Though phenomenology and existentialism are often considered to be identical, they are different. Existentialism differs from phenomenology in its vigorous humanism and its political commitment to change the existing social order. Existentialism stands for a somewhat broad movement, comprising theorists who acknowledge a common debt to Kierkegaard.    


A. Existentialists hold that:


1. Ultimate reality is created by human choice.

2. The world is meaningless and absurd, but freedom brings the possibility of meaning and             transcendence.    

3. Human essence is determined by choice; it is not predetermined or preestablished.

4. Truth is created, not found--lived, not thought.         

5. It encourages conviction and commitment (responsibility).


B. The 19th Century prepared the way for:


1. Dostoevsky’s, The Brothers Karamotzov: “If there is no God, then everything is permitted.”

2. Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “God is dead, but this is not tragedy” --man did       not find God, He created him in his own image; man is now free to become God, free to             create his own values, e.g., ‘superman.’




By far the most important of the existential theorists is Jean-Paul Sartre. He has contributed greatly to the development of French existentialism in a world without God.


A. Jean-Paul Sartre


1. He was influenced by Hegel, Husserl, Kierkegaard, Lukacs, Heidegger and Marx

2. His most famous works include--Nausea, Being and Nothingness (1943), Existentialism   and Humanism (1948), Critique of Dialectical Reason (1976).

3. He defines existentialism as the conviction that ‘existence comes before essence’--

we must begin from the subjective,’ i.e., the human individual located within his existence is the fundamental concern. Values are created by the subject, i.e., “Man makes himself.” For Sartre, existentialism is humanism.

4. ‘Secular Humanism’ refers to moral philosophies that renounce traditional and authoritarian views, especially those that invoke moral absolutes, e.g., the will of God.

5. Three ‘modes of being’ (from Hegel’s Phenomenology)--

(a) “Being-in-itself” (en-soi)--the world of external reality, i.e., stuff of which the real world is made up of.

(b.) “Being-for-itself” (pour soi)--the consciousness and the inner subjectivity of men.

(c.) “Being-for-others”--the relationship between pour soi and en soi , between consciousness and reality, between the ‘knower’ and the ‘known,’ between myself and other people.

6. “Nothingness” -- what Sartre calls the ‘gap’ between the reality and consciousness.    The ability to conceptualize that which does not exist, e.g., new ideas, new forms, new values; the ability to think beyond limitations, to imagine the future. It represents true “freedom,” rather than be constrained by the pre-existing actuality of the en-soi. “Invent the sort of self you are to be, and stick to your invention” was the advice Sartre gave to a disillusioned young soldier.

7. “Bad faith” - is what Sartre refers to as self-imposed external constraints placed upon human freedom (e.g., grasping for the seemingly firm and familiar, e.g., reason, God, nation, authority, history, work, tradition, etc., thus reducing man’s ‘nothingness.’ Man becomes imprisoned by these limitations, unable to escape his ‘role’ or function in society and hence his nothingness is reduced (similar to Marx’s concept of ‘alienation’).

8. “Waiter” -- Sartre’s most famous example in Being and Nothingness where the waiter is playing at ‘being’ a waiter in a cafe, a function which society demands that he limits himself to, a role which implies an ‘alienation’ from his true being (pour soi)

9. “Despair,” is the crux of Sartre’s philosophy.


(a) Despair of Morality--if there is no God, there is no such thing as right or wrong, there are no absolutes and no need for morality.


(b) Despair of Meaning -- if human beings have no essence, life is absurd, hopeless, superfluous, void, even nihilistic. Sartre sees despair as a way of life “leading to suicide.”


(C) Alienation-- the root of despair, being an individual by breaking with established values, those who have “dropped out” of “normal” society (e.g., Hippies).