Existentialism (from Latin existentia), or the philosophy of existence, is a philosophical trend that arose on the eve of World War I, after the First World War in Germany (Heidegger, Jaspers, Buber) and during the Second World War in France (Sartre , Marcel, who spoke with the ideas of existentialism even during the First World War, Merleau-Ponty, Camus, S. de Beauvoir). In 1940-50 years existentialism spread in other European countries and 1960 in the USA. Representatives of this direction in Italy – N. Abbaniano, E. Pachi, in Spain to him was close X. Ortega y Gasset; in the USA the ideas of existentialism were popularized by W. Lowry, W. Barrett, J. Eddy. Religious, philosophical trends are close to existentialism: French personalism (Mounier, Nedonsel, Lacroix) and German dialectical theology (Barth, Tillich, Bultmann). Existentialism as a philosophical trend has a heterogeneous character. Distinguished religious existentialism (Jaspers, Marcel, Buber) and atheistic (Sartre, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger). However, the definition of “atheistic” about existentialism is somewhat arbitrary, since the recognition that God is dead is accompanied (in particular, by Heidegger and Camus) by the assertion of the impossibility and absurdity of life without God. Existentialists consider Pascal, Kierkegaard, Unamuno, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche as their predecessors. Existentialism was influenced by Husserl’s philosophy of life and phenomenology.
Existentialism attempts to revive ontology, in contrast to methodological and epistemological philosophy, widespread in philosophy at the beginning of the 20th century. Like the philosophy of life, existentialism wants to understand being as something direct and to overcome intellectualism as a traditional rationalistic philosophy and science. Being, according to existentialism, is neither an empirical reality given to us in external perception, nor the rational construction offered by scientific thinking, nor the “intelligible essence” of idealistic philosophy. Being must be understood intuitively. But unlike the philosophy of life, which singled out experience as an initial reality, existentialism seeks to overcome psychologism and reveal the ontological meaning of the experience, which acts as a direction to something transcendent to the experience itself. The main definition of being, as it is revealed to us, that is, our own being, called existence, is its non-closedness, the openness of transcendence.
The ontological prerequisite of transcendence is the finiteness of existence, its mortality. Because of its finiteness, existence is temporary, and its temporality differs substantially from objective time as a pure quantity, indifferent to the content that fills it. Existentialism distinguishes genuine, that is, existential, temporality (it is historicity), from physical time, which is derived from the first. Existentialists emphasize in the phenomenon of time the determining significance of the future and consider it in connection with such existential as “determination,” “project,” “hope,” thus marking the personal-historical (and not impersonal-cosmic) nature of time and affirming its relationship with human activity, search, tension, expectation. The historicity of human existence is expressed, according to existentialism, in that it always finds itself in a specific situation in which it is “abandoned” and with which it is compelled to reckon. Belonging to a certain people, class, the presence in the individual of certain biological, psychological and other qualities – all this is an empirical expression of the initial-situational nature of existence, that it is “being-in-the-world.” The temporality, historicity and “situationality” of existence are the modes of its finiteness.
Another important definition of existence is transcendence, that is, going beyond its limits. The transcendent and the very act of transcendence are understood by different representatives of existentialism unequally. From religious existentialism, the transcendental is God. According to Sartre and Camus, transcendence is nothing, acting as the deepest mystery of existence. If Jaspers, Marcel, late Heidegger, who recognize the reality of the transcendental, have a symbolic and even mythopoetic moment (in Heidegger’s), since the transcendent can not be rationally understood, but can only be “hinted” at it, then the teachings of Sartre and Camus, transcendence, is of a critical and even nihilistic nature.
In French and Russian existentialism, as well as in Jaspers, the focus of attention is the problem of human freedom. Existentialism rejects both the rationalistic educational tradition that reduces freedom to the knowledge of necessity and humanistic-naturalistic, for which freedom consists in revealing the natural inclinations of man, the emancipation of his “essential” forces. Freedom, according to existentialism, must be understood from existentiality. Since the structure of existence is expressed in “directionality”, in transcendence, the understanding of freedom by different representatives of existentialism is determined by their interpretation of transcendence. According to Marcel and Jaspers, freedom can be found only in God. According to Sartre, in which transcendence is nothing, understood nihilistically, freedom is negativity to being, which he treats as empirically existing. A person is free in the sense that he “projects” himself, creates himself, chooses himself, without being determined by anything other than his own subjectivity, the essence of which is in complete independence from anything. A person is lonely and devoid of any ontological “ground”. Sartre’s doctrine of freedom is an expression of the position of extreme individualism. Freedom appears in existentialism as a heavy burden that a person must bear, because he is a person. He can give up his freedom, stop being himself, become “like everyone else,” but only at the cost of renouncing himself as a person. The world in which a person is immersed is Heidegger’s name “man”: this is an impersonal world in which everything is anonymous, in which there are no actors of action in which everyone is “other”, and the person even in relation to himself is ” other “; this is a world in which no one decides anything, and therefore is not responsible for anything.
Communication of individuals, carried out in the field of objectification, is not genuine, it only emphasizes the loneliness of everyone. According to Camus, in the face of nothing that makes human life meaningless, the breakthrough of one individual to another, genuine communication between them is impossible. Both Sartre and Camus see falseness and hypocrisy in all forms of communication of individuals consecrated by traditional religion and morality: in love, friendship, and the desire for Sartre to expose distorted, transformed forms of consciousness (“bad faith”) turns into the demand to accept the reality of consciousness, others and with yourself. The only way true communication, which recognizes Camus, is the unity of individuals in a riot against the “absurd” world, against the finiteness, mortality, imperfection, meaninglessness of human existence. Ecstasy can unite a person with another, but it is, in fact, an ecstasy of destruction, a rebellion, born of the despair of an “absurd” person.
Marcel gives another solution to the problem of communication. According to him, the disunity of individuals arises from the fact that objective being is taken as the only possible. But true being – transcendence – is not objective, but personal. Therefore a true relation to being is a dialogue. Being, according to Marcel, is not “It”, but “You”. Therefore, the prototype of a person’s relationship to being is a personal relationship to another person, performed in the face of God. Love, according to Marcel, is transcendence, a breakthrough to another, whether it is a human or divine person. Since such a breakthrough with the help of the understanding can not be understood, Marcel refers it to the sphere of the “sacrament”.
The breakthrough of the objectified world, the “man” world, is, according to existentialism, not only genuine human communication but also the sphere of artistic, philosophical, religious creativity. However, true communication, like creativity, carries a tragic break: the world of objectivity is constantly threatening to destroy existential communication. The consciousness of this leads Jaspers to the assertion that everything in the world eventually crashes due to the very finiteness of existence and therefore a person must learn to live and love with the constant consciousness of the fragility of everything that he likes, the insecurity of love itself. But the deeply hidden pain caused by this consciousness gives its attachment a special purity and spirituality.
The socio-political positions of different representatives of existentialism are not the same. So, Sartre and Camus participated in the Resistance movement; from the late 1960’s. Extreme left radicalism and extremism marked Sartre’s position. The concepts of Sartre and Camus had a certain influence on the socio-political program of the “new left” movement (the cult of violence, freedom, escalating into arbitrariness). The political orientation of Jaspers and Marcel was liberal, and Heidegger’s socio-political views had a conservative tendency.