Existentialism is the philosophical study that begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. It is associated mainly with certain 19th and 20th-century European philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief in that beginning of philosophical thinking. Existentialist thinkers frequently explore issues related to the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence.

Many existentialists regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience. A primary virtue in existentialist thought is authenticity. Søren Kierkegaard is generally considered to have been the first existentialist philosopher, though he did not use the term existentialism.


Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were two of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement, though neither used the term "existentialism" and it is unclear whether they would have supported the existentialism of the 20th century. They focused on subjective human experience rather than the objective truths of mathematics and science, which they believed were too detached or observational to truly get at the human experience. In the first decades of the 20th century, a number of philosophers and writers explored existentialist ideas. The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, in his 1913 book The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations, emphasized the life of "flesh and bone" as opposed to that of abstract rationalism. Unamuno rejected systematic philosophy in favor of the individual's quest for faith.


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Influential Minds

  • Søren Kierkegaard
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Albert Camus


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Exis (pronounced "Exies") were a youth movement in Hamburg, Germany, in the 1950s. The Exis took their name from the existentialist movement, and were massive fans of the pre-blowing up era of The Beatles. They were often seen as the spiritual successors to the Swing Kids of the 1930s, with the key difference being that, while the Swing Kids heavily embraced American pop culture of the time, the Exis were more interested in carving their own path in society by proving they were free-thinkers.


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