In our individual routines, each and every one of us strive to be the
best that we are capable of being. How peculiar this is; we aim for similar
goals, yet the methods we enact are unique. Just as no two people have the same
fingerprint, no two have identical theories on how to live life. While some
follow religious outlines to aspire to a level of moral excellence, others
pursue different approaches. Toward the end of the Nineteenth-Century and on
through the mid-Twentieth, a movement followed "existentialism," a philosophical
theory of life, in order to achieve such a level. Even though the idea of
existentialism is complex, certain themes are common amongst philosophers and
authors: moral individualism, freedom of choice, responsibility, alienation.
Fundamental to understanding existentialism is the conception of moral
individualism. Existentialism rejects traditional ethical endeavors.
Philosophers since the time of Aristotle, circa Third-Century B.C.E. (before the
common era), have held that everyone should aim for a common peak of ethical
achievement. Aristotle argued for the existence of a divine being, described as
the "Prime Mover," who is responsible for the unity and purposefulness of nature.
In order for humanity to attain such a climax, everyone must imitate The
Almighty\'s perfect profile. Aristotle\'s basic philosophy deduces that humanity
strives for an identical peak of moral excellence, as judged by a higher being
Existentialism declares that the individual must choose his way; there
is no predetermination. Since the universe is meaningless and absurd, people
must set their own ethical standards. The universe does not predetermine moral
rules. Each person strives toward a unique moral perfection. The Nineteenth-
Century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who was the first writer to call
himself e)existential, reacted against tradition by insisting that the highest
good for the individual is to find his uniqueness. His journal reads, \'I must
find a truth that is true for me ... the idea for which I can live or die"
(Existentialism). Existentialists believe that morality depends on the
individual, rather than a supreme being.
Next to moral individualism, the inevitability of choice is the most
prominent existentialist theory. Existentialism assert that people do not have
a fixed nature, as other animals and plants do. Our choices determine who we
are. The Twentieth-Century French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre proclaimed that
the most Important choice is the choice of ourselves. Each character makes
choices that create his nature. Existence suggests freedom where mankind is
open to a future that is determined by choice and action. Choice is inescapable
and central to human existence; the refusal to choose is a choice. Even when a
person seems to be acting out a "given\' role or following "given" values -- for
example, by The Almighty, or by society -- he is in fact choosing to do so
(Sartre). Individuals are free to choose their own destination. Hence, they
must accept the risk and responsibility of following their commitment.
Since man\'s choices cannot be universally judged, E)Existentialists
propose a framework for which responsibility can be recognized. This outline
does not tell individuals what and how to choose; rather it implies that there
are right and wrong ways of choosing. Usually through situations such as death,
struggle, guilt, @anxiety, nausea, or anguish, one becomes aware of
responsibility (right versus wrong). Kierkegaard mentioned that an individual
must experience dread, fear of specific objects such as the Almighty, to
recognize responsibility. The word anxiety has a crucial role in the work of
Twentieth-Century German philosopher Martin Hiedegger. Hiedegger defines
an3dety as an individual\'s confrontation with meaningless and the discovery that
the only justification for one\'s demean or comes from within. Heproclaimed that
responsibility will therefore be acknowledged. In the philosophy of Sartre, the
word nausea is used for the individual\'s recognition of continual, absolute
freedom of choice (Olson). It is through these senses that people perceive
Existentialists regard responsibility as personal and subjective
(existing only in the mind; iIlusionary), considering people decide morality,
not a supreme being. E)dstentialists have insisted that personal experiences
and acting on one\'s own convictions are essential in arriving at the truth.
Accordingly, truth is subjective. Thus, the understanding of a situation by
someone involved in that situation Is superior to that of observers. Even
though one person may view a situation as immoral, existentialism maintains that
only those involved can determine morality.
Existential novels and short stories include themes of moral
individualism, freedom of choice, and responsibility, as well as alienation from
the world, The Stranger, by Albert Camus, incorporated subjects of
existentialism. In this novel, the protagonist Mersault finds himself alienated
from the world. Franz Kafka, another existential writer, expressed his views in
the short story\' The