What Is the Meaning of Existentialism?


Diego Sanchez

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It provides a framework for individuals to understand their existence and their place in the world. Existentialism is often associated with the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

What Does Existentialism Mean?

Existentialism is derived from the Latin word “existentia,” which means “to exist.” The philosophy of existentialism emphasizes individual freedom and choice. It suggests that humans are responsible for creating meaning in their own lives because there is no inherent meaning or purpose to existence.

The Key Ideas of Existentialism

  • Individuality: The philosophy of existentialism emphasizes the importance of individuality. It suggests that each person must create his or her own meaning in life.
  • Freedom and Choice: Existentialists believe that humans have complete freedom to make choices and decisions in life.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a fundamental aspect of human existence, according to existentialists. It arises from our awareness of our own mortality and our responsibility for creating meaning in life.
  • Authenticity: Authenticity refers to living an honest, genuine life that reflects one’s true values and beliefs.

The Roots of Existentialism

Existentialist thought has its roots in several earlier philosophical movements, such as German idealism, phenomenology, and Nietzschean philosophy.

German Idealism

German idealism emphasized the subjective experience of the individual. Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant believed that individuals shape reality through their perceptions.


Phenomenology is a philosophical method that emphasizes the subjective experience of consciousness. It suggests that individuals experience the world directly and that this experience is the source of all knowledge.

Nietzschean Philosophy

Nietzschean philosophy emphasized individualism, self-creation, and self-realization. Nietzsche believed that individuals should create their own values and meaning in life.

The Impact of Existentialism

Existentialism has had a significant impact on modern philosophy, literature, and popular culture. It has inspired writers such as Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, and Samuel Beckett. It has also influenced filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Luc Godard.

The Criticisms of Existentialism

Existentialism has been criticized for its focus on individualism and subjectivity. Critics argue that it fails to account for the role of social structures in shaping individual experiences.


In conclusion, existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. While it has its critics, existentialism continues to be an important philosophical perspective on human existence and the search for meaning.