What is Existentialism? Exploring the 3 Core Principles of Existentialist Philosophy

Saga Foss

August 18, 2023

Are we living in a computer simulation?

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries, focusing on the individual’s experience of existence and the search for meaning in a seemingly indifferent universe. Rooted in a reaction against traditional philosophical and societal norms, existentialism delves into the depths of human existence, addressing fundamental questions about freedom, choice, and responsibility. This article explores the three core principles of existentialist philosophy, shedding light on its significance and relevance in today’s world.

Emphasis on Individual Existence

At the heart of existentialism lies a deep emphasis on individual existence. Existentialist thinkers reject the notion of universal truths and fixed realities, instead emphasizing the unique experiences and perspectives of each individual. This philosophy encourages people to confront their existence head-on, acknowledging their freedom and responsibility in shaping their own lives.

Existentialism challenges the conformist tendencies of society, urging individuals to break free from the constraints of tradition, convention, and external expectations. This principle is encapsulated in Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous phrase, “Existence precedes essence.” In other words, individuals exist first and then define themselves through their actions and choices.

Existentialism’s emphasis on individual existence has profound implications for personal development and self-discovery. It invites individuals to examine their authentic selves, confront their fears and uncertainties, and actively engage with the world around them. By acknowledging the uniqueness of each person’s journey, existentialism empowers individuals to forge their own paths and create meaningful lives.

Anguish, Freedom, and Authenticity

Existentialism confronts the concept of human anguish, or existential angst, which arises from the realization of our own mortality and the inherent uncertainty of life. This angst stems from the tension between our desire for meaning and the apparent lack of objective meaning in the universe. Rather than seeking to alleviate this anguish through escapism or denial, existentialism encourages individuals to confront it directly.

Central to existentialist philosophy is the concept of freedom. Existentialists argue that while humans are endowed with freedom, this freedom is accompanied by a profound sense of responsibility for one’s choices. This responsibility can be both liberating and burdensome, as individuals must grapple with the consequences of their decisions.

In the face of existential anguish and the weight of freedom, existentialism champions the concept of authenticity. Authenticity involves living in alignment with one’s true self, values, and beliefs. This requires a willingness to acknowledge one’s fears, uncertainties, and imperfections while striving to make genuine, conscious choices.

Friedrich Nietzsche, an influential existentialist thinker, famously stated, “Become who you are.” This call to authenticity encourages individuals to reject societal pressures and social masks, allowing their actions and choices to reflect their innermost essence. By embracing authenticity, individuals can find a sense of purpose and fulfillment, even in a seemingly absurd and chaotic world.

The Absurd and the Search for Meaning

Existentialism grapples with the concept of the absurd, which arises from the inherent conflict between humanity’s longing for meaning and the apparent meaninglessness of the universe. This notion was notably explored by Albert Camus, who argued that the human quest for meaning often leads to a sense of absurdity as we confront the vastness of existence and the inevitability of death.

While existentialism acknowledges the absurdity of life, it does not advocate despair or nihilism. Instead, it encourages individuals to actively create their own meaning in a world devoid of inherent purpose. This is exemplified in Søren Kierkegaard’s idea of the “leap of faith,” . Which suggests that individuals must make a conscious choice to embrace their existence and invest it with personal significance.

Existentialism’s focus on the search for meaning invites individuals to engage in a profound introspective journey. This search is not a passive pursuit but an active and ongoing process of self-discovery, reflection, and creative expression. By embracing the responsibility to find and create meaning. Individuals can transcend the limitations of the absurd and cultivate a sense of purpose that resonates with their authentic selves.

Existentialism, with its emphasis on individual existence, anguish, freedom, authenticity, and the search for meaning, offers a rich and thought-provoking perspective on human existence. In a world marked by uncertainty and rapid change. The principles of existentialist philosophy remain relevant. Encouraging individuals to confront their fears, embrace their freedom, and actively shape their own destinies. By delving into the core principles of existentialism. We gain insights into the complexities of the human experience and uncover pathways to a more meaningful and authentic life.