Existentialism is a term applied to the work of a number of philosophers since the 19th century who, despite large differences in their positions, generally focused on the condition of human existence, and an individual's emotions, actions, responsibilities, and thoughts, or the meaning or purpose of life. Existential philosophers often focused more on what is subjective,such as beliefs and religion, or human states, feelings, and emotions, such as freedom, pain, guilt, and regret, as opposed to analyzing objective knowledge, language, or science.
The early 19th century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is regarded as the father of existentialism. He maintained that the individual is solely responsible for giving his or her own life meaning and for living that lifepassionately and sincerely, in spite of many existential obstacles and distractions including despair, angst, absurdity, alienation, and boredom.
Subsequent existentialist philosophers retain the emphasis on the individual, but differ, in varying degrees, on how one achieves and what constitutes a fulfilling life, what obstacles must be overcome, and what external and internal factors areinvolved, including the potential consequences of the existence or non-existence of God. Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophy, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience. Existentialism became fashionable in the post-World War years as a way to reassert the importance of human individuality and freedom.Existentialism is sometimes referred to as a continental philosophy, referring to the continental part of Europe, as opposed to that practiced in Britain at that time, which was called analytic philosophy, and mostly dealt with analyzing language.
Existentialism is foreshadowed most notably by 19th century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, though it had forerunnersin earlier centuries. In the 20th century, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (starting from Husserl's phenomenology) influenced other existentialist philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and (absurdist) Albert Camus. Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kafka also described existentialist themes in their literary works. Although there are some common tendencies amongst"existentialist" thinkers, there are major differences and disagreements among them (most notably the divide between atheist existentialists like Sartre and theistic existentialists like Paul Tillich); not all of them accept the validity of the term as applied to their own work.
The term "existentialism" seems to have been coined by the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel in themid-1940s and adopted by Jean-Paul Sartre who, on October 29, 1945, discussed his own existentialist position in a lecture to the Club Maintenant in Paris. The lecture was published as L'existentialisme est un humanisme, a short book which did much to popularize existentialist thought.
The label has been applied retrospectively to other philosophers for whom existence and, inparticular, human existence were key philosophical topics. Martin Heidegger had made human existence (Dasein) the focus of his work since the 1920s, and Karl Jaspers had called his philosophy "Existenzphilosophie" in the 1930s. Both Heidegger and Jaspers had been influenced by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. For Kierkegaard, the crisis of human existence had been a majortheme. He came to be regarded as the first existentialist, and has been called the "father of existentialism". In fact he was the first to explicitly make existential questions a primary focus in his philosophy. In retrospect, other writers have also implicitly discussed existentialist themes throughout the history of philosophy and literature. Due to the exposure of existentialist...