Existentialism is a movement as much as it is a philosophy and is grounded in the work of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in the 19th century.
It gained traction and became fashionable in the mid-20th century. This was the post-war era of the rejection of absolutism, and a period of systemic challenges to the political and societal status quo. It was also the time of the emergence of the “swinging sixties”.
Existentialism provided a language for what was seen as the problem of life as a human being faced with a bewildering array of choices, in a world of absurdity devoid of any inherent meaning, and for which you hold total responsibility.
leading lights of this modern movement were the French writers and philosophers
Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus.
“Existentialism is an attitude that recognizes the unresolvable confusion of the the human world, yet resists the all-too-human temptation to resolve the confusion by grasping toward whatever appears or can be made to appear firm or familiar… The existential attitude begins with a disoriented individual facing a confused world that he cannot accept."[Robert Solomon].
“Existentialism is an attitude that recognizes the unresolvable confusion of the the human world, yet resists the all-too-human temptation to resolve the confusion by grasping toward whatever appears or can be made to appear firm or familiar…
The existential attitude begins with a disoriented individual facing a confused world that he cannot accept."[Robert Solomon].
 Existence Precedes Essence - i.e. We start life as a blank slate
Sartre argued that one of the foundational ideas of existentialism is that existence precedes essence. In simple terms this means that you start life "as a clean slate".
- existentialism postulates - no external agency such as God, religion,
state, society or family can have a predetermined view of who you really
are and the shape and nature of your place in life, it is up to you to make your own conscious choices.
This perspective flies in 180 degree opposition to the classical philosophical view - traceable back to Aristotle - that essence precedes existence, that is to say that everything has a predetermined set of qualities that define what it is, and from the point of conception or inception that thing will develop into its predetermined - or encoded - shape, place and function.
 The Absurd - i.e. Life is tough and apparently meaningless so we will call it absurd
In the face of the apparent randomness, injustice, unfairness and meaninglessness of life, existentialism views life as absurd.
The existentialist position on the absurd is echoed in the cry of the incalculable sufferings of countless people throughout the mists of time:
"Why my child/partner/parent/lover...?""WHHYYYYY....!?"
Existentialism rejects the idea that this somehow must be the will of God/Joss/Fate and understands that because
of the world's absurdity, anything can happen to anyone at any time and a
tragic event could cause any of us to face this absurdity.
The existentialist therefore concludes that in the face of all this the only valid response is to see meaning where we choose to see it.
 Facticity and Transcendence i.e."Rising above your circumstances"
Facticity refers to the quantitative aspects of your life such as your age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, life situation, where you live and what you do for a living; and transcendence refers to the qualitative aspects of your life which are your view of yourself in those facts.
Facticity describes and labels your situation, role and circumstances but it does not define you - unless you choose to see yourself that way.
Sartre gave the example of a waiter who epitomises the perfect waiter in all aspects. So whilst he is fulfilling the role of waiter he sees himself, and he defines himself, as a waiter. When he leaves work, if he still identifies himself and behaves as the perfect waiter he is self-identifed with the circumstances [facticity] of his life.
But, if he puts off that persona and becomes "himself", and thus acts and behaves in a different way, he has transcended the facts of his working life.
You are defined, or expressed, by your spirit, by how you see yourself, the view you take of the facts of your life.
The ability to take such a stance is what existential philosophers call “transcendence.”
 Authenticity - i.e. the quality of being real and genuine
To existentialists the idea of living an authentic existence is important.
simple terms this means making your own choices about how you will
live and not allowing yourself to be dictated to, or your choices to be
determined by, external third parties such as the church, society or
Authenticity to the existentialist is all about "creating oneself" and
living in accordance with this free choice.
contrast, the inauthentic is the denial of living in accordance with one's
freedom by, for example, convincing yourself that some form of
determinism is true, or where you act as "you should". This would mean
making choices based on what "someone like me" is expected to do.
allows that there are circumstances where you make choices that conform
to the societal norm e.g. taking care of an aged parent or sick
The important thing is the attitude you take towards your own freedom and responsibility and the extent to which you act in accordance with this freedom.
In other words making a conscious choice to conform to a societal norm because you choose to, because it is in alignment with a personal value system, rather than a blind adherence to societal expectations.
 "The Other" and "The Look" - i.e. Seeing myself and my self-worth defined by how many likes I got on my last selfie posting on Instagram
In this point and the following two points we really get into the zone of existential posturing and tautological fancy foot-work, with self conscious word-play, this is classic Sartre territory!
As I noted above with facticity, as a non-philosopher/lay person wading through the tortuous mangling of the English language by philosophers to try figuring out what on earth Sartre meant by the "the other" and "the look" I found both painful and time wasting!
