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Existentialism is a tradition of philosophical inquiry that explores the nature of existence by emphasizing experience of the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. In the view of the existentialist, the individual’s starting point is characterized by what has been called “the existential angst” (or, variably, existential attitude, dread, etc.), or a sