Irrationalism, immoralism, individualism

Anthony Hatzimoysis explores notions of individualism, rationality and moral psychology in the work

Every human being exemplifies a most interesting paradox: I am not what I am (I am not merely a ‘business associate’, an ‘Anglican priest’, or a ‘barman’), while I am what I am not yet (all those minor or major projects - such as buying on Saturdays a particular paper, saving the Earth, watching the next episode of ‘Lost’, or fostering close relationships with my partner and friends - which give me a sense of identity in terms of the kind of life I am leading). The existentialist approach implies that we are responsible for many more things than we usually like to think. Indeed, there is nothing of what we do, think, or, even, feel, that just ‘happens to us’.

The extent and importance of personal responsibility for the way we both ‘read’ and ‘respond’ (emotionally or practically) to a situation is one aspect that is often missed in popularised accounts of existentialist thinking. It is thus worth dispelling the view that existentialism is guilty by association to the three ‘I’-s: Irrationalism, Immoralism, Individualism.

In their writings, existentialist philosophers engage with our reason: they put forward arguments, worked through in meticulous detail, paying close attention to the phenomena under consideration, offering illuminating narratives of the actual experiences that form the topic of their discourse, while subjecting their own views, no less than that of others’ work, to rigorous critical examination. Part of their endeavour is to undermine certain philosophical conceptions of reason, and to question its employment in various theoretical, cultural, technological, religious and political contexts. Their stated aim, however is not to offer a new dogma that would replace ‘rationality’ with ‘irrationality’, or that would substitute for ‘reason’ some other fixed mental entity (such as ‘instinct’ or ‘drive’), but to rethink, delimit, and relocate our reasoning and discursive activities in the conceptual map of lived experience.

Existentialists have offered some of the most thorough studies in the field of moral psychology. They have analysed the way in which a situation elicits certain ways of attitudinal or behavioural response, how values inform our perception of the world, and how a correct understanding of being in the world may properly ground the possibility of leading a meaningful life. Part of their work in this area involves a criticism of theoretical misapprehensions of human action, of social practices that legitimise the objectification of human subjects, and of psychological discourses that sublimate patterns of self-denying behaviour. If immoralism is the view that a person ought to choose what she herself believes to be really bad precisely because she believes it to be bad, then none of the existentialist philosophers would count as immoralist. On the contrary, several existentialists were quite preoccupied with the ethical and political dimension of one’s actions, and with the moral values engendered by one’s stance towards others - if anything, some of the existentialist diagnoses of cultural malaise at the dawn of the last century might sound unhelpful precisely because they occasionally verged on the moralistic end of cultural criticism.

Regarding the issue of individualism, it might prove difficult to disentangle the conceptual from the imaginary. However, popularised images of the existentialist thinker as a tortured individual who gazes from his intellectual heights up above society, and into the depths of the human psyche, should not obscure our perception of what the existentialists actually claimed, i.e., that the notions of ‘the individual’, no less than that of ‘the world’ are abstractions from the concrete reality of ‘being in the world with others’.

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Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: How the inauguration speeches compared

We compared the two presidents on trade, foreign affairs and climate change – so you (really, really) don't have to.

After watching Donald Trump's inaugural address, what better way to get rid of the last few dregs of hope than by comparing what he said with Barack Obama's address from 2009? 

Both thanked the previous President, with Trump calling the Obamas "magnificent", and pledged to reform Washington, but the comparison ended there. 

Here is what each of them said: 

On American jobs

Obama:

The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

Trump:

For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

Obama had a plan for growth. Trump just blames the rest of the world...

On global warming

Obama:

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Trump:

On the Middle East:

Obama:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

Trump:

We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

On “greatness”

Obama:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.

Trump:

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

 

On trade

Obama:

This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  

Trump:

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland