While hope certainly exists and is a primary motivation for doing good in the world, the fact remains that any action taken that is not in one's best interest is ultimately ridiculous and absurd. With no guarantee of a later reward, why is the world not in even a bigger mess than it is Why is the crime rate as low as it is Why do people care about others In short, why do people behave in such ridiculous and absurd ways when the only certainty that exists in the world is that each and every one of us will die In his short story "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" Fyodor Dostoevsky poses an existential answer to this dilemma by suggesting that choosing to do good is ultimately more important that doing good itself, and that this choice must be based on existence and not on the possibility of life after existence.
Existentialism is a word that almost everyone has heard of and most think they know what it means, but few actually understand. The existential philosophy revolves mainly around the concept of the freedom of man to choose. Unlike animals and plants, human beings aren't born with a particular essence. In other words, a horse is a horse, of course. A horse, so far as we know, cannot choose to do good or evil. A horse cannot even choose to be a thoroughbred or a workhorse. Although much theological debate has centered around man's purpose and whether he ultimately even has a purpose, ultimately it must at least be considered that all men choose their purposes. Certainly there are obstacles that prevent certain people from choosing certain purposes: a poor black woman is never going to become President of the United States no matter how much schoolchildren have drilled into them the idea that anyone on American can grow up to become President. It isn't going to happen. Aside from these cultural and ideological roadblocks, however, humans for the most part are the most completely free species on earth. Dostoyevsky's ridiculous man undergoes an epiphany during his dream in which he comes to understand the full import of this freedom.
The ridiculous man begins his monologue by acknowledging that he has "always been ridiculous, and I have known it" (2) Although he is comparing himself against other human beings, in a larger sense he is comparing himself to other species. One of the reasons that man is in such an absurd position in the universe is that he knows his fate. He alone is born with the knowledge of his own ultimate demise. This is a key point in the existential view. As Spano write, "As a self-conscious, that is, free, creature, man constitutes a minority in the cosmos governed by natural law. From a rational point of view, then, he is by virtue of his consciousness an anomaly" (5). The ridiculous man reflects this knowledge not only by his realization that he is ridiculous, but also by his otherness. He questions the validity of existence and the purpose. He is rude to people and angry. Then he goes beyond that to a spiritual emptiness, a void. Spanos continues "All the empirical evidence (objects) in the universe leads to the logical conclusion that man ought to commit literal or at least spiritual suicide" (5). While listening to friends excitedly talking about something the ridiculous man r