Existentialism: An Overview

5 Jun
Existentialism Relationships

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The way of thought by means of which

man seeks to become himself,

while approaching life from the perspective that

everything in existence is first and foremost

contextualized from the individual subject.


In true existential fashion, the previous definition is essentially my subjective choice and interpretation.  According to my research and wikipedia, “there has never been general agreement on the definition of existentialism.”[1] The first two lines are actually referring to a closely-related/debatably-synonymous concept from Karl Jaspers of “Existenzphilosophie“.[1]

Existentialism lacks not only a concrete definition, but also concrete categorical placement; it is viewed as a cultural movement and a philosophical position[1][2].

I’ve interpreted existentialism in my “30ish days of Existential Research” as the study of myself to the deepest possible depth to unveal (or at least provide some strong hints) as to what constitutes my most core being and authentic self.



The analysis of human existence

The centrality of human choice



Existentialism centers around the belief that analysis of the human existence begins with the human subject – not merely the thinker, but the acting, living, feeling human.  The analysis of one’s self is of the utmost importance because in doing so, one can understand the concrete, inward nature of his/her existence and live life passionately and sincerely (“authentically”).

  • Personal consciousness precedes all ideologies and preconceptions:  Individuals are individuals first, and prior to being related to anything else, they are related to their own existence.

“The subjective thinker has only one setting—existence—and has nothing to do with localities and such things. The setting is inwardness in existing as a human being; the concretion is the relation of the existence-categories to one another.”

– Soren Kierkegaard[1]

  • Authenticity and Concreteness:  The inquisition into self, can lead to identifying that which is always there – concrete ways of being in the world, concrete amongst all ideologies and categories. This concrete individual existence must be the primary source of information in the study of man, and in understanding the concrete nature of their being, one can live authentically – that is – one can act as oneself, not as “one” acts or as “one’s genes” or any other essence requires. [1]

The authentic act is one that is in accordance with one’s freedom.[1]



Each individual—not society or religion—is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely (“authentically”).[1]

  • Absurdism (“meaninglessness”, “amorality” and “unfairness”) is critical to existentialism’s focus on individual choice.  It proposes that anything can happen to anyone at any time: good things to bad people and bad things to good people; therefore, life is absurd and there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it.  In choosing our own meaning, we are inherently responsible for our actions and subjective interpretations in life.



  • Existentialism began in the late 19th and early 20th century. Søren Kierkegaard is generally considered to have been the first existentialist philosopher though he did not use the term existentialism.
  • The term “existentialism” was coined by the French Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel in the mid-1940s, and the first to adopt the term as a self-description was Jean-Paul Sartre.
  • 1946 Jean-Paul Sartre’s lecture “Existentialism Is a Humanism” saying, “Existence precedes essence”
  • Simone de Beauvoir, an important existentialist who spent much of her life as Sartre’s partner, wrote about feminist and existentialist ethics in her works, including The Second Sex and The Ethics of Ambiguity.
  • Existentialism became popular in the years following World War II.



 [1] Wikipedia article: ‘Existentialism’

[2] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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