Existentialism: A Tool For Gaining Personal Freedom

Hello Dazzle! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I want to talk about how you can use the philosophy of existentialism as a tool for gaining personal freedom. Existentialism is the “philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.” [1]

That being said, existentialism is complex with numerous writers that have often disagreed. Despite those frequent disagreements, there are some core ideas that pull all of these writers into a single category. To better understand how existentialism offers us a path to personal freedom, I am going to review these basic ideas.

First, there is the central theme of nihilism which is a philosophy that rejects generally accepted or fundamental aspects of human existence, such as objective truth, knowledge, morality, values, or meaning. In general, nihilism is the belief that life is meaningless. [2]

There is also a strong theme of engagement vs detachment. Existentialism explores the manner in which humans live their lives due to the belief that this can reveal the nature of the human condition. It is as though life presents us with the choice: Do we engage with our lives and struggle to create meaning or do we detach ourselves from the emptiness of it all? Hence, the existentialist crisis: realizing that life has no meaning and the crisis of then needing to decide how to engage with the world with that knowledge. [2]

This leads into the idea that existence precedes essence. We humans come into the world without any predefined meaning. Thus, our existence comes before any meaning. Which generates the situation where we are constantly creating who we are as we live out our lives. We create the essence of ourselves with every choice that we make. [2]

This means that we have freedom which the existentialist argues is a uniquely human trait. Because we have the capacity to self evaluate and to consider situations from a grand perspective, we are always more then just ourselves. We become part of the things that we use to measure or interpret our lives. This means that we have freedom and responsibility to determine who we are and what we do with our lives. This includes what we choose to define ourselves. [2]

Having freedom means that we have the option of authenticity. We can choose to be true to our inner self or we can choose to conform by defining ourselves by societal standards. Living an authentic life thus means living in a manner that embraces the things that generate meaning in our lives for us as individuals rather then focusing on what the cultural standards or expectations might be. [2]

All of this adds up to a new standard of ethics. Life is moral when we own our individual freedom and take personal responsibility for the lives that we have chosen to live. Thus, morality is focused upon self accountability for one’s actions and choices. [2]

Well, that’s a lot of stuff, right? How does any of it equate to personal freedom?

Let’s start at the beginning. There are no fundamental truths or requirements for living your life. This means that you have the power to choose to create that meaning for yourself. Since there is no preprogrammed or predetermined set of rules that you must follow. You can create that meaning in any manner that you choose. Because you have the capacity of self reflection you can also choose which context to judge your value and success. This means that we do not have to follow the expectations given to us by society. We can create our own versions of happiness, success and meaning that do no align with social standards. And as long as we take full ownership and accountability of the choices that we’ve made we can also be ethical people while embracing this freedom.

This all comes down to a singular idea that we are whatever we choose to become and that we can, at any time, choose to change what we are. “Insofar as we exist, we are envisioning a certain kind of life, assigning a value to our identity, and making ourselves into the kind of person we are.” [2] We wholly command everything that we are. Thus, we can choose to create ourselves into whatever we would like to be. Clearly, this doesn’t mean that we can simply desire to make ourselves a flying fish. But it does mean that we have control over the type of life we are living. Purpose and meaning are given only to ourselves, from ourselves. It also means that no one has the power to take meaning, purpose or success out of your life accept yourself since those things only exist in the manner that you choose to define them.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

References and Additional Reading

  1. Oxford Dictionary
  2. Existentialism

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