Where Should I Start With Existentialism?


Diego Sanchez

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that explores the meaning and purpose of human existence. It emerged in the 19th century and has since influenced various fields, from literature to psychology.

If you are interested in exploring this fascinating philosophy, you may be wondering where to start. In this article, we will guide you through some essential existentialist ideas and suggest some reading material to get you started.

What is Existentialism?

At its core, existentialism is concerned with the individual’s search for meaning and purpose in life. It emphasizes personal freedom, choice, and responsibility. According to existentialists, humans are not born with a predetermined essence or purpose; instead, we create our own meaning through our choices and actions.

Key Themes in Existentialism

Existentialism deals with several key themes that can help you understand its philosophy better:

  • Freedom: The idea that individuals have complete freedom to make choices and create their own lives.
  • Authenticity: The importance of living an authentic life true to one’s values and beliefs.
  • Anxiety: The feeling of unease or dread that arises when individuals confront the uncertainty of their existence.
  • Death: The awareness that life is finite and that death gives our lives meaning.

Existentialist Thinkers

Several philosophers have contributed to the development of existentialism. Here are some prominent figures whose works are worth exploring:

  • Friedrich Nietzsche: Nietzsche’s ideas on the will to power, eternal recurrence, and the Ubermensch influenced later existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre.
  • Martin Heidegger: Heidegger’s concept of “being-towards-death” emphasizes the importance of death in understanding human existence.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Sartre’s works like “Being and Nothingness” and “No Exit” explore the themes of freedom, choice, and authenticity.
  • Albert Camus: Camus’s works like “The Stranger” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” deal with the absurdity of human existence.

Where to Start Reading?

If you are new to existentialism, here are some books that can help you understand its philosophy better:

  • “Existentialism is a Humanism” by Jean-Paul Sartre: This short book is an excellent introduction to existentialism and provides a summary of its key ideas.
  • “The Stranger” by Albert Camus: This novel explores the theme of absurdity in human existence and is a classic example of existentialist literature.
  • “Being and Time” by Martin Heidegger: This dense but influential work introduces Heidegger’s philosophy of being and lays the groundwork for his later ideas on death and authenticity.
  • “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche: This philosophical novel introduces Nietzsche’s ideas on the will to power and eternal recurrence.

The Bottom Line

Existentialism is a complex but rewarding philosophy that can help you make sense of your existence. By emphasizing personal freedom, authenticity, and responsibility, it encourages individuals to create their own meaning in life. If you are new to existentialism, we hope this article has provided you with some essential ideas and reading material to get you started on your journey of exploration.