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Justification and Existentialism

{written by : Ian Heath}

Article word count : 3674 -- Article Id : 1348
Article active date : 2008-12-30 -- Article views : 7967

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Article is about :
The new age that Aquarius is proclaimed to be is new in a way that most people do not realise. The previous age of Pisces lacked any deep understanding of the psychological side of human nature. This showed itself in the lack of interest in the issue of identity.

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The Age of Identity

The new age that Aquarius is proclaimed to be is new in a way that most people do not realise.

The previous age of Pisces lacked any deep understanding of the psychological side of human nature. This showed itself in the lack of interest in the issue of identity. Choice was a rarity in the Middle Ages, and only applicable to religion and politics, usually for the wealthy and the nobility. It could not be applied to the common person"s sense of identity ; identity was a given from birth to death.

All that was available for people during Pisces were a few maxims and insights into character and relationships, from writers such as La Rochefoucauld and Montaigne. This lack is what the new age will address.

The old & the new
Search for truth
Causality & motivation
Sources of inspirational writing
Effects on identity

Aquarius will be the age of identity.

The movement from Pisces to Aquarius is the movement from the old to the new, from convention to choice, from old concepts of identity to new ones. In this movement, a few existentialist writers have played a major role.

From the late 18th century, psychological awareness began to develop in a few people. It can be debated who the forerunners were. In my view, the seeds of some modern thinking can be read into Rousseau"s writings (particularly Reveries of a Solitary Walker ).

However, two of the first modern writers that featured psychological awareness were Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in the 19th century. Kierkegaard wrote The Sickness unto Death, and Nietzsche gave a psychological critique of Christian values and morality. Together these two writers approached psychology from a perspective that has been labelled existentialism.

What drove them to expand their psychological awareness into an exploration of motivation is the subject of this article. In my view, it is the pursuit of justice, using the concept of truth as their intellectual scalpel. This is an event in history that is not fully appreciated, since the development of psychological awareness is extremely difficult to do on one"s own as a solitary explorer.

The Old and the New

The peculiar essence of the 19th century was that it saw the conflux of two opposite aspects of consciousness : the psychic and the psychological.

The traditional spiritual path, whether seen as religious or secular, was based on moral and ethical development. There are many strands to this path, such as the practices of duty, devotion, or asceticism. The hardest strand is that which focuses on the psychic nature of consciousness. This revolves around harmonising and controlling the mind, using techniques of meditation, concentration and contemplation.

During the 19th century, awareness of the psychic nature began to trickle down to the Western masses, via public issues such as mesmerism, hypnotism, seances, and the promotion of theosophical and Buddhist ideas.

Simultaneously, there was a trickle up of psychological awareness into religious and secular movements, such as Christian Socialism and the Fabian society. Psychological awareness revolves around harmonising and controlling the emotions and desires. But this awareness failed to penetrate very far into traditional ideas of spirituality. This blockage remains so even at the beginning of the 21st century.

Therefore, there are two quite separate classes of thought about spirituality : the traditional path and the existentialist path. The old and the new. Perhaps the Aquarian age will blend them together. Whether this happens or not, one thing is certain : the age of Aquarius will be the age of psychology.


Why does a person go on the search for higher values in life ? . Why does he or she go on the search to find a deeper meaning to life ? . The answer relates to the issue of sensitivity.

Sooner or later a person reaches the point in his personal evolution when materialistic values and goals no longer completely satisfy him. He loses attachment to a materialist life when his level of sensitivity has reached the point that he can no longer find harmony in such a life. This high level of sensitivity is the watershed in personal evolution ; it means that he can now become receptive to the influence of his soul.

This influence can be labelled an ‘internal’ drive, a drive that arises within his consciousness. This can be contrasted with ‘external’ drives, when the person comes under the spell of external criteria, such as wealth, fame, etc, and becomes egotistically motivated to attain them.

When the person becomes receptive to his soul, then he comes under the influence of one or more of four powerful internal drives : the desires for union, justice, freedom, and truth. His motivation becomes the way that he handles and directs these drives into suitable ideals.

As a simple guide :

Religious seekers desire union with god.

Socialists desire justice.

New Age seekers desire freedom.

Existentialists desire truth and justice.

Socialists want justice, but they do not want truth. So the pursuit of truth is that which separates the existentialist from the socialist. In addition, the socialist is conscious of his desire for justice, whilst for the existentialist, this desire may be subconscious.

