Conscious of being unable to be anything, man then decides to be nothing. … Nihilism is disappointed seriousness which has turned back upon itself.
– Simone de Beauvoir
The Human Condition, first published in 1958, is Hannah Arendt’s account of how “human activities” should be and have been understood throughout Western history. Arendt is interested in the vita activa (active life) as contrasted with the vita contemplativa (contemplative life) and concerned that the debate over the relative status of the two has blinded us to important insights about the vita activa and the way in which it has changed since ancient times. She distinguishes three sorts of activity (labor, work, and action) and discusses how they have been affected by changes in Western history.
In this classic introduction to existentialist thought, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity simultaneously pays homage to and grapples with her French contemporaries, philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, by arguing that the freedoms in existentialism carry with them certain ethical responsibilities. De Beauvoir outlines a series of “ways of being” (the adventurer, the passionate person, the lover, the artist, and the intellectual), each of which overcomes the former’s deficiencies, and therefore can live up to the responsibilities of freedom. Ultimately, de Beauvoir argues that in order to achieve true freedom, one must battle against the choices and activities of those who suppress it.
The Ethics of Ambiguity is the book that launched Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist and existential philosophy. It remains a concise yet thorough examination of existence and what it means to be human.
The Question Concerning Technology is a work by Martin Heidegger, in which Heidegger articulates the essence of technology and humanity’s role in revealing technology. The advent of machine technology has given rise to some of the deepest problems of modern thought.
Honorable mention: Meaningness by David Chapman
I read the Emotional Dynamics of Nihilism page of this hypertext book and felt it was very much aligned to my own experience. This book seems to be an interesting take on nihilism caused by a loss of faith in eternalism. I’m not sure he offers anything that the existentialists and other authors (Nishitani comes to mind) have not covered already, but the book may be worth taking a look at.
I have coined the word “meaningness” to express the ambiguous quality of meaningfulness and meaninglessness that we encounter in practice. According to the stance that recognizes meaningness, meaning is real but not definite. It is neither objective nor subjective. It is neither given by an external force nor a human invention.
– David Chapman