Questioning Existence

The word “philosophy” means “lover of wisdom”. I’ve always really liked that. It made reading philosophy as a sort of exploration; it felt like there was something to be uncovered and found. What really drew me to philosophy and the study of it was in the first existentialism class I ever took. Each class was discovery. If I am meant to have my Dead Poets Society story then it would be my freshman year Existentialism and Literature class. There seems to always be some sort of philosophical theory that people learn and it resonates with them. Aristotle and Simone de Beauvoir speak to the heart.

As one could guess, I have a concentration in existentialism. I like asking the big questions like “What does it all mean?” and such. Jean-Paul Sartre is my philosophical soulmate. His book Being and Nothingness (he has a knack for amazing titles, unlike most philosophers; Nausea and Troubled Sleep are also worth checking out) was my awakening and call to action within philosophy. Painted as a dark academia type, philosophy is greatly misunderstood. There’s the idea that it’s elitist and, essentially, worthless. While I think some arguments for these points have their justifications, I can’t fully agree.

Have you ever looked at the stars, admiring the vastness of the universe, only to then find yourself a bit terrified by it? There’s days where the sun is warming your skin and everything seems a little bit easier, maybe better, so you laugh more and go get an ice cream. Some nights you can’t sleep and with the soft glow of streetlights from outside, you stare at your ceiling. You ask yourself, “Will it all be okay? Am I doing this right?”. You sign leases, fill out job applications, and take leaps of faith with certainty that it will improve you and take you somewhere better than now. These things are what it means to exist.

I study existence because it is something we all experience. Philosophy does not always come in lectures attended three times a week or complex books that need to be read at least twice. We perform philosophy every single day. Do not doubt the capacity the individual has to understand themselves as a being-in-the-world. We are constantly relating ourselves to others and the environment we find ourselves in. That connection, the perception it takes, is existence. Existentialism does not need to find you as a crisis. Sometimes it’s birthday parties and late nights with someone you love.

The complexities of who we are is incredibly important to our existence. Identity is the foundation of what it means to even be a being. That’s really where existentialism starts. As a philosopher, a student, a struggling young adult, and as someone maybe a bit too naive still in my hope for this world, here’s what I want to say about questioning everything. To stay skeptical and curious about the world does not mean you must question who you are. Your facticity is the only sure thing. So explore. Take a class. Pick up a Sartre book. But always know that when you look up at the stars and think that you’re small and meaningless, you aren’t. You are what you make of yourself.

-Xander Moore (he/him/his)