The term Existentialism means ‘pertaining to existence’ or logically ‘predicting existence’. In philosophy, the terms exist and existence denotes something active rather than passive and thus is closely dependent on the Latin root ex, ‘out’+ sistre from sastre ‘to stand’. Philosophically, existentialism applies to a vision of the condition and existence of man, his place and function in the world, and his relationship or lack of relationship with God. Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stress freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s act. It is the doctrine emphasizes difference between human existence and that of inanimate objects. Any kind of philosophic systems are all centered on the individual and his relationship to the universe or to God.
The notion is that humans exist first and then each individual spends a lifetime changing their essence and nature. Existentialism is the philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice and personal responsibility. The people are searching throughout life to find out who are they and they make choice according to their experiences, beliefs and outlook.
An existentialist believes that a person should be force to choose and be responsible without the help of laws, ethnic rules or traditions. Important existentialists of varying and conflicting thought are Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel and Jean Paul Sartre. All of the existentialists were against the traditional metaphysical approaches to man and his place in universe.
Soren Kierkegaard is credited with the founding of this branch of western philosophy. He is known as a Christian existentialist. Since he suggested the idea of absurd, leap of faith as a solution to the problems of human existence. But modern existentialists differ from him on this. Rather than advocating Kierkegaard’s Christianity as the resolution of the human predicament. Some contemporary existentialists gave doubts that there is any God to help us.
Sartre have insisted that Kierkegaard’s portrayal of man’s plight properly describes our situation, but reject the claim that the solution lies solely and completely in an act of belief in the decision to accept faith. Sartre was the only self-declared existentialist among the major thinkers. For Sartre the central idea of all existential thought is that existence precedes essence. According to Sartre there is no God and therefore no fixed human nature that forces one to act man is totally free and responsible for what he does.
The existentialist’s concern is not so much to understand the philosophical questions that interest the analytical philosophers, as in answering the question, how is man to live in this irrational meaningless world? Some of the existentialists feel that the answer lies in religious faith, in the manner of Kierkegaard and others like Sartre being atheists search for humanistic beliefs, ways of dealings with one’s experience so as to make life meaningful. In general the existentialists regard other philosophers either as wasting their time in defending intellectual systems, that are indefensible, or as refusing to face the real problems that confront mankind, and instead occupying themselves with unimportant concerns about language and logic, which cannot supply a solution to man’s predicament.
On the other hand, many philosophers regard the existentialists as having turned their backs on a rational examination of man’s world. According to some, the existentialists are more poets of a harrowing variety than serious thinkers.
Regardless of who is right or whether the existentialists are the one who are fulfilling the philosopher’s role, one can appreciate why they have so deeply influenced the contemporary intellectual life of Western Europe and are gradually making in roads in to the philosophical scene in England and America. The catastrophic collapse of Europe, the horrible experience of Nazi dictatorship and occupation of France has left people with a sense that their views and values are meaningless. The world in which every one has to live no longer seems susceptible to rational examination. Instead only arbitrary beliefs seem able to give a key to how to live in the face of an unintelligible universe.