Existentialism: Crash Course Philosophy #16

Crash Course Philosophy is brought to you
by Squarespace. Squarespace: share your passion with the world. What gives your life meaning?
God? Love? Money? Work? Fanfiction? Football? Shopping? Sherlock? You might have your own personal sense of
purpose in your life, or maybe you’re hoping this course will
help you find one. Or you might believe that you were created with a certain essence as a human being, with a purpose given to you by God. Whatever the case is, no one would fault you
for wanting your life to have meaning. A sense of meaning is something that we all
crave – maybe even need. And as we move out of our unit on the philosophy
of religion, we should spend some time talking about how
we understand our lives as being meaningful. Because when you think about it, a lot of us devote a ton of energy to the task of finding meaning in our lives. Maybe you find it through religion, or by
fighting for social justice, or educating others, or seeking beauty in artistic expression. No matter how you do it, there’s a group
of philosophers, the existentialists, who say that any, or all, of these things
can give your life meaning. But at the same time, they say: None of them
can. [Theme Music] As you know by now, philosophy is about the dialectic: Someone puts forth an idea, and then someone else responds to it. Sometimes, the response comes right away.
In other cases, it takes thousands of years. Way back in ancient Greece, Plato and Aristotle
took it as given that everything has an essence – a certain set of core properties that are necessary,
or essential – for a thing to be what it is. If those properties were missing, then that
thing would be a different thing. For instance, a knife could have a wooden
handle or a metal handle – it really doesn’t matter. But if it didn’t have a blade, it wouldn’t
really be a knife anymore. The blade is the essential property of the knife, because it gives the knife its defining function. Now, Plato and Aristotle thought that everything
has an essence – including us. And they believed that our essences exist
in us before we’re even born. So by this thinking, part of what it means
to be a good human is to adhere to your essence. Now, you may or may not know what your essence
is, and you might be great at living up to your
essence, or you may be awful at it. But the important thing is that your essence
gives you a purpose. Because you were born to be a certain thing. This belief, known as essentialism, was the standard view of the universe all the way up until the late 19th century, and it’s still accepted by many people today. But in the late 1800s, some thinkers started to challenge the idea that we are imbued with any essence or purpose. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, for
example, embraced nihilism, the belief in the ultimate
meaningless of life. But by the mid-20th century, the path had
been paved for French thinker Jean-Paul Sartre to return
to the question of essence and ask: What if we exist first? What if we’re born without any hard-wired purpose? And then it’s up to us to find our own essences? Well this became the framework for what we
now know as existentialism. And its mantra is the claim that “existence
precedes essence.” In other words, our existence – our birth
– happens first. Then, it’s up to each of us to determine
who we are. We have to write our own essence, through
the way we choose to live. But we have no actual, predetermined purpose
– there’s no set path that we’re supposed to follow. It’s hard to express how radical this idea
was at the time. Because, for thousands of years, you didn’t
have to choose a path, or find your purpose. God did it for you. But it’s important to note that existentialism
is not synonymous with atheism. Plenty of existentialists are atheists, but
some are theists, like Kierkegaard. What theistic existentialists deny is any
sort of teleology – that is, they refute the notion that God made the universe, or our world, or us, with any particular purpose in mind. So, God may exist – but instilling you,
or your life, or the cosmos, with meaning – that’s just not in his job description. As a result, we are each born into a universe
in which we, and our world, and our actions, lack any real,
inherent importance. This is a fundamental component of existentialism. And its adherents refer to it as “the absurd.” You and I think of absurdity as something
that’s just silly, or preposterous. But for existentialists, absurdity is a technical
term. It’s how they describe the search for answers
in an answerless world. We are creatures who need meaning, but we’re
abandoned in a universe full of meaninglessness. So we cry into the wilderness, and get no
response. But we keep crying anyway. That, for an existentialist, is the definition
of absurd. Since there’s no teleology, the world wasn’t created for a reason, and it doesn’t exist for a reason. And if there’s no reason for any of this,
then there’s also no absolutes to abide by: There’s no cosmic justice, no fairness,
no order, no rules. Now, existentialism has its roots in late-19th-century
thinkers like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. But it really came into its own during and
