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Pix   of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir plus others


The philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, though neither used the term "existentialism", are considered fundamental to the existentialist movement. Existentialism is a philosophical movement which claims that individual human beings create the meanings and essence of their own lives. It emerged as a movement in twentieth-century literature and philosophy, with some forerunners in earlier centuries. Existentialism stresses that people are entirely free and therefore responsible for what they make of themselves. With this responsibility comes a profound anguish or dread. It is a reaction against more traditional philosophies, such as rationalism and empiricism, which sought to discover an ultimate order in metaphysical principles or in the structure of the observed world, and therefore universal meaning. The movement had its origins in the thought of the 19th century philosophers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and was prevalent in Continental philosophy. Writers like also contributed to the movement.

In the 1940s and 1950s, French existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir wrote scholarly and fictional works that helped to popularize themes associated with existentialism, including "dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, [and] nothingness". Existentialism was described by Walter Kaufman as, "The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life".

Major concepts

Existentialism differentiates itself from the modern Western rationalist tradition of philosophers such as Descartes in rejecting the idea that the most certain and primary reality is rational consciousness. Descartes argues in his Meditations on First Philosophy that, while humans can doubt almost all aspects of reality as illusions, humans can be certain of their consciousness, which is therefore the only truth ("Cogito ergo sum").

Existentialism decisively rejects this argument, asserting instead that as conscious beings, humans would always find themselves already in a world, a prior context and a history that is given to consciousness, and that humans cannot think away that world. It is inherent and indubitably linked to consciousness. In other words, the ultimate and unquestionable reality is not thinking consciousness but, according to Heidegger, "being in the world". This is a radicalization of the notion of intentionality that comes from Brentano and Husserl, which asserts that, even in its barest form, all consciousness is always a consciousness of something.

Existence precedes essence

A central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence; that is, that a human being’s existence precedes and is more fundamental than any meaning which may be ascribed to human life: humans define their own reality. There is no connection to literature either. One is not bound to the generalities and a priori definitions of what "being human" connotes. This is an inversion of a more traditional view, which was widely accepted from the ancient Greeks to Hegel, that the central project of philosophy was to answer the question "What is a human being?" (i.e., "What is the human essence") and to derive from that answer one’s conclusions about how human beings should behave.

In Repetition, Kierkegaard’s literary character "Young Man" laments:

How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it and why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought by a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn’t it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager-I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?

Heidegger coined the term "thrownness" (also used by Sartre) to describe this idea that human beings are "thrown" into existence without having chosen it. Existentialists consider being thrown into existence as prior to, and the horizon or context of, any other thoughts or ideas that humans have or definitions of themselves that they create.

Sartre, in Essays in Existentialism, further highlights this consciousness of being thrown into existence in the following fashion. "If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be".

Kierkegaard also focused on the deep anxiety of human existence - the feeling that there is no purpose, indeed nothing, at its core. Finding a way to counter this nothingness, by embracing existence, is the fundamental theme of existentialism, and the root of the philosophy’s name. Someone who believes in reality might be called a "realist," and someone who believes in a deity could identify as a "theist." Someone who believes fundamentally only in existence, and seeks to find meaning in his or her life solely by embracing existence, is an existentialist.

Reason as a defense against anxiety

Emphasizing action, freedom, and decision as fundamental, existentialists oppose themselves to rationalism and positivism. That is, they argue against definitions of human beings as primarily rational. Rather, existentialists look at where people find meaning. Existentialism asserts that people actually make decisions based on what has meaning to them rather than what is rational.

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. Kierkegaard saw rationality as a mechanism humans use to counter their existential anxiety, their fear of being in the world. "If I can believe that I am rational and everyone else is rational then I have nothing to fear and no reason to feel anxious about being free."

