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What is Existentialism? Existentialism is hard to define and most leaders/persons of the movement deny being part of the movement. Soren Kierkegaard and Fredrich Nietzsche are precursors of the movement. Members of the movement are Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger and Albert Camus.
Existentialists are characterized as seeking psychological inquiry, needing to know how to live life, raise questions of social responsibility and question human’s psychology. Also, existentialists focus on the individual, believe that humans must give their life meaning and their choices and values are shown through their actions. Lastly, existentialists believe that human power and free will are “absolutely obvious.”
There are two important thinkers in the movement. They are Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sarte. These two members both hold very different views on the question of decision making for Existentialists. Heidegger is concerned with knowing rather than deciding and acting. According to him, it is not what you do that matters but rather how you know it and that you know it. Sarte, on the other hand, is concerned more with acting. These two views have split many views of the existentialists on the subject of decision making.
Existentialists may have different views than one another but in general they recognize that human knowledge is limited and fallible. A person can be committed to find the truth and investigate, but is simply unable to do so or unable to find the adequate truth. In a way Existentialism is like a science except for the fact that science is able to have the option of not finding an answer.
The moment of decision is extremely important to existentialists because each decision has purpose and risk. Sartre is extremely harsh on the point of risk. He believes that each decision that an individual makes, they make for the world. Every decision or act may alter someone else’s decision and this can continue on and on.
Because of this point, acting is terrifying responsibility for the existentialist and it is considered a burden for many. Lastly, existentialists put so much weight in actions because each person is simply just a collection of their actions. Their identity is determined by their decisions and actions and for that reason is why many Existentialists nearly recoil from living and acting under the weight of it all.
“ Living without certainty and with personal responsibility is a nearly unbearable burden”
Existentialism: a spirit or aura of how one responds to human existence, much easier to characterize (rather than define) in negative terms
Obsessed with how to live one's life; use questioning in philosophy and psychology.
Believe there are certain questions that everyone must deal with , and that these are special questions. (Ex. death, the meaning of human existence, the place of God in human existence).
Do not pay much attention to "social" questions ( Ex. politics, social responsibility). They focus almost exclusively on the individual.
Believe that life is very difficult and that it doesn't have meaning; the individual must create value themselves by affirming it and living it.
Existential choices and values are demonstrated in act not in words.
They tend to take freedom of the will as absolutely obvious; there are arguments for free will in Existentialist literature for others/outsiders.
Corbett, Bob. "What is existentialism?" Mar. 1985. Web. 10 Feb. 2010.