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This article will deal with the concept of Existentialism and the feeling of existential crisis experienced by individuals. The existentialist thoughts as formulated by Søren Kierkegaard is also elucidated in detail.

The philosophical interpretation of life and its purpose gave an idea to Søren Kierkegaard to come up with a new concept, i.e., Existentialism. The real meaning of life has been deciphered by several philosophers, yet they differ in their opinion. Individuals might find the meaning and purpose of their lives, yet very few can figure out what they wish to do and why they intend to do that. It is an inner conflict within oneself that disturbs them when they feel they have no meaning in their lives. This feeling or experience is termed an “existential crisis”. Philosophical debates have given different understanding about the term Existentialism.

Idea behind Existentialism

The theory of Existentialism can be categorised into two different parts, one which was given by Søren Kierkegaard who explained that humans have free will to choose any one of the two paths that are present. One is the “religious path” or the “path of faith”, while the other is the “ethical path” that allows one to take one’s responsibility for life.

The other category was the theory given by Jean-Paul Sartre who was influenced by Søren Kierkegaard, but his views were somewhat inclusive of Nietzsche’s ideologies that God is not the one who has set up the rules to guide our life but the humans themselves can channel their life in a direction and add essence to their lives. Existentialism is a philosophical concept adopted by Jean-Paul Sartre as a literary term during the cultural movement after World War II. 

People usually spend a lot of time determining the right purpose of their lives and the meaning of their existence. They do so by participating in different activities such as education, travelling, artistic expeditions, etc. Some philosophers suggest these might help one find the meaning of their lives, whereas some believe otherwise. 

Philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato believed the purpose of life is predetermined, where we are walking on to reach our ultimate destination. On the other hand, Nietzsche explicitly suggested that life is meaningless, and everything is irrational.

However, philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and his associates Albert Camus, Gabriel Marcel, and others pointed out that it is up to the individuals to choose the path, and there’s no predetermined way. Considering this as the framework for Existentialism, philosophers added further details after studying more about the concept. 

Themes of Existentialism

The meaning of existential crisis led to Existentialism, and the philosophers explained it using six essential themes that carve out the real meaning of the term.

  1. Existence of an individual comes before the essence of life. Human beings take birth not with a preconceived idea of what they shall be doing in the future; instead, they are born with a pure conscience used to develop their abilities and find the meaning and essence of life themselves.
  2. Theist existentialists like Kierkegaard believed that the meaning of life and the freedom of choice is in the hands of individuals and not in God’s control. He subtly explains “dizziness of freedom” and points out that humans are encircled by their conscience. 
  3. Anxiety and authenticity are two aspects of Existentialism. Anxiety is related to the essence of nothingness in human life. If individuals haven’t found the real purpose of life or the meaning of their existence, they might experience anguish or anxiety. On the other hand, authenticity is the basis on which people make their decision. There are different choices that individuals might take up for themselves. However, the values they believe in would be the deciding factor for their chosen path, thus forming an authentic decision.
  4. Absurdity is another aspect of Existentialism that evokes anxiety in human beings. It is a technical term used by existentialists to support their view of rationality in an irrational universe. It explains that we search for meaning in a space where everything seems inexplicable.
  5. The void or nothingness is the fourth subject or theme of this concept. Life is dreaded when one feels that the essence of life is not yet discovered.
  6. Death is another utterly absurd factor because the death of human beings is sudden. It requires no plans and strategies made beforehand to end human conscience and remove it from its existence. Death is a subset of total nothingness that wipes out human existence without the permission of individuals who took the effort to create their path and find the essence in their lives.  
  7. The outside world such as the government, political environment, local administration, businesses, religion etc. are some elements that make people feel disconnected, estranged, or alienated most of the time. The human life or human conscience is the only thing that seems real, and the other elements seem distant from reality.

Existentialism and its impact on the society

The meaning of existential crisis has influenced society in various ways, impacting French society after the war. The philosophical concept has helped people take part in reconciliation. Jean-Paul Sartre had joined the movement of Existentialism and extended his hands to shape the future of France after World War II. Various Literature was published with regards to Existentialism to shape the future of society by spreading awareness and realisation among the people. Some of the common writings were “Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity”, “Sudden rise of French Existentialism”, “Waiting for Godot”, “The stranger,” etc. These exceptional writings greatly impacted the French people and other nations as well.


The concept of Existentialism holds an important message for every human being, irrespective of their age. The philosophers have asked people to reflect that it is not God’s job to align one’s life with a meaningful path; it depends on individuals to decide and choose the suitable path for themselves. It suggests that when individuals feel an existential crisis, they, themselves, must assign a purpose to their lives, and nobody else can. We are our masters with the freedom to choose, and we must identify the essence of life. With this view, existentialists wish to persuade human beings to choose the right path to overcome anxiety and absurdity and lead meaningful lives.


Frequently asked questions

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Who gave the term Existentialism?

Ans. Soren Kierkegaard was the first person who coined the term “Exi...Read full

Why do philosophers feel that people should know “what Existentialism” is?

Ans. Existentialism means there is no actual meaning or purpose of life unless we try to create one for ours...Read full

What are the five major principles that Existentialism entails?

Ans. The meaning of Existentialism can be appropriately understood if one focuses on the basic principles of...Read full

Who are some of the well-known existentialist philosophers?

Ans. There have been many philosophers who discussed and debated the topic of Existentialism. However, Jean-...Read full