Sartre saw rationality as a form of "bad faith," an attempt by the self to impose structure on a world of phenomena - "the other" - that is fundamentally irrational and random. According to Sartre, rationality and other forms of "bad faith" hinder us from finding meaning in freedom. To try to suppress our feelings of anxiety and dread, we confine ourselves within everyday experience, Sartre asserts, thereby relinquishing our freedom and acquiescing to being possessed in one form or another by "the look" of "the other".

In a similar vein, Camus believed that society and religion falsely teach humans that "the other" has order and structure. For Camus, when an individual’s "consciousness," longing for order, collides with "the other’s" lack of order, a third element is born: "absurdity".

The absurd

It then follows that existentialism tends to view human beings as subjects in an indifferent, objective, often ambiguous, and "absurd" universe, in which meaning is not provided by the natural order, but rather can be created, however provisionally and unstably, by human beings’ actions and interpretations.

During the literary modernist movement in the 1900s, authors began describing dystopian societies and surreal and absurd situations in a parallel universe, a trend that paralleled the existentialist movement. In Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis, a man awakes to the realization that he has turned into a creature often interpreted to be a dung beetle or cockroach. This story, which is certainly "absurd" and surreal, is one of many modernist literary works that influenced and were influenced by existentialist philosophy.

The most extensive existentialist study of "the absurd" was done by Albert Camus in his classic essay The Myth of Sisyphus. With a concluding analogy with the Greek mythology character, Sisyphus, he explains that the absurd is born out of the confrontation between human need and want for logic and order and the reality of illogical and random world. He explains thus that absurdity contains in itself man’s rationality.

Although there are certain common tendencies amongst existentialist thinkers, there are major differences and disagreements among them, and not all of them even accept the validity of the term "existentialism." In German, the phrase Existenzphilosophie (philosophy of existence) is also used.

Perspectives on God

Some existentialists, like Kierkegaard, conceive the fundamental existentialist question as man’s relationship to God; some accept Nietzsche’s proclamation that "God is dead;" they believe that the concept of God is obsolete. Nonetheless, theological existentialism as advocated by philosophers and theologians including Paul Tillich, Gabriel Marcel, and Martin Buber shares many of the same tenets and themes that are central to atheistic existentialism. Belief in God is a personal choice made on the basis of a passion, of faith, an observation, or experience. Just as atheistic existentialists can freely choose not to believe, theistic existentialists can freely choose to believe in God and, despite one’s doubt, have faith that God exists and that God is good. A further type of existentialism is agnostic existentialism. The agnostic existentialist makes no claim to know, or not know, if there is a "greater picture" in play; rather, he simply recognizes that the greatest truth is that which he chooses to act upon. The agnostic existentialist feels that to know the "greater picture," whether there is one or not, is impossible for human minds-or, if it is possible, that it has not been found yet. Like the Christian existentialists, the agnostic believes existence is subjective. From the agnostic existentialist perspective, to find knowledge of the existence of God often has little value or is impossible, or it is believed to be useless. Opinions of philosophers associated with existentialism vary, sometimes greatly, over what "existentialism" is, and even if there is such a thing as "existentialism".

Sartrean existentialism

Some of the tenets associated with the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre include: Existence precedes essence.

This is a reversal of the Aristotlean premise that essence precedes existence, where man exists to fulfill some purpose. Sartrean existentialism argues that man has no predefined purpose or meaning; rather, humans define themselves in terms of who they become as their individual lives are played out in response to the challenges posed by existence in the world.

Values are subjective

Sartre accepts the premise that something in the "Facticity" (i.e., the properties of an object or person as traditionally conceived and experienced) of an individual is valuable because the individual consciousness chooses to value it. Sartre denies that there are any objective standards on which to base values. However, this should not be confused with post-modernism. Sartre clearly believed that systems of consciousness followed clear and solid rules.

Bad faith

Sartre believed that people lie to themselves and, underneath these lies, people negate their own being through patterns. The preceperi is similar to what today is called insight. It is necessary to get rid of bad faith.

