The 19th century Europe witnessed the birth of the existentialist movement. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and the Russian author Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881), are often characterized as the founding fathers for the movement, along with Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900).In spite of the fact that the background of existentialism was established in the 19th century, it did not reach prominence until the early mid 20th century. World War II was often considered to be the trigger that effected and attracted that era’s thinkers such as Franz Kafka (1833-1924), Martin Heidegger(1889-1976), Albert Camus(1913-1960), Maurice Merleau (1908-1961)and Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Those thinkers put emphasis on re-questioning the trending metaphysical beliefs at that time, which were perceived as an extreme aphorism that cannot be doubted whatsoever.
Dealing with existentialism imposes and urges to set forward an enquiry to understand what amalgamated all existentialists together. The simplest answer to such question is by highlighting the deep concern that is shared by all those who are linked to this movement, past and present, which is what they consider it to be the most significant dilemma to be solved, what is it like to be to live as a human being? In other words, the most important task according to them is to grasp the human being’s psychic as an individual and how they should interact with their surroundings which was termed by others as “the human condition”.
The different ways of evaluating the human being as an individual by existentialists make it harder to define such movement. However, they tend to strongly reject, while studying the human condition, all the theories and systems (philosophical, religious, or scientific, etc.) which sought to answer the questions concerning the purpose and meaning of the human condition in a conclusive manner.
These systems provide answers, which cannot be effected by time, to the questions relative to the human conditions. They are also seen as applicable to all humanity regardless whether those human beings are willing to believe and accept such answers or not.It is futile to argue against Christianity as the most noticeable system of this sort over the history of the European civilization. It is important to know the reasons why those systems, that offer decisive answers to life’s issues, were attractive through the past and the present. These miscellaneous systems offered help and solace by removing the heavy burden that is caused by one’s attempt to give meaning to a rather meaningless world and existence. Even though facing the world without an already established religion is undoubtedly difficult, existentialists encourage the humanity to do so.
Among the reasons that make the existentialists eager to answer life’s problems is the commitment to the system which claims to have a definitive and non-questionable answers to human existential problems. Such commitment has a negative effect on the progress that is already made by humanity. This progress exists to preserve the summit of human existential crisis.
One of the main problems that existentialists have with those systems were that they did not effectively take into consideration what it was like to be a human. Most of the time, such systems consider both the purpose and meaning of life to be related to another world such as heaven or Plato’s world of forms, but that will make them lost, because they will be already detached from the human prospective, and the anxieties, fears, hopes and disappointments that humans face by living under the rules of our own materialistic world. For example, most of the metaphysically based systems offer answers for the argued questions about life from a Godly point of view. A God who is all knowing and all powerful, a God who deliver his thoughts to human beings through his messengers, but existentialists argue that human beings do not need a God based perspective but they are in need of a perspective that is based on the human condition.
The God-based perspective have many problems when it comes to existentialists, one of those problems is that it does not take into account the human mortality and it is a fundamental aspect for the human condition. However, all past and present religion based systems believe in afterlife which gives humanity a new feature which is immortality. But existentialists insist on accepting that man’s death will end everything. Only after humanity truly believe that they are certain of only the temporal physical life that makes them chocked and then provided with the power to stop living in a way based on a beliefs that they cannot be certain of. Hence, taking control of their own lives through choosing their own morals and values to lie by which will create a purpose and meaning to tier existence. Such idea allows human beings to finally get rid of regret. This particular idea is similar to another existentialist idea which was presented by the French Jean Paul starter in his lecture of 1945 which was titled “Is Existentialism a Humanism”. An idea that argues that the human condition is influenced by an essence. But it must be stated, that not all existentialists were fans of such idea. In order to understand what is meant by this Existentialism, the concept essence must be defined.
It is a shared knowledge, that the first one who introduced the term “essence” was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, he assumed that everything (person, tree, rock…. etc) has an essence, for him the essence is the nature of the thing that include its principal ingredients, and characteristics that will determine what it is going to be. Which mean that he believed that every creature and object tend to grow in a certain way that is primarily determined by its essence. For example, the seed has certain characteristics to grow and develop to be a full grown trees. However, the human essence for the ancient Greek philosopher was consciousness, or what the modern words describe it “the rational animal”, he believed our essence is primarily related to reason, unlike other creatures. In addition to that he also believed that human beings are totally free whether or not to accept to live with accordance to their essence. Although he refused to believe that mankind may create their own distinctive essence. For example for according to religious people the essence of human is created and determined by all-powerful God, and believe that the existence precedes essence.
Sartre, argued the opposite, according to him humans must be seen as a different thing from cars and machines, those things have an essence that precede the existence, because they were created to do certain tasks, but for the atheist philosopher; humans were not created by a higher authority, and they do not have an exquisite essence, and though they lack essence, their consciousness allow them to create freely their own values and manners that is based on their own point of view.