Phenomenology of Being Series


Everyone has a sort of built-in axiology, a hierarchy of values, where we give importance and priority to specific needs. Most of the time, those needs remain on a pre-reflective level, conscious merely as a feeling, as an impulsion, not really conceptualized and analyzed, unless someone willfully engages in a rational introspection.  As a shadow of these needs, in their hollow, anxiety sets in, it surreptitiously insinuates itself. The fear of not satisfying something that is considered vital, of not accomplishing or obtaining what we strongly covet, is problematic. This anxiety is twofold. On one side it provides incentive and motivation for our existential project, what makes us get up in the morning and moves us all day long, the vector that structures and directs our life. On the other side, it constitutes a source of worry, discomfort, or pain, a permanent preoccupation, emotional and intellectual, that can induce trouble and chaos in our mind, to the extent it can become overbearing and make our life impossible.

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Victimhood is a trendy tendency. For different reasons, many people today tend to describe themselves as the victim of someone, of some group, of something or other. We examine multiple reasons why we maintain such a victim attitude, rather than adopting a wiser, more potent, rational or distant perspective. For example, the victim is by definition “good and innocent”, in opposition to the “evil executor”. The victim does not have to take responsibility for its actions and defects since it is powerless. It is an easy habit to develop. It is as well a good way to rationalize the discontentment we experience toward ourselves and the world, to justify our own irritation and anger. We can protect ourselves from criticism and find some consolation for the pain we endure, since by being a victim we attract attention and empathy from our surroundings. Thus, we envisage multiple other hypotheses explaining the popular attraction for victimhood.

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Lying is an important characteristic of human relation and modality of dialogue. It is generally condemned by most moral schemes, but at the same time there are many reasons to lie, such as survival, maintaining a good image, satisfaction of desire, accomplishment of the will, including ethical reasons, such as politeness, niceness, respect and others. As a consequence, this contradictory attitude makes of lying a sort of taboo, since the lying lies about itself as well: it denies its own nature and ignores its own necessity. In order to avoid confronting this reality of speech, redescription is commonly used, expressions that implicitly contain the idea of lying but deny its very essence. White lies, embellishment, exaggeration, good intentions, self-protection, provide such thin veils. It is very difficult not to lie, if not impossible. Either because our intentions are too powerful, or because we are rather confused and not fully conscious of our own mental processes. And it seems to us that this shadowy mental functioning is a form of lying as well, since we often make the choice of not analyzing rationally and critically the veracity of our own words and thoughts. In this workshop, we will examine both the genesis of lying, its different causes, and the manifestation of lying, its different forms.

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Family is for many people a source of worry, an important existential and psychological preoccupation. The family we come from, the family we construct, both being a cause of pain and pleasure, since they can at the same time be a source of comfort and a hindrance to a serene life, through drama, resentment or guilt for example. Thinking about the family can easily constitute a primordial purpose guiding our life, sometimes overriding other goals, becoming an obsession or an alibi for our own difficulties. What determines us to do so? Is our motivation biological, cultural, emotional, religious, social, moral or else? We rarely question the legitimacy of familial attachments, except when those relations become really painful. But just like we should evaluate our own existence, our goals and values, should we not investigate critically our “family impulsion”?

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Why do so many people, consciously or not, elect “niceness” as the main or ultimate value, above truth, justice, reason, beauty or others? A minimal value that shows that you are not “ill-mannered”, that you are able to function in society, that you are not focused exclusively on yourself. It would hardly be a problem if this formal and distant moral minimalism did not stand in the way of other, more demanding values, such as courage, justice, reason, beauty or truth, which precisely involve disturbing the established order and challenging ourself. A significant obligation which ends up inhibiting any real dialogue, which prohibits all authenticity. So we can wonder about the motivations for such behavior, the origins of such an “ideal”. Fear of loneliness, desire for manipulation, complacency, self-denial, inertia, social pressure, so many reasons that can be identified in the genesis of this “niceness”. We examine and discuss the various roots of this banal ethical imperative, so widespread and rarely criticized.

Read text: Niceness – Phenomenology of Being Series