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Preface and Introduction: Neuroexistentialism: Third-Wave Existentialism

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Document pages: 42 pages

Abstract: Jean Paul Sartre (1946 2007) was correct when he said existentialism is a humanism. Existentialisms are responses to recognizable diminishments in the self-image of persons caused by social or political rearrangements or ruptures, and they typically involve two steps: (a) admission of the anxiety and an analysis of its causes, and (b) some sort of attempt to regain a positive, less anguished, more hopeful image of persons. What we call neuroexistentialism is a recent expression of existential anxiety over the nature of persons. Unlike previous existentialisms, neuroexistentialism is not caused by a problem with ecclesiastical authority as was the existentialism represented by Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche,1 nor by the shock of coming face to face with the moral horror of nation state actors and their citizens, in the mid- century existentialism of Sartre and Camus.2 Rather, neuroexistentialism is caused by the rise of the scientific authority of the human sciences, and a resultant clash between the scientific and the humanistic image of persons. Specifically, neuroexistentialism is 21st century anxiety over the way contemporary neuroscience helps secure in a particularly vivid way the message of Darwin from 150 years ago, that humans are animals — not half animal, not some percentage animal, not just above the animals, but one hundred percent animal, one kind of primate among the two-hundred or so species of primates. A person is one kind of fully material being living in a material world. Neuroexistentialism is what you get when Geisteswissenschaften reaches the stage where it finally and self-consciously exorcizes the geist, when at least among the cognoscendi, save some literature and divinity professors, no one takes seriously the Cartesian myth of the ghost in the machine (Ryle 1949). In this introduction, we explain in section I what neuroexistentialism is and how it is related to two earlier existentialisms. In section II, we explain how neuroexistentialism makes particularly vivid the clash between the humanistic and the scientific image of persons. In section III, we discuss the hard problem (Chalmers 1996) and the really hard problem (Flanagan 2007) and how they relate to neuroexistentialism. In section IV, we inquire into the causes and conditions of flourishing for material beings living in a material world, whose self-understanding includes the idea that such a world is the only kind of world that there is and thus that the meaning and significance of their lives, if there is any, must be found in such a world. We conclude in section V by providing a brief summary of the chapters to follow.

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