What is Existentialism | Free Essay

Existentialism spread rapidly all over the Europe after the World War I and later became popular in the rest of the world. Existentialism defenition is the movement of idea coming from the immediacy of the problems of life. I think that it is all about the analysis of the condition of man, of the specific state of being free, and also of one’s need for using his or her freedom to answer the challenges of the present day. The Existentialists say that the starting point of every philosophical argument is concrete human existence – the human character in itself, the ego of the human being. In our times, Existentialism took atheistic side and became more about concrete existence rather than traditional metaphysics.

The acute analysis, to which Existentialism has subjected the human person, reveals one undeniable fact: the weakness of man, who is burdened by the most galling contradictions. In the speculative sphere there is the desire to possess absolute knowledge — but it is rendered vain by the constant presence of skeptical doubt; in the field of morality there is the desire for infinite happiness — but it is rendered uncertain by the constant presence of evil; there is the desire for everlasting life — but it is dashed to the depths by the ubiquitous presence of death.

I think that the above analysis is true and finds the explanation and confirmation in our history. However, the history facts did not give any solutions to the problems described, at least within the limits of philosophical thinking.

Existentialists point out the problems without solutions and doing so are being good critics of modern rationalism. In opposition to this Rationalism which attempts to nullify the value of the human person and to resolve the contradictions of concrete life in an abstract view of history, Existentialism has called attention to the value of the individual and has sought a solution to the inescapable problems of the person confronted by an abstraction which nullifies instead of solves.

Of course, the criticism alone is not enough to establish a valid system of metaphysics. Having exposed the negative part of human existence, Existentialism should then propose positive teaching, that is, set up a rational doctrine concerning being, God, man, knowledge, freedom, society, art. Such an exposition, at least until now, has not been worked out by the Existentialists, not even by those who affirm their belief in God. Thus contemporary Existentialism seems to offer a problem without a solution, a drama without a conclusion.

In the history of philosophy, Existentialism shows the modern crisis of our society, taking roots from the two world wars where millions of people were killed, without any reason. It presents the dissatisfaction with the absence of the decent economic products needed to meet the existing demand and the skepticism resulting from materialistic philosophies.

The main point of existentialist’s thinking is being. Being that is something immediate, something that has to be happening at the present moment. Existentialist’s being is unattainable, unknowable, and indefinable. It is something very intangible and cannot create the basis for anything materialistic.

The most important expressions of Existentialism are found in Germany and France. German Existentialism is represented by three thinkers: Barth, Heidegger, and Jaspers. Their common source of inspiration is Kierkegaard’s thought, of which there was revival in Germany shortly after World War I. Heidegger and Jaspers are also dependent upon some significant motives found in the writings of Nietzsche. Heidegger felt, in addition, the influence of his teacher, Husserl.

The rise of French Existentialism is independent of that of German Existentialism, just as the content of the one is independent of the content of the other. German thinkers except for Jaspers remain immersed in an immanentist conception, whereas most French thinkers rise to the transcendence of God, according to the traditional spiritualism of their country. Representative of French Existentialism are Gabriel Marcel, Rene Lesenne, Louis Lavelle, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

The important theme of the Existentialism is the theme of choice. According to existentialism thinkers, the freedom of choice is one of the primary distinctions of human beings. They say that human beings do not possess a fixed nature, or essences like do plants and animals; every human chooses on the basis of his/her own nature. This choice is very important for the human existence and gives human beings the feeling of responsibility and commitment. Because individuals are free to choose their own path, existentialists have argued, they must accept the risk and responsibility of following their commitment wherever it leads.

To be an individual, one has to be removed from the rest of the world. When he is withdrawn from the world, he is aware of himself, he knows that he exists and this is the greatest but the most horrible thing also. This way in one hand the individual acknowledges his creation by God and therefore the fact that he comes from nothing. And at the same time it is terrible because to exist means to “stand out”; the finite existence being is detached from God. Therefore one must admit that his existence denotes an opposition to God.

In consequence of this, ones’ existence is in itself a mystery: on the one hand I cannot be non-existent, and on the other, my existence is bathed in sin; I exist, and I am necessarily a sinner.

The consciousness of this contradiction causes anguish, and anguish ends in despair. The individual accepts existence as a mystery, which he cannot hope to fathom. But because of the coincidence of opposites, from despair rises faith, and faith gives the individual the hope of redemption by means of grace. I abandon myself to the grace of God; I pray, and the prayer gives me the “pre-sentiment” that time will be changed into eternity and death into life.

In many instances, existentialism is seen as an irrational revolt against the existing philosophy of life. This is only true up to a certain point, but this philosophy has been a shaping force in the world’s thinking. For some reasons, existentialism rejects epistemology and try to base human knowledge.

First of all, existentialists think that human beings are not primary careers of information or knowledge. They also care, desire, manipulate, and, above all, choose and act. Secondly, the self or ego, required by some if not all-epistemological doctrines, is not a basic feature of the reflective experience. It emerges from one’s experience of other people. The cognizing ego presupposes rather than infers or constitutes the existence of external objects. In other words, you are not born with an ego, or thought of ones self, but it is created through experiences with other people.

Finally, man is not a detached observer of the world, but in the world. He exists in a special sense in which objects suck as stones and trees do not; he is open to the world and to objects in it. There is no distinct realm of consciousness, on the basis of which a person might infer, reason why project, or doubt the existence of external objects.
Since Plato, the majority of philosophers thought that the highest ethical good is universal. They have considered that in the moral choice has no objective or rational basis for decisions. The important part in decision-making plays individualism that is what morality and truth depend on. Most existentialists have held that rational clarity is desirable wherever possible but that life’s most important questions are not accessible to reason or science.

Nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche espoused tragic pessimism and life-affirming individual will. Heidegger argued that human beings can never hope to understand why they are here; instead, each individual must choose a goal and follow it with passionate conviction, aware of the certainty of death and the ultimate meaninglessness of one’s life. Twentieth-century French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre first gave the term existentialism general currency by using it for his own philosophy. Explicitly atheistic and pessimistic, his philosophy declared that human life requires a rational basis but the attempt is a “futile passion”. Nevertheless, he insisted that his view is a form of humanism, emphasizing freedom and responsibility.

Existentialism is considered a rather complicated philosophy of modern days. But I personally think it didn’t go far from the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Since we are interested not in a mere brutal survival, every one of us has to follow some kind of needs pattern and values of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Our guide for achieving our spiritual goals and satisfying our spiritual needs must be religion or philosophy. There could not be anything else.

Commonly, Human beings need both basic and spiritual needs to be satisfied. If the achieving of spiritual needs satisfaction has to be attained, not on the basis of religion, but basing on our experience, I believe that it is not possible for humans to ignore the relevance of philosophical values and human beings. I mean, existential philosophy. I think it impossible for existentialism to be wished away, ignored, or superseded.

I respect the existentialist thinkers of nineteenth and twentieth centuries, because to my mind they realized the terrible contingency of human lives. At one moment of time we are alive, here and the next moment we do not exist anymore. They realize what Renaissance and Elizabethan scholars called “mutability” (change) hovers over us like the sword of Damocles. Human beings may sicken, be killed, or die naturally at any moment. This arbitrariness of things, to me, is the central situation of philosophy. It is the central situation of human life. It must cause us to ask philosophy’s central question.


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