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What is existentialism?

The very definition of 'existentialism' is debatable. Some believe that the term is rooted, and only intelligible, in the realm of philosophy. Thus, existentialism can be understood as a philosophical approach. Yet, there are ways in which the works of key existentialist thinkers span other disciplines, such as literature.

Existentialism is a philosophy

Existentialist thinking gained prominence from the late 19th century with key thinkers (and writers) being Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Although some thinkers did not explicitly identify with the movement, the emphasis placed on, and their belief in, the free will of agents in determining their life is what lead to them being labelled as existentialist.

'Existence precedes essence' captures the existentialist's approach to human existence

Existentialism as a philosophy generally deals with the nature of human existence and identity. The fundamental idea is that sentient beings are in total control of their lives and have total freedom to act in order to ascribe whatever meaning they choose to their life and reality.

The central message of freedom and choice has educational implications

An existentialist approach to education is motivated by, and rooted in, the very beliefs of autonomy and defining one's own identity that key thinkers advocated. Applying this philosophy in educational settings presents us with practical teaching and learning methods that prioritize the student .

Existentialism is a literary phenomenon

Existentialist themes have been explored and promoted in fictional works, such as novels and plays, by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Existentialism as a literature movement manifests in such works.

Existentialist literature is a recognised genre

Fictional and scholarly works, in the form of plays, novels and essays, explored existential themes concerning human existence, life and identity. Existentialism as a literary phenomenon has been recognised within the academic sphere and by awarding institutions such as the Nobel Prize.

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This page was last edited on Sunday, 18 Oct 2020 at 11:07 UTC