Existentialism is a catch-all term for those philosophers who consider the nature of the human condition as a key philosophical problem and who share the view that this problem is best addressed through ontology.
This very broad definition will be clarified by discussing seven key themes that existentialist thinkers address. Those philosophers considered existentialists are mostly from the continent of Europe, and date from the 19 th and 20 th centuries.
Outside philosophy, the existentialist movement is probably the most well-known philosophical movement, and at least two of its members are among the Sartre Existentialism Essay Text famous philosophical personalities and widely read philosophical authors. It has certainly had considerable influence outside philosophy, for example on psychological theory and on the arts.
Within philosophy, though, it is safe to say that Sartre Existentialism Essay Text loose movement considered as a whole has not had a great visit web page, although individuals or ideas counted within it remain important.
Moreover, most of the philosophers conventionally grouped under this heading either never used, or actively disavowed, the term 'existentialist'. Even Sartre himself once said: In this article, however, it is assumed that something sensible can be said about existentialism as a loosely defined movement.
The article has three sections. First, we outline a set of themes that define, albeit very broadly, existentialist concerns.
This is done with reference to the historical context of existentialism, which will help us to understand why certain philosophical problems and methods were considered so important. Second, we discuss individually six philosophers who are arguably its central figures, stressing in these discussions the ways in which these philosophers approached existentialist themes in distinctive ways. These figures, and many of the others we mention, have full length articles of their own within the Encyclopedia.
Finally, we look very briefly at the influence of existentialism, especially outside philosophy. Although a highly diverse tradition of thought, seven themes can be identified that provide some sense of overall unity.
Source, these themes will be briefly introduced; they can then provide us with an intellectual framework within which to discuss exemplary figures within the history of existentialism.
Philosophy should not be thought of primarily either as an attempt to investigate and understand the click or the world, or as a special occupation that concerns only a few.
Rather, philosophy must be thought of as fully integrated within life. To be sure, there may need to be professional philosophers, who develop an elaborate set of Sartre Existentialism Essay Text and concepts Sartre makes this point frequently but life can be lived philosophically without a technical knowledge of philosophy.
Existentialist thinkers tended to identify two historical antecedents for this notion. First, the ancient Greeks, and particularly the figure of Socrates but also the Stoics and Epicureans. Socrates was not only non-professional, but in his pursuit of the good life he tended to eschew the formation of a 'system' or 'theory', and his teachings took place often in public spaces.
Sartre claimed that a central proposition of Existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the most important consideration for individuals is. Sartre's Political Philosophy. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (), the best known European public intellectual of the twentieth century, developed a. Existentialism Philosophy: Discussion of Existentialist metaphysics and philosophy (how we exist) - existential philosophers pictures, quotes - Jean Paul Sartre. Free jean-paul sartre papers, essays, and research papers. Title Length Color Rating: Meaning and Existentialism in My Life - Existentialism is a phiosophy which revolves around the central belief that we create ourselves.
In this, the existentialists were hardly unusual. In the 19 th and 20 th centuries, the rapid expansion of industrialisation and advance in technology were often seen in terms of an alienation of the human from nature or from a properly natural way of living for example, thinkers of German and English romanticism.
The second influence on thinking of philosophy as a way of life was German Idealism after Kant. Partly as a response to the 18 th century Enlightenment, and under the influence of the Neoplatonists, Schelling and Hegel both thought of philosophy as an activity that is an integral part of the history of human beings, rather than outside of life and the world, read more on.
Later in the 19 th century, Marx famously criticised previous philosophy by saying that the point of philosophy is not to know things — even to know things about activity — but to change them.
PHILOSOPHY - Sartre
The concept of philosophy as a way of life manifests itself in existentialist thought in a number of ways. Let us give several examples, to which we will return in the sections that follow.
First, the existentialists often undertook a critique of modern life in terms of the specialisation of both manual and intellectual labour. One consequence of this is that many existentialist thinkers experimented with different styles or genres of writing in order to escape the effects of this specialisation. Second, a notion that we can call 'immanence': For Kierkegaard, for example, the fundamental truths of my existence are not representations — not, that is, ideas, propositions or symbols the meaning of which can be separated from their origin.
Rather, the truths of existence are immediately lived, felt and acted.
Likewise, for Nietzsche and Heidegger, it is essential to recognise that the philosopher investigating human existence is, him or herself, an existing human. Third, the nature of life itself is a perennial existentialist concern and, more famously in Heidegger and in Camusalso the significance of death.
A key idea here is that human existence is in some way 'on its own'; anxiety or anguish is the recognition of this fact. Anxiety here has two important implications. First, most generally, many existentialists tended to stress the significance of emotions or feelings, in Sartre Existentialism Essay Text far as they were presumed to have a less culturally or intellectually mediated relation to one's individual and separate existence.
This idea is found in Kierkegaard, as we mentioned above, and in Heidegger's discussion of 'mood'; it is also one reason why existentialism had an influence on psychology. Second, anxiety also stands for a form of existence that is recognition of being on its own. What is meant by 'being on its own' varies among philosophers. For example, it might mean the irrelevance or even negative influence of rational thought, moral values, or empirical evidence, when it comes to making fundamental decisions concerning one's existence.
As we shall see, Kierkegaard sees Hegel's account of religion in terms of the history of absolute spirit as an exemplary confusion of faith and reason. Alternatively, it might be a more specifically theological claim: Finally, being on its own might signify the uniqueness of human existence, and thus the fact that it cannot understand itself in terms of other kinds of existence Heidegger and Sartre. Related to anxiety is the concept of authenticity, which is let us say the existentialist spin on the Greek notion of 'the good life'.
