What Exactly Is Existentialism?

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Martha Robinson

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that originated in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. Existentialism is often associated with writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger.

The Basics of Existentialism

At its core, existentialism is concerned with the nature of human existence. It suggests that individuals have complete freedom to choose their own paths in life and create their own meaning. According to existentialists, traditional concepts of morality and religion are often used to control people and restrict their freedom.

Key Concepts in Existentialism

Existentialism is a complex philosophy that encompasses many different ideas and concepts. Some of the most important concepts include:

  • Freedom: The idea that individuals have complete freedom to choose their own paths in life.
  • Authenticity: The idea that individuals should strive to be true to themselves rather than conforming to societal expectations.
  • Angst: A feeling of anxiety or dread that arises when individuals confront the uncertainty of their own existence.
  • Death: The awareness of one’s own mortality can be a powerful motivator for individuals seeking meaning in life.

The Criticisms of Existentialism

While existentialism has been influential in many areas of philosophy, it has also faced criticism from some quarters. One common criticism is that it can lead to nihilism or a sense of despair about the meaninglessness of life. Others argue that existentialist ideas are too individualistic and fail to account for the importance of social structures and relationships.

The Legacy of Existentialism

Despite its criticisms, existentialist ideas continue to be influential in many areas of contemporary culture. Existentialist themes can be found in literature, film, and even popular music. The emphasis on individual freedom and authenticity has also been taken up by various social movements, such as feminism and LGBTQ rights.

Conclusion

Existentialism is a complex philosophy that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. It has been influential in many areas of philosophy and culture, but it has also faced criticism for its individualistic focus and potential for nihilism. Regardless of these criticisms, existentialist ideas continue to shape contemporary thought and culture.