Existentialism and why it is bad

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Postby JDoran » Fri Dec 30, 2011 10:33 pm

Skept wrote:Simply saying "No, you're wrong!" or "You don't understand" doesn't really explain anything and it certainly doesn't persuade. If a philosophy is so difficult to explain or understand then I wonder what the point of it is.


You've gotten this idea in your head that existentialism expouses viewpoints that it does not. Until you accept that, there is no moving forward. Given that this is one of three threads in a row that you've started where you've done this exact thing (defined a term incorrectly, argued against your definition, and then glossed over attempts by people to explain to you that you've gotten it wrong), I do not think it likely that you're going to be able to understand it without devoting some time to researching the subject beyond the "read some wikipedia pages" level. I do not consider it a good use of my time to act as your philosophy tutor when you are clearly not making more than a token effort to understand the views you are arguing against. Go to the library, borrow a book by Sartre, and read it.

However, I would agree with you that if determinism is correct and compatibalism is not, then attempting to understand existentialism is largely useless. However, just because people don't agree with your purely deterministic viewpoint does not mean that they are in denial and you are correct. You might be correct, but you're going to have to prove it, then prove that determinism is not compatible with compatibalism. Simply making blanket statements does not prove your point. Is the mind an illusion? If so, then our discussion is also an illusion, yet it still holds meaning and value for us. By declaring things such as mind, freedom, self, etc as illusory, you seem to be the one making arguments similar to solipsism; the real world, free will, the mind, and the self may indeed be illusory, but it is both far from conclusively proven and currently of no benefit to us to treat them as such.

Skept wrote:And what was essence again? For some essence is the soul.

For Kirkegaard essence was "nature". And oh boy, how are we gonna define "nature" again?

These are perfect examples of what you're doing. Sartre did not define "essence" as "the soul" (which is itself a very vague word) and Kirkegaard did not define "nature" as "the material world". If you argue against these terms as meaning something they do not, then you are making a straw man argument. If you're going to argue against Sartre's position (which was not identical to Kirkegaard's position, one was an atheistic existentialist and one was a theistic existentialist), then you have to use the definitions of the terms that he used. If you do not know the definitions, then making one up and arguing against it is ridiculous.
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Postby Lausten » Sat Dec 31, 2011 12:42 am

Skept wrote:Lausten (& JDoran)

Wow..

Guys; is it possible for you to have a conversation without being insulting? I mean do you think that insults makes your arguments more clear or valid? I have not insulted your intelligence or your ability to understand things, so you have no cause to insult me. If you think that its fine to insult people who you have never met just because you sit anonymously behind a computer screen you are mistaken.

If you would please confine yourself to listen to what I'm saying I would be happy to explain my point.
You are confusing evaluation of your statements with insults. I explained how I view the substance and quality of your argument. Granted I did not spend a lot of time with that, but given how you have responded to me and others so far, I didn't see much point. And yes, I questioned your motivation.

Your argument is off right out of the gate, so I focused on your misunderstanding of "existence precedes essence". I'm sure you think you are explaining what that means, but you aren't getting through due reasons which have already been discussed. Trying to switch to a discussion about my style won't get you anywhere either. Luck to you in 2012.
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Postby Skept » Sat Dec 31, 2011 8:29 pm

JDoran & Lausten

Well you keep telling me I don't understand the terms, and you are correct. I don't understand them; at all. What is freedom? What is free will? What is essence? What is nature? I have never heard any explanation that is satisfying. They are impossible to relate to the real substance; matter. Except in those cases where essence or nature is defined to be matter. But words that are so flimsy has no value to me.

Therefore I simply treat these concepts as supernatural entities; they do not exist until proven to exist. So far science and logic shows us that there is no freedom, no free will, no essence and no nature (as in a place or condition or qualia or essence or anything distinct from humans). It's not up to me to prove that there is no free will; if you think it exist you're the ones who will have to prove it.

Determinism is relatively much easier to prove; all organisms are matter. They are not "made of" matter; we ARE matter. And since everything that exists is matter wich follows certain laws and somekind of causality (I prefer the word continuum myself) there is a reason and a history for everything that happends.