after World War II, as the horrors of the Holocaust led many people
to abandon any belief in an ordered world. And who could blame them? When Nazis became possible, meaning became
much harder to find. But Sartre faced meaninglessness head-on, and explored one of the most agonizing aspects of existentialism. Not the world’s lack of meaning.
But its terrifying abundance of freedom. To most of us, freedom sounds pretty great. But Sartre thought that we are painfully, shockingly free. After all, if there are no guidelines for
our actions, then each of us is forced to design our own
moral code, to invent a morality to live by. Sartre took this to mean that we are “condemned
to be free,” a fate that he found to be quite awful. You might think that there’s some authority
you could look to for answers, Sartre said, but all of the authorities you can think of
are fake. You can do what your parents say, or your
church, or your government, but Sartre said those authorities are really
just people like you, people who don’t have any answers, people who had to figure out for themselves how to live. So the best thing you can really do, he determined,
is to live authentically. Sartre used this to mean that you have to accept the full weight of your freedom in light of the absurd. You have to recognize that any meaning your
life has, is given to it by you. And if you decide to just phone it in, and
follow a path that someone else has set – whether it’s your teachers, your government,
or your religion – then you have what he called bad faith, a
refusal to accept the absurd. If you live by bad faith, you’re burying
your head in the sand and pretending that something out there has
meaning – meaning that you didn’t give it. Which brings us to this week’s Flash Philosophy.
Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Sartre explained these ideas through an anecdote about one of his students, who faced a difficult decision. This young man was at a crossroads in his
life. He could join the military during wartime, and go off to fight for a cause that he believed in. And he wanted to do this.
He thought it was right. But he also had an elderly mother who was
all alone, except for him. If he went to war, he’d leave her behind.
And that seemed wrong. So he could stay with her, and let others
fight for justice. Or he could go off to war, and leave his mother to herself, and likely
never see her again. The young man felt a sense of duty to both his cause and to his mother, but he could only serve one. Moreover, if he went to war, he’d be just
a very small part of a really big cause. His contribution probably wouldn’t be great, but he would be contributing to something
that would affect millions of people. But if he stayed behind, he’d make an enormous
difference in just one person’s life. Thanks Thought Bubble. So, what’s the answer? Sartre said that the whole point of this young man’s decision was that no one could give him an answer. In fact, there was no answer, until the man
chose one for himself. No moral theory could help him decide, because no one else’s advice could lead
him to a decision that was truly authentic. So his choice – no matter what it was – was the only true choice, provided that he made it authentically, because it was determined by the values he
chose to accept. A lot of people think existentialism paints
a pretty bleak picture of the world. In fact, the French philosopher and novelist
Albert Camus went so far as to say that the literal meaning of life is whatever you’re
doing that prevents you from killing yourself. But most existentialists would remind you
that the world, and your life, can have meaning, but only if you choose to assign it. If the world is inherently devoid of purpose, you can choose to imbue it with whatever purpose you want. So, no one can tell you if your life isn’t
worth anything if you, say, don’t have children, or don’t follow a lucrative career path, or achieve whatever standards your parents hold you to. And this works not just on an individual scale,
but on a global one too. If the world is going to have any of the things
most of us value – like justice and order –
we’re going to have to put it there ourselves. Because, otherwise, those things wouldn’t
exist. So, a worldview that looks bleak to some,
may to others seem almost exhilarating. Today I hope you enjoyed as much as I did learning about essentialism and its response: existentialism. We talked about Jean-Paul Sartre and his ideas about how to find meaning in a meaningless world. This episode is brought to you by Squarespace. Squarespace helps to create websites, blogs
or online stores for you and your ideas. Websites look professionally designed regardless
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for a special offer. Squarespace: share your passion with the world. Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association
with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out amazing shows like The Chatterbox, PBS SpaceTime and PBS Idea
Channel This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these awesome people and our equally fantastic graphics team is Thought Cafe.

