Thomas Wachtendorf

Umriss einer existenzialistischen Ethik

Existentialism lacks a dedicated ethical theory. This is mainly due to the subject-centered characteristic of the philosophy of existentialism. For example the evaluation of the world, the duty to decide and the responsibility for one's decisions are strictly and solely bound to each single subject. That is why it seems, that there is no (theoretical) connection between the single subjects. It is obvious that an adequate corresponding theory to such a philosophy would be the ethical egoism which is a quite unsatisfying position, because, for instance, it fails to explain why people (should) help each other. The question here is if indeed there is no connection between the subjects. By sharing a language (or, in general, the capability of speaking) one also shares a common ground including values. To a certain degree every subject is committed to a specific view of the world (Weltbild) common to the community of speakers he is a member of. Along with this Weltbild also goes a certain way of acting. The claims of existentialist theories only grow on this foundation. Judging the world from an existentialistic point of view results in different ways of acting (or speaking), which - at last - leads to a change of the Weltbild.

This shows how one takes influence on the others. But still it seems to remain impossible to develop universal values. To recognize that this is not the case, one must acknowledge that the problems pointed out by existentialism everyone has to face (i.e. the own and other people's death, fear, illness, pain) are the same. As undoubted beliefs they constitute the common ground of the single subjects. These beliefs are deeply anchored in everyones Weltbild from where they in turn take effect on the subject's acting. Every subject constantly has to decide what to do and also it has to cope with these existential challenges. So every subject has to react on this challenges in it's individual way. This individual way of getting along with the world finally leads to a change of the Weltbild. Because of the importance and strong impact of each single subject for the community the appropriate ethical theory which applies to the characteristics of existentialism is a modified ethical egoism, which turns out to be an ethics of motives.