Monthly Archives: August 2011

Crash course on existentialism with Sartre

A bible-study companion of mine recently sent me Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”. Here’s my response:

Thanks for sending that over! I must admit I haven’t read much of Sartre, so the lecture you sent helped remedy that.

I have a hard time differentiating existentialism from hedonism, something Sartre seems to acknowledge at least by accident when he talks about how existentialism got an early reputation for exalting man’s baser actions.

I suppose if we are to consider existence to come before essence then it logically follows that whatever I experience (ie. my present state of existence) should be considered of greater value than what I know (ie. knowledge of a transcendent essence). And if we are to begin with the subjective then it stands to reason that we can never attain knowledge of the divine. This struggle of where to begin epistemologically was also wrestled with by Plato and Aristotle (succinctly captured in this piece of art which depicts Plato’s notion of idealism which is the polar opposite of what Sartre is arguing for) and was also eloquently expressed by Francis Schaeffer (notably in his “Modern Man & Epistemology” lecture).

The third objection, stated by saying, “You take with one hand what you give with the other,” means, at bottom, “your values are not serious, since you choose them yourselves.” To that I can only say that I am very sorry that it should be so; but if I have excluded God the Father, there must be somebody to invent values.

One of the most instrumental Christian philosophers who paved the way for this kind of thinking, at least in the Church, was Friedrich Schleiermacher who argued that the primary way we know God is through our emotions and not through revelation/reason.

Its interesting how Sartre calls for men to be stewards of the emerging essence of mankind at the same time he claims that there is no ideal essence we are obliged to grow towards. I would agree with his notion that we should act as if all of mankind is defined by our actions, but that only makes sense if there is an objective and external observer whose favor or disapproval mattered. Sartre borrows much from the Christianity he misrepresents (ie. that Christian teaching is determined by the subjective whims of priests) and loathes. In fact, his a priori assumption that moral ideals would remain unchanged if we were to find that God doesn’t exist stands in direct opposition to his admission that Dostoevsky’s notion that “without God all things are permissible”. And he further contradicts himself when he talks about an ideal form of morality whose particulars are subject to change!

I understand why he claims that existentialism is a form of humanism, mostly because it puts man in the center of the universe. But like all other humanistic variants, it suffers from the same frailties that all men do. Namely our lack of omniscience and immortality, both of which it seems Sartre struggles with mightily to no avail.

Thanks again for the paper. Here are some movies on existentialism in case you’re interested to see what Hollywood does with this philosophy. There are a lot of big name actors in these movies which leads me to believe that existentialism is held in high esteem by much of Hollywood.

  • eXistenZ - The director required the cast to read Sartre and other existential philosophers in preparation for the movie
  • I heart Huckabees - Plot centers around a team of existential detectives
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Exploding TV sets and government regulation

Many people today consider government regulation to be a necessary evil. Without government overseeing greedy corporations, the thinking goes, attention to quality, and especially safety, will degrade.

It is assumed that government is the only entity with the ability and motivation to look out for the interests of everyone.

To help illustrate how faulty the notion of government regulation being our saving grace is, let’s take a look at how the Soviet Union regulated the production of its most effective propaganda outlet, the common TV set. Keep in mind that the USSR had an interest in producing quality TVs in order to govern more effectively.

Soviet television sets tended to explode, because of faulty manufacturing. The surprising and alarming propensity of Russian receivers to blow up, and by extension the apprehension it causes in Soviet viewers, was one of the stranger features of Soviet life. By one estimate, sixty percent of all apartment fires in Moscow are caused by mass-produced Soviet television sets, which hada tendency to explode. Of the 715 apartment fires in Moscow in November 1987, 90 were blamed on exploding television sets, a statistic the Soviet press viewed as an alarming commentary on Soviet technology. Police said three television models notorious for defective wiring are being removed from the market, and millions of warning leaflets have been mailed to television owners.

Its true that markets aren’t efficient (in terms of the efficient market hypothesis ), but as inefficient as they are, governments are worse. It is a fallacy to think that a small subset of the market can do a better job than the whole market in ferreting out bad products.

The elusive gay gene

[HT A Queer Thing Happened to America]

It was pointed out 11 years ago how time and again “scientists have claimed that particular genes or chromosomal regions are associated with behavioral traits, only to withdraw their findings when they were not replicated. Findings linking specific genes to complex human behaviors all were announced with great fanfare; all were greeted—without skepticism—in the popular press; all are now in disrepute.” Nevertheless, considerable grant money has been available in this country for research seeking to show a genetic basis for homosexuality. Researchers now openly admit that after searching for more than 20 years, they are still unable to find the “gay gene.”

Full paper is here

Child preachers and the power of the pulpit

This makes me so sad:

But I appreciate the fact that the reporter got it right, this kid has a passion for the pulpit, and all the excitement it represents.

It also illustrates how worthless most pastors have become today.

Oh, and for anyone who isn’t familiar with the child-preacher phenomenon, here is a rather poignant documentary:

The Myth of the Robber Barons with Burt Folsom

[HT Markets & Economy]

Did Jesus Exist?

[HT Wintery Knight]

Some deny that Jesus ever existed and I find that odd. Bart does too and Bart isn’t a Christian! I believe people deny the existence of something (God, Jesus, the soul, etc.) when they don’t want to study it and/or deal with the ramifications of their study.