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The Living Existential Lexicon: Part 1
a living, constantly-updated lexicon that informally dives into the philosophical, psychological, and literary terms of existentialism
Welcome to what we are humbly calling "The Living Existentialist Lexicon," a living dictionary of sorts that informally dives into the philosophical, psychological, and literary terms of existentialism. Existentialism rests it’s heavy head on a thousand varying and confusing concepts. In this ongoing lexicon, we'll explore the key terms and ideas that underpin existential thought as we understand it.
Keep in mind, this lexicon will be constantly updated, added to, and refined (hence the living part) as our understanding evolves, so we recommend keeping a weather eye out for it. We’ll also link it in future essays to help us stay on the same page. We hope this becomes your new existential friend, helping you recognize and navigate the complexities of human existence.
For obvious reasons, we suppose we should start here! Existence is the state of being, characterized by self-awareness, freedom, and the capacity to make choices and take responsibility for these choices. It is the implementation of our will. Existentialist literature emphasizes that existence precedes essence, meaning that individuals first exist and then define their essence or Self through their actions and choices, rather than having a predetermined, fixed nature or purpose (theory of essentialism). In this context, existence is marked by the constant task to find meaning and authenticity in an inherently absurd world–and boy is the struggle real.
Authenticity is an active and ever-evolving process that requires our participation. Our task is not to simply recognize and grasp our essence; instead, our task is to create it. Our human responsibility is to choose who we become through the way we utilize our freedom (through our actions and inactions alike). The most popular work on “authenticity” comes from Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time of 1927. The word “authenticity” was a neologism–Eigentlichkeit–which can be literally transited as ‘ownedness’, or ‘being owned’, or even ‘being one’s own’, implying the idea of owning what one is and does. Simply, authenticity is taking responsibility for how we show up in the world. Sexy.
In short? Self-deception and a refusal to confront facts, choices or one’s Self. Coined by Jean-Paul Sartre, “mauvais foi” is the act of self-deception or the denial of one's own freedom and responsibility. It involves adopting societal roles, values, or beliefs without critically examining their authenticity or one's personal relationship to them. Engaging in bad faith prevents individuals from taking ownership of their choices, ultimately leading to inauthentic and unfulfilled lives. So bad.
We have no idea!!! Can you tell us? To search for meaning is to see and understand what something is—or, what you are—here for. It is a daily practice of constructing purpose and value in your experiences and building a meaningful existence. As you evolve and your context changes, so will your meaning. Instead of asking, “What should I ask of life?” recenter by asking, “What is life asking of me?”
Freedom is the ability that you have to make decisions (independent of force or dependency). It’s the ability to say yes or no. Arguably freedom can never be fully taken away from a human. In most contexts we are free to act, and in some extreme and oppressive circumstances, we are left with only the freedom to create meaning. For the most part, pretending we do not have any freedom is bad faith (IT’S ALL CONNECTED).
Responsibility is taking ownership of your decisions and actions. You are the author of your life. Your existence always comes back to you. You are connected to a world that is constantly asks you to engage with it. Responsibility comes from the Latin responsus, so it demands inner (and outer!) dialogue and demands an active–you guessed it–response. You are asked to respond, so you are responsible.
Heidegger created a concept of being-in-the-world, emphasizing the interconnectedness of humans with their surroundings and the need to confront one's existence authentically. He suggested that the Self (what he called “Dasein,” which translates to “being there” or “to be there”) is a dynamic between who we are at this very moment and who we can and will be as time goes on. We are constantly straddling what has already happened and the possibilities that remain. One could say that we are everything that’s happened and everything that will happen. There is something liberating about knowing there is always more that we will become. As long as we are alive, we will never stop becoming; never stop having the ability to create our Selves.
The space you occupy when you're on hold with customer service, wondering if you're still alive or have transcended to a new level of purgatory. “The void" represents the sense of emptiness, meaninglessness, or existential despair that individuals may experience when they confront the apparent lack of inherent purpose or meaning in the universe. It is the feeling of being adrift in a seemingly indifferent or absurd world, where traditional sources of meaning or values may no longer hold sway.
The moment when you realize that life is like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but all the choices lead to the same existential dread. But really it’s also a profound, beautiful and, yes, distressing time of self-examination and questioning one’s existence, values and meaning in life. Symptoms include, realization that traditional sources of meaning and purpose may no longer provide satisfactory answers. This introspective process can lead to anxiety, confusion, and a deep search for authenticity and meaning in the face of the human condition's inherent uncertainties.
We also want this to be a place for conversation about future topics–let us know what intrigues you, what you’d like to discuss as a society, and what questions we should explore in future essays.