Stephen A. Erickson

Stephen A.
Erickson

American Professor of Philosophy at Pomona College, author of Language and Being, Human Presence: At the Boundaries of Meaning, and The (Coming) Age of Thresholding

Author Quotes

A grand meta-narrative is a story of the development and purpose of human history in which we as individual can find a place and play a role. Four basic meta-narratives: (1) Platonic Christian is the idea of life as a journey to another unchanging realm. (2) Hegel’s view that history is the unfolding of the consciousness of God. (3) Marx’s notion of another revolution ushering in a new era. (4) Nietzsche’s idea that there is no “beyond” and that the only meaning comes through creative activities through which we shape a life for ourselves.

A slogan explains Existentialism: “Existence precedes essence.” Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus agree with this statement. Kierkegaard and Heidegger deny this statement.

An important way to distinguish philosophy from religion is that philosophy, at its best, raises questions, whereas religion provides answers. Answers can sometimes lose their force, however, if the questions to which they provide answers have somehow been lost, muted, or superseded. But philosophy can never end. As long as we live, we are going to ask ourselves about the meaning of life. Some have written about the “end of philosophy.” It has been thought that philosophy exists only if you can construe life as a journey traveling to a new and different dimension. Some have said that the cognitive sciences, linguistics, neuroscience, and so forth will advance so much that traditional technical problems of philosophy will diminish. Insofar as philosophy is a pursuit of the art of living providing (often conflicting) guidance for living, there is a future for philosophy.

Axial sensibility: the sense that we find ourselves caught up largely in appearances and are trapped in and subject to various forms of bondage, such as political, psychological, and possibly spiritual ones. Coupled with this sense is the further sense that there must be an elsewhere, or another and better way of being here in the world as it is not, one that better engages reality and gives us a sense of liberation rather than confinement. This axial sense may prove to be but an inchoate [just begun, lacking order, origin] and unrealistic longing, but it has been and continues to be experienced by many as genuine and inescapable. It has often been described as a longing for a belonging, driven in part by a sense of not belonging to the world as it is, of being displaced in it.

Could it be that liberation, not knowledge, is the true end purpose of human life and even its meaning? And might this liberation be achieved through non-rational means: power, sexuality, revolution, resignation, creativity, compassion, or solidarity? If this predicament is not so much ignorance (of something) as bondage (to something), what must we be liberated from, and what are we therefore liberated for?

Economic outlooks have replaced more traditional ways of understanding the world, religious, or political, for example.

In the axial mode, human life is understood as involving a journey in which those who are successful move from a Lower to a Higher Realm. This journey is central to the meaning of life. Through an elevated mode of knowing, the world as we ordinarily experience is largely left behind, deemed less if not illusory, and the domain of reality itself is approached.

The philosophical and religious West has been axial for almost 3,000 years. In the axial model, a sharp distinction was made between this world and a world beyond, and the idea arose that, although, we are in this world, we are not of this world. According to this model, human life is a journey that leads us from appearance to reality, bondage to liberation, confusion to insight, and darkness to light.

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First Name
Stephen A.
Last Name
Erickson
Bio

American Professor of Philosophy at Pomona College, author of Language and Being, Human Presence: At the Boundaries of Meaning, and The (Coming) Age of Thresholding