The Free Market Existentialist
eBook - ePub

The Free Market Existentialist

Capitalism without Consumerism

William Irwin

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eBook - ePub

The Free Market Existentialist

Capitalism without Consumerism

William Irwin

Dettagli del libro
Anteprima del libro
Indice dei contenuti
Citazioni

Informazioni sul libro

Incisive and engaging, The Free Market Existentialist proposes a new philosophy that is a synthesis of existentialism, amoralism, and libertarianism.

  • Argues that Sartre's existentialism fits better with capitalism than with Marxism
  • Serves as a rallying cry for a new alternative, a minimal state funded by an equal tax
  • Confronts the "final delusion" of metaphysical morality, and proposes that we have nothing to fear from an amoral world
  • Begins an essential conversation for the 21 st century for students, scholars, and armchair philosophers alike with clear, accessible discussions of a range of topics across philosophy including atheism, evolutionary theory, and ethics

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Informazioni

Editore
Wiley
Anno
2015
ISBN
9781119121305
Edizione
1
Argomento
Philosophy

1
“Out, out, Brief Candle!”
What Do You Mean by Existentialism?

“Let us imagine a number of men in chains, and all condemned to death, where some are killed each day in the sight of the others, and those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows and wait their turn, looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope. It is an image of the condition of men.”1
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Existentialism and free market thinking are not often found together, and so I have met with some disbelief when I have proposed combining them.2 The strength of the connection between the two depends on the conception of existentialism. The aim of this chapter is thus to articulate my account of existentialism, which is an atheistic and highly individualistic, rather than social, philosophy. I do not seek to defend my account of existentialism or my interpretation of particular existentialists against competing accounts, nor do I attempt to establish the truth of my account. The aim of this chapter is predominantly explanatory, not argumentative. The relevant arguments come in chapters 2 and 3. The existentialist I describe may be a figure in whom you recognize yourself or others, but even if you do not, the description will serve as the foundation for the larger project of this book, namely articulating and defending free market existentialism.

Defining Existentialism

Those who do not appreciate existentialism often seek to dismiss it as a passing fad or a moment in time characteristic of post-war France. This is misguided. Existentialism crystallizes an insight or impulse that has always been with us to recognize the importance of individual, lived, concrete experience. We see this tendency in many places, from the Old Testament books of Job and Ecclesiastes to elements of Buddhism and stoicism, to Pascal, to Shakespeare, and beyond. In my view, existentialism is expressed hauntingly in Macbeth's musing:
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.3
Not all existentialists have been as gloomy and pessimistic as Macbeth at that moment, but human beings from any time or place could comprehend the significance of this image: the absurdity, the meaninglessness, the deception, the pointless striving, the anxiety, the despair, the urgency, and the sense of ever-impending death.4
Existentialism resists definition because there is nothing essential that the philosophers and artists grouped together as existentialists share in common. Indeed, existentialism is best thought of as a family resemblance concept with an overlapping set of characteristics but no necessary or sufficient conditions.
If there were an existentialist's club, no one would join.5 Existentialists aren't joiners; they're individualists. And they certainly don't like labels, including “existentialist.” Nearly all the philosophers who are usually considered existentialists did not accept the label at one point. Two of the major figures we will consider, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, pre-date the term and are often referred to as forerunners or fathers or grandfathers of existentialism rather than as existentialists themselves. Martin Heidegger purposely disavowed the existentialist label, and Albert Camus saw himself as being in opposition to existentialism. Jean-Paul Sartre rejected the label at first before later accepting it. Among the big four of existentialism—Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre—only Sartre can unquestionably be called an existentialist. Labeling any of the other three as an existentialist will result in a scholarly fight, and even Sartre's relationship to existentialism is ambiguous. As I will argue in chapter 2, Sartre's adoption of Marxism after the publication of Being and Nothingness sits in uncomfortable tension with the existentialism articulated in his magnum opus.
Clearly, whatever I claim existentialism is will meet with disagreement. Because my aim is not primarily historical, nor to articulate what is common to the canonical existentialists, but rather to present a view that I want to advance and apply in subsequent chapters, I will start with a definition that I will unpack briefly here and in more detail throughout the chapter. This is a definition that highlights elements of existentialism that I find appealing and that fit with my project of defending the free market. Please note that this definition does not attempt to specify a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. Without further ado, here it is: Existentialism is a philosophy that reacts to an apparently absurd or meaningless world by urging the individual to overcome alienation, oppression, and despair through freedom and self-creation in order to become a genuine person.
To say the world is absurd is to say with Camus that it defies our hopes and expectations. Truly speaking, as Camus notes, it is our relationship to the world that is absurd, not the world itself. “The world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and … wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world.”6 We are thus called to make an adjustment, to recognize the world for what it is and to not expect it to be anything else. The world is not hostile, but the world is meaningless, at least for the atheistic existentialist who sees the world and life itself as being without pre-given meaning.7
Existentialism speaks to the individual rather than to the group.8 Dealing with absurdity and meaninglessness is an individual endeavor. The individual seeks to overcome alienation, the sense of being “other,” of being excluded, of being not at home. The existentialist response to alienation is not to join a group but to create the self. The individual seeks to overcome oppression, the feeling that others are keeping you down or controlling you. Again, the existentialist response is not to join the oppressors, nor is it necessarily to join together with others against the oppressors. It is to refuse to be oppressed; it is akin to the stoics' assertion of the freedom of one's own mind.
The individual seeks to overcome despair. In Kierkegaardian terms, Hubert Dreyfus says, “Despair is the feeling that life isn't working out for you and, given the kind of person you are, it is impossible for things to work for you; that a life worth living is, in your case, literally impossible.”9 Existentialism does not glorify despair. Rather, it recognizes despair as a common part of the human experience, urging us to overcome it. Again, the key to overcoming is freedom and self-creation. I do not need to be who I have been or who others have defined me as. Instead, I need to be a genuine person, what existentialists call authentic. This means someone who takes responsibility for his or her free actions and the self he or she creates. We will say more about the authentic ideal later.
Inspired by Heidegger, Sartre famously defined existentialism as the doctrine that existence precedes essence.10 In other words, unlike many things, which have their essence pre-given, human beings construct and create their own essence through their free choices. So, for example, a tree has its essence or nature set by its DNA, and a teapot has its essence or nature set by its manufacturer.11 According to Sartre, we are radically free because we are unconstrained by an essence. Sartre, though, is too extreme in his denial of a human nature, not properly recognizing the limitations that biology places on human nature. As we will see and discuss in chapter 4, this is a way in which his existentialism needs to be revised and brought into line with science, particularly concerning evolution, which gives humans a loose-fitting nature.

