For a large part of human existence, we have believed that essence predates existence, meaning who I am, depends largely on what I was made for. This philosophy claims that my purpose is predefined and my destiny is set before I was born. This thought strongly emerges from the religious viewpoint for life.
Emergence of Existentialism
But this all changed after World-War-II, especially due to Containment camps formed by Nazis. This entire event forced philosophers to question existence as a whole. Thus came the widely known term ‘existence precedes essence’ by the philosopher Jean-Paul Satre. This is the foundational thought of Existentialism.
Purpose of Life
Existentialism claims that I have no predefined purpose, I was born without meaning and I, through my choices, will add meaning and purpose to my life. It claims that I am not a mere entity that is only a thinking-being experiencing life but rather I am a being that is causing an impact on the world through my actions, my emotions and free will. It claims that I am not who I am because of supernatural entity’s will but rather my nature is formed because of my decisions in life.
Rules of My World
Existentialism does not allow the idea that rules of the world are defined by a supernatural being but rather by individuals like ourselves. These rules should not be the defining aspects of one’s identity rather an existentialist would choose his actions based on his understanding of worldview. The meaning of life for him would not come from any predefined notion of the world but rather by his choices, free-will and personal responsibilities.
For an existentialist, worldly desires are futile, but rather the meaning of their life comes from the idea of living to utmost level personal discovery. Existentialism says that a person is at their best when struggling against their own individual nature for it brings out the best aspect of new colours. Though it understands the decisions don’t come without stress, it also states that every new decision creates more layers to the reality that an individual is.
Existentialism and Atheism
Existentialist is not necessarily an atheist, he can believe that God exists but also believes that He didn’t create the world with a purpose in mind, especially not individual humans. For an existentialist, humans derive their own purpose from their own life and that is a very liberating thought, where you have the cushion of religion but also the freedom of will to its maximum extent.
Existentialism has a risk of turning an individual into nihilism (explained in our article), where he would derive that meaning of life, in its large scale, is meaningless. But there is a wall between the two ideologies that can help one turn back into existentialist when they find their desires taking control of their life.
Existentialism is a beautiful theory that lets an individual take charge of his life by claiming to himself that there is nobody in control of my life and the purpose of my life is what I derive out of it.
As always, thanks for reading!