Existentialists value truth because it is through the pursuit of truth that they try to achieve justice. So the desire for justice (whether conscious or subconscious) powers the search for truth. This is true for me, and, in my view, it was true for Nietzsche. It seems strong in Camus" books that I have read. Perhaps it is true for all existentialists, though some of them were obscure about what motivated them.
[When a drive is not clearly delineated, then the person is unclear about his aims – so the drive remains at a subconscious level].

The intensity of any drive varies with the degree of personal evolution and with the time factors in a life. My drives were of medium intensity in my 20s, low in my 30s, and very high in my 40s and 50s.

Which of the drives is most important can also change during a life. I became an existentialist when I was 23, after reading Kierkegaard"s Sickness unto Death. However, this influence remained low-key during my 20s and 30s. I was primarily socialist / anarchist in my 20s, religious in my 30s, and existentialist above all in my 40s and 50s.

The Search for Truth

Perhaps the search for justice underlies all searching. (see article Dialectics and Human Evolution). Then why does the existentialist differ from the traditionalist ?

Existentialists differ from the traditional religious seeker because the focus of truth has changed in modern times. The pursuit of truth has always been the hardest drive to follow, and in modern times it has become even harder. So it has never had many devotees. There are numerous sensitive seekers in the world, but they do not have the same drive as the existentialist. Sensitive seekers are not rare – it is only those who seek truth who are rare.

In olden times, the focus of spiritual inquiry or search for truth was into the psychic nature of reality. Hence the development of mind power was the aim, usually within the practice of meditation and contemplation – typified by yoga and Buddhism. The psychological side of humanity was written off as being delusionary, and ignored as much as possible. Emotions and feelings (along with desires) were labelled the ‘astral world’ and considered to be a dangerous realm for the meditator. To reduce the influence of emotions, the meditator retreated into solitude.

In modern times, the psychological side of humanity has come into prominence, and problems with emotions can no longer be ignored. So now the search for truth is centred on the understanding of emotions and relationships. This brings the dark side of the subconscious and unconscious minds within the sphere of spirituality for the first time ever. Issues of authoritarian power, violence and immoderate sexuality dominate the headlines.

[The subconscious and unconscious minds have their bright side, in that they are a source of creativity and imagination. But this is not the focus of my analysis.]

This modern inquiry is too difficult and repugnant for the religious seeker, and so it has become the preserve of a few existentialist and psycho-analytic thinkers.

This inquiry can no longer be done in solitude : the thinker has to live within society. Hence the psychological pressures on him are far more intense than on the traditional seeker in his solitude. In solitude, the emotions are too quiescent to be explored and analysed. They can only be examined when they are intense. Hence comprehensive psychological understanding can only be developed in high-stress societies.

The greater the psychological stress on the thinker, the more easily he can penetrate into the subconscious mind. This is the positive function of stress (or anxiety). The negative function produces an inevitable result : his quality of life is reduced. He does the best he can under intolerable circumstances, but nothing seems to alter for the better. The spiritual poverty of his life activates the intense desire for justice. The only way to achieve justice is to understand why life is the way that it is. Everything has to be questioned, especially all forms of relationships. He has to question his motivations, to see if they are just or unjust. He is like a goldminer, sieving small nuggets of wisdom from a huge pile of psychological dross and sorrow.

And so the existentialist goes on his lonely search for truth.

It has been said that there are as many forms of existentialism as there are existentialists. But I think the themes of truth and justice are likely to be a common thread, allowing for the fact that some thinkers may not appreciate their importance. By this I mean that the themes may be subconscious rather than openly conscious.


Ordinary people are content with a simple and mythical view of reality. Their lives seem straightforward since they are primarily socially-orientated. The harshness of life is put down to specific causes and events (for example, famine, disease, war), and so can be managed through social-support structures. Their individuality is not very developed, and this is their spiritual handicap. Until a person"s individuality is strong enough he cannot handle any of the four major drives mentioned earlier. Even when his individuality is strong enough, as in a traditional seeker, he may not admit the strangeness of life.

The existentialist lives a life that appears strange to other people. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the existentialist lives in full the strangeness of reality, the strangeness of the ways that good and evil link together in the subconscious mind.

As he explores the hidden ways of the mind, he comes to understand that the more good he wants to be, so correspondingly the more bad he can be. Because his state of mind is the way that it is, he feels in full consciousness the undiluted flow of goodness and badness through him. The chief advantage that he gets from this flow is that it gives him the ability to understand other people. Strangeness is simply the fact that good and evil are opposite faces of one reality, the reality of a life lived on Earth. Good and evil are the opposite polarities of an endless cosmic rhythm of positive and negative feelings.

