Existential Guilt

“Is happiness good? Is freedom good?” I asked myself, and then – moving into a more personal realm of inquiry –  “Am I enjoying my life in the way that I should or am I in fact wasting my life?” All these questions and many more flittered uneasily through my mind. I was at a loss, not knowing whether I should know the answer to these things or not. Was it possible to know? Perhaps I was wasting my life by bothering to ask such questions of myself. Or perhaps I was wasting my life by not having asked myself enough of these important philosophical questions – how was I to know which way around it was?  “Am I a good person?” I asked myself then, seized by a sudden doubt. And then, “Is it wrong to be asking all these questions instead of actually living life?” I had no idea if there was any practical way in which I could tell if I was bad person or not. I suspected that I was a bad person – why would I be thinking in this way otherwise? I certainly didn’t feel like a good person and so this would seem to imply that I probably was bad. To some extent or other. Possibly very bad – I couldn’t rule that possibility out. Possibly evil. I had no idea what it would feel like to be a good person and quite possibly I would never know. I had never done anything particularly good in my life, it occurred to me then. Possibly I had never done anything good at all. Maybe I hadn’t done anything too bad either, but I suspected that this wasn’t enough to make you into a good person. I felt more bad than good anyway, that much I was sure of – if feelings are anything to go by in such matters. I couldn’t say what I felt bad about; after analysing it for a while it came to me that it was just a vague sense of guilt about existing. Existential guilt, you could call it. Now that I came to think of it, this was a feeling that I had had all of my life – I had just never paid much attention to it. Existential guilt is always there in the background after all – this being its very nature. To exist is to feel guilty about doing so. How does one divorce the two? But the point I’m making though is that one simply doesn’t pay it any heed – the point is (naturally enough) to distract oneself from existential guilt, not focus on it, and as we get better and better at distracting ourselves we get to the point where we never notice it at all. It’s the base-line for our very existence to be sure, but it’s an invisible base-line. “What is the reason for existential guilt?” I asked myself then and it came to me fairly quickly that merely existing wasn’t good enough and that one ought to exert oneself to do something good, to do something especially important in order to feel that one actually has a right to exist. Otherwise you were just a freeloader. This was bringing me all the way around in a big circle however because it was making me think about how futile it was for me to be sitting around asking myself all these questions when I could be doing something good and worthwhile and important in life instead. But what – I wondered – would that be? How do you know whether a thing is good or not good? And even if it is good, you could be doing it for entirely the wrong reason. “How would you know if you were doing a good thing for the wrong reason?” I wondered then. “Is there any way to tell?” This lead on to another – and potentially devastating – question: “Suppose you were only doing it (whatever ‘it’ was) do get rid of the omnipresent sense of existential guilt?”





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