Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. It is a way of thinking that explores the meaning of life and the human condition. This philosophy originated in Europe in the early 20th century and had a profound impact on literature, art, and psychology.

Origins of Existentialism

Existentialism emerged as a reaction to the Enlightenment and its emphasis on reason, science, and progress. The horrors of World War I also played a role in shaping this philosophy. Existentialists rejected the idea that there is an objective meaning or purpose to life and instead focused on the subjective experience of individuals.

Key Themes

One of the key themes of existentialism is freedom. Existentialists believe that humans are free to make choices and create their own meaning in life. However, this freedom can also be overwhelming and can lead to anxiety and despair.

Another important theme is authenticity. Existentialists believe that individuals should strive to be true to themselves and live according to their own values rather than conforming to societal expectations.

Existentialists also emphasize the importance of personal responsibility. Individuals are responsible for their own actions and must take responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

Famous Existentialist Thinkers

Several philosophers have contributed to the development of existentialist thought. Some notable figures include:

These thinkers explored different aspects of existentialism but all shared a focus on individual experience, freedom, and choice.

Impact on Culture

Existentialism had a significant impact on literature, art, and psychology. Many writers used existentialist themes in their work, including Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

In art, existentialism influenced the development of abstract expressionism and other forms of modern art. The focus on individual experience and emotion led to new forms of artistic expression.

In psychology, existentialism has been used to develop therapies that focus on personal responsibility and self-awareness. These therapies help individuals explore their own values and create meaning in their lives.


Existentialism is a complex philosophy that emphasizes individual experience, freedom, and choice. It has had a profound impact on culture and continues to influence our understanding of the human condition. By exploring these themes, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.