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Existentialism as a Philosophical Concept


“The primary purpose of philosophical analysis is to examine meaning and to develop theories of meaning” (Kaufmann 59). It is hence the purpose of this paper to discuss the topic of Existentialism. This paper analyses Existentialism, its definition, origins, concepts and early pioneers who helped shape this philosophy into what it is today. It is continually being analyzed by contemporary artists through film and literary works.

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Existentialism is a term that defines a philosophy related to self discovery with and the sense of living through free will, preferences, and individual accountability. The principle is that individuals are probing themselves to discover who and what they are in their lifetime. This is done as they making choices supported by their experiences, attitudes, and points of view. Individual preferences develop into distinctive ones devoid of the need of an intent form of truth. An existentialist supposes that an individual is required to decide and be accountable with no assistance from laws, cultural conventions, or customs.


Existentialism was a philosophical reaction to the disaster that World War One and its repercussion dealt to the supposedly sanguine world-view and ideas based on developments of a capitalist culture that was intrinsic in mid-class liberalism. Existentialism’s most famous philosopher was Martin Heidegger (Cooper 23).

A philosopher who believed in absurdity, Heidegger upheld that the main barrier to individual self growth was reason and science, which, he asserted, that they led to a notion of humans only as items of distant examination and practical exploitation. According to the famous philosopher, survival could not be appreciated through logical-scientific thoughts. He also believed that existence could not be explained through societal practices, but only by orienting oneself personally and inwardly, mainly in the reflection of death.

Heidegger’s beliefs were deeply manipulated by the nineteenth century philosophers. In fact Martin Heidegger proceeded to produce a four-volume analysis of Nietzsche’s works. Both philosophers were the disciples of another famous philosopher Edmund Husserl (Guignon 105).

Kierkegaard sampled a variety of the themes of Twentieth century existentialism, however in an overtly religious perspective. In resistance to Hegelian, he deduced life in the expressions of probability and potential. He assumed that increasing awareness of truth resulted in hopelessness due to the difference between the short nature of life in comparison to the “infinite nature of God”. Nietzche went further to develop an anti-cogent, agnostic human belief founded on individualism that doubted every group actions (Earnshaw 98).

Husserl established the philosophy of phenomenology. He argued that this philosophy surpassed both materialism and idealism. This was through the rejection of all “presuppositions”. Husserl wanted to abolish any theory of knowledge; he also called for the suspension of previously acknowledged facts that were recognized in the lessons of any phenomena.

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The inner reason behind any phenomena was to be regenerated from appearances that were present to the observer. Consequently this technique appeared to correspond to empiricism, but he then affirmed that the goal of such investigations was to naturally understand the real meaning of the phenomenon being observed. At this time, there wasn’t any deliberations were to be made on the existence or nonexistence of the inspected subject. By 1907 Husserl had turned out to be an affirmed prejudiced idealist, declaring that objects lacked reality outside of human perception (Ruggiero 65).

In 1928, He was deprived of his university position in Freiburg, Germany, for the reason that he was a Jew. At the time the was growing hatred against Jews in Germany. This was catalyzed by Hitler’s hate speech against them. The belief that Jews were second class citizens drove many citizens out of the country.

Martin Heidegger accepted the same position at the same University, following the forceful relinquishment of his guru by the mounting Nazi association. Heidegger was in fact a political intransigent. Heidegger supported Hitler, which in turn led to his humiliation at the end of the second world War, and his subsequent retirement in 1951 after a life of rural isolation (Kaufmann 62).


Existentialism takes into consideration the underlying concepts:

  • Individual free determination
  • individual nature is selected through choices made in life
  • A human being is in their best when under pressure against their personal nature, fighting for life
  • Final choices are not free from tension and consequences
  • There are things that are illogical
  • individual accountability and restraint is essential
  • Society is perverted and its traditional religious and secular regulations are random
  • Worldly cravings are fruitless.

Existentialism is generally identified through a range of theories and there are infinite number of answers as to what it is. Until now Existentialism does not promote:

  • riches, gratification, or nobility
  • societal values and organizations that have power over people
  • allowing the norm what is and accepting that it is adequate that in life
  • Knowledge is able and will improve everything now and in the future.
  • Individuals are fundamentally perfect but spoiled by the external society.
  • “Everything is dictated through my way” or “It is not my fault!” mindset

There is a broad assortment of idealistic, religious, and political beliefs that compose existentialism. Hence there is no worldwide conformity in a random set of principles and ideas. Political principles differ, but each tries to uncover the most individual independence for any public in a society.