In my view, freedom and free will are concepts that seek to undermine the reason for why things happen. Free will - in my view - is like saying that the will happens on its own without any predetermined cause. If there was a predetermined cause for the will, it wouldn't be free; Despite the fact that the conditions and causes are complex; Complexity is not freedom, complexity does not imply freedom. So it's very simple; Only a deterministic view can be intelligeble.

I'm sorry that you didn't understand my view on mind and consciousness. I suppose I could flip the tables on you and say that since you don't understand that why should I care to be your tutor? Why shouldn't you figure it out yourselves, go read a book? But I am not dismissive in that way; I am not a fan of RTFM, because when I have a conversation I don't expect people to be so fantastically interested in the subject that they are obliged to RTFM. Instead I see conversation for what it is; a temporary exchange of ideas and understanding. I prefer to be generous in my conversations, because it gives me more back.

I'm a bit amazed actually that you didn't understand my analogy of the computer screen, and I am tempted to think that you didn't understand it because you either didn't read carefully what I wrote because you don't agree with me in general, or you just don't care. Still, I can go over it again if you are interested. An illusion doesn't necessarily mean that something doesn't happen, only that the way it happens is in contradiction to how it appears to happen. The mind/consciousness appears to be one entity of its own; like a flame on top of a candle. But on closer inspection, it is not a one single thing or entity, it is a combination of many many things; trillions of synapses and billions of neurons. We cannot communicate back to these little things; they just do what they do and have no will of their own. But the result is a magnificent lightshow that the brain reads, interprets and makes sense of. It is like smoke and mirrors.
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Postby JDoran » Sun Jan 01, 2012 3:35 am

Skept wrote:Well you keep telling me I don't understand the terms, and you are correct. I don't understand them; at all. What is freedom? What is free will? What is essence? What is nature? I have never heard any explanation that is satisfying.

This is why you have to read Sartre before you argue against his terms. If you don't know what he's talking about when he mentions "essence", then you wind up guessing (and getting it wrong, in this case). Sartre isn't here to explain it to you and given your communication difficulties, I am not so fanatically interested in our discussion that I'm willing to explain it to you when you appear to have chosen willful ignorance on the topic you are arguing against.

Therefore I simply treat these concepts as supernatural entities; they do not exist until proven to exist. So far science and logic shows us that there is no freedom, no free will, no essence and no nature (as in a place or condition or qualia or essence or anything distinct from humans). It's not up to me to prove that there is no free will; if you think it exist you're the ones who will have to prove it.

Science and logic do not conclusively demonstrate that determinism is valid and compatibalism invalid. Where is the research that says these things are the case? Since you are the one who posted the thread claiming that "existentialism is bad" (and later changed it to "existentialism is incorrect"), you have to make a coherent case for such. So far, you have failed to do so.

In my view, freedom and free will are concepts that seek to undermine the reason for why things happen. Free will - in my view - is like saying that the will happens on its own without any predetermined cause. If there was a predetermined cause for the will, it wouldn't be free; Despite the fact that the conditions and causes are complex; Complexity is not freedom, complexity does not imply freedom. So it's very simple; Only a deterministic view can be intelligeble.

Then you are operating under a useless definition of free will. Will must always be limited by reality.

An illusion doesn't necessarily mean that something doesn't happen, only that the way it happens is in contradiction to how it appears to happen.

Why does this matter when it comes to will, mind, and your computer image? Does knowing that these words you are reading are a collection of pixels in any way change the fact that you are receiving the information contained in the words as filtered by your mind? Does mind being a construct of the brain in any way change the fact your mind receives the information? Does will being limited by reality in any way change the fact that you exercise will in how/if you choose to reply to my post? If you think you have no choice in how you reply to my post, how do you distinguish between having a choice and not having one? "Choice does not exist" is not (currently) a testable claim; it may never be so. Given that we do appear to have choice (limited by reality), it is reasonable to assume that we have choice until demonstrated otherwise.

I'm sorry that you didn't understand my view on mind and consciousness.

I'm a bit amazed actually that you didn't understand my analogy of the computer screen, and I am tempted to think that you didn't understand it because you either didn't read carefully what I wrote because you don't agree with me in general, or you just don't care.