The Gaze

Sartre believed that beings possess the power to look at themselves and at another or an object, which is to use one’s mind to look at the person in static. This concept of "looking" and the power to look, is referred to as The Gaze. This destroys an object’s subjectivity. The thing becomes an "in itself" or an object. Sartre stated that this form of consciousness was used quite often in inter-personal relationships. People place meaning onto what other people think of them rather than what they think of themselves. This process of radically re-aligning this meaning from The Gaze onto one’s own being is what leads to periods of so-called "existential angst".

Being for others

Sartre believed that people who cannot embrace their freedom seek to be "looked at," that is, to be made an object of another’s subjectivity. This creates a clash of freedoms whereby person A’s being (or sense of identity) is controlled by what person B’s thoughts about him are.

Responsibility for choices

The individual consciousness is responsible for all the choices it makes, regardless of the consequences. Condemned to be free because man’s actions and choices are his and his alone, he is condemned to be responsible for his free choices.

There are several terms Sartre uses in his works. Being in-itself is an object that is not free and cannot change its essence. Being for-itself is free; it does not need to be what it is and can change into what it is not. Consciousness is usually considered being for-itself. Sartre distinguishes between positional and non-positional consciousness. Non-positional consciousness is being merely conscious of one’s surroundings. Positional consciousness puts consciousness into relation of one’s surroundings. This entails an explicit awareness of being conscious of one’s surroundings. Sartre argues identity is constructed by this explicit awareness of consciousness.

Historical background

Existential themes have been hinted at throughout history. Examples include Gautama Buddha’s teachings, the Bible in the Book of Ecclesiastes and the Book of Job, Saint Augustine in his Confessions, Saint Thomas Aquinas’ writings, and Mulla Sadra’s writings.

Individualist politics, such as those advanced by John Locke, advocated individual autonomy and self-determination rather than the state ruling over the individual. This kind of political philosophy, although not existential in nature, provided a welcoming climate for existentialism. In 1670, Blaise Pascal’s unfinished notes were published under the title of Pensées (i.e., "Thoughts"). In the work, he described many fundamental themes of existentialism. Pascal argued that without a God, life would be meaningless and miserable. People would only be able to create obstacles and overcome them in an attempt to escape boredom. These token-victories would ultimately become meaningless, since people would eventually die. This was good enough reason not to choose to become an atheist, according to Pascal.

Existentialism, in its currently recognizable 20th century form, was inspired by Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky and the German philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger. It became popular in the mid-20th century through the works of the French writer-philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, whose versions of it were set out in a popular form in Sartre’s 1946Existentialism is a Humanism and Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity.

Gabriel Marcel pursued theological versions of existentialism, most notably Christian existentialism. Other theological existentialists include Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, Miguel de Unamuno, Thomas Hora and Martin Buber. Moreover, one-time Marxist Nikolai Berdyaev, developed a philosophy of Christian existentialism in his native Russia, and later in France, in the decades preceding World War II.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Arthur Schopenhauer are also important influences on the development of existentialism (although not precursors), because the philosophies of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche were written in response or opposition to Hegel and Schopenhauer, respectively.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche

Main article: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche comparisons

The first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement are Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, though neither used the term "existentialism". Like Pascal, they were interested in people’s concealment of the meaninglessness of life and the use of diversion to escape from boredom. However, what Pascal did not write about was that people can create and change their fundamental values and beliefs. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche wrote that human nature and human identity vary depending on what values and beliefs humans hold. Objective truths (for example mathematical truths) are important, but detached or observational modes of thought can never truly comprehend human experience. Great individuals invent their own values and create the very terms under which they excel. Kierkegaard’s knight of faith and Nietzsche’s übermensch are examples of those who define the nature of their own existence. In contrast, Pascal did not reason that human nature and identity are constituted by the free decisions and choices of people.

Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s works were published too early to be considered a part of the 20th century existentialist movement. They were philosophers whose works and influences are not limited to existentialism. They have been appropriated and seen as precursors to many other intellectual movements, including postmodernism, nihilism, and various strands of psychology. Thus, it is unknown whether they would have supported the existentialism of the 20th century or accepted tenets of Jean-Paul Sartre’s version of it. Nevertheless, their works are precursors to many later developments in existentialist thought.

Heidegger and the German existentialists

Main article: Existential phenomenology

One of the first German existentialists was Karl Jaspers. Jaspers recognized the importance of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and attempted to build an "Existenz" philosophy around the two. Heidegger, who was influenced by Jaspers and the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, wrote his most influential work Being and Time which postulates Dasein (pronounced dah-zIne), literally being there-a being that is constituted by its temporality, illuminates and interprets the meaning of being in time. Dasein is sometimes considered the human subject, but Heidegger denies the Cartesian dualism of subject-object/mind-body. Although existentialists view Heidegger to be an important philosopher in the movement, he vehemently denied being an existentialist in the Sartrean sense, and responded to Sartre in A Letter about Humanism, denying his philosophy was existentialism.

Sartre, Camus and the French existentialists

Jean-Paul Sartre is perhaps the most well-known existentialist and is one of the few to have accepted being called an "existentialist". Sartre developed his version of existentialist philosophy under the influence of Husserl and Heidegger. Being and Nothingness is perhaps his most important work about existentialism. Sartre was also talented in his ability to espouse his ideas in different media, including philosophical essays, lectures, novels, plays, and the theater. No Exit and Nausea are two of his celebrated works. In the 1960s, he attempted to reconcile existentialism and Marxism in his work Critique of Dialectical Reason.

Albert Camus was a friend of Sartre, until their falling-out, and wrote several works with existential themes including The Rebel, The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus and Summer in Algiers. He, like many others, rejected the existentialist label, and considered his works to be concerned with man facing the absurd. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus uses the analogy of the Greek myth to demonstrate the futility of existence. In the myth, Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock up a hill for eternity, but when he reaches the summit, the rock will roll back to the bottom again. Camus believes that this existence is pointless, but he feels Sisyphus ultimately finds meaning and purpose in his task, simply by continually applying himself to it, which he views as the noble quality of man.

Critic Martin Esslin in his book Theatre of the Absurd pointed out how many contemporary playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov wove the existential belief that man is an absurd creature loose in a universe empty of real meaning into their plays. Esslin noted that many of these playwrights demonstrated the philosophies better than Sartre and Camus did in their own plays. Though most of the playwrights subsequently labeled "Absurdist" (based on this book) denied affiliations with existentialism and were often staunchly anti-philosophical (for example Ionesco often claimed he identified more with ’Pataphysics or with Surrealism than with existentialism) the playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd are often linked to existentialism based on Esslin’s observation.

Simone De Beauvoir French Existentialist, Writer, and Social Essayist 1908-1986

Simone de Beauvoir, who was a longtime companion to Sartre, wrote about feminist and existential ethics in her works, including The Second Sex and Ethics of Ambiguity. Franz Fanon a French-born critic of colonialism has been considered an important existentialist.

De Beauvoir grew up in a respected borgeois family, the eldest of two daughters. She adopted atheism while still an adolescent, and decided to devote her life to writing and studying. She graduated from the Sorbonne in 1929, writing a thesis on Leibniz. Philosophy was, for her a discussion and study of the essentials of existence-- though she was also fascinated by beauty and aesthetics. De Beauvoir taught high school while developing the basis for her philosophical thought between 1931 and 1943. Following in the tradition of the 18th century ’gadfly’ philosophe’s, De Beauvoir used her background in formal philosophy to voice her sentiments on feminism and existentialism.

