ADVANTAGES

For instance, I do not grasp the exigency of the alarm clock (itscharacter as a demand) in a kind of disinterested perception but onlyin the very act of responding to it, of getting up. If I fail to get upthe alarm has, to that very extent, lost its exigency. Whymust I get up? At this point I may attempt to justify itsdemand by appeal to other elements of the situation with which thealarm is bound up: I must get up because I must go to work. From thispoint of view the alarm's demandappears—and is—justified, and such justificationwill often suffice to get me going again. But the question of thefoundation of value has simply been displaced: now it is my job that,in my active engagement, takes on the unquestioned exigency of ademand or value. But it too derives its being as a value from itsexigency—that is, from my unreflective engagement in the overallpractice of going to work.Ought I go to work? Why not be “irresponsible”?If a man's got to eat, why not rather take up a life of crime? Ifthese questions have answers that are themselves exigent it can onlybe because, at a still deeper level, I am engaged as having chosenmyself as a person of a certain sort: respectable,responsible. From within that choice there is an answer ofwhat I ought to do, but outside that choice there is none—whyshould I be respectable, law-abiding?—for it is onlybecause some choice has been made that anything at all canappear as compelling, as making a claim on me. Only if I amat some level engaged do values (and so justification interms of them) appear at all. The more I pull out of engagement towardreflection on and questioning of my situation, the more I amthreatened by ethical anguish—“which is the recognition ofthe ideality of values” (Sartre 1992: 76). And, as with allanguish, I do not escape this situation by discovering the true orderof values but by plunging back into action. If the idea that valuesare without foundation in being can be understood as a form ofnihilism, the existential response to this condition of the modernworld is to point out that meaning, value, is not first of all amatter of contemplative theory but a consequence of engagement andcommitment.

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