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Existentialism is a framework that seems to be gaining some more popularity in recent topics. The premise of the framework is that human agents are inherently blank slates – they have no intrinsic properties able to take actions that define themselves into who they want to be. As such, the syllogism usually starts with some warrants as for why humans have no essence. Essence would be defined as some inherent property. For instance, a Kantian framework would argue that all humans are rational, or an Afropessimist kritik would argue that ontological properties are inherent. In contrast, an Existentialist framework argues that agents should be allowed to define themselves to become the people who they want to be and not impose any limits.

In this regard, existentialists do value freedom, but it is not the same type of freedom one might find in a Kantian framework. For a Kantian, being free is being able to set and pursue one's own ends, so in jail, an agent would not be free. An existentialist might have a less literal definition of freedom, as for an existentialist, being able to have a sense of self-identity and define themselves without the constraints or manipulation of others would be free. Indoctrination, and forcing an essence upon someone, would be bad under an existentialist framework. To existentialists, what matters more is if an agent can authentically live. That is, if an agent can do something because it matters to them, and them only. For instance, a French soldier fighting in WWI would not be authentically living if his government conscripted him to fight in the war. However, if the soldier decided to enlist in the army based on his own moral judgement and free will, he could be said to be authentically living.

Interestingly, many of the cards that policy debaters read against ontology-type arguments are existentialist. Lewis R. Gordon, a frequently cited author, has written a book on Black Existentialism, which is also linked below. That is to say, even if you are not interested in reading many philosophical positions, understanding existentialism is still very valuable.

Some common authors cited are Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, some of whose readings are attached below.


Ethics of Ambiguity

Existentialism Is a Humanism

Existentia Africana

Sample Cases

CD - AC - Existentialism.docx