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Existentialism Essay, Research Paper

Existentialism, which spread rapidly over continental Europe after the First World

War, is essentially the analysis of the condition of man, of the particular state of being

free, and of man’s having constantly to use his freedom in order top answer the ever-

changing and unexpected challenges of the day. According to the Existentialists, the

starting point of every philosophical investigation is concrete human existence. That

means that human personality in itself should point the way to the absolute value of


A single definition of existentialism is impossible. Definitions, provided by

dictionaries are only part of what existentialism is about.

?central to each definition is the assertion that existentialism is a theory or

statement about the nature of man’s existence. (1)

The term is so difficult to define because, unlike other terms, existentialism is not

universal. In other words, there are no two existentialists, which share exactly the same

values or beliefs. Although, here is one major theme: a stress on individual existence,

subjectivity, individual freedom, and choice.

There are two kinds of existentialist; first those who are Christian, and on the

other hand the atheistic existentialists. Many unfamiliar with the subject people associate

existentialism with atheism, but they are wrong. The truth is that the majority of

existentialists are not atheists.

Sartre, which we place among atheists, stress that central concern of philosophy is

human existence. He says that human being is a special kind of consciousness (being-for-

itself). Everything else is matter (being-in-itself). He believes that human being has no

God-given essence and is absolutely free and absolutely responsible. According to him,

anguish is the result of the absolute freedom and responsibility. He also says that human

existence is absurd and unjustified. Therefore, the goal of human being is to justify

his/her existence.(2)

Sartre believes that there are those in our history who have established a religion

to reassure nothing more than what he calls a “fundamental project.” That means that

when we become anguished by the affairs of life we pursue a fundamental project in

attempt to flee this anguish. He says that we try to make ourselves Gods in hopes that

others would see us divine, and hold us in higher regard. To pursue a fundamental project

according to Sartre is to act in a bad faith.

“To act in a bed faith is to manifest our freedom inauthentic ally.”(3)

Sartre believes that man experiences two primary phases of consciousness in his

life, the spontaneous phase in which man does nothing more than pursue a particular task

which means that man is in shallow mode of being, and the reflective phase of

consciousness In reflective phase, man realizes that he is not alone in this world and this

realization is not without consequences. When men acknowledges that there are others

that makeup the society in which he exists, the man discovers that he has identity. People

know who he is and what he does, then he discovers that he is “a being in the world of


If man can acknowledge his facticity situation, that is accept that he is a being

with biological and social past, that means that he is according to Sartre acting clear

headed, and in good faith. This means that man manifests his freedom authentically and

therefore his freedom is real.

I think that Sartre’s tenets are applicable to life. I can think of many occasions in

which we face realizations we are not prepare for and act without a clear head, and this

not allows us to achieve peace of our minds. Once a clear head is put to use, Sartre says,

the reconciliation and peace of mind will come (5)

As atheist, Sartre states that no one can escape from his/her freedom, and that the

human being is absolute free, and as he believes there is no Got, that means that our

freedom is unrestricted. We and only we are responsible for our own life and choices we

make every each day and emotions, motives, and social and political institutions can’t

limit it. We, and only we are responsible for accepting others opinion about ourselves and

other things.

A person, who is labeled as ugly, for example, doesn’t have to accept this opinion,

like we don`t have to accept that abortion is bad. Ethical choices we make through our

life are our own and are very subjective. But our responsibility extends far beyond this

personal dimension. Our responsibility reaches other human being, or maybe, entire

human race. By deciding the way we act, we create of image of ourselves, which we want

others to accept, approve and follow. But most people try to avoid this responsibility, the

painful anguish by falling into, like Sartre says, bad faith, or self-deception. The painful

truth is that no one else but we are responsible for our actions, but what whit those who

belief in God, or in universal human nature? Are they in bad faith? Are they trying to

escape from responsibilities by saying that this was “God’s will” when something bad

happen as a result of their choices?

Existentialists which are not atheists have much more difficult task to accomplish.

They have to answer not only to themselves, but also to the God. What if the action they

choose seems to be moral for them but is not moral in religious point of view? For

example, a person can believe that killing his/her own dying mother, which is suffering

indescribable pain, is moral, but he/she has to make the decision remembering about one

of the ten commandments which says “don`t kill” The person will not only think about

the way he or she will feel, or about the consequences of this action, but also will ask:

What if Got really exists? Am I going to be punished? Is there a hell, and if so, am I gong

to go there instead of haven?