100 thoughts on “Existentialism: Crash Course Philosophy #16

  • 0:46 “Deport bears”

    EDIT: Oh no I just remembered that large, hairy gay men are called “bears.”

    Either way, please do not deport bears

  • So, when you discover you're a socialist libertarian idealist as a way of coping with deep nihilist fears yet find comfort taking pragmatic views fundamentally leading to an existential lifestyle, you're likely a lower middle class Western agnostic?

  • Isn't it ironic that someone is telling us that no one can tell us what the purpose of life is, because that wouldn't be "authentic"?

  • Nietzsche did NOT embrace nihilism, au contraire he sought to overcome it. This is exactly why he is regarded as one of the pioneers of existentialism.

  • I may return but I doubt it, I gave you 2minutes 43 seconds.
    Why spout off speaking at 200 miles per hour? Why put up cartoons, images and quotes where we have not time to read or understand?
    What purpose is this at all???

  • Is it the fact that so many people adhere to existentialism nowadays a sign of its validity or just a reflection of the contingent character of a late capitalist era?

  • People just want control over their live, some prefer driving a car by himself but it don't make it any saver than boarding on a plane or ship

  • It's all about the journey, not the goal. 'Every man is the sum-total of his reactions to experience.' (Hunter S. Thompson)

  • in modern world,essence win popular opinion that we must fulfilling,,i take their mocking to me and make that a strength to do my activities,,thx for the lecture

  • Without God life is meaningless and without legitimate purpose and just a small blink of an eye in the eternal time clock

  • This is me. Most "athorities" are a joke and only want to impose their "views". I laugh at their Absurdity.

  • Yet we have to obey biological functions. We are required to seek food and shelter while the urge to procreate is obsessive. After that life is up to you.

  • Nietzsche embracing nihilism is laughable. If you had to attribute one single thing to him and sum him up, it would be that nihilism is a very dangerous and catastrophic road to travel down and people must create their own meaning.

  • Nietzsche recognised just how free we are too. "It is terrible to be alone the judge and avenger of one's own law. It is to be like a star, thrown forth into empty space, and into the icy breath of solitude". He was pretty dramatic about it though lol

  • A dog became philosopher, It found food and water, it started thinking that whether it should eat first or drink first and because of all this mumbo jumbo thinking the dog died.

  • So, to sum up the video, can we say existentialiasts claim people are born with clean-slate minds while essentialist refute that notion?

  • A very wise and very wealthy man named Solomon wrote a book called Ecclesiastes. He experimented with every conceivable pleasure this world could offer. At the end of his life, he concluded, "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind." Eccl 12:13 Solomon's words are as true today as they were when he wrote them."

  • How do you make moral declarations about justice as and existentialist? If its up to the individual to make meaning then to dictate what others ought to do is it truly absurd. Existentialism does not escape the "is/ought" gap, nor does it escape the trappings of solipsism. If anything it just seems to me to be a justification for hedonism.

  • I have to question your understanding of philosophy if you claim that Nietzsche was a nihilist. He was specifically concerned with opposing nihilism and coming up with a system that could give one meaning without resorting to religion or god. That's not to say that Jordan Peterson's take on Nietzsche is correct either – Nietzsche was not trying to push conservative values. Instead, he argued for transvaluation. The idea of the free spirit and the Übermensch is diametrically opposed to Peterson's morality. If you read just one of his middle or late period works, you understand that he wasn't a nihilist or a proponent of vapid conservative ideals.

  • All those things don't give life meaning because none of those listed including religion are founded upon truth. Mankind gave up their right to life by living the way that leads to death. By living the way that leads to death, mankind, as a free moral agent, created their own governments, their own RELIGIONS. their own science, and their own educational systems. This would prove to mankind that living a life by creating magnificent structures and machines as well as performing incredible medical procedures by following one's own human reasoning and nature would in the end lead to a life of vanity. A wasted life. In the end, mankind wants to scream at the world, look at me. I'm the one on the pedestal. It's all about me!!! Surely the Creator of life will be interested in hearing all about mankind's exploits and how in the end, mankind created nothing but a bowl full of sewage on this earth. The Creator of life will prove to mankind that man's existentialism will lead to rivers of blood and billions of deaths while the highly educated philosophers are still debating over the word "TRUTH"

  • convince Grandmother to find meaning in her life by going to war to save her son's need to find meaning in life…?

  • 😑 “any or all these things can give your life meaning and […] none of them can” I think we might have a turnip 😉

    PS 500 nerd points if you know that reference off the top of your head and didn’t learn it in the last month

  • I guess it's absurd to ask on what basis the 1.8k viewers cast their negative responses. The narrator is merely presenting an accurate description of the dialect between essentialism and existentialism. I've got it! It's based on those viewers freedom to be stupid

  • Eurocentric bollox according to Derrida and deconstructionist theory.
    Nihilistic indifference towards white Jesus and all who sail in him.

  • The choice between fighting a war for a worthy cause or staying home to care for his mother is a cop-out example to demonstrate his point of view. Because either choice is respectable to most people. But if the student chose, instead of fighting for a cause or helping his mother, some idiotic or trivial or hedonistic pursuit then his philosophy would not be so easily digestible.

  • Only believe in the Lord God gives meaning to life. Without God, life is purposeless, meaningless and worthless. Life may be wonderful and prosperous but, it is worthless.

