What Does Existentialism Mean in Simple Terms?


Diego Sanchez

Existentialism is a philosophy that deals with the meaning of human existence and the freedom and choices that come with it. It emerged in the 20th century as a response to traditional philosophical systems that focused on objective knowledge and reason.

What is Existentialism?

In simple terms, existentialism can be defined as a philosophy that emphasizes individual freedom and choice, and the inherent meaninglessness of life. It suggests that individuals must create their own meaning and purpose in life, as there is no inherent or predetermined purpose to existence.

Key Themes of Existentialism

Existentialism revolves around several key themes, including:

  • Freedom: The idea that individuals have complete freedom to choose their own actions and shape their own lives.
  • Choice: The recognition that every decision has consequences, and individuals must take responsibility for their choices.
  • Anxiety: The feeling of uncertainty and dread that comes with making choices in an uncertain world.
  • Absurdity: The belief that life is inherently meaningless, but individuals can still find purpose through their own actions.
  • Awareness: The recognition of one’s own mortality and limitations, which can lead to a deeper appreciation for life.

The Roots of Existentialism

Existentialism emerged in the aftermath of World War II, when many people were struggling to find meaning in a world that had been shattered by war. It was influenced by several earlier philosophical movements, including:

  • The writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously declared “God is dead” and emphasized the importance of individual will.
  • The works of Søren Kierkegaard, who emphasized the importance of subjective experience and individual choice.
  • The philosophy of Martin Heidegger, who rejected traditional metaphysics and focused on the question of being.

Existentialism in Literature and Film

Existentialist themes have also been explored in literature and film. Some famous examples include:

  • The Stranger by Albert Camus: A novel that explores the absurdity of life through the story of a man who kills an Arab.
  • No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre: A play that explores the idea that “hell is other people.”
  • Blade Runner: A science fiction film that raises questions about what it means to be human.

The Importance of Existentialism Today

Existentialism continues to be a relevant philosophy today, as individuals grapple with questions about their own purpose and the meaning of life. It suggests that while life may be inherently meaningless, individuals can still find purpose through their own actions and choices.

In conclusion, existentialism is a complex philosophy that emphasizes individual freedom, choice, and responsibility. Despite its complexity, existentialist themes continue to resonate with people today as they navigate the uncertainties of modern life.