Existentialism is a philosophy which analyses the existence
of humans. The concept is that humans are born first and then they choose their
essence. Existentialists believe that people are born without any purpose in this
illogical world. Even though, the world is absurd, humans have the ability to
find the meaning, freedom and peace in their lives.
Who are the
was basically derived by some 19th and 20th century philosophers.
They all agreed on the idea that each person should delineate himself in this
illogical world despite their many differences in theories.
Existentialism has been defined by many writers in their
respective books. Some of them are ‘Being and Nothingness’ by Jean-Paul Sartre,
‘The stranger’ by Albert Camus, ‘Irrational man’ by William Barret etc. Franz
Kafka had written several books too. ‘The trial’, ‘Jackals and Arabs’ and ‘The
Metamorphosis’ are some of his great work. The main theme of Kafka’s books revolves
around the people who are stuck up in meaning less situations which they
totally do not understand. Following are the main figures of existentialism
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855): His view was that life and existence
in all aspects were ambiguous. He developed many key existentialists concepts
including absurdity, responsibility one bears for his choices, authenticity and
the importance of irrationality to human life.
Fredrick Neitzsche (1844-1900): He is one of the modern
existentialist and postmodern thinkers. He wrote critiques about modern
culture, morality, science and religious views. He challenged and questioned
the objectivity of truth. He also popularized the idea that god is dead,
personal power was important, convinced his believers that life is too short,
and one only lives once, therefore, one must be aggressive in living the short
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976): He was the theologist and
phenomenologist. He investigated the meaning of authentic existence, importance
of mortality etc.
Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980): He adopted and adapted the methods
of phenomenology. He put the idea of existence precedes its essence in his
masterpiece theory of ‘Existentialism is a humanism.’ He believed that god
doesn’t exist, and humans are born at random. Sartre also defined freedom by
delineating it into three categories: the man whom he compared with to a stone,
the man whom he compared with to a plant and thirdly, the man not compared to
stones and plants.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986): She addressed the problem of other
people. She also developed a framework of sophisticated existential ethics,
grounding much of modern feminism. She accepted Sartre’s existentialists
Absurdity: Absurdism may be considered one
branch of existentialism. One must make choices which are as likely to be as
wrong as right – choices which are not fixed on rational standards. It is also
what humans come into contact with in this world. Humanity must live in the
world that’d be always hostile towards them.
Anxiety: Kierkegaard said, ‘Anxiety is the
dizziness of freedom.’ A person feels anxious because he realizes that he is
alone responsible for the actions and deeds he has done. This results in the
two-sided feeling of distress and dread.
Alienation: This is the sense that you are alone
in this world- a complete stranger. It is basically the concept people feel
from distancing themselves from the world. A feel of meaninglessness,
powerless-ness and normal less-ness.
Existence precedes essence: The idea behind this concept is that
there is no pre-defined pattern or framework that one must fit into. One must
create the meaning, place and ethics and that freedom is absolute.
The Death of God: Some existentialist believe that god
is dead, and the concept of god is obsolete. For example, de Beauvoir believed
that god has abandoned us. It is the recognition that no one can provide you
with the answers externally, therefore there is no existence of any supreme
being, you must take responsibility for providing the answers yourself.
Subjectivity: Truth is subjectivity. It refers to
how someone’s judgement is created by personal opinions and feelings instead of
some external factors.
In a world
of objects where only humans possess consciousness, existentialism beholds the
idea that humans have a will to choose their paths. They must know what is
right and wrong, good and bad for them. Humans can not blame anyone else except
themselves for the wrong decisions they make neither they can accuse their
‘fate’. The fact that humans realize their mortality and are capable of making
decisions about their lives is what existentialism is all about.
It is a view
that humans frame their own meaning of life and try to make rational decisions
in this irrational, absurd world. This theory focuses and questions the
existence of human life.
philosophies and religions believe that human life has a purpose but those who
believe in existentialism think opposite. They believe that human life has no
meaning unless people give them the meaning. “Existence precedes essence.” This
means that humans are born first and then they choose the way to spend their
lives. As Sartre said, “We are condemned to be free.” This means that we have
to choose from the choices we have in this world and then should take full
responsibility of our actions.