The Enrich talk aimed to introduce students to the philosophical aspect of a highly influential movement of the 20th century, but one which had its antecedents in the 19th century. A key objective was to indicate the relevance of this eclectic philosophy of commitment and responsibility for the present day.
Aristotle famously emphasised character over particular action and consequences. Existentialists disagreed with Aristotle’s essentialism (the view that humans have a fixed human nature) and with each other, and their shared emphasis on the individual even led most of them to reject the label ‘existentialist’; however, a recurrent theme for this motley crew of thinkers is that of becoming who we are based on the choices we make, and this emphasis on becoming a character or self has a distinctively Aristotelian flavour.
I deliberately chose apparently disparate existentialist positions: the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre and the Christian Søren Kierkegaard. I wanted to show that both philosophers were concerned with authentic existence, a life of engaged and passionate concern, and the task of becoming a self (of our own choosing but perhaps in accord with who we were meant to be before God).
The talk was inevitably demanding but it was extremely gratifying to see the students discussing the issues and beginning to articulate their thoughts about difficult yet profound ideas. In spite of occasional moments of bafflement, students were encouraged to discuss existentialist themes, and key contributors explained ideas to their peers. The content was challenging and provocative and the questions that were asked throughout, and the objections that were raised, were always insightful.
Mr Oliver Robinson
Teacher of Religious Studies, Sociology and PSHE