Existential philosophy

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Existential philosophy describes a philosophical direction that has the existence of man in the broadest sense at the center of its thinking . Various positions are described within existential philosophy, but they are all characterized by the fundamental priority of illuminating the actual existence, especially speculative idealism or the scientific belief of positivism . Existentialism as a special form of expression of the French existential philosophy can be distinguished from existential philosophy in the general sense .


The term existentia , from which the German word existence was later derived, is proven in the 4th century AD as a translation of the Greek hyparxis , which means something like "presence". In scholastic philosophy, the term received the meaning of “actually occurring” and became the opposite of the term essence , the what ( essentia ) . Under existence of the special nature of man (whose essence is in this context than in the existential philosophy of existence describes) above all beings understood. This is expressed with the sentence “The essence of Dasein is its existence” .

One point of existential philosophy lies in the special dichotomy of the two terms existence and essence , which Jean-Paul Sartre in particular made use of.

Intellectual historical positioning

Existential philosophy develops on the basis of the thinking of Søren Kierkegaard , the philosophy of Edmund Husserl and life-philosophical influences following an epoch in the history of ideas that was mainly in the dichotomy of speculative idealism and science- affirming positivism . It is less a continuation of any approach, it is an expression of the breaking free of a stuck philosophy and therefore finds its roots in various philosophical directions, e.g. B. Phenomenology , ontology , philosophy of life , philosophy of dialogue , which are also looking for out of the crisis.

Existential philosophy breaks with the idea of ​​an absolute , be it in the sense of German idealism or an absolutizing science , and contrasts it with the existence of the subject (in the sense of being the "one" subject) as the only absolute. Accordingly, the relationship to German idealism and the sciences is particularly important for understanding existential philosophy. The far-reaching influences of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel z. B. in Sartre or Maurice Merleau-Ponty's intensive dialogical examination of the natural sciences in the works of existential philosophers.

Existential philosophy receives its special value from its precise observation of the human being in his humanity, how the human being in this world and other people presents himself, to see what philosophy has always had at the center of its endeavors: the way to truth. Whether she argues phenomenologically or, like Kierkegaard, is looking for a different approach - the focus is on the human being with his determining states such as fear, love, worry as an authentic being who does not find himself as a fixed being, but as a responsible, free and self-designing being understands. With this man steps out of a philosophical framework that has surrounded him up to now. This philosophical framework was the order of the myth, the logos, an ordo knowledge of the Middle Ages , the belief in a reason or the knowledge of the absolute. In existential philosophy, triggered by the philosophy of life and other influences, the aspects come to the fore which, hidden by the above-mentioned ordering schemes in philosophy, previously had no theoretical power: fear, worry, love, freedom, sexuality.

The basic ideas of modern existential philosophy were born long before Kierkegaard, the French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) anticipated in his collection of essays Pensées (thoughts) what would later become existential philosophy. He writes of the misery and forlornness of people in life and asks the question whether there is even the possibility of becoming happy and living carefree without constantly having to live in fear of death, hardship and misery. These "thoughts" are later taken up by all the important existential philosophers and they work on them individually.

Philosophical-systematic classification

The difficulty of a clear classification in the philosophical system consists in the variety of approaches of existential philosophy. The general systematic representations of philosophy also differ on this point. To reduce it only to the aspect of subjective thinking , however, misses the methodological aspects of this current and its examination of tradition.


The phenomenology of Husserl is the basic methodological reference of most authors of existential philosophy. It is therefore particularly distinguished for the question or is closely interwoven with it, since it refrains from any pre-opinion about the existing and refers to the immediate phenomena in order to obtain a basis for the sciences from there.

Philosophical approach to life

The philosophy of life is a movement within the philosophy of the 19th century that puts the concept of human experience in the foreground of philosophical endeavors.

See also: Henri Bergson , Wilhelm Dilthey , Georg Simmel , Friedrich Nietzsche

Philosophical positions

Søren Kierkegaard

Most representatives of existential philosophy refer to the work of Søren Kierkegaard . He saw in the will to the philosophical system a diversion from the seriousness of reflection, to which the individual - in every situation - is called in view of the claim of God , to which he is essentially related. The fear that makes man aware of his guilt , mortality and loneliness must not be escaped into the sphere of the general (of thought or social conformity); it must be adopted as it is.

