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Existentialism is a term applied to a range of philosophical thoughts that emphasise on the fundamental nature of existence, exploring the uniqueness of human experience and freedom facing hostile and absurd surroundings. Some existentialists stress on the imperative for individuals to create their own meaning in face of apparent meaninglessness. Prominent thinkers of existentialism include Søren Kierkegaard, Frederich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Lev Shestov (photographed on the right), Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Jaspers, and Martin Buber.

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Existentialism is a Humanism (L'existentialisme est un humanisme) is a 1946 philosophical work by Jean-Paul Sartre. It is seen by many as one of the defining texts in the Existentialist movement.

In his text, Sartre says that the key defining point of Existentialism is that the existence of a person comes chronologically before his or her essence. In simple terms, this means that, although that person exists, there is nothing to dictate that person's character, goals in life, and so on. Only the person himself can define his essence. Thus, Sartre rejects what he calls "deterministic excuses" and claims that all people must take responsibility for their behaviour. Sartre defines angst and despair as the emotions people feel once they come to realize that they are responsible for all of their actions. He also describes forlornness as loneliness atheists feel when they realize that they are all alone, that there is no God to watch over them. This is associated with despair and angst.

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Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (/ˈkɪərkəɡɑrd/; Danish: [ˈsœːɐn ˈkʰiɐ̯kəˌɡ̊ɒˀ] About this sound Listen ) (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855) was a prolific 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian. Kierkegaard strongly criticized both the Hegelianism of his time, and what he saw as the empty formalities of the Danish church. Much of his work deals with religious themes such as faith in God, the institution of the Christian Church, Christian ethics and theology, and the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with life choices. His early work was written under various pseudonyms who present their own distinctive viewpoints in a complex dialogue.

Kierkegaard left the task of discovering the meaning of his works to the reader, because "the task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted". Scholars have interpreted Kierkegaard variously as an existentialist, neo-orthodoxist, postmodernist, humanist, and as an individualist. Crossing the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, and literature, he is an influential figure in contemporary thought.



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