The modern conception of man is characterized, more than anything else, by individualism. Existentialism can be seen as a rigorous attempt to work out the implications of this individualism. The purpose of this lecture is to makes sense of the Existentialist conception of individuality and the answers it gives to these three questions: (1) What is human freedom? What can the absolute freedom of absolute individuals mean? (2) What is human flourishing or human happiness? What general ethic or way of life emerges when we take our individuality seriously? (3) What ought we to do? What ethics or code of action can emerge from a position that takes our individuality seriously. Although I am sure you will want to take a critical look at the assumptions from which Existentialism arises in your seminars, I will be attempting, sympathetically, to see what follows if one takes these assumptions seriously. Let's begin by seeing what it could mean to say we are absolute individuals.
When you think of it, each of us is alone in the world. Only we feel our pains, our pleasures, our hopes, and our fears immediately, subjectively, from the inside. Other people only see us from the outside, objectively, and, hard as we may try, we can only see them from the outside. No one else can feel what we feel, and we cannot feel what is going on in any one else's mind.
Actually, when you think of it, the only thing we ever perceive immediately and directly is ourselves and the images and experiences in our mind. When we look at another person or object, we don't see it directly as it is; we see it only as it is represented in our own experience. When you feel the seat under your rear-end, do you really feel the seat itself or do you merely feel the sensations transmitted to you by nerve endings in your posterior? . When you look at the person next to you (contemplating how their rear-end feels), do you really see them as they are on the inside or feel what they feel? You see only the image of them that is presented to your mind through your senses. This is easily demonstrated by considering how our senses deceive us in optical illusions, but one simple example will have to suffice here. [split image demonstration] It seems, then, that we are minds trapped in bodies, only perceiving the images transmitted to us through our bodies and their senses..