The existentialist develops psychological awareness. In today"s terminology, we can say that he develops self-awareness. This is done in a manner quite different from that of the traditional seeker.

The traditionalist seeks the good life. He puts his awareness on the moments of fleeting contact with his soul, and receives inspiration and joy from such contact. He is basically an optimist. His spiritual journey is the journey to the light.

He is aware of the dark side of consciousness – he experiences guilt, shame, despair, etc. But he tries to ignore them if possible. He uses such emotions in a manner that strengthens his moral code, that is, he refutes the experiences that led to the arising of such emotions. He blames himself for the episodes of guilt, shame, despair, etc. He accepts that he is responsible for them. So he attempts not to repeat such experiences ; this way his code of morality becomes stronger.

He never understands that negative emotions usually come to him unbidden, as part of the cyclic flow of positive and negative feelings. He never understands, or attempts to understand, the darkness, the strangeness, of the subconscious and unconscious minds.

A few of the episodes of guilt, shame, despair, etc the person will be responsible for. But for the majority of them he is not responsible. In the cyclic flow of positive and negative feelings, what happens is this :

An emotion comes up into normal consciousness, and then the person puts a scenario to it. The scenario reflects his experiences and aspirations.

If the emotion is one of happiness, the person searches his mind for a previous experience of happiness that he can attach to the current emotion. If the emotion is one of guilt, then similarly he searches for an experience of guilt to attach to it. Likewise for other emotions. Failure to understand this process keeps the person locked into delusion and self-deception. If the person can refrain from putting a drama to the emotion, then he begins to follow the path to detachment. Emotions cannot be avoided, but dramas can.

The existentialist tries to handle reality in a very different way.
The contradictions in life need to be understood : this is the only way to approach justice. He is fully aware of the dark side of consciousness. Not only this, but his soul forces him to examine it. Hence his contact with his soul is dis-heartening and ensures that he remains a pessimist.

In his view, there must be meaning within the darkness. So his spiritual journey is the journey to the end of the darkness, the journey to the end of the night (in Céline"s phrase). He is a ‘sunset ’ philosopher.

For the existentialist, the harshness of life is intangible and non-specific : there appear to be no specific causes and events for his sadness. Therefore his character is formed in intangible ways that he cannot define. His character formation is thereby much deeper and broader than is possible to ordinary people. Character is formed through conflict (usually mental conflict), and not primarily through social-support structures. Because he cannot define his conflict, he has to search deeper within himself.

[ In some ways, it is like a Kafka novel. Kafka"s anti-hero is judged to be guilty, and not allowed to see the charges against him. Because he does not know what he has to refute, he becomes impelled to examine everything about himself to see if this judgement is true or false].

Both the traditional seeker and the modern kind become aware of their limitations. What is the point of this, apart from strengthening ones" moral codes ? . It seems to me that the purpose of spiritual evolution is to become aware of one"s strengths and weaknesses, together with insight into one"s drive or motivation. The person can then use this awareness in his everyday relationships. He sees that relationships are usually the arena of power and conflict, and that people have little ability to create harmony.

His self-awareness and search for truth enables him to learn the reasons for power and conflict. Then he can try to rise above them. Then he can realistically aspire to the practice of harmlessness and friendliness, without his relationships being ones of dominance or dependency. This way he can practise equality and self-control. This is the fulfilment of the Egyptian- Greek exhortation to know oneself (my spiritual tradition is the Egyptian one).

Causality & Motivation

These ideas into modern thinking can be sorted out into two parallel streams of thought. In the examination of the strangeness of the subconscious mind, existentialism joins forces with psycho-analysis, although their orientations are not always the same.

The examination of causes (of weakness, especially) is the province of psycho-analysis, and the examination of motivation (or how one uses one"s drive) is the province of existentialism. I follow both streams of thought and merrily mix them together. What both prove is that the acquirement of self-understanding is a long, painful journey.

Both existentialism and psycho-analysis explore justice, and the difference between them is that they conceive justice in different ways.

The concept of causality allows justice to be thought of as the province of reward and punishment. This is harmonious with Eastern views of karma. However, psycho- analysis explores this concept of justice through the amoral subconscious mind, whilst Eastern views use the moral perspective on justice. The amoral perspective means that the person examines his morality from the point of view of his individuality, whilst the moral perspective is the examination of morality from the social point of view.