  • Essence before you are born is just stupid thinking! I would say that essence doesn’t appear until one is fully cooked if you will, your parents and your surroundings determine what kind of person you will be,unless you are just a natural born killer

  • Sometimes I wonder if the tiny mites that live on my eyelashes believe that their life has purpose or meaning? Do they think that I am their planet and that my house is their observable universe? Do they think they will go to heaven when they die? Makes me feel silly assuming that I am any more important than those tiny mites that keep my eyelids free of dead skin

  • What is the essence of men is to define his own essense ? Sartre you are a simpleton
    Even if you are born a blade, cant you still choose what kind of blade you will be ? a bread knife ? a steak knife ? or a bayonnette ?
    Is light a particle or a wave ? why can't men have an essence amd also be able to redefine themself.
    Philosophers ! nothing his absolute, nothing is predetermined, stop hitting your heads on imaginary walls.

  • Why would anyone accept the ABSURD. Jean Paul Sartre doesn't know the answer so he took to individual definition of meaning to each own. But the problem with that is morality. If someone define the meaning of their existence is to rule over the masses through various nefarious means, you really got a huge problem. If you put a constrain to that like Alber camus did, then the philosophy breaks down because why on earth would you define meaning for yourself if that concept doesn't allow you freedom.

  • This is Existentialism for children.
    Please don't start dancing until the end of the video. That is if your purpose is to be happy & dance a lot.

  • To label something is to put limitations on that said something more people should think out side of the sand box and question everything.

  • But Nazism came out of Nietzsche’s nihilistic teachings. Therefore if the horrors of WW2 caused people to believe that life was meaningless, and one of the major causes of WW2 was the belief that life is meaningless, then abandoning belief in inherent meaning led to the spread of despair and lawlessness. It is self-fulfilling!

  • Linklater's animated movie "Waking Life" touched on this subject. Not sure how widely known it is, as it's just a dude talking to strangers about dreams and life's meaning etc, but I really liked it and thought it interesting. ✌

  • We are brought into a world with no fundamental organization, yet in this chaos we make our own order, our own justice and our own freedom

  • Good, but talking about existencialism and not mentioning Heidegger its like talking about football and not say a word about Pele, Maradona or Messi.

  • Going to war or looking after his Mum was the same thing. He was going to do both to make his mum happy… When he died in the war, he shouted for his Mum – and thought I was just trying to make you proud!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Came here after reading Man's Searching For Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

    I really love the idea of existentialism actually believe in 'Free Will', instead of 'Predestined'.

    As quoted from Viktor Frankl, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
    ❤❤❤❤ Existentialism

  • Sartre's anecdote that you introduce perfectly sums up one of the known existential dilemmas we face, which is the freedom to make our decisions (i.e., free will). Freedom is fantastic, however, when we make a decision (however trivial) to go down Route A, we subsequently deny ourselves the opportunity to go down Route B, C, D, … Z. So, as was pointed out in this clip, we must ensure our decisions are authentic and calculated, because unsatisfactory choices bring about too much anxiety and "what ifs?". I suspect some people cannot easily handle the gift of freedom, and may even shirk the human imperative to make simple and complicated decisions by maintaining dependency to others (e.g., parents, romantic partners), and letting them lead the way at the cost of an inauthentic life.

  • Justice and order can and have happened without human interference. The fact that it was not implemented by an intelligent and conscious mind does not make it not so.

  • Well explained , thank you. It should be noted that this idea of being free to choose your own meaning has been present in certain, shall we say, unconventional religions well before Sartre came around. It's also quite absurd.

  • Existentialism is not only a philosophy it is the basic form on which all philosophies originate. That is to say, it is our existence that determines our explanation/meaning of life. Yes, existentialism precedes essence and once you accept this, everything else follows. Without existence, there is no thought so Descartes “I think therefore I am” is the earliest existentialist philosophical idea. Whilst religions might teach morality as if it was god given, without God’s interference, man is left free to choose so regions belief does not of itself rule out existentialism. It’s only that Nietzsche and Sartre take this one step further in stating that morality comes from us and is a reaction to our existence. Life and the Universe have no meaning so we must invent one.

  • Actually the communists beat the nazis. In the inspiration for the evolution of existentialism cause Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn are two of the best

  • I just googled Hank Green and I am in shock. I thought he was like 23 years old.
    This man is aging well.

  • I think that existentialism is the perfect thought process for our new world, and stoicism would help to defend and augment it. Combine those with the Buddhist teaching of the Middle Way, and contentment is possible no matter where you are or what you are doing.

  • A subscriber and purveyor of of Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophies could find themselves on the NSA’s watchlist. Since 9/11 the US has considered non-conformity and criticism a “crime” and worth their attention.

  • “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche.

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