This post will examine the mysterious position of existentialism, which is basic a school of thought that denies that it is a school of thought. We will look at the origins of existentialism, the characteristics, and its role in education.
Existentialism is all about the individual. In an interesting paradox, existentialism is so individualistic that they do not see themselves as a group with set of beliefs as other philosophies do. There is a rejection of any unified body of beliefs, thoughts, or system.
Early proponents of existentialism include Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. These two 19th century philosophers were reacting to the nature of Christianity during their time. Kierkegaard focused on emphasizing the responsibility of the individual believer and their choices within religion. Nietzsche went in a different direction and became convince that there was no God and that man was responsible for his actions alone. This conclusion eventually drove Nietzsche crazy in a literal manner.
Between the extremes of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche is where most beliefs of existentialism are. Primarily, existentialism is trying to regain the lost of the individual. This sense of lost may have come from more and more people living in cities to work for others along with the growth of the government in providing services. The existentialist longed for the day when people were independent and could do what they wanted in returned for the responsibility for their actions.
According to existentialism, a person must define who they are. Defining who you are is not left to an Absolute Self or Natural Law but to the person who existence. Reality is found within the individual person. This is a major shift from idealism view that reality is beyond this world and realism’s belief that reality is in the physical world.
Truth is based on a person’s choice. People believe what they want because they want to. This seems confusing but it is laying the foundation for post-modernism min the near future with its view of relative truth. Now, the individual is the source of authority and not any other code.
With a lack of external authority existentialism has to determine right and wrong with no source of authority. This source of freedom has been called a slavery to freedom by some. Slavery is bad but paradoxically too much freedom can be burdensome as well since there is no guidance in terms of how to act. Most people want some freedom but perhaps nobody wants complete freedom as this would be injurious to themselves and others if they could truly do whatever they wanted.
Existentialism and Education
A teacher with an existentialist perspective would be surprised at how students are taught. They would see it as oppressive and even with tendency towards being a form of propaganda. Students would need much more choice and responsibility for their own actions since the current form of teaching destroys individualism.
The existentialist teacher is not the center of the instruction but rather a facilitator. The goal is to help students better understand who they are as individuals. This also means that the student should have a choice in what they learn and that the curriculum needs to be somewhat flexible. The goal is the development of the individual and not the society as the society does not care for the ultimate development of the individual.
Existentialism is a system of thought that claims not to be a system because everyone within the system wants total freedom. This is contradictory yet considered consistent among existentialist. The reaction they have towards the growing power of large society gives this philosophy a romantic longing for almost a wild pre-industrialization world. However, though many people may not agree with some of the tenets of this group many do wish that they could have at least a little more personal freedom and individuality.