So, those “thru believers’, which might think that they are free of responsibilities

because God created them and everything what happens is God’s will has to accept that

our God-given free will puts us in a irrevocable position of responsibility as well as those

who are atheists.

Morality is set of principles, or rules that guide us in our actions, and whether

stated as law or not- form the basic structure of every society, defining the limits of what

is called the good life.

We all want to know the answer to the questions like: How should we live? What

do we want? And what we should want? Whether we believe in God, or we are atheists,

we all are making choices, which we are responsible for. People who believe in God have

to be aware that good life doesn’t necessarily mean to go to the church on Sunday

morning. The religious life is a life of devotion:

“living with the fear of God in one’s heart” (6)

The religious life doesn’t have to be based on “fear”, but the truly religious person lives

with emotional attachment to the religion that dominates everything else. This doesn’t

mean that religious person can’t perform not religious acts, but religious behavior should

have the primary place in his or her life. In practice the religious life is often in conflict

with other conceptions of the good life.

Soren Kierkegaard was an existentialist who believed in God. He believed in a

Creator and in Christianity. However, he recognized that he was faithful by choice, not

act of logic.

The existential aspect of this is the anguish caused by two aspects of Christianity:

First, you do not really meet the Creator until death, yet suicide is not an option or

everyone would try it.

Second, freedom is a punishment, not a reward, yet mankind relishes this

freedom. (7)

Kierkergaard had the theory that life was experienced in three distinct stages, and

that not everyone can experience every stage. These stages are: aesthetic (the pursuit of

pleasure), ethical (the assumption of duty to society), and religious(the obedience to a


Aesthetics individuals are concerned with only experiences or abstract data. The

aesthetics of experience include Hedonism, Materialism, and other life approaches

dedicated to pleasure or personal gratification. Those, interested in abstract data we call

Rationalists. They don`t want to make difficult choices. For them, everything is relative

to the individual, without greater meaning. They observe the world in a objective manner

as if what has happened in the past does not affect the present. Their lives usually become

a source of boredom For the hedonists, for example, there are only so many experiences

and each must be better than the last.

Ethical individuals recognize the despair of aesthetics, and are compelled to find

greater meaning in life. Ethical individuals develop a system by which they will make

choices and build relationships, which brings them closer to self-awareness. The process

of learning about others and what they think helps one learn about the self, the ego.

Individuals from the third stage experience both suffering and faith. Only at this

level does one truly understand the self. According to Kierkergaard, the despair leading

individuals from one stage to another was the despair of sin. (8)

At all times, Kierkegaard remained focused upon his religious beliefs. While

some might consider this illogical, Kierkegaard openly admitted that religion was

illogical, and in fact a paradox was the center of his faith.

Paradox from Kierkegaard`s notes says that Adam probably never though about

eating the fruit of knowledge until he was prohibited from doing so. But if creator knows

human nature so well, he mast have known that temptation was a very strong force. Why

then the Creator give man a test Adam was certain to fail? Was Adam meant to fail in

order to allow human development?

Existentialism is, in large part, the idea that life is a series of poor alternatives.

Even “good” decisions might have negative aspects. Adam realized that not eating the

fruit of knowledge would keep him from being like the Creator who possessed

knowledge, so Adam ate the apple, he made his choice and this choice was his and his

alone. This shows us again that we always have choices, no matter what we might use as

an excuse.


1)Barnes, Wesley. “Is Existentialism Definable?” The Philosophy and Literature of Existentialism. Woodbury: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1968

2)Douglas W. Shrader, Ashok K. Malhotra. “Pathways To Philosophy”. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1996. p. 83-86, 87-93, 97-100

3)Sartre’s Thoughts On Personality, http://library.thinkquest.org/18775/sartre/pers.htm

4)As above

5)Roberts, David E. “Introduction” Existentialism and Religious belief” New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.

6)Robert C. Solomon. “The Big Qestions” Harcourt Brace College Publishers, New York, 1998, p.241-273.

7)Soren Kierkergaard, wysiwyg://16/http://www.fortunecity.com/263/exist/kierk.html

8)Existentialism And Soren Kierkergaard, http:www.tameri.com/csw/exist/kierk.html.

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