I'm fairly certain I did understand your views and dismissed them as near-solipsism (see above). If you feel I didn't understand them, then you've likely chosen definitions of your terms that do not match the commonly-accepted definitions and have failed to mention that; you have a history of doing this on these forums and fail to see why this is a problem when you're trying to hold a discussion. If you address no other point in this post, I'd like you to explain why you continue to do this if you're genuinely seeking effective communication with other people.
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Postby Skept » Wed Jan 04, 2012 4:34 am

JDoran

JDoran wrote:This is why you have to read Sartre before you argue against his terms. If you don't know what he's talking about when he mentions "essence", then you wind up guessing (and getting it wrong, in this case).

I interpret Sartre to say that essence means "human nature"; but what is "human nature"? According to Sartre there is no predetermined human nature, but we invent what we are. The logical implications is therefore that there is no trace of any limitations within the philosophy of Sartre; just saying that we "exist" is not a limitation. And to say we can "invent ourselves" is also to think there is no limitations at all.
Science and logic do not conclusively demonstrate that determinism is valid and compatibalism invalid. Where is the research that says these things are the case?

The reason is that there is simply no evidence for any freedom. If you can find any evidence for freedom let me know. And I still hold to the opinion that existentialism is bad.
Then you are operating under a useless definition of free will. Will must always be limited by reality.

I don't think that reality is a conditional term that says what is possible and what isn't possible. Reality is just a word we use to label things we think exists objectively; but the word is not limited to that either. For idealists reality is the world of forms. So there is no limitations in the word "reality". To say that something is "limited" can also imply a sort of "cage" setting, or a bunch of lines that you cannot cross. But that is a useless pretext for defining the will. I mean sure you can say that you might not be able to jump over the moon no matter how much you want to, but that has absolutely nothing to do with whether you have free will or whether your will is determined.

That the will is determined from chemistry and biology there is no question. Unless you can discover an independent agency operating the biological organism, there is no possibility for "free will". How could there be? Free will comes from the idea that there is a soul, a non-material "entity" that makes choices independently from the body. But if "choices" are products of the body there is no way you can have a "free choice". If you understand causality; body -> will -> choice.

In the idealist worldview you have 1. spirit/mind -> 2. will -> 3. choice -> 4. body; In some cases the will comes before spirit/mind, but in general mind is the first in the idealist view. In that model you can have free choice because everything is controlled by an independent mind or spirit.

But in the materialist view on humans you have a completely different pretext; It starts with matter and continues on into organic chemistry, biology and somewhere along the line comes the so called "mind". The 'mind' and the 'will' is therefore fully dependant upon the body, and since it is dependant it cannot be "free".
Why does this matter when it comes to will, mind, and your computer image? Does knowing that these words you are reading are a collection of pixels in any way change the fact that you are receiving the information contained in the words as filtered by your mind?

It matters quite a bit, since it demonstrates that there is no independant mind inside the head. The mind is generated by the brain, not a generator of it. Since the mind is generated by the brain and body and not a generator of the brain and body - it explains why we have urges that sometimes is in conflict with our minds "common sense" and "logic". It also reveals that the choice is not free, but that there is a process going on that leads up to what we call a "choice". This "choice" is nothing but a continuation of biology. What else could it be?
Does will being limited by reality in any way change the fact that you exercise will in how/if you choose to reply to my post? If you think you have no choice in how you reply to my post, how do you distinguish between having a choice and not having one?

As I said above "reality" is not a conditional and therefore is not a word you can use to say wether things are "limited" by it. Things aren't limited to reality, things are limited to what is possible within the conditions of a reality.

In the question you pose you seem to have changed the goalposts. I didn't say we have no "choice", what I said was that there is no such thing as a "free" choice; everything is conditional, caused, dependant, etc. But even the word "choice" is interesting because it seem to imply somekind of independency. I would prefer to say "action" instead. Can we act and yet have no free will? Yes absolutely! In fact, I would think that the only reason we can act is because the will isn't free. If the will was "free" (I really hate these kinds of flimsy words) and it would mean disconnection and independence it would probably not be possible to act at all.
I'm fairly certain I did understand your views and dismissed them as near-solipsism (see above).

