Existentialism is a philosophy (promoted especially by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus) that views each person as an isolated being who is cast into an alien universe, and conceives the world as possessing no inherent human truth, value, or meaning. A person's life, then, as it moves from the nothingness from which it came toward the nothingness where it must end, defines an existence which is both anguished and absurd (Guerin). In a world without sense, all choices are possible, a situation which Sartre viewed as human beings central dilemma: "Man [woman] is condemned to be free." In contrast to atheist existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard theorized that belief in God (given that we are provided with no proof or assurance) required a conscious choice or "leap of faith." The major figures include Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre (sart or SAR-treh), Albert Camus (kah-MUE or ka-MOO) , Simone de Beauvoir (bohv-WAHR) , Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers (YASS-pers), and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (mer-LOH pawn-TEE).

Key Terms:

Absurd - a term used to describe existence--a world without inherent meaning or truth.

Authenticity - to make choices based on an individual code of ethics (commitment) rather than because of societal pressures. A choice made just because "it's what people do" would be considered inauthentic.

"Leap of faith" - although Kierkegaard acknowledged that religion was inherently unknowable and filled with risks, faith required an act of commitment (the "leap of faith"); the commitment to Christianity would also lessen the despair of an absurd world.

Further references:

* Barrett, William. Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy.
* Camus, Albert. The Stranger.
* Cooper, D. Existentialism, Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.
* Hannay, A. Kierkegaard, London: Routledge, 1982.
* Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Tr. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.
* Kierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling.
* Lentricchia, Frank. After the New Criticism. See chapter 3.
* Marcel, G. The Philosophy of Existentialism, New York: Citadel Press, 1968.
* Moran, R. Authority and Estrangement: An Essay on Self Knowledge, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
* Nietzsche, Fredrich. Beyond Good and Evil.
* Ricoeur, P. Oneself as Another. Tr. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
* Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism and Humanism and Being and Nothingness.
* Taylor, C. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

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