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  1. Existentialism asserts that people actually make decisions based on subjective meaning rather than pure rationality. The rejection of reason as the source of meaning is a common theme of existentialist thought, as is the focus on the feelings of anxiety and dread that we feel in the face of our own radical freedom and our awareness of death.

    • Key Themes of Existentialism
    • Key Existentialist Philosophers
    • The Influence of Existentialism
    • References and Further Reading

    Although a highly diverse tradition of thought, seven themes can be identified that provide some sense of overall unity. Here, 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.

    a. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) as an Existentialist Philosopher

    Kierkegaardwas many things: philosopher, religious writer, satirist, psychologist, journalist, literary critic and generally considered the ‘father’ of existentialism. Being born (in Copenhagen) to a wealthy family enabled him to devote his life to the pursuits of his intellectual interests as well as to distancing himself from the ‘everyday man’ of his times. Kierkegaard’s most important works are pseudonymous, written under fictional names, often very obviously fictional. The issue of pseud...

    b. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) as an Existentialist Philosopher

    “I know my lot. Some day my name will be linked to the memory of something monstrous, of a crisis as yet unprecedented on earth…” (Nietzsche 2007:88). Remarkably, what in 1888 sounded like megalomania came some years later to be realized. The name ‘Nietzsche’ has been linked with an array of historical events, philosophical concepts and widespread popular legends. Above all, Nietzsche has managed somehow to associate his name with the turmoil of a crisis. For a while this crisis was linked to...

    c. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) as an Existentialist Philosopher

    Heideggerexercised an unparalleled influence on modern thought. Without knowledge of his work recent developments in modern European philosophy (Sartre, Gadamer, Arendt, Marcuse, Derrida, Foucault et al.) simply do not make sense. He remains notorious for his involvement with National Socialism in the 1930s. Outside European philosophy, Heidegger is only occasionally taken seriously, and is sometimes actually ridiculed (famously the Oxford philosopher A.J. Ayer called him a ‘charlatan’). In 1...

    a. The Arts and Psychology

    In the field of visual arts existentialism exercised an enormous influence, most obviously on the movement of Expressionism. Expressionism began in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. With its emphasis on subjective experience, Angst and intense emotionality, German expressionism sought to go beyond the naiveté of realist representation and to deal with the anguish of the modern man (exemplified in the terrible experiences of WWI). Many of the artists of Expressionism read Nietzsche...

    b. Philosophy

    As a whole, existentialism has had relatively little direct influence within philosophy. In Germany, existentialism (and especially Heidegger) was criticised for being obscure, abstract or even mystical in nature. This criticism was made especially by Adorno in The Jargon of Authenticity, and in Dog Years, novelist Gunter Grass gives a Voltaire-like, savage satire of Heidegger. The criticism was echoed by many in the analytic tradition. Heidegger and the existentialist were also taken to task...

    a. General Introductions

    1. Warnock Mary. Existentialism(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) 2. Barrett William. Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy(New York: Anchor House, 1990) 3. Cooper E. David. Existentialism(Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1999) 4. Reynolds Jack. Understanding Existentialism(Stocksfield: Acumen, 2006) 5. Earnshaw Steven. Existentialism: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2006)

    b. Anthologies

    1. Kauffman Walter. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre(New York: Penguin, 1975) 2. Paul S. MacDonald. The Existentialist Reader –An Anthology of Key Texts(Edinburgh: Edinburg University Press, 2000) 3. Solomon C. Robert.Existentialism(USA: Oxford University Press, 2004)

    c. Primary Bibliography

    1. Beauvoir de Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity(New York: Citadel Press, 1976) 2. Beauvoir de Simone. The Second Sex(London: Jonathan Cape, 2009) 3. Camus Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus(London: Penguin, 2000) 4. Camus Albert. The Rebel(London: Penguin, 2000b) 5. Camus Albert. The Fall, (London: Penguin, 2006) 6. Heidegger Martin, Introduction to Metaphysics(New Heaven & London: Yale University Press,2000) 7. Heidegger Martin. Letter on Humanism: in Heidegger Martin. Basic Writings, (London: Rout...

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  3. May 21, 2020 · Existentialism also encounters the problem of subjectivism. Without a transcendent standard by which the existentialist can use to define what is meaningful as opposed to what is not, any claim to this effect reduces to personal preference.

  4. Existentialism (from Latin existentia), or the philosophy of existence, is a philosophical trend that arose on the eve of World War I, after the First World War in Germany (Heidegger, Jaspers, Buber) and during the Second World War in France (Sartre , Marcel, who spoke with the ideas of existentialism even during the First World War, Merleau-Ponty, Camus, S. de Beauvoir). In 1940-50 years existentialism spread in other European countries and 1960 in the USA.

  5. ExistentialismExistentialism is an attitude that recognizes the unresolvable confusion of the human world, yet resists the all-too-human temptation to resolve the confusion by grasping toward whatever appears or can be made to appear firm or familiar…The existential attitude begins a disoriented individual facing a confused world that he cannot accept.

  6. Existentialism is difficult to define primarily because its essence, so to speak, is to oppose the kind of analytic reduction that definition entails. It is not a system of philosophy to be learned or subscribed to (I am always at a loss to answer the question “Are you an existentialist?”); it is not properly an “ism” at all, at least in the sense that Catholicism or Communism is.