Definition of existentialism in US English:



  • A philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.

    Generally taken to originate with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, existentialism tends to be atheistic (although there is a strand of Christian existentialism deriving from the work of Kierkegaard), to disparage scientific knowledge, and to deny the existence of objective values, stressing instead the reality and significance of human freedom and experience. The approach was developed chiefly in 20th-century Europe, notably by Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir

    • ‘On the other hand, Sartre articulates the fundamental statement of existentialism in this way: life precedes what is of the essence.’
    • ‘I remember back in summer, when I was taking my course in existentialism, we discussed the topic of death.’
    • ‘He is unable to escape, to articulate, or to textualize his experientially learned nascent existentialism.’
    • ‘The argument was directed at the individualist ontology of existentialism in favour of a more communitarian one.’
    • ‘He published On Humanism, a letter to Beaufret in which he distanced his own philosophy from French existentialism.’
    • ‘The philosophy of existentialism affected and changed the attitude of the Western community to suicide greatly.’
    • ‘Marx may be described as a humanist, and in this century humanism has been given expression, in both secular and religious forms, in the philosophy of existentialism.’
    • ‘The next three chapters examine the religious existentialism of Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche.’
    • ‘Here, existentialism belied the positivist socio-political attitudes of the official regimes and motivated political opposition.’
    • ‘The episode is heavy on action and detective work, light on philosophy and existentialism.’
    • ‘Sartre's existentialism drew its immediate inspiration from the work of the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger.’
    • ‘As a philosopher she reacted to existentialism and logical positivism with a deep belief that philosophy should be about freedom and morality and love and God.’
    • ‘Most of the words spoken seem like an abstract treatise on existentialism and determinism.’
    • ‘It is full of those little moments of impotency, existentialism and half-baked philosophical epiphanies that happen to us all.’
    • ‘He read deeply on the subject of existentialism, having long conversations with Jean-Paul Sartre.’
    • ‘Although he is indeed a co-father of existentialism with Kierkegaard, for some reason he has not generally been acknowledged as such.’
    • ‘The non-Christian version of existentialism is attributable to Martin Heidegger and Jean Paul-Sartre.’
    • ‘How one might convert the insights of Sartre's existentialism into a guide for action, however, is not at all obvious.’
    • ‘As much as fascism, Nietzsche foreshadowed modernism, existentialism and postmodernism.’
    • ‘This time they look not to Judeo-Christian lore, but to Nietzsche and existentialism.’


Translating Danish existents-forhold ‘condition of existence’ (frequently used by Kierkegaard), from existential.