Maurice Blondel

Leo Schestow

Nikolai Berdyaev

Hans Lipps (1889–1941)

Karl Jaspers

Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger's central achievement for existential philosophy consisted in the epoch-making question about the meaning of being, which systematically made it necessary not to regard the existence of man as a thing among other things in the sense of Husserl, but to assign him a meaning of being of his own. The central idea here is the ontological difference , which is thematically fanned out in the main work Being and Time . Even if being and time were of central importance for existential philosophy, Heidegger did not see himself as an existential philosopher and defended himself against a purely existential philosophy reading of being and time .

Jean-Paul Sartre

To Jean-Paul Sartre's remarks on existential philosophy is to in Article existentialism be detailed here.

His main philosophical work Being and Nothing is one of the main works of existential philosophy. Sartre orients himself here on the phenomenological authors Husserl and Heidegger and is strongly influenced by the Hegel reading Alexandre Kojèves .

Simone de Beauvoir

Albert Camus

Albert Camus is terminologically assigned to existentialism in this encyclopedia . Systematically, however, Camus also stands in the tradition of the French moralists. His work is primarily of a literary nature.

Simone Weil

Gabriel Marcel

Peter Wust


Important primary works

  • Sören Kierkegaard: Either-or. Munich 2000, ISBN 3-423-30134-1 .
  • Sören Kierkegaard: The term fear. Ditzingen 1992, ISBN 3-15-008792-9 .
  • Sören Kierkegaard: Philosophical chunks.
  • Sören Kierkegaard: Final unscientific postscript on the philosophical chunks.
  • Sören Kierkegaard: The sickness to death. Ditzingen 1997, ISBN 3-15-009634-0 .
  • Karl Jaspers: Philosophy. 3 volumes (I. Philosophical world orientation; II. Explanation of existence; III. Metaphysics). Springer, Berlin 1932, ISBN 3-540-12120-X .
  • Karl Jaspers: Existential Philosophy. Three lectures. Springer, Berlin 1938.
  • Karl Jaspers: Reason and Existence . Groningen 1935.
    • English edition: Reason And Existence [sic!]. Five lectures . (Based on the third German edition by J. Storm, Bremen 1949) Translation with introduction by William Earle. The Noonday Press, New York 1955 ( read here in electronic form).
  • Martin Heidegger: Being and time. Tübingen 1976, ISBN 3-484-70109-9 .
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Being and Nothing. Hamburg 1985, ISBN 3-498-06060-0 .
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Existentialism is a humanism. Hamburg 1994, ISBN 3-499-34013-5 .
  • Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus. Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-499-22765-7 .
  • Albert Camus: The Man in Revolt.
  • Gabriel Marcel: Metaphysical Diary. Paderborn u. a. 1992, ISBN 3-506-75342-8 .
  • Georges Bataille: Atheological Sum.
  • Peter Wust: Uncertainty and risk. Münster 2002, ISBN 3-8258-6066-3 .

Secondary literature

  • Hannah Arendt : What is existential philosophy? . Anton Hain, Frankfurt 1990 (originally: six essays. Schriften der Wandlung 3, Heidelberg January 1948, pp. 48–80).
  • Helmut Fahrenbach : Kierkegaard's existential dialectic ethics . Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt 1968.
  • Helmut Fahrenbach: Existential philosophy and ethics . Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt 1970.
  • Wolfgang Janke: Existential Philosophy , de Gruyter, Berlin 1982, ISBN 3-11-008246-2 .
  • Thomas Seibert: Existential Philosophy. Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 1997, ISBN 3-476-10303-X .
  • Rainer Thurnher: Philosophy of Life and Philosophy of Existence. (History of Philosophy Vol. 13). Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-49275-4 .
  • Urs Thurnherr , Anton Hügli (Hrsg.): Lexicon Existentialismus und Existentialphilosophie. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2007, ISBN 978-3-534-16331-1 .
  • René Weiland: Philosophy of Lifestyle. Ethical thinking between existential philosophy and constructivism. transcript, Bielefeld 2016, ISBN 978-3-8376-3632-1 (rehabilitation of existential philosophy through its new constructivist reading).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. So z. B. in the letter on humanism and in his handwritten marginal notes in Sein und Zeit, p. 12.