To be charitable to Sartre, he lived in an age before the rise of social media. Fortunately for us we have this as the perfect illustration of what I believe Sartre meant.
In simple terms, we have a view of ourselves that we feel is a true expression of how we are, and then someone comes along and observes us doing something [anything] and we become aware of their "look" and by implication their implied judgement, approval or disapproval of us and this changes how we see ourselves.
This used to be called "worrying about what other people think of us"!
In the social media age, the bar of the facticity of other people's lives is set so high that it can make you feel inadequate.
To make yourself feel better, and reaffirm your attractiveness you post pictures about your life and yourself.
These social media postings are of course curations of discrete packets of events that frame you in the best possible, most sexy and desirable light.
Then you wait for the likes! The more likes the better the outcome. You feel affirmed...until the next time...!
To change gear and use "Sartre" language:
"Seeing the self defined by the view of the other gives rise to a self-reflective consciousness..."
 "Angst" and "Dread" - i.e. stage fright at having to make a decision and live with the consequences...
"Existential angst" or existential dread, are terms commonly used by many existentialist thinkers.
The cause of this negative feeling is the fear of exercising your freedom of choice and a feeling of anxiety or, in worse cases, overwhelm at getting it wrong.
It is generally held to be a negative feeling arising from the experience of human freedom and responsibility.
Existential angst/dread is an insecurity about facing the consequences of your actions.
 Despair i.e. conventional reality is so flaky the existentialist is unable to find security for his/her sense of identity and is thus in a state of perpetual despair...
In existentialism, despair is a loss of hope in reaction to a breakdown in one or more of the defining qualities of one's self or identity. For example an opera singer suffers from throat cancer and can longer sing may despair that she has lost her identity because she can no longer be what previously had defined her sense of being.
Of course existentialism take this one stage further and back into the realms of dramatic posturing and as Sartre suggests, since there is no human essence found in conventional reality that is sufficiently robust to constitute the individual's sense of identity, despair is a universal human condition.
The purpose of this site is to show you how to cope in tough times, and to provide you with the tools to do this successfully:
With this in mind, we have no interest in "shooting the breeze" and "chewing the fat" over philosophical ideas and psychological models and theories. This is not an undergraduate discussion forum.
Our focus is intensely practical. Is there something here of practical value that we include in our tool kit and apply in daily life?
# Rejecting "Total Truth" and ignoring "Partial Truth"
# Ignoring thinking skills and cognitive distortions
# Ignoring the limitations of language and beliefs
# Rationality vs Gnosis - ignoring right brain and the heart
# Not recognising the limits of free choice
# No place for balance, wisdom, discernment and insight
# Ownership & comprehension are precursors to rejection
The academic view of existentialism:
Stanford University Encyclopedia Of Philosophy
Easy to read view of existentialism:
Notre Dame University - College of Arts & Letters
Return to: Home Page
Like A Prayer - Life Is A Mystery
How Things Really Are - The Inbuilt Design Flaws
Intuition Or Anxiety - Are There Angels Or Devils Crawling Here?
What Is Truth - How To Tell A Partial Truth From The Whole Truth?
Duality And Life Beyond Your Thinking Mind
The Conscious Mind Is Limited - Be Aware And Be Prepared
Your Inner Map Of Reality - Here's Why You Think The Way You Do
The Failure Of Cancel Culture - Suppression Not Engagement
4 Big Reasons Why We Get Stuck In Our Attempts At Personal Change
How Do I Change And Why Is It So Hard?
The Illusion Of A Separate Self - Windows 11 With Self Awareness!
Finite And Infinite Games - Dazed, Confused & Ultimately Transcendent
The Gap And The Gain - How Your Brain Sabotages Your Happiness
How To Wake Up - 4 Simple Practices To Help You Wake Up Now
Situational Communication - Different Strokes For Different Folks
How To Influence Without Authority - 6 Key Tips
Change Questions To Change Your Outcomes
Group Culture - The Invisible Software That Rules Your Life
Why Getting From A to B Is Not Aways A Straight Line
The Art Of Persuasion Planning For Success - Here's How To Do It!
The Art Of Persuasion Advanced Communication Skills - Gaining Buyin
The Art Of Persuasion The One Fundamental Principle - Create A Win-Win
Communication Persuasion And Change - Key Skills To Survive & Succeed
The Eisenhower Box - What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent
Zen Enlightenment [Satori] - The Stink Of Zen
5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery - In Any Area Of Your Life
Dealing With The Toxicity Of Online Dating - 6 Key Tips From A Clinical Psychologist
Why Understanding Ergodicity Is Critical To Your Long Term Survival
Dealing With Imposter Syndrome - Ego Is The Enemy
The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled