What Is Meant by Existentialism?


Martha Robinson

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. It emerged in the 20th century as a response to the growing disillusionment with traditional values and beliefs, and the sense of alienation that many people felt in modern societies. The central theme of existentialism is the idea that individuals must create their own meaning and purpose in life, rather than relying on external sources such as religion or societal norms.

Key Concepts of Existentialism

Underlying existentialist philosophy are several key concepts that help to explain its core principles:

  • Existence precedes essence: This means that individuals are not born with a predetermined nature or purpose. Rather, they must create their own identity and meaning through their choices and actions.
  • Freedom: Existentialists believe in the importance of individual freedom and choice, even in the face of difficult circumstances or societal pressures.
  • Anxiety: The realization of one’s own mortality and the uncertainty of existence can lead to feelings of anxiety or dread.
  • Authenticity: Living an authentic life means being true to oneself, rather than conforming to societal expectations or external influences.

Influential Thinkers

Several philosophers have contributed to the development of existentialism:

Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard is considered the father of existentialism. He believed that individuals must take responsibility for their own lives and make choices based on their subjective experiences.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche rejected traditional morality and religion, arguing that individuals must create their own values and live according to their own will.

Martin Heidegger

Heidegger explored the meaning of existence and the nature of being, arguing that individuals must confront their own mortality in order to live authentically.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre believed that individuals are fundamentally free and must take responsibility for their own actions. He famously wrote that “existence precedes essence” in his book Being and Nothingness.

Implications of Existentialism

Existentialism has had a significant impact on many areas of society, including philosophy, literature, psychology, and art. It has been used to critique traditional values and beliefs, as well as to explore the human experience in a modern world.

In conclusion, existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual freedom and choice, as well as the creation of one’s own meaning and purpose in life. By rejecting external sources of authority and embracing personal responsibility, individuals can live authentically and confront the challenges of existence with courage and resilience.