From Spinoza to Quantum Theory: Things to Talk About in the Middle of the Night
“As I read this surprisingly upbeat exploration of current philosophical and scientific thought on the age-old mystery of existence itself—why, quite simply, there is something rather than nothing—a depressing question kept occurring to me. Do college students, I wondered, still sit around their dorm rooms arguing such questions into the wee hours of the morning?”
Check out Questions of Being — What if our minds are the ultimate reality? for a review by Jay Tolson of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story.
That a temporal world should be known and, in being known, sustained and perpetually created by a timeless consciousness is an idea which contains nothing self-contradictory.
Aldous Huxley, “Eternity and Time,” The American Scholar, Summer 1945.
Perhaps easier said than done, but interesting regardless.
One such question is, “Are the Continental philosophers really philosophers?” Analytic philosophers, because they identify philosophical ability with argumentative skill and notice that there is nothing that they would consider an argument in the bulk of Heidegger or Foucault, suggest that these must be people who tried to be philosophers and failed – incompetent philosophers. This is as silly as saying Plato was an incompetent sophist, or that a hedgehog is an incompetent fox… We should really just drop the question of what philosophy really is or who really counts as a philosopher… If we put aside wistful talk of bridge-building and joining forces, we can see the analytic-Continental split as both permanent and harmless.
A well-meaning neighbor, thinking to humor the fisherman in the bathtub, says, “Catch anything?” “No, you fool,” the fisherman replies. “Can’t you see this is a bathtub?”
-Albert Camus, on practicing existentialism
Staying on the 20th century philosophy track, here’s more existential knowledge for your brain. Read David Lehman’s piece from our Spring 2008 issue, Exit No Exit.
"…while [Voltaire and Camus] conceded that the world is meaningless, both writers insisted upon the collective search for meaning and dignity. Voltaire and Camus saw how our lives are shot through with beauty and truth and understood that lucidity is all we have in an indifferent and silent universe."
Regarding French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to move Albert Camus’ body to the Panthéon in late 2009 (which never happened, by the way), Robert Zaretsky wrote this piece comparing the absurdist philosophies of Voltaire and Camus.
Read Giving Absurdity Its Due.
(Above, Albert Camus via)
For a certain extraordinary period of time, everyone wanted to be existential. Not everyone knew what this meant, exactly, but everyone wanted the distinction. Misused and overused, the very word existential began to function as a sort of highbrow condiment of choice, the squirt of moutarde de Dijon that spiced up the hot dog of a banal observation. It was irresistible.
David Lehman on existentialism in “Exit No Exit.”
For the scientist, man is no more than an observer of the universe in its manifold manifestations.