That is your mistake. Because I am in no way arguing for solipsism or even "near" solipsism. Saying that things are illusory is not solipsism. A solipsist believes that only he exists and everyone else are figments of his own imagination. But to say that consciousness does not work the way we presume it does has nothing to do with proposing solipsistic ideas. You just didn't understand my example that is all.

If there are any questions on how I "define" the words I use, why don't you ask? I try to use words in the "normal" and accepted way. But I welcome questions and will try to explain what I mean.
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Postby JDoran » Wed Jan 04, 2012 6:55 pm

Skept wrote:I try to use words in the "normal" and accepted way.

Two other threads plus this one show that you need a lot of work on this.

Because I am in no way arguing for solipsism or even "near" solipsism.

I knew you didn't promote solipsism (since you argued that it was bad in your opening post), which is why I discarded the argument with little fanfare. The computer image of this post still offers communication of these words, regardless of exactly how it works. I'm familiar with all these ideas of computer images being made out of pixels, the mind being generated by the brain, etc, etc. I just don't happen to agree with your unproven assertion that it eliminates will.

As I said above "reality" is not a conditional and therefore is not a word you can use to say wether things are "limited" by it. Things aren't limited to reality, things are limited to what is possible within the conditions of a reality.

This is just a semantics game. "Reality" as I used it means the same thing as your "the conditions of our reality".

According to Sartre there is no predetermined human nature, but we invent what we are. The logical implications is therefore that there is no trace of any limitations within the philosophy of Sartre; just saying that we "exist" is not a limitation. And to say we can "invent ourselves" is also to think there is no limitations at all.

Then you're simply jumping to an illogical conclusion and making a straw man argument out of it. Where does Sartre say "you are not limited by (the conditions of) reality"? Why should it be necessary to specify that you are? You're limited by (the conditions of our) reality by default. You can't be a bird, because people can't transform into birds. You can't be immortal, because people can't become immortal. What you can do is (for example) realize that you're capable of leaving a bad situation you're in, you just have to accept the consequences of leaving. Existentialism is about changing your life if you don't like how things are and not sticking with a foolish consistency.

The reason is that there is simply no evidence for any freedom. If you can find any evidence for freedom let me know. And I still hold to the opinion that existentialism is bad.

Sure, I can find evidence for freedom. If you reply with another assertion that I don't have freedom without offering proof, I'll exercise my freedom to stop responding to this thread. Your opinion matters little, can you prove existentialism is bad?

The 'mind' and the 'will' is therefore fully dependant upon the body, and since it is dependant it cannot be "free".

Again, proof? To my knowledge, neurological research has not yet demonstrated what you are asserting. Just because your biology plays a role in the process of choice doesn't mean your will is not your own.

I'll give an example: in Cialdini's Influence, he speaks of research showing that people are more likely to do what you ask if you include the word "because" in your request. Knowing this, you can condition yourself to recognize when someone makes a request using that word, acknowledge that it has power to influence, and reconsider the request without that influence. If you did not have free will, you couldn't choose to do that.

This is why I said you're operating under a useless definition of free will. You seem to think that "free will" is some magical thing generated by a mythical "soul". I don't believe in souls. Free will is being able to consider our own wants and needs before those of an employer, a religion/god, a government, a bully, etc, etc. Free will is acknowledging that there are consequences for choosing one's own happiness over maintaining the status quo and being willing to accept them. To quote Terry Prachett (I consider the "enlightenment" of Dorfl the golem in Feet of Clay to be a crash course in existentialism): "Not Thou Shalt Not. Say I Will Not."

Is there some biological system that contributes to that independence? Maybe. I don't think the answer really matters right now, though. It could at some time in the future, when the system is more completely understood and ways are developed to control it.
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Postby Skept » Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:39 pm

JDorian wrote:I just don't happen to agree with your unproven assertion that it eliminates will.


Well I'm sorry but I didn't say that it would "eliminate" the will. Deterministic materialism brings in a different perspective than existentialism on the will and what it might be capable of; if it exists, or how it exists and how it might work.

What you seem to be saying over and over is that since you have your will and others have their will that is equal to people having "free" will. Or that people have the possibility to "emancipate" themselves from the will of others. To me that is a bit superficial even tho from its own perspective it might be correct.

