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What is an Existential Crisis?

one of the touching signs of the

influence of philosophy on everyday life

is that people can sometimes be heard to

complain that they're going through what

they call an existential crisis the

phrase maybe being used rather casually

and vaguely but it nevertheless touches

on one of the major traditions of

European philosophy closely associated

with the ideas of five philosophers in

particular Kierkegaard Kim Nietzsche

Heidegger and Saud though these thinkers

disagreed on many things

it is possible via their thought to come

to a coherent view of what an

existential crisis really is and when it

might therefore be helpful to refer to

ourselves as going through

the crisis is marked by five distinctive

features firstly it's a period when a

lot that it previously seemed like

common sense or normal reveals its

contingent chance uncanny and relative

nature for example we might start to

wonder why we live in this part of the

world rather than any other why we doing

this job and not something else why are

we with this partner and are following

this set of social norms in short we

realize rather disturbingly that there

are far more options beneath the surface

than we normally allow ourselves to

imagine we are freer than we thought

secondly this revelation is acutely

anxiety and you see a recognition of our

freedom doesn't bring with it calm quite

the opposite we recognize that I've been

deluding ourselves about what had to be

no one really cares quite as much as

we'd thought about what we are and have

chosen to do we could change everything

around we come to a disturbing awareness

that our ultimate responsibility is to

ourselves not the social world thirdly

we develop a heightened awareness of

death time is short and running out we

need to re-examine our lives but the

clock is ticking ever louder fourthly

and crucially for all the existential

philosophers we have many choices but

are by the nature of the human condition

denied the information we would need to

choose with ultimate wisdom or certainty

we are forced to decide it can never be

assured that we've done so adequately we

are steering blind and therefore we can

be guaranteed to make a lot of mistakes

the condition of mankind is to have to

plot our course in the dark without

adequate reason or insight this leads to

another favorite word for the

existentialists anxiety the human

condition is to be anxious not about

this or that particular thing but as a

basic feature of our lives because we

must always choose without any security

that we've chosen well and without

sufficient time to explore the options

this can all sound perilous and

dispiriting yet the existential

philosophers don't mean to depress us

they want to lend dignity and grandeur

to dilemmas which we too often think of

as ours alone and therefore feel ashamed

about as some personal curse when they

are in fact fundamental features of the

human condition which ennoble us when we

consider them with sufficient depth

the existentialist offer us a useful

corrective to a normal pin Isha's view

that intelligent choice might be

possible and untracked in structure an

existential approach tempers the modern

sentimental notion that perfection is

within reach that you suffer from the

agony of choice isn't some anomaly it's

one of the most predictable and poignant

things about being alive this is a

message we benefit from hearing quite

often because what helps with regret is

the knowledge that in fact every life is

burdened by it in some shape or form

literally on the regret free life exists

only in movies and songs the way to

diminish our anxiety and panic is to

alleviate the sense that one had the

option to choose correctly but failed a

degree of disappointment is at the

existential philosophers so beautifully

admitted just simply the human condition

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