The Search: The Existential Dilemma of the Human Being
In the face of reality’s complexity, especially the complexity represented by the existence of other people, there are certain essential questions which I believe that all humans confront (if they live long enough and are mentally lucid) whether they realize it or not. Taken together, the search for answers to these questions forms what I call the existential dilemma of the human being. These are the questions which must be answered if a human wants to make sense of the world and survive within it. This dilemma may not be consciously articulated, but I am convinced that it is at least felt, and is perhaps the source of the vague unease many humans feel at odd times in their lives. I am convinced that many humans embrace religious convictions because religion seems to end this search. Other humans seek resolution of these issues from sources outside of religion, chiefly philosophy. And many people come to believe that there are no definitive answers to any of these questions. (That lack of answers carries its own consequences, as we will see.)
In my opinion, the major existential questions humans want answers to are the following::
1. What am I?
2. Who am I?
3. What is the world and how did it come to be?
4. Why do humans exist?
5. What is my place in the world?
6 How should I live my life?
7. Can I know myself?
8. Can I know others?
9. Can others know me?
10. Who can I trust, and to what degree?
11. How can I protect myself and my loved ones from the world?
12. Is there a larger purpose to life than mere survival, and if so, what is it?
13. What is right and what is wrong?
14. What is true and what is false?
15. Why is there suffering?
16. Why do evil and injustice exist?
17. Is life worth living?
18. Is there such a thing as meaning, and if so, is it discoverable?
19. What happens when people die?
Naturally, most people don’t consciously dwell on such matters very often, if at all. For the vast majority of us the demands of everyday life are such that there is very little mental or physical energy left for such “idle speculation”. And yet, I suspect that these are the questions, even if unspoken or not contemplated, around which humans build their lives and about which they are most concerned. In my view, whether they know it or not, I believe most humans both want and need answers to these questions, ones that will help them reject a conclusion that for most people is utterly intolerable, namely, that existence is absurd and nothing ultimately means anything—including our own lives.