My perspective is that people can never be slaves to someone else without their own cooperation. But, and this is an important but; This cooperation might not be conscious. How does the Stockholm syndrome work for instance?

Again we have to look at how the organism works to figure it out. It's not enough to just see that people have the potential, albeit in embryo, to act on their own. What is required is to understand what the will is, where it is, and what influences or guides it. It appears that there is a multitude of causes behind one single act. So we have to ask, if the will exists, what is it for? What does it do and what is its aim? Is the will intelligent? Not the way it seems... animals have will and they are not as intelligent as humans. Humans have will, but humans can be dull, average or brilliant. So it appears that "will" is simply a biological program of the primitive parts of the brain that is concerned only with survival and to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.

But on top of that basic urge there is a platform (large brain) of reasoning; this reasoning provides information for what kind of action will lead to the kind of pleasure the brain/body seeks. It can even include self sacrifice; Because most of us do have the ability to get pleasure from seeing the well being of others. And most also have the ability to get pleasure from looking good. Self sacrifice looks good; It is celebrated in society.

But back to the Stockholm syndrome, what happens in that situation? My theory is (and I can only speculate at this moment) that the kidnapper uses threats and force and acts of kindness to win his victims over to his side, his beliefs and his values. When they have converted their values and beliefs to their oppressor and see everything his way, they will make choices that is consistent to his beliefs and values. What seems to occur is like a reprogramming of values and when the values are similar to that of the kidnapper the victims are "won over" because the will is preprogrammed and operating towards survival; And with the new information from the kidnapper, the guide has found a different course of action.

The only difference is what sort of information the will is being informed by. I actually think that the will never changes; In the sense that the will can be "converted" or "change its nature"; It merely signals to the brain what it wants. It has only a few simple goals that are biologically predestined in the reptile brain; Generally pleasure and survival. The only thing that changes is the beliefs of the more developed parts of the brain. When those beliefs change, a different course of action will be plotted. So in that sense the will is "free"; Because not even we have control over it. We can only guide it. And we can only guide it from what we know or have information of.

But from a freewillers point of view this is all irrelevant because what is important is the empancipation of the will; I don't know from who or what, but I'm guessing other people and circumstances. Judging from such an argument they do not take into consideration that the will is part of any circumstance it may be found in; Anything else would be to break the rules of physics.

The brain is like a computer in the sense that it is a self teaching computer. As children we program this brain with as much information as we can so that we are adapted to the circumstances that we will continue to live in. When we did this we didn't differentiate between the brain programming itself and us filling it with information and knowledge. Only when we get older and have gotten enough information and knowledge to be able to analyze what we have been filling our heads with can we do that. But a lot of people never do this. They stick to what they programmed themselves with as children.

If you want to change your life and emancipate yourself from others influence it doesn't work to just believe you can do it. You have to reprogram yourself; Change your beliefs and values. But how are you gonna do it if you never done it before or had no one to teach you? And how are you gonna do it without new information?

That raises another criticism of existentialism; That people can change their lives from a conscious choice of will. But as I outlined; It is not about the will! The will trudges on as before. It has to do with your beliefs. And to change your belief by simply including yet one more belief that "You can change!" doesn't change anything. It is just another one of those easy things to say because they sound good; It's fluff. Changing your mind takes a lot of work (speaking not only from my own personal experience); And a mind that has not been changed will not be capable of moving towards different circumstances. It will bring with it the beliefs and values it was preprogrammed with and work towards the old aim that included those old circumstances. Ever wondered why battered women return to their abusive husbands?

Everyone are their own wardens in that sense. But there is no difference between the conscious "you", the brain and that warden. When the mind has been changed, when the ideas it was previously programmed with are analyzed and compared with facts, there is a chance of reprogramming taking place and if it is successful the mind will plot a different course and guide the will towards different circumstances.

Then you're simply jumping to an illogical conclusion and making a straw man argument out of it. Where does Sartre say "you are not limited by (the conditions of) reality"? Why should it be necessary to specify that you are?


Because it is important to be specific to not be misunderstood, I think you would agree with that? A teaching that says "you can be anything you want to be" but doesn't explain any limitations, what is that? I give you a hint, it begins with fl..... and ends with ...uff.
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