Concrete Individual Existence

Philosophy has a tendency to get caught up in abstract concepts and unlikely thought experiments while forgetting concrete lived existence. Here the existentialist connection with literature and other arts is salutary for its attempt to depict and describe human experience. Existentialism recognizes the validity and importance of first-person experience. Each existing individual experiences the world differently, and the differences can be as important, or more important, than detached, objective, scientific description and analysis. Ironically, in describing what it is like for me to exist as an individual, something universal is communicated, namely the uniqueness of our individual experiences and the sense in which we are ultimately “alone with others.”12 No one can ever know or experience the world the way I do, and I can never know or experience the world the way another person does. We are divided by the gulf of subjectivity between us, and yet, recognizing this, we can feel some solidarity with one another. We are inescapably locked up in ourselves, yet we are social creatures who inevitably interact with others and are concerned with the way others think and feel and the way others perceive us.13
Sartre takes “the look” of the other, the way the other makes me a thing with his stare, to be such a strong experience as to erase any doubt as to whether other people have minds like ours; their minds are felt in our experience. The other person attempts to define me, and the other person also attempts to compel me to accept his or her own self-definition. I respond in kind. Hence the nature of interpersonal relationship is conflict: ...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Praise
  3. Titlepage
  4. Copyright
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Introduction
  7. Chapter 1: “Out, out, Brief Candle!”
  8. Chapter 2: Like Cigarettes and Existentialism
  9. Chapter 3: To Consume or not to Consume?
  10. Chapter 4: Why Nothing Is Wrong
  11. Chapter 5: Not Going to Hell in a Handbasket
  12. Chapter 6: What's Mine Is Mine
  13. Chapter 7: Who's Afraid of the Free Market?
  14. Conclusion
  15. Select Bibliography
  16. Index
  17. EULA
Stili delle citazioni per The Free Market Existentialist

APA 6 Citation

Irwin, W. (2015). The Free Market Existentialist (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/998109/the-free-market-existentialist-capitalism-without-consumerism-pdf (Original work published 2015)

Chicago Citation

Irwin, William. (2015) 2015. The Free Market Existentialist. 1st ed. Wiley. https://www.perlego.com/book/998109/the-free-market-existentialist-capitalism-without-consumerism-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Irwin, W. (2015) The Free Market Existentialist. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/998109/the-free-market-existentialist-capitalism-without-consumerism-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Irwin, William. The Free Market Existentialist. 1st ed. Wiley, 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.