As we shall see, the authentic being would be able to recognise and affirm the nature of existence we shall shortly specify some of the aspects of this, such as absurdity and freedom. Not, though, recognise the nature of existence as an intellectual fact, disengaged from life; but rather, the authentic being lives in accordance with this nature. The notion of authenticity is sometimes seen as connected to individualism. This is only reinforced by the contrast with a theme we will discuss below, read more of the 'crowd'.
Certainly, if authenticity involves 'being on one's own', then there would seem to be some kind of value in celebrating Sartre Existentialism Essay Text sustaining one's difference and independence from others. However, many existentialists see individualism as a historical and cultural trend for example Nietzscheor dubious political value Camusrather than a necessary component of authentic existence. Individualism Sartre Existentialism Essay Text to obscure the particular types of collectivity that various existentialists deem important.
For many existentialists, the conditions of the modern world make authenticity especially difficult. For example, many existentialists would join other philosophers such as the Frankfurt School in condemning an instrumentalist Sartre Existentialism Essay Text of reason and value.
The utilitarianism of Mill measured moral value and justice also in terms of the consequences of actions. Later liberalism would seek to absorb nearly all functions of political and social life under the heading of Sartre Existentialism Essay Text performance.
Evaluating solely in terms of the measurable outcomes of production was seen as reinforcing the secularisation of the institutions of political, social or economic life; and reinforcing also the abandonment of any broader sense of the spiritual dimension such an idea is found acutely in Emerson, and is Sartre Existentialism Essay Text to the concerns of Kierkegaard.
Existentialists such as Martin Heidegger, Hanna Arendt or Gabriel Marcel viewed these social movements in terms of a narrowing of the possibilities of human thought to the instrumental or technological. This narrowing involved thinking of the world in terms of resources, and thinking of all human action as a making, or indeed as a machine-like 'function'.
The next key theme is freedom. Freedom can usefully be linked to the concept of anguish, because my freedom is in part defined by the isolation of my decisions from any determination by a deity, or by previously existent values or knowledge.
Many existentialists identified the 19 th and 20 th centuries as experiencing a crisis of values. This might be traced Sartre Existentialism Essay Text to familiar reasons such as an increasingly secular society, or the rise of scientific or philosophical movements that questioned traditional accounts of value for example Marxism or Darwinismor the shattering experience of two world wars and the phenomenon of mass genocide.
It is important to note, however, that for existentialism these historical conditions do not create the problem of anguish in the face of freedom, but merely cast it into higher relief. Likewise, freedom entails something like responsibility, for myself and for my actions. Given that my situation is one of being on its own — recognised in anxiety — then both my freedom and my responsibility are absolute. The isolation that we discussed above means that there is nothing else that acts through me, or that shoulders my responsibility.
Likewise, unless human existence is to be understood as arbitrarily changing moment to moment, this freedom and responsibility must stretch across time.
We should note here that many of the existentialists take on a broadly Kantian notion of freedom: This means that freedom, rather than being randomness or arbitrariness, consists in the binding of oneself to a law, but a law that is given by the self in recognition of its responsibilities. This borrowing from Kant, however, is heavily qualified by the next Sartre Existentialism Essay Text.
Although my freedom is absolute, it always takes place in a particular context. My body and its characteristics, my circumstances in a historical world, and my past, all weigh upon freedom. This is what makes freedom meaningful. Suppose I tried to exist as free, while pretending to be in abstraction from the situation. In that case I will have no idea what possibilities are open to me and what choices need to be made, here and now. This concrete notion of freedom has its philosophical genesis in Hegel, and is generally contrasted to the pure rational freedom described by Kant.
Situatedness is related to a notion we discussed above under the heading of philosophy as a way of life: For example, many 19 th century intellectuals were interested in ancient Greece, Rome, the Medieval period, Sartre Existentialism Essay Text the orient, as alternative models of a less spoiled, more integrated form of life.
Nietzsche, to be sure, shared these interests, but he did so not uncritically: Heidegger expresses a related point in this way: Many existentialists take my concretely individual body, and the specific type of life that my body lives, as a primary fact about me for example, Nietzsche, Scheler or Merleau-Ponty. I must also be situated socially: My freedom is always situated with respect to the judgements of others.
Situatedness in general also has an important philosophical antecedent in Marx: Although, click at this page course, existentialism takes its name from the philosophical theme of 'existence', Sartre Existentialism Essay Text does not entail that there is homogeneity in the manner existence is to be understood.
One point on which there is agreement, though, is that the existence with which we should be concerned here is not just any existent thing, but human existence.
There is thus an important difference between distinctively human existence and anything else, and human existence is not to be understood on the model of thingsthat is, as objects of knowledge.
One might think that this is an old idea, rooted in Plato's distinction between matter and soul, or Descartes' between extended and thinking things.
But these distinctions appear to be just differences between two types of things. Descartes in particular, however, is often criticised by the existentialists for subsuming both under the heading 'substance', and thus treating what is distinctive in human existence as indeed a thing or object, albeit one with different properties.
Whether the existentialist characterisation of Plato or Descartes is accurate is a different question. The existentialists thus countered the Platonic or Cartesian conception with a model that resembles more the Aristotelian as developed in the Nichomachean Ethics.
The latter idea arrives in existentialist thought filtered through Leibniz and Spinoza and the notion of a striving for existence. Equally important is the elevation of the practical above the theoretical in German Idealists. Particularly in Kant, who stressed the primacy of the 'practical', and then in Fichte and early Schelling, we find the notion that human existence is action.