Jean-Paul Sartre and De beauvoir met after her studies in the Sorbonne, the beginning of a friendship which lasted until his death in 1980. This period began what she described as a ’moral’ phase of life; the culmination of which was her most important philosophical work, The Ethics of Ambiguity(1948). She began the phase with an essay entitled Pyrrhus et Cineas(1944), and the earlier novel called L’Envitee(1943).

No doubt born of the confusion and madness of WWII, De Beauvoir included in her Ethics Sartre’s ontology of being-for-itself and being-in-itself. She also draws heavily on his conception of human beings as creatures who are free. Freedom of choice, humanity’s utmost value, is the criterion for morality and immorality in one’s acts. Good acts increase one’s freedom, while bad ones limit that freedom. No doubt, her linkage to Sartre was the reason that she received the unwanted title of existentialist. Among other things, she also was an anti-colonialist, publicly criticising France’s position in Algiers, a pro-abortionist and a socialist with Marxist sympathies. Her major thrust into philosophical analysis was due to her life-long friendship with Sartre. Using some of the ideas she worked with in Ethics and a few of the underpinnings of existentialism as described by Sartre, she went on to produce her famous work, The Second Sex. Working with the idea that women are the "other," and another statement: "that women is not born, but made," De Beauvoir delves deep into the history of women’s oppression. This was the definitive declaration of woman’s independence. Her other works include a four part autobiography, a prize winning novel called The Mandarins, and a novel condemning society for its treatment of the elderly, The Coming of Age. Writing on her mother’s death she produced A Very Easy Death. One of her final novels was a diary recording the slow lingering death of her friend Sartre, called Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre. Her final words on Sartre’s death(and her own, in Adieux) were: "My death will not bring us together again. This is how things are. It is in itself splendid that we were able to live our lives in harmony for so long."

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, an often overlooked existentialist, was a companion of Sartre. His understanding of Husserl’s phenomenology was far greater than that of his fellow existentialists. His work, Humanism and Terror, greatly influenced Sartre.

Michel Foucault would also be considered an existentialist through his use of history to reveal the constant alterations of created meaning, thus proving its failure to produce a cohesive form of reality.

Dostoevsky, Kafka, and the literary existentialists

Many writers who are not usually considered philosophers have also had a major influence on existentialism. Among them, Czech author Franz Kafka and Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky are most prominent. Franz Kafka created often surreal and alienated characters who struggle with hopelessness and absurdity, notably in his most famous novella, The Metamorphosis, or in his master novel, The Trial. The Russian Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground details the story of a man who is unable to fit into society and unhappy with the identities he creates for himself. Many of Dostoyevsky’s novels, such as Crime and Punishment, have covered issues pertinent to existential philosophy while simultaneously refuting the validity of the claims of existentialism. Throughout Crime and Punishment we see the protagonist, Raskolnikov, and his character develop away from existential ideas and beliefs in favor of Christian Existentialism, which Dostoevsky had come to advocate at this time.

In the 20th century, existentialism experienced a resurgence in popular art forms. In fiction, Hermann Hesse’s 1928 novel Steppenwolf, based on an idea in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or (1843), sold well in the West. Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets adopted existentialist themes. In addition, "arthouse" films began quoting and alluding to existentialist thought and thinkers.

Existentialist novelists were generally seen as a mid-1950s phenomenon that continued until the mid- to late 1970s. Most of the major writers were either French or from French African colonies. Small circles of other Europeans were seen as literary existential precursors by the existentialists themselves, however, literary history increasingly has questioned the accuracy of this idealism for earlier models.

There is overlap between the expatriate American beat generation writers who found Paris their spiritual home, and writers of road novels. This also extends to the delayed action of the French permanent enamorment with the United States’ hard boiled fiction genre, which, as Truffaut and others in the Cahiers du Cinéma indicated, influenced novels and plays. To some extent as well, the surrealist movement of Andre Breton and others, which questioned the established reality, made possible the isolation of non-academic novels protagonised by amoral anti-heroes.


Herbert Marcuse criticized existentialism, especially in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, for projecting certain features of living in a modern, oppressive society, such as anxiety and meaninglessness, onto the nature of existence itself: "In so far as Existentialism is a philosophical doctrine, it remains an idealistic doctrine: it hypothesizes specific historical conditions of human existence into ontological and metaphysical characteristics. Existentialism thus becomes part of the very ideology which it attacks, and its radicalism is illusory". Sartre had already responded to some points of the Marxist criticisms of Existentialism in his popular lecture Existentialism is a humanism, held in 1946.

Theodor Adorno, in his Jargon of Authenticity, criticized Heidegger’s philosophy, with special attention to his use of language, as a mystifying ideology of advanced industrial society and its power structure. Heidegger criticized Sartre’s Existentialism, in his Letter on Humanism:

Existentialism says [that] existence precedes essence. In this statement he [Sartre] is taking existentia and essentia according to their metaphysical meaning, which from Plato’s time on has said that essentia precedes existentia. Sartre reverses this statement. But the reversal of a metaphysical statement remains a metaphysical statement. With it he stays with metaphysics in oblivion of the truth of Being.

Roger Scruton claimed, in his book From Descartes to Wittgenstein, that both Heidegger’s concept of inauthenticity and Sartre’s concept of bad faith were inconsistent; both deny any universal moral creed, yet speak of these concepts as if everyone is bound to abide by them. In chapter 18, he writes,"In what sense Sartre is able to ’recommend’ the authenticity which consists in the purely self-made morality is unclear. He does recommend it, but, by his own argument, his recommendation can have no objective force." Familiar with this sort of argument, Sartre claimed that bad and good faith do not represent moral ideas, rather, they are ways of being. Logical positivists, such as Carnap and Ayer, claim that existentialists frequently become confused over the verb "to be" in their analyses of "being". The verb is prefixed to a predicate and to use the word without any predicate is meaningless. Another source of confusion in the existentialist metaphysical literature is that they try to understand the meaning of the word "nothing" (the negation of existence) by assuming that it must refer to something. Borrowing Kant’s argument against the ontological argument for the existence of God, the logical positivists argue that existence is not a property.

Influence outside philosophy

Cultural movement and influence

The term existentialism was first adopted as a self-reference in the 1940s and 1950s by Jean-Paul Sartre, and the widespread use of literature as a means of disseminating their ideas by Sartre and his associates (notably novelist Albert Camus) meant existentialism "was as much a literary phenomenon as a philosophical one." Among existentialist writers were Parisians Jean Genet, André Gide, André Malraux, and playwright Samuel Beckett, the Norwegian Knut Hamsun and the Romanian friends Eugene Ionesco and Emil Cioran. Prominent artists such as the Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, and Willem de Kooning have been understood in existentialist terms, as have filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman.


Although postmodernist thought became the focus of many intellectuals in the 1970s and thereafter, much postmodern writing considers themes similar to existentialism. Since 1970, much cultural activity in art, cinema, and literature contains postmodern and existential elements, which, ironically, would support the postmodern thesis of "borderlessness between concepts", although postmodernism and existentialism are distinct.

Books such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), (now republished as Blade Runner) by Philip K. Dick and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk both distort the line between reality and appearance while simultaneously espousing strong existential themes. Ideas from such thinkers as Dostoevsky, Foucault, Kafka, Nietzsche, Herbert Marcuse, Gilles Deleuze and Eduard von Hartmann permeate the works of writers such as Chuck Palahniuk and Charles Bukowski, and one often finds in such works a delicate balance between distastefulness and beauty.

Neo-existentialism and post-postmodernism

See the talk page for details. Contemporary American writers, such as Chuck Palahniuk have been described as belonging to a genre of literature called Post-Postmodernism. In their works, there are often elements of distortion from the "traditional" mode of narrative, which often try to grab and shock the reader and return him or her to their present. This function that comes through the form of their writing has been described as a "Metaphysics of Presence", in which, it is hoped, the intentionality of consciousness will be diverted from its inauthentic state of "care" (Heidegger’s expression for the content, which consciousness fills itself with, often concerned with the trivialities of everyday life or "everydayness") towards such existential realizations of death, the here-and-now, freedom and all of its corresponding angst. It is in that relation, that such thinkers as Heidegger would argue, that one finds one’s authenticity.

Thus, the element of literature that permeates such books as Fight Club is often described as existential in nature, often directing postmodernism directly. In Fight Club, the Tyler Durden character appears as a representation of the philosophy of the postmodern classic Anti-Oedipus, and its idealization of the schizo-subject, who resists the capitalistic order of the day and devours and spits out the social codes. Durden grows increasingly more nihilistic as the book progresses and is ultimately rejected at the end of the book.

Postpostmodernist literature can often be called a synthesis between the movements of Existentialism and Post-Modernism, or as a new genre of literature, film and art, that is of an existential nature and is an evolved form of Existentialism. Neo-Existentialism, some would say, is intrinsically different from the postpostmodern via its existential emphasis.


Main article: Christian existentialism

Existentialism has had a significant influence on theology, notably on postmodern Christianity and on theologians and religious thinkers such as Nikolai Berdyaev, Paul Tillich and John Macquarrie.


Main article: Existential therapy

Many of the theories of Sigmund Freud, whom Sartre refuted systematically, were influenced by Nietzsche. Some have supposed that Thanatos and Eros were closely related to Dionysian and Apollonian aspects of Nietzschean philosophy.

One of the major offshoots of existentialism as a philosophy is existential psychology. Sometimes termed the Third Force Psychology, this branch of psychology was initiated by Viktor Frankl (who had studied with Freud and Jung when young).

Then early in his career he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp where he survived from 1941 through 1945. In the camps he mentally re-wrote his first book whose manuscript had been confiscated at the time of his arrest. He called his theory Logotherapy and the book was Man’s Search for Meaning. Speaking at a seminar in Anaheim, California in the early 1990s, Frankl stated that in the camps he would, at times, pretend to himself that he was actually in the future, remembering his experiences and noting how he was able to survive them. His years of suffering took him to the conclusion that even in the worst imaginable of circumstances, life can be assigned a worthwhile meaning. This conclusion was the heart of Frankl’s psychological orientation. Logotherapy asserts that all human beings have a will to find meaning, and that serious behavioural problems develop when they cannot find it. The therapy helps patients handle the responsibility of choices and the pain of unavoidable suffering by helping them decide to give life meaning. An early contributor to Existential Psychology was Rollo May, who was influenced by Kierkegaard.

One of the most prolific writers on techniques and theory of existential psychology in the USA is Irvin D. Yalom. The person who has contributed most to the development of a European version of existential psychotherapy is the British based Emmy van Deurzen. With complete freedom to decide, and through being responsible for the outcome of said decisions, comes anxiety - or angst - about the choices made. Anxiety’s importance in existentialism makes it a popular topic in psychotherapy. Therapists often use existential philosophy to explain the patient’s anxiety. Psychotherapists using an existential approach believe that a patient can harness his anxiety and use it constructively. Instead of suppressing anxiety, patients are advised to use it as grounds for change. By embracing anxiety as inevitable, a person can use it to achieve his or her full potential in life.

Humanistic psychology also had major impetus from existential psychology and shares many of the fundamental tenets.

Terror management theory

Terror management theory is a developing area of study within the academic study of psychology. It looks at what researchers claim to be the implicit emotional reactions of people that occur when they are confronted with the psychological terror of knowing they will eventually die.

See also

Absurdism Existential despair Existential humanism Existentiell Anti-Procreation Movement List of major thinkers and authors associated with Existentialism Lightness The Ister - a film inspired by the work of Martin Heidegger, featuring extensive interviews with the philosophers Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and the filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.