Existentialism: An Introduction

  1. History of philosophy
  2. Modern philosophy
  3. Existentialism

Existentialism is one of the most influential and powerful philosophical movements of modern times. It emerged in the mid-19th century as a response to a world in turmoil, and its ideas have had a profound impact on our understanding of the human condition. Existentialism has become a core part of the philosophical canon, and its influence can be seen in many aspects of our lives today. This article will provide an introduction to existentialism, discussing its main ideas, its major figures, and its relevance in the modern world. Existentialism is not a unified philosophy but rather a loose collection of thought that examines the individual's place in the world.

It explores questions such as: What is the meaning of life? How do we make sense of our own existence? What is our purpose in life? How do we make decisions? Existentialists reject the idea that there are any universal answers to these questions and instead emphasise individual responsibility for determining one's own life choices. Existentialism also challenges traditional views about morality and values, arguing that individuals should create their own values instead of relying on external sources. The main figures associated with existentialism are Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger and Friedrich Nietzsche. They all had different views on the nature of existence but shared a common emphasis on individual freedom, authenticity and responsibility. Existentialists believe that we must choose for ourselves what life means, and that our choices have far-reaching consequences.

They argue that life is an adventure, and that we should embrace it fully and seize opportunities that come our way. In this article, we will explore existentialism further, examining its key concepts and discussing its relevance in today's world. We will also look at some of the criticisms of existentialism, and consider why it remains an important part of the philosophical canon.


is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the meaning and purpose of human existence. It explores the individual's experience of being in the world and the moral responsibility that comes with it. The concept of existentialism can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

In the 19th century, it was popularized by the works of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard. Later, French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote extensively on the topic, popularizing it in the mid-20th century. The core tenets of existentialism include the belief that human existence is subjective and that individuals are free to make their own choices. Existentialists reject traditional values and beliefs and instead focus on personal freedom and responsibility.

They argue that each person has unique experiences and perspectives, and that these should be embraced rather than suppressed. Existentialism has been applied to many different fields, including psychology, literature, politics, and education. In psychology, existentialists believe that understanding an individual's life story is essential to providing effective therapy. In literature, existentialists emphasize themes such as alienation and despair.

In politics, they argue for autonomy and self-determination. And in education, they advocate for student-centered learning in which students are encouraged to think critically and independently. Existentialists challenge us to take responsibility for our actions and our lives by recognizing the freedom of choice we have over them. They argue that only by understanding our own subjectivity can we truly understand ourselves and our place in the world.

By doing so, we can live meaningful lives with a sense of purpose instead of aimlessly drifting through life without direction. Existentialism has been a major influence on modern thought, inspiring countless intellectuals and artists around the world. It continues to be an important part of philosophical discourse today, offering an alternate perspective on some of the most pressing issues of our time. Through its exploration of individual autonomy and choice, existentialism encourages us to create our own path in life and to live with purpose and intention.

Applications of Existentialism

Existentialism has had a lasting impact on many areas of life.

Its emphasis on personal freedom and responsibility has been used to challenge traditional religious beliefs and social conventions. It has also been applied to numerous other topics such as mental health, education, and political activism. In terms of mental health, existentialism has been used to help people understand their own identity and purpose in life. It encourages individuals to be mindful of their choices and take responsibility for their actions.

It also allows individuals to explore the concept of freedom and its implications for their lives. In terms of education, existentialism has been used to help students become more aware of their individual needs and preferences. It can help them develop a better understanding of their own values and how they can apply them in their lives. Existentialism also encourages students to think critically and take ownership of their learning experiences.

Finally, existentialism has been applied to political activism. It can help people think deeply about the implications of their actions and how they can make a difference in the world. Existentialism encourages individuals to question existing systems and work towards creating a more just and equitable society.


is a powerful philosophical framework that can be used to help people make sense of the world around them and find meaning in their lives.

Its emphasis on personal freedom and responsibility makes it an ideal tool for challenging traditional beliefs and creating meaningful change.

Key Figures of Existentialism

Existentialism is a philosophical movement rooted in the 19th and 20th centuries, with its major figures including Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Martin Heidegger. Though they had distinct approaches, they all shared a common focus on individual experience and freedom.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche was a German philosopher who is widely known for his critique of traditional morality and religion. He argued that humans had to find their own meaning in life and that there was no universal “truth” or “purpose” to life.

He believed that individuals had the power to create their own values and could choose to live life in ways that were meaningful to them.

Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher who is widely considered to be the father of existentialism. He believed that individuals had to make their own choices about how to live their lives, rather than relying on traditional morality or religion to dictate their actions. His work focused heavily on the importance of individual freedom and the power of choice.

Jean-Paul SartreSartre was a French philosopher who is widely considered to be the most influential figure in existentialism. He argued that individuals had the power to create their own meaning in life through their choices and actions. He also argued that we have an inherent responsibility for our actions and must accept the consequences of our choices.

Albert Camus

Camus was a French-Algerian philosopher who is best known for his works exploring themes of absurdity and alienation.

He argued that individuals were fundamentally isolated from one another and that life often lacked meaning or purpose. He also argued that individuals had the freedom to make their own choices and create meaning in their lives despite this lack of inherent meaning.

Martin Heidegger

Heidegger was a German philosopher who focused on the concept of “Being” and explored themes of mortality and death. He argued that humans were fundamentally limited in what they could know about the world, but that they still had the freedom to make choices about how to live their lives.

He believed that individuals should strive to live authentically by understanding and accepting their own mortality. Existentialism is a branch of philosophy that emphasizes individual experience and freedom. Its key figures such as Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Martin Heidegger have shaped the way we think about the world and our place in it. Through its applications in fields such as psychology and ethics, existentialism challenges traditional beliefs and encourages us to reflect on our own lives and moral responsibility. By understanding the history and core concepts of existentialism, we can gain a better appreciation for its relevance in our lives today.