Kierkegaard vs. Camus Essay

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Kierkegaard vs. Camus

In the historical spectrum of what is known as existential philosophy, Kierkegaard and Camus occupy relatively distant ends. Their thinking, however, tends to more alignment. They both situated the individual in a perilous state of existence, whereby that individuality is more of a constant threat than a given. When integrated into a phenomenological examination, the idea of the individual posited by both thinkers yields a rich conception of the will as a motivating factor in all human existence. Additionally, combining and problematizing their ideas about the individual reveals a greater understanding of the individual's environment.

In the interest of a fuller analytic of human existence, Kierkegaard's fundamental conception of dread, and Camus's conception of the absurd will be examined here for greater depth. It is not in the interest of directly disclosing a thesis or a conclusion that this synthesis takes place, but rather, in the interest of developing a fuller conception of human existence. While each thinker provides immense clarity for numerous psychological, ontological and social conditions, there are implications left unfathomed. We will aim at discovering a more acute conception of the individual through a greater conception of will and worldly interaction.

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To begin, a common element of individuality inheres in each thinker's work. Not only do both strive to find a way to assert individuality, each also strives to examine the fundamental ontology or being of the individual in abstracto. Additionally, each thinker begins with the individual as locus of world and truth. If "a crowd in its very concept is the untruth"1 then where else to begin than the individual, a separate element of the crowd and thereby its supervisor and legislator. Here, Kierkegaard's fondness for dialectics posits an enormous amount in so few words. The elements of his dialectic contrast the individual with the crowd, and truth with untruth. As simple and direct as such a conception of the world appears, there are numerous implications, to be addressed shortly in relation to the elements of Camus's thought.

Essay on Kierkegaard vs. Camus Assignment

One implication of the dyad "truth/untruth" and "individual/crowd" reveals a subtle valuation of the will, given that "every individual who flees for refuge into the crowd…flees in cowardice from being an individual."1 What is the nature of this "fleeing?" Can it be traced to a fundamental aspect of human existence that precedes the states of "truth," "untruth" etc. No longer need we delay the introduction of Camus's existential ontology, as it provides helpful groundwork for further elaboration. Camus dealt with ideas of "fleeing" or "exile" and his ideas are not far removed from the ontological state we are seeking through synthesis.

Whereas before we met untruth through the crowd, Camus, if only initially, suggests a feeling of truth to only accompany a crowd-like environment. In revealing a primary determinant in his philosophy, he believes "[a] world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world" while "a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights" leads man to "exile…without remedy…deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land." The revelation consequent to such an exile characterizes what Camus calls "the absurd," a sudden feeling of alienation that he likens to "acting" on "the stage."2 We will return to the metaphor of stage-acting later.

Thus far, we have a lot of information to condense. However, much of the information is of a similar ilk; it examines individual human existence in relation to a world that pre-exists. There can be no fleeing of individual human existence from the world, not even in suicide. One is always oneself. Further, one is always oneself in a world. As individual existence, as a conscious member of the world, there is always synthesis. Kierkegaard's crowd untruthfully establishes ideas in the world. This untruth then becomes a part of the world. Theoretically, not even part but the entirety. In Camus's conception, the moment the actor witnesses the stage drop, and significations no longer hold, an entire world has vanished, the world of "familiarity." So we see in Camus's philosophy the crowd element, in regard to concept formation. Yes, you may experience the world as an individual, but what world is it you are experiencing? Are you already lost in the face of the world?

The upshot of the foregoing analysis, though as yet an undeveloped one, is that a fundamental phenomenon of human existence has been established. The state of individuality is not as simple as it seems. The thought of being an individual seems a priori evident to everyone. Without such a being, one would never have access to a world, a personality, or any experience. And yet, as Kierkegaard and Camus seem to suggest, the state of individuality is not prior, it is posterior. It is "the act of eluding."2 We begin as part of a world, a world determined by outside and pre-existing factors, and then slowly and with great dread, posit our own individuality. We change the script.

This is where Camus's conception of the stage and acting aid greatly. Camus helps to clarify that individual action can indeed be individuated, but still rely on the untruth of greater paradigms. Rationalism is one example. Religion is another. They both precede the individual and color his or her world. If the world, as established by crowd elements, is untruth, than at what point is the truth of the individual to wrest itself with any authenticity? Is the truth a consequence of wresting existence from untruth? This would suggest that untruth precedes truth. Such an assertion is evident in Camus's thinking. We begin with the absurd and moves towards the truth of our own deciding. Each decision necessarily involves untruth initially. This in mind, we now edge closer to the metaphysical grounds for such an incomplete conception of existence. First though, we continue with the analytic of individual experience, namely through the concept of dread.

In dread, we no longer have purely external relations. We move from individual against crowd, to crowded individual. What does this mean? Where are we as an individual, prior to any idea of the crowd? We are in a place of "no knowledge of good and evil," a place where "the whole reality of knowledge is projected in dread as the immense nothing of ignorance."3 This is a lot to examine. Thankfully, it moves us closer to a more fundamental look at existence.

Ignorance belongs neither to good nor evil, immanently. Ignorance has neither truth nor untruth in itself. In itself, it has nothing. How is it that, as ignorant, an individual can ever possess the truth? To Kierkegaard, dread is the fundamental psychological condition, which cannot be exceeded, only played out recurrently.3 As such, it exists in all individuals prior to any experience. Here it seems tricky to escape a certain loop. Is the individual necessarily truth, or does truth come to the individual after the individual has worked to individuate him/herself? Meaning, if one rejects the crowd, then one has a certain truth, but didn't that individual require the experience of "dread" prior to that? And if so, since dread can only occur in individuals, isn't the entire process unnecessary or at best a truism? Wouldn't every choice, no matter how preordained, result in truth? Camus further complicates this aspect of our analytic. In his conception, we "get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking."2 Seemingly what is meant here is that we live according to how others have thought before we begin thinking for ourselves. The stage is set prior to our becoming a character.

Let us back up before entangling ourselves. We will return to the loop of individual and crowd shortly. First, we must examine the concept of dread and seek out its clearest actuality. Ironically, we may find the actuality of dread is the exact opposite, the never-actual. Dread is "the alarming possibility of being able." Dread enters us as a nothing. We find ourselves as being able, in the face of nothing. This nothing encapsulates the entire world, ourselves included, as we have "no knowledge of good and evil, etc." All reality becomes nothing. No knowledge means no motive for possibility. Dread is the uncovering of pure possibility, or "the infinite possibility of being able…the fact that this possibility indicates a possibility as its consequence." Dread enters the individual, as his/her possibility. But concurrently, dread discloses the nothing that is also the individual's possibility. How can something be possible when nothing accompanies it? How can there be any idea of nothing when the individual is surrounded by his/her own being and that of others and the world? 3

Here we must penetrate deeper into the greater foundation that lends itself to the establishment of the individual. It is important not to confuse the individual for a ready-made entity, like any other object on earth. With the concept of dread, we see even further the complications of individuality, let alone individuality that operates self-consciously in a world… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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