Existentialism and Its Characteristics

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Explanation of Existentialism, its characteristics and impacts


The Existentialism is a philosophical dedicated to the analysis of the human condition, taking as preponderant values individuality, emotion, finding the meaning of life and existence, and life goals of each person.

The Existentialism originated in the nineteenth century and extended to a mid-twentieth century or so. During this time there were cultural, academic, scientific and mostly social changes, placing at the centre of the analysis the questioning of being, of knowledge, and of subjectivity versus objectivity in all planes.


  1. Origin
  2. Schools
  3. Pessimistic vision
  4. Deep questions
  5. Impact on art
  6. Freedom and choice
  7. Representatives and authors
  8. Human existence
  9. Individualism
  10. Individual ethics
  11. The existence
  12. Emotions


The current of existentialism originates in Germany and soon spread to the rest of Europe and then to the world, based on the general feeling of abandonment and questioning. After the greatest wars of the century, people were stripped of homes, jobs, money and even cities, with their values and ideologies, destroyed and at the mercy of the basic questioning of this philosophy.


It is considered that there were three schools or currents of existentialism, which questioned the existence and importance of God:

The 'atheist' (proposes the nonexistence of God)

The 'theist' (defends the importance of a creative being) - 'Christian', 'Jewish' existentialisms as the most prominent movements

The 'agnostic' (affirms that the questioning about the existence or non-existence of God is irrelevant)

Pessimistic vision

As a general feature, existentialist positions are translated into pessimistic thoughts and attitudes that induce a sensation of notorious uneasiness. In particular, some authors like Kierkegaard allude to anguish, making a clear distinction between it and fear, specifying that, unlike the latter, the anguish is not produced or focused by a defined object and is gestated precisely in that "exist "Without guarantees.

Deep questions

In its eagerness to reveal the meaning of man's existence, existentialism proposes to discuss profound problems such as the man-divinity relationship, freedom, the meaning of being, nothingness, time among others. All of them have in common a deep experiential character, which in simple words means that each one of us attributes to each concept its own subjectivities that are as valid as those of others.

Impact on art

There are many artistic manifestations throughout history that have been influenced by existentialism. As high points in this regard, we can mention most of Kafka's literary works, Sartre's writings and most recent films in many Ingmar Bergman films.

Literature is one of the most expressive artistic fields of existentialism. The characters emerge from the conventional, beauty and happy endings, and enter the dark webs of personal analysis and inadequacy in society. Some outstanding works are:

"Crime and Punishment" (Dostoyevsky)

"The Metamorphosis" (Kafka)

"Nausea" (Sartre)

"The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" (Rilke)

Freedom and choice

As long as he is free, every human being is one hundred percent responsible for his actions, in such a way that he constructs "per se" an ethics of his own independent of any belief system external to his person.

The choice is one of the key points on which existentialist thought is based. In simple words, it is stated that the human being, unlike animals and plants, does not remain unchanged in the environment in which he was born and live. For that reason, it does not resign its existence to what appears or not ahead of it. On the contrary, its only "existence" gives it freedom and from the hand of it, the possibility of choosing and making decisions.

Representatives and authors

Who were the main authors of this current? Although the term 'existentialism' was coined in the 20th century and after the World Wars, its origins can be traced back to great thinkers who brought to light the analysis of the meaning of life and the existence of being:

  • Albert Camus
  • Arthur Schopenhauer
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Karl Jaspers
  • Martin Heidegger
  • Miguel de Unamuno
  • Simone de Beauvoir
  • Søren Kierkegaard

One of the key precursors of existential philosophy is Jean Paul Sartre. You can take up a study of 5 Books by Jean-Paul Sartreto Understand His Philosophy.

Human existence

In this current, it is affirmed that the human being can only exist as soon as he believes meaning for his own life. It is the person who defines his perception, his experimentation of the world ("existentialist experience"), and who must know a real being and not an abstract entity, collapsing with the spiritual concepts of being.


For the existentialists, the person is not 'part of a whole', but is an integral and individual entity. It is not belonging to the human race that defines existence, but essence and thought.

Individual ethics

In existentialism, the individual is governed by a rule of individual freedom that confers an individual responsibility: what he does by exercising his freedom does not need to be justified, explained, or adhered to an ethnic other than his own.


In this current, to exist is not only to be in the world but to relate to the environment and to others, which allows the person to model 'their' world, understanding it through their own experiences.

The emotions

Emotions are a key to the understanding of existentialism, which seeks to understand being as an independent entity that coexists in environments. Anguish and fear appear with great weight in the literature and artistic expressions of this movement, because they are interpreted as parts of the process of choice and decision.


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