Explain the political and ethical dimension of existentialism and at least one other social philosophy that addresses discrimination on the basis of race/ethnicity, gender, class, and/or sexual...

Explain the political and ethical dimension of existentialism and at least one other social philosophy that addresses discrimination on the basis of race/ethnicity, gender, class, and/or sexual identity. The explanation of existentialism should discuss the following ideas: authenticity, ambiguity, freedom, anxiety, and bad faith.

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Elizabeth Aldrich eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Existentialism is a philosophy that attempts to evade categorization but can still be generalized. Despite huge differences among existentialists (some, such as Kierkegaard, were Christian and some, such as Sartre, staunchly atheist, for example), they all agreed that philosophy should begin with the human individual, the subject.

Authenticity is a central virtue in existentialism, which is often interpreted as freedom but has more to do with sincerity. It has to do with remaining true to yourself, to your own character, rather than acting out the will of other people. A lack of authenticity is bad faith. A person is seen to be acting in bad faith when they are acting according to some outside force, allowing others to guide and control their lives and shape who they are rather than being guided primarily from their self and taking control of and responsibility for who they are. This displays how the terms are related to freedom—an act of bad faith diminishes freedom, whereas authenticity opens one up to freedom. 

Ambiguity is also central to the human condition. We are creatures suspended between god and animal; we neither have complete power and control over ourselves and our lives, nor are we completely at the mercy of nature and our own bodies. We are and aren't our past. Our past has a significant influence on us, and it would be bad faith to ignore that and pretend we have no past, but it would also be in bad faith to tie ourselves to our past and act as if we have no freedom to pull away from it. The same is true of what we are born into. There is a constant ambiguity between all of the things we can't control, or our facticities, and the part of our lives and selves we can control, or our freedom. Freedom also means that we are responsible for our decisions and values. There is a famous existentialist saying coined by Sartre, "existence precedes essence", meaning that we are not born with an essential nature. We first solely exist, and throughout our lives our essence is created, meaning that we have a part in shaping it and that we can change it. In order to live authentically, we must take responsibility for our freedom and create ourselves and live out ourselves, despite (but never forgetting) our facticities.

Humans have often, in bad faith, ignored or relinquished this freedom and responsibility. This is because freedom and responsibility causes in humans an existential anxiety, or anguish. While we desire freedom, we also desire to relinquish it due to our ambiguous nature. We desire to be both subject and object. Anxiety is different from fear in that fear has a direct object, we are scared of something, whereas anxiety has no object. It is just a general, looming feeling that occurs as part of our human condition.

Simone de Beauvoir theorized that humans, in light of their anxieties about the ambiguity of the human condition, have historically used categories of "other" (in regards to sex and race) in an attempt to resolve this ambiguity (in bad faith). In The Second Sex and The Ethics of Ambiguity, she writes about how men oppressed women and made her into an object, removing her subjectivity, so that he could be a pure freedom. In doing so, men thought they had escaped human ambiguity—women are tied to nature, their physical existence, and men are completely free and not bound by their sex. They are human and women are "the second sex."

This responsibility for making our own selves means we also collectively make our own world. This is why a number of existentialists supported Marxism. 

Phenomenology, related to existentialism, has also addressed social discrimination.

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