Existentialism has been defined as a movement that was both philosophical and psychological, and it influenced many diverse individuals during the 19th and 20th centuries. Existentialism has been said to “emphasize the individual existence, freedom, and choice.” Søren Kierkegaard was the first writer to call himself existential, and he rejected Plato’s philosophy that the highest ethical good is the same for everyone, and insisted that the highest ethical good for each individual is his or her own unique vocation (Encarta, 2005).
A basic way of defining existentialism would be by saying that every person would have to find something that felt good, or right to them, not something that could be defined universally, or not even something that could be defined to a certain group of persons. Existentialism embraces the idea of freedom and choice, and requires an absolute level of individuality. Placing restrictions on existentiality would abolish its very existence (Clark: 2003, 32-55). The attitude of existentialism is that, “There is no truth or reality except as we participate in it.”
Rollo May defined anxiety by saying: “Anxiety is the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value that the individual holds essential to his or her existence as a person (1977).” (Engler: 2006, 382) Engler goes on to say that Rollo May defined anxiety as a symptom of a deeper problem, which resulted by interpersonal isolation and alienation, and also states that our contemporary society elevates, or raises to a dominant position anxiety in reference to certain situations. An example that is given is one that the situations provoking anxiety in our time would be incomprehensible to a Tibetan villager. (2006, 383)
Simply stating, anxiety is something that people have in reaction to a threat against their beliefs or values. When someone feels like a part of their person, or even their existence is being threatened, they develop a feeling of anxiety, which can often times be closely associated with fear, because of the challenge. The statement that society can elevate the feelings of anxiety to different levels would stand true, as something that had previously been unchallenged would be called into play. For example, the threat of corporal punishment by mutilation would cause little concern in our country because corporal punishment by mutilation is unconstitutional, and therefore illegal, however in other societies where a thief may have his right hand amputated; corporal punishment by mutilation would cause dreadful anxiety to potential thieves.
Rollo May defined the term myth by saying: “A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence. …myths are our way of finding meaning and significance. Myths are like the beams of a house: not exposed to outside view, they are the structure which holds the house together so people can live in it” (May: 1992, 15). As aforementioned, Rollo May felt that we as humans need myths to give our existence meanings, that also applies to our need for new myths. Humans have the strong desire to create things that are sacred or important, or simply to have an impact in their lives. By creating new myths, or at least having the ability to create new myths, human beings are granted that powerful ability to give meaning to their own lives.
Rollo May’s belief in existentialism should be placed in freedom when using the continuum. Existentialism teaches that freedom and choice are requirements of our existence, and that each individual must seek their own truths in order to exist. Although he did define myths by saying that we do not generate the necessity for myths; that they simply come from our destiny, the basic concept of his belief in existentialism would be more freedom oriented.
Existentialism, even if viewed from a philosophical viewpoint, is a very important part of life. Existentialism can basically be manipulated into whatever you want it to be. Powerful statements such as “there is no truth or reality except as we participate in it” and “knowledge is not an act of thinking, but an act of doing” really enable students to assume control of their own lives. One can manipulate these statements into either positive or negative viewpoints, for example, if someone feels that they have no knowledge because they don’t reflect it in their actions, then they will tend to feel bad about themselves, and think of themselves as ignorant. A person who views their self as needing to perform more positive actions to reflect their knowledge, however, would be empowering themselves by striving to achieve. The same could be said for almost any of the aspects of existentialism. To harness the power of such an important philosophical piece of history is nothing short of an amazing accomplishment.
Microsoft Encarta Reference Library. 2005. www.microsoft.com/uk/encarta/default.mspx
May, R. 1992. “The Cry For Myth.” New York: Delta Books 1:15
Engler, B. 2006. “Personality Theories.” Houghton Mifflin Company 14: 376-400
Clark, F. 2003. “Monotheism and Madness.” www.eleusis.com/monoandmad.pdf