English: Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvo...
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at Balzac Memorial Deutsch: Jean-Paul Sartre und Simone de Beauvoir am Denkmal von Balzac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To some, existentialism is a bleak philosophical worldview. To others, it’s the only sane solution to a seemingly insane world. Existentialism most visible originator is probably Søren Kierkegaard but its best known proponent is Jean-Paul Sartre.

Sartre put a lot of very basic ideas into catchy phrases and hence made a celebrity out of himself. And this exemplifies what existentialism is all about: The creation of meaning and purpose from a human world said to be meaningless and uprooted from nature.

According to Sartre, one creates meaning and purpose out of absurdity by choosing to make commitments to an ideal or movement deemed worthwhile.

Unlike animals supposedly bound by stimulus and response, Sartre says a “gap of nothingness” that lies between our present and past means that we are able to choose. Thus we’re “condemned to be free.”

Existentialism was in vogue in the late 1950’s and 1960’s among beatniks, hippies, journalists and academics. As David Bowie rather amusingly puts it in the song “Join the gang” (1967):

Let me introduce you to the gang
Johnny plays the sitar, he’s an existentialist
Once he had a name, now he plays our game
You won’t feel so good now that you’ve joined the gang

Sartre’s stardom in the halls of academia was generally succeeded by Karl Marx in the 1970s, by the postmoderns in the 1980s, and by the likes of Wittgenstein and Noam Chomsky in the 1990s. Other famous existentialists include Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) and Albert Camus (1913-60).

Related Posts » Bad Faith, Fromm (Erich), Postmodernism, Poststructuralism


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