Basic Principles of Existentialism

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Through our experience of life, we can see that human beings always have their own opinions. People give different definitions of how to have a good life or how to be a happy person, etc. When it comes to the definition of Existentialism, people have various ideas about this philosophy. Some say that: “Existentialists are nihilists(nothingness) because they recognize that life is ultimately absurd and full of terrible, inescapable truths” (How to Be an Exixtentialist, p. 15). Others state: “Life does in fact have a meaning, the meaning each person chooses to give to his or her own existence” (How to Be an Exixtentialist, p. 15). So, what does it really mean to be an existentialist? There are some basic principles of Existentialism which many philosophers use to describe this way of thinking are: existence precedes essence; anxiety; freedom and being-for-itself (nothingness).

First of all, Jean Paul Sartre, a French philosopher, comes to the principle of “existence precedes essence”, the fact of being is more important than a nature of thing. For instance, a man lives his life rather than he is a man. We have to value him based on what his behavior is and how he takes responsibility for his choices and situations. Through all of his actions, thoughts, decisions and choices we come to understand who he really is versus what he is. Sartre’s idea states that every person’s experience of life is different, there is no pattern of life into which human beings fit. People have to create their own meaning life and their value on their choices and actions. These decisions and actions are made from individual freedom. Thus, our characteristics are based on how we experience, act and decide to live our lives.

Secondly, anxiety is one of the main principles of Existentialism, an anxious person is the one who aware of his/her unlimited freedom and this “unlimited freedom can be a source of anxiety or anguish” (How to Be an Exixtentialist, p. 54) . When we experience anxiety or worry it shows that we are human beings. We exist. We are not an object of being-in-itself. Existential anxiety helps us to make significant decisions for our life because we worry about what is important such as who we are, how do we live our lives, and what is our purpose in this life?

We all have the power and ability to create a meaningful life from our freedom. As a matter of fact, Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher believed that anxiety helps us to know ourselves and to face our challenges and our difficulties. Kierkegaard wrote: “Anxiety… is an expression of the perfection of human nature. It is the homesickness of earthly life for the higher” (Durr, 2018). Hia thought seems to indicate that anxiety makes us recognize that we were not who we could be. The quotation also demonstrates how we could improve ourselves to become better persons. Hence, being an anxious person is a good sign to prove that one is truly living in his/her authentic life.

Thirdly, freedom helps one becomes an existentialist since to be free means to be responsible for one’s life. Sartre’s conception points out that freedom does not make us free to do anything, but we are free because we have an option. Freedom is unlimited in the sense of “people’s obligation to choose a response in every situation” (How to Be an Exixtentialist, p. 49). It shows that we are in control of our situations, our lives and we have the free choice to either take responsibility not. It all depends on us. However, “a true existentialist is wise enough to recognize that whatever he does he chooses to do it, that he is always responsible for his actions” (How to Be an Exixtentialist, p. 45).

Because freedom creates fear which makes us avoid adventure, we do not want to go out of our comfort zone, so we escape by self- deception, and this leads to inauthentic life. We are free when our consciousness knows that something is lacking, we are free when we make a purpose for ourselves and when we commit to do something. It is our own choice to take responsibility, there is nothing else that acts through us or forces us to take on accountability. We make our commitment and we truly find ourselves through what we have chosen. Therefore, to be authentically free human beings, we make the commitment to assume responsibility for our whole lives.

Finally, being-for-itself is a principle which helps us to live our true lives. The definition of being-for-itself is incomplete and vague. For Sartre it is undefined as to what makes a person. Since a human being lacks a predetermined essence, accordingly he/she is forced to create it from nothingness. For instance, a chair is a chair and lacks the ability to change its being, while a human being creates his humanness by acting in the world and motivating his own being. Being-for-itself is the being of consciousness, it recognizes what it is not, the for-itself becomes what it is, seeks for its essence. According to Sartre: “… human reality is constituted as a being which is not, and which is not what it is” (Being and Nothingness, 86). Human beings are wholly free in the world and free to create their own beings. Then, being-for-itself for people implies that we use our abilities to overcome the challenges that we face in order to be what we are not through our free choices.

In my opinion, existentialism benefits humanity by helping us realize who we truly are to live a meaningful life. Also, existentialism benefits people by reducing anxiety and many difficult emotions through self-honesty. Moreover, it encourages people to set a criteria for their values, their beliefs, and their situations. Besides that, it helps us to understand our limitations as well as our responsibility for our lives. Existentialism provides great benefits for people through having an existential therapy. However, existentialism’s ideas also have a negative side regarding to religious doctrine. Since Sartre was an atheist, he believed that there was no Divine so that human beings have no set purpose in life. Overall, the goal of Existentialism is to prepare us to live an authentic life.


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Basic Principles of Existentialism. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/basic-principles-of-existentialism/

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