Existentialism

Existentialism is a very profound way of thinking that has left a heavy mark on society since its inception.

Major Themes

One of the main principles included Moral Individualism. Believers of Moral Individualism seek the greatest good for themselves as opposed to the greatest good for the universe or other people. Meanwhile, the concept of Subjectivity is based on the belief that acting based on your own personal experiences – rather than logical or common belief – was the only way to arrive at the real truth of a situation.

Existentialism also places emphasis on Choice and Commitment. Existentialism teaches that what makes humans special is their ability to choose. Humans do not have a fixed nature like plants or animals and each of their choices create their nature. However, this freedom to choose entails responsibility and commitment. As people can choose their own path, they have to accept the consequences of their choices, and stay committed no matter what. The principles of Dread and Anxiety say that these feelings are God’s way of telling someone that he wants them to commit to a certain way of life. It’s associated with the freedom to choose and the responsibility that comes with it.

History

Existentialism is believed to have its roots in Continental philosophy, a belief system that is believed to have influenced German idealism, phenomomenology, and even Western Marxism. One of its most famous supporters was Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher born in the 1600s. In the 1920s, Martin Heidegger, an extremely influential German philosopher, devoted his time to the concept of existentialism although the term had not yet been coined. He had been heavily influenced by Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher who devoted much of his life to the crisis of human existence. Kierkegaard is regarded as the first existentialist. Interestingly, many of his beliefs matched those of Friedrich Nietzsche’s with evidence pointing to the fact that the two, who shared similar value systems, were even familiar with each other through secondary works.

The term existentialism is believed to have originated in Germany from the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel sometime in the 1940s. It was later adopted by Jean-Paul Sartre who used the term on October 29, 1945 whilst giving a lecture in the Club Maintenant in Paris. From there, the theory spread across continents, becoming especially popular after World War II.

Existentialism and Theology

Existentialism has even been incorporated into religion – one religion specifically, Christianity. Christian existentialism has its roots in Kierkegaard’s beliefs about Christianity. He believed that having a personal relationship with God superseded everything, including morality, social structure, and common norms. He also believed that because the universe was paradoxical, the greatest paradox of all was the union of God and man through Jesus Christ.

Existentialism and Literature

Existentialism has made its mark on culture as well, especially when it comes to literature. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a play called No Exit in 1944 and Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot in 1949; both plays featured existentialist beliefs quiet heavily. The precursor to Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep, is considered an existentialist novel as is the popular novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, which was so popular it was later turned into a movie. These books and plays feature a common theme such as torture or violence that somehow involves the person being hurt ending up hurting themselves.

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