Existentialism’s ‘Authentic Existence’ and ‘Moral Individualism’:
Sartre differentiated between what he called “authentic existence” and “un-authentic existence”. Sartre’s doctrine of “authentic Existence” has nothing to do with religious faith, as he was atheist — means he did not believe in God. When he said “Existence Precedes Essence”, he said it while assuming that God does not exist. When he said, “Man is Free”, he is saying that it is the man who himself has to find the morals and ethics of his own life, because God does not exist, according to him. He did not believe in any objective ethical or moral standards. To him, every individual, if he is to live an “authentic way of life”, should not look for guidance, towards the established codes of life. One who lives an ordinary life, where one performs one’s role just as part of the already established system as a whole; the person in this case would be living just an “un-authentic way of life”. This person does not try to figure out his own self. He finds himself wholly dependent upon the structure of set traditions. He lives life in a way in which he is directed by those set traditions. This is very easy, according to Sartre, to live as per the directions of set traditions. This is easy life but at the same time it is just an artificial life. This artificial life requires that person first of all should ignore his own ‘existence’ and should accept his role as just temporal or transient spare part of the over-all machine of the established ethical and other standards and/ or other values. Sartre considers this life style to be un-authentic because person here would not be conscious of his own independent existence. He shall not feel any responsibility towards his own existence. He would be just living a life under the already established standards. Person shall die but those standards shall still function. So the system as a whole would have nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of the individual.
“Existentialism” philosophy emphasizes on the ‘existence’ of individual human. After projecting the drawbacks of ‘artificial’ way of life, this philosophy then tries to give guidance as to how humans can live an “authentic way of life” and so can make their existence ‘authentic’. This ‘guidance’ is something like that a person should reject every sort of objective values and standards. Truth relating to different aspects of life is to be found in pure personal experience of individual, which is subjective. When person gets himself free from following the objective standards, then he experiences the true freedom of life. This is what Sartre call, “Man is Free”. The experience of this “freedom”, according to Sartre, gives no satisfaction to the individual but instead, incorporates in the individual, an intense sense of responsibility. When a person gets freedom from the objective standards, then he feels the need of formulating his own subjective values and standards. At this stage, the person cannot escape this responsibility. He is now bound to feel himself responsible. That is why Sartre said, “Man is condemned to be free”. When person, after becoming responsible in this way, tries to find the answers to the basic questions of life in a pure subjective style, very soon that person encounters with the hard realities and miseries of life and death. He becomes sad when he faces the reality that mankind would never be able to find the purpose of their being alive in the world. The personal awareness of this, along with other hard realities of life, then would make the life of person “authentic”. Since the ultimate finding of this philosophy is composed of just the miseries and hard realities of life, that is why this philosophy is considered as pessimistic in nature.
Existentialism’s Moral Individualism and how it differs with the Philosophy of Plato:
Existential ‘Moral Individualism’, as per my understanding of it, is a whole different way of finding or ‘creating’ code of ethics and morals than to that of Plato’s. There is fundamental difference between these two approaches. For Plato, the highest ethical good is the same for every one. This view is exactly opposite to Existentialist’s corresponding doctrines because in Existentialism, every individual would be having his own highest ethical good, which would be different from the highest goods of other individuals. It is so because every existential individual would ‘create’ his or her values and ethical standards, as a result of his/ her owns subjective and pure personal experiences.
The issue of ‘Existence’/ ‘Non-Existence’ is also explicable by differentiating the Existential philosophy with the philosophy of Plato. Plato actually emphasizes on ‘objectivity’. He preaches the doctrine of the presence of a ‘real world’, which we cannot know if we rely just on our faculties of sense perception. Our senses present before us a ‘phenomenal world’, which is imperfect and un-real. The real world is the ‘world of ideas’, which can be known only through reason. All the material objects and all the abstract concepts including moral values and codes of ethics exist, in pure and perfect form, in that ‘world of ideas’.