For the existentialist, justice is conceived as equity or fairness. The unfairness of his life propels him into a need to justify himself, since he tries to act from the best of motives. Whence he examines his motivation. The concept of equity is the special ingredient to views of justice that distinguishes the existentialist from Eastern thinkers.

Only the need to justify oneself can lead to
the examination of motive.

Justification, motivation, and the pursuit of truth is the peculiar psychological blend that some existential thinkers have brought to modern philosophy.

In spiritual terms, one has to pass through the darkness before one enters the light. Whereas the traditionalist passes through the darkness intuitively, without being able to explain it, the existentialist has to pass through it cognitively (he has to understand what is happening to him).

Sources of Inspirational Writing

Interestingly, the concept of justification sheds a light into creative writing that is driven by idealism, whether ethical or noble. There are two main sources of writing that is ‘inspired’. In both cases there is ‘pressure’ of writing, akin to pressure of speech (the person feels driven to write or speak).

These two are :

‘Normal’ inspiration. Here the writing is non-critical of tradition. Much of it consists of exegesis of experience that is in tune with tradition.
Justification. Here the writing is critical and analytical of past idealisms and past orthodoxies.

Some literary writing is produced by justification. Differences arise from what it is that is being justified.

The existentialist is trying to justify his nobility of character, along with his idealism. He is under pressure from his soul, which is intensifying the conflicts within his subconscious mind. The soul is leading the seeker into situations of mental and social conflict, from which he has to learn how motivation is being used. The soul is acting as an agency of change on the seeker"s idealism. The differences of philosophical outlook between existentialists are related to the differences in their idealisms.

In non-idealistic writings, the pressure comes only from the subconscious mind, without the soul being an agent of change.

Effects on Identity

I present a general outline of how the person"s sense of identity relates to creative writing.

The pressure of writing is propelling the writer towards a new sense of identity, through the exploration of psychological boundaries. The differences between the ideas of various creative writers are related to the differences in their idealisms and how they perceive their boundaries.

If the boundaries are too narrow, the person may be under the compulsion to expand them. The ideal of freedom attracts him.
If the boundaries are too broad, his idealism may be unrealistic and impracticable. He needs to contract his boundaries, by damping down his vanity. He feels the need to become more stable. If his ethical boundaries are in question, he may use bitterness as his route to stability. If his religious boundaries are his focus, then he may prefer guilt (self-hate mode) as his route to stability.

If his boundaries are confused and conflicting, he may feel the need to clarify them. He becomes propelled into psycho-analysis or the existential need to justify himself and validate his ideals.

If a writer"s boundaries are acceptable ones, then life can be pleasant, with no extremes. He has no drive activating him, no pressure and no high ideals.

There is another effect to understand :
how the writer conceives his identity, or what aspect of his consciousness is most important to him. The pressure of writing is directed into exploring and justifying his particular identity that needs to be expressed.

The 19th century was a time of exploring communal and socialist identities. In the background, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were exploring ethical and spiritual identities.

Some literary artists justify their sexual identity. The 20th century especially was a time of exploration of new ideas about sexuality. Sexuality that was non-orthodox had to be justified before it could be socially accepted.

Justification by itself is not enough to categorise the existentialist writer. Creative writers may only be concerned to justify their deficiencies. When justification is allied to the pursuit of truth, then we get the special styles of the existentialist writers.

Within Western history, the 19th century saw the exploration of identity by a small number of people. The 20th century saw this exploration extend to a significant number of people. By the end of the present century, perhaps everyone will participate in this exploration and attain a sense of identity that is harmonious to their ideals.

Where is the place of existential and psycho-analytical writers and thinkers in this exploration ?

By exploring motivation, causality and spiritual values, they have opened a way into psychological discovery that may well make the goal of an harmonious personal identity easier to achieve.


Céline, Louis-Ferdinand.
Journey to the End of the Night.

Kierkegaard, Soren.
The Sickness unto Death. Princeton University Press, USA, 1951.

Nietzsche, Friedrich.
Beyond Good and Evil. Translated by W. Kaufmann. USA, Vintage, 1966.
On the Genealogy of Morals/ Ecce Homo. Translated by W. Kaufmann. USA, Vintage, 1969.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques.
Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Penguin, 1979.

Author Bio :
Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.

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