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Existentialism facts for kids

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Jean-Paul Sartre FP
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), one of the leading existentialist philosophers.

Existentialism is a way of thinking that focuses on what it means for people to exist. It is a philosophical movement that was started by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855). It became well known in books and movies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Existentialism says that humans have will and consciousness, and they must make choices about their life always bearing in mind that they are mortal.

People who believe in existentialism think that the world and human life have no meaning unless people give them meaning. This means that we find ourselves existing in the world first, and after that we give ourselves meaning, or 'essence'. One of the leading existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre said, "We are condemned to be free". This means that we have no choice but to choose, and that we have full responsibility for our choices. Another way to put it is that we are always making choices even if we don't realize it.

Existentialists believe that the only nature we as humans have is the nature we make for ourselves. As a result of this, existentialists think that the actions or choices that a person makes are very important. They believe that every person has to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, and what is good and bad.

People who believe in existentialism ask questions like ’what is it like to be a human (a person) in the world?’ and ’how can we understand human freedom (what it means for a person to be free)?’ Existentialism is often connected with negative emotions, such as anxiety (worrying), dread (a very strong fear), and mortality (awareness of our own death). Some existentialists, like Sartre and Martin Heidegger, think that thinking about these emotions helps people to choose the way that they want to live their lives.

Existentialism is sometimes confused with nihilism. It is different from nihilism, but there is a similarity. Nihilists believe that human life does not have a meaning (or a purpose) at all; existentialism says that people must choose their own purpose.

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