Overviews of Existentialism

The last section of chapter seven introduces the philosophy of existentialism, if indeed it can even be called a philosophy. While there are many ways to describe it, existentialists have often advanced the following theses:

  1. Existence precedes essence: the world’s existence comes before the world’s meaning.
  2. Meaning is introduced by human existence: it is human beings that lend meaning to the world, which in itself lacks all meaningfulness.
  3. Absurdity: in keeping with the world’s meaninglessness and the human being’s need for meaningfulness, the quest for knowledge and meaning is absurd. This absurdity is an essential aspect of human life.
  4. Responsibility: given that we ourselves give the world its meaning, we ourselves are wholly responsible for said meaning as well as our own lives. There is no way to escape our essential responsibility.
  5. The Death of God: God is dead, and we have killed him/her/it. Hence, we are forced to create ourselves anew in accordance with our own wishes.
  6. Nausea: life sucks.

Those are just a few of the major themes. Here are some sites and literary references (much of existentialism is communicated through fiction rather than non-fiction philosophy).

  1. A primer on existentialism: http://www.tameri.com/csw/exist/exist.html
  2. Jean-Paul Sartre (perhaps the most famous existentialist)–A biography: http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/sart.htm.
  3. Friedrich Nietzsche (one of the major precursors to existentialism)–A biography: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/.
  4. “Notes from the Underground”–Perhaps the clearest fiction introduction to existentialism ever written (by Dostoevsky): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DosNote.html.
  5. A resource page for Albert Camus, another great existentialist fiction writer (author of “The Stranger,” “The Plague,” “The Fall,” and other major texts: http://www.levity.com/corduroy/camus.htm.


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