An Existentialist

-When I was working at the prison, I was teaching a man who had murdered his father. He had nearly served his sentence. So one day there was a group of us chatting, and I told them about following this man in a wheelchair along Railway Street the previous evening. He had gone over the kerb, his wheelchair had toppled over and he had gone sprawling out. I helped him get back into his wheelchair, and then he’d carried on one side of the road, I walked on the other. I did not do it to gain anything, simply to help. Maybe he could have crawled to his wheelchair eventually, even pulled himself in. He was in the road, cars would have had to drive round him.

And this man said I should not have done it. When I helped him, I was patronising him, and lessening him with my pity. He was an existentialist, he told me. That was not how people should behave to each other.

And I could not persuade him otherwise.

-No. Because he would not be arguing fairly. He would be seeking to win the argument, not caring about the truth or respect for you. He’s not an existentialist, he is a murderer. Lots of teenagers love caMoo and don’t murder their fathers. He is rationalising. He has done this thing, and he needs to live with himself. He has a Philosophy of Life!

-Or- he really does not understand. Any contact between human beings, even one as necessary to the person helped, from someone not seeking any reward, is an attack. All people are, at all times, in a state of nature with one another, without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal, in continual fear and danger of violent death. But he is a Philosopher, forsooth, and other people are fools and dupes. He can survive because the others are less ruthless and clear-sighted than he.

Paul Signac, In the time of harmony. the Golden Age is not passed, it is still to come

15 thoughts on “An Existentialist

      • Heidegger. I began using “H” for him after the publication of his Black Notebooks. Good grief! And yet, after the war his Jewish former student and lover Hannah Arendt always defended him.


        • He wrote, World Judaism is ungraspable everywhere and doesn’t need to get involved in military action while continuing to unfurl its influence, whereas we are left to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people. Does that affect the value of the statement Those in the crossing must in the end know what is mistaken by all urging for intelligibility: that every thinking of being, all philosophy, can never be confirmed by “facts,” ie, by beings. Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy. Those who idolize “facts” never notice that their idols only shine in a borrowed light. They are also meant not to notice this; for thereupon they would have to be at a loss and therefore useless. But idolizers and idols are used wherever gods are in flight and so announce their nearness. Does quoting the latter empower or encourage anti-Semitism?


          • I would answer, “Yes.” But he said more: He called Jews “calculating” and “worldless.” H. was radically anti-Cartesian, i.e., according to him, we are not embodied essence beings plopped down into a world, but rather “being-in-the-world.” So, for him to accuse a people of being “worldless” is tantamount to calling them subhuman.


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