If we rely on the information which we get from sense perception, then we shall get only superficial understanding of material objects and moral values because sense perception can tell us only the ‘imperfect phenomenological world’. Sense perception has various limitations. My senses can tell me quite a different story than to any other person, even about a single subject matter. For example two persons who just rely on what information they get from their respective senses, might differ regarding the color of a shield, where both of them are standing on opposite sides of shield and color of both sides is different. One of the persons would say that its color is red and other would say, “No! Its color is green”. Similar situation would come if both these persons would try to find the highest good. Because both of them would rely on just perceptional information, so one person shall say that highest good is ‘X’ and the other person shall say that it is ‘Y’. These are the results, which Plato strongly dislikes. He says that actually both these persons are wrong because both of them have relied on just sensory data. Now Plato applies his ‘Reason’ and finds that the ‘highest good’ which is same for everyone is neither ‘X’, nor ‘Y’. This highest good, which Plato has found through the application of ‘Reason’, is found out to be ‘Z’. Now Plato profoundly says, “whoever shall try to find the ‘highest good’ through the application of ‘reason’, shall find that it is ‘Z’.”
The wrong highest good ‘X’ was the ‘subjective’ finding of first person and the wrong highest good ‘Y’ was the ‘subjective’ finding of second person. Both of these findings are ‘subjective’ because these happened to be the result of pure personal experiences of different individuals. One person cannot test or conform to the sensory information of other person. So sensory information is a pure ‘subjective’ thing and because having element of limitation, this ‘subjective’ information is incorrect, according to Plato.
The true highest good ‘Z’ that Plato has found through the application of ‘reason’, is ‘objective’ in nature because everyone can confirm it just if one applies ‘reason’ over this issue. In this way when first person applies ‘reason’, he shall find that highest good is ‘Z’ and similarly when second person shall apply the ‘reason’, he also shall find that highest good is nothing else but ‘Z’. This highest good ‘Z’ is ‘objective’ in nature because this fact can be confirmed by anyone whosoever adopts the method of ‘reason’. Thus Plato’s philosophy is all ‘objective’ because it affirms the ‘objective’ existence of moral and ethical codes.
Now I try to explain how Plato’s ‘objective’ philosophy differs with Existentialism, which tends to reject the objective doctrines and so emphasizes on the superiority of subjectivity. And as I already said that the issue of ‘Existence’/ ‘Non-Existence’ also can be explained by just clearly differentiating these two philosophies. For this purpose, suppose that now both the persons as well as Plato die. Now this is the era of new generation. Some new persons again apply reason with the view to find out the highest good. All of them, as a result, shall find that it is ‘Z’. Now suppose that these persons also die and there comes the era of future generation. Because highest good, according to Plato, is objective, so if someone, even in future times shall try to find it through the application of reason, the outcome again shall be ‘Z’.
This is one of the things, which is strongly opposed by Existentialism. This Platonic objective doctrine completely pushes back the personality and existence of individual beings. Truth, according to Plato, has nothing to do with the ‘existence’ or ‘non-existence’ of individual. Maybe individual die, but the truth ought to remain the same. In this way existence of individual personality is badly ignored by this type of objective systems. These objective systems compel individuals to remain ignorant of the superior truth of their own existence. Existentialism basically is a name, which has been given to many different revolts against many different types of objective standards. Existentialism therefore puts more emphasis on pure subjectivity and asserts that superior truth is the truth of existence, which is pure personal matter of individual, and one who finds this truth through pure subjective experience, only that person lives a personally valid way of life. This truth, being subjective in nature, may not essentially be same for all.
When a person adopts the existential approach, then he personally faces such hard realities of life as dread, anxiety etc. This philosophy is pessimistic because it makes these miserable things its principal doctrines. But this philosophy is optimistic in the sense that it offers the ‘valid’ or ‘authentic’ way of life. In this way, the suggested path is ‘miserable’ whereas the destination is ‘valid’ or ‘authentic’ in this philosophy.