Effect on Society

Existentialistic thoughts were born during a time in society, when there was a strong sense of hopelessness that followed a series of human calamities. Such calamities were manifested through the Great Depression and Second World War. Before these calamities, people were much more optimistic, this was followed by the destruction and loss of lives after the War. This brought about a sense of desperation which was expressed by existentialist theorists well into the seventies. This ideas and philosophies continue up to today and has been popularized as a new way of thinking and interpretation on the events of life. All these beliefs center on the individual’s ability to choose their ideal way of life.

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Kierkegaard, who was a famed religious dreamer, Nietzsche, a Christian opposer, Sartre and among others, are recognized for their literature on existentialism. Sartre is noted bringing this philosophy into the World stage where it has been accepted by others and also criticized

Each fundamentally is in agreement that the lives of human beings is in not full with satisfaction due to the distress and loss that takes place when bearing in mind the lack of flawlessness, influence, and direction an individual can have over their self being. Albeit they are both in unison that life lacks the satisfaction that each and everyone struggles to achieve through different activities. It however has significance. Existentialism is the investigation into one self and passage in order to realize self actualization and individual sense of what life has in store for everyone. Most significantly, it is the chance act that existentialism stumbles on most opposing-that is, when a person or society aims to compel or claim that their attitudes, principles, or regulations be loyally received and observed. Existentialists consider that this sort of thinking wipes out individualism and makes an individual be whoever the leaders or figures in authority desire. Hence they become dehumanized and reduced to objects for manipulation. Existentialism then emphasizes that one’s judgment is the decisive factor for what is to be assumed relative to subjective religious or material world ideals.

Existentialism and Christianity

The teaching of Christ contained another form Existentialism. His teachings which were conveyed through a number of modes left the meaning or sense of the teachings to the individual, i.e. the individual was left to make sense of what Christ had taught. This is often manifested through parables where after narrating the parable, the question was often differed back to them in order to make the final conclusion (Ruggiero 76).

An existential’s interpretation of the Bible would require that the person reading be aware that he is existing and they may analyze the wording and literature more reminiscencent of likely events. This is in sharp difference when conducting analysis of the collection of “facts” which are remote and unconnected to the reader. The reader may also go on to expand the logic of reality. This type of reader is not compelled to pursue the commandments as if an outside driving force is obligating them to do so as if lacking free will, but as if they are in them and keeps guidance from inside. This is the duty that Kierkegaard assumes when he asks: “Who has the most complex duty: the trainer who teaches on serious issues such as the distance of a meteor or the learner who utilizes this knowledge. From an existential’s viewpoint, the Bible should not be authoritative in a person’s life up to the point they accept and allow it to become. Existentialism has had a considerable influence on the area of theology and has greatly influenced theological thinkers. Examples of these thinkers are Nikolai Berdyaev and Karl Barth.


The role of Anxiety’s significance in existentialism crafts it as an accepted theme in psychotherapy. Therapists frequently put forward existential philosophies and beliefs to explain causes that can contribute to anxiety. The affirmation is that anxiety is evidence of a person’s complete free will to make a decision, and hence assume accountability for the result of such choices. A psychotherapist who draws on an existential approach considers that a patient can exploit their anxiety and utilize it to his own benefit. Instead of containing anxiety, patients are counseled on using it as a foundation for reforming themselves. By accepting anxiety as unavoidable, an individual can apply it to attain his full potential in life (Ruggiero 87). It is common to hear patients stating the benefits they have accrued from this philosophy. Just as every belief is doubted, this philosophy has also been subjected to criticism but still enjoys mass appeal worldwide.

Works Cited

Cooper, Ernest. Existentialism: a reconstruction. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 1999.

Earnshaw, Steven. Existentialism: a guide for the perplexed. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.

Guignon, Charles. Existentialism: basic writings. New York: Hackett, 2001.

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Kaufmann, Walter. Existentialism: from Dostoevsky to Sartre. Washington: The World publishing Co., 1969.

Ruggiero, George. Existentialism: Disintegration of Man’s Soul. Perth: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

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