is ticking ever louder.

  • Fourthly, and crucially for all the existential philosophers,

  • we have many choices but are, by the nature of the human condition,

  • denied the information we would need to choose with ultimate wisdom or certainty.

  • We are forced to decide, and can never be assured that we've done so adequately.

  • We are steering blind,

  • and therefore we can be guaranteed to make a lot of mistakes.

  • The condition of mankind is to have to plot our course in the dark without adequate reason or insight.

  • This leads to another favorite word for the Existentialists:

  • Anxiety.

  • The human condition is to be anxious.

  • Not about "this or that" particular thing but as a basic feature of our lives.

  • Because we must always choose without any security that we've chosen well and without sufficient time to explore the options,

  • this can call all sound perilous and dispiriting.

  • Yet the existential philosophers don't mean to depress us.

  • They want to lend dignity and grandeur to dilemmas which we too often think of as ours alone,

  • and therefore feel ashamed about as some personal curse,

  • when they are in fact fundamental features of the human condition

  • which will noble us when we considered them with sufficient depth.

  • The existentialists offer us a useful corrective to a normal pernicious view that

  • intelligent choice might be possible and untragic in structure.

  • An existential approach tempers the modern sentimental notion that perfection is within reach.

  • That you suffer from the agony of choice isn't some anomaly,

  • it's one of the most predictable and poignant things about being alive.

  • This is a message we benefit from hearing quite often

  • because what helps with regret is the knowledge that

  • in fact every life is burdened by it in some shape or form.

  • The regret-free life exists only in movies and songs.

  • The way to diminish our anxiety and panic

  • is to alleviate the sense that one had the option to choose correctly but failed.

  • A degree of disappointment is, as the existentialist philosophers so beautifully admitted,

  • just simply the human condition.

One of the touching signs of the influence of philosophy on everyday life,

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What is an Existential Crisis?

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    Jacky Avocado Tao posted on 2016/07/15
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