Chapter 11. Existentialism
Section 1. What is it?

from A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names

A (mostly) twentieth-century approach that emphasizes the primacy of individual existence over any presumed natural essence for human beings. Although they differ on many details, existentialists generally suppose that the fact of my existence as a human being entails both my unqualified freedom to make of myself whatever I will and the awesome responsibility of employing that freedom appropriately, without being driven by anxiety toward escaping into the inauthenticity or self-deception of any conventional set of rules for behavior, even though the entire project may turn out to be absurd. Prominent existentialists include Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Jaspers, Beauvoir, Sartre, and Camus.

Recommended Reading: Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre, ed. by Walter Kaufmann (Meridian, 1988) ; L. Nathan Oaklander, Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction (Prentice-Hall, 1995) ; Robert C. Solomon, Existentialism (McGraw-Hill, 1974) ; Robert Goodwin, An Introduction to Existentialism (Dover, 1962) ; and William Barrett, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (Anchor, 1962) .


From the ISM Book:

Existentialism (Movement in ethics) Existentialism is an influential movement in 20th century philosophy and especially ethics. Historically, existentialism was inspired by the supposed skepticism and nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Existentialism takes its peculiar character from the fact that, even though it is a form of individualism, it is also very much a kind of pessimism another major influence on existentialism was Schopenhauer. According to Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), the leading philosopher of the movement, existentialism takes its name from its guiding phrase, "existence precedes essence". This means that there is no stable human essence or nature and thus that there are no intrinsic or natural human values (so that any attempt at ethical naturalism is misguided and debased). Existentialism teaches that each person must simply live his life and by so doing create his own values, almost as an afterthought. Although such a process of living can be haphazard and lacking in self-direction, this fact does not seem to be a problem for the existentialists. In fact, some existentialists even revel in the unplanned, irrational character of life and therefore could be characterized as proponents of irrationalism or even nihilism. Existentialists are also extreme opponents of eudaimonism, since they think that the quest for happiness is an indication of the "bad faith" of the bourgeoisie

Basic Existentialism

Sartre's Existentialism as Humanism:


Holding that there are no intrinsic values and that each person must choose and create values leads existentialists to reject all theories of the good that are objective or absolute or universal.

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