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Atheistic existentialism is a kind of existentialism which strongly diverged from the Christian existential works of Søren Kierkegaard and developed within the context of an atheistic worldview. The philosophies of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche provided existentialism's theoretical foundation in the 19th century, although their differing views on religion proved essential to the development of alternate types of existentialism. Atheistic existentialism was formally recognized after the 1943 publication of Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and Sartre later explicitly alluded to it in Existentialism is a Humanism in 1946.
"Atheistic existentialism" refers to the exclusion of any transcendental, metaphysical, or religious beliefs from philosophical existentialist thought. Atheistic existentialism can nevertheless share elements (e.g. anguish or rebellion in light of human finitude and limitations) with religious existentialism, or with metaphysical existentialism (e.g. through phenomenology and Heidegger's works).
Atheistic existentialism confronts death anxiety without appealing to a hope of somehow being saved by a God (and often without any appeal to supernatural salvations like reincarnation). For some thinkers, existential malaise is mostly theoretical (as it is with Jean-Paul Sartre) while others are quite affected by existential anguish (an example being Albert Camus and his discussion of the Absurd).
The novel Nausea is, in some ways, a manifesto of atheistic existentialism. Jean-Paul Sartre deals with a dejected researcher (Antoine Roquentin) in an anonymous French town, where Roquentin becomes conscious of the fact that nature, as well as every inanimate object, are indifferent towards him and his tormented existence. The existential angst experienced by the protagonist allows him to eventually understand that meaning exists only when he creates it for himself. Sartre once said "existence precedes essence". What he meant was that, first of all, man exists (e.g. appears on the scene) and only afterwards defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence. Sartre wrote other works in the spirit of atheistic existentialism (e.g. the short stories in his 1939 collection The Wall).
Albert Camus writes of dualisms, between happiness and sadness, as well as life and death. In Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), such dualism becomes paradoxical, because humans greatly value their existence while at the same time being aware of their mortality. Camus believes it is human nature to have difficulty reconciling these paradoxes, and indeed, he believed humankind must accept what he called "the Absurd". On the other hand, Camus is not strictly an existential atheist because the acceptance of "the Absurd" implies neither the existence of God nor the nonexistence of God (compare Agnosticism).
- Enc. Britannica, art. "Atheistic Existentialism"
- About Atheistic Existentialism
- Atheistic existentialism
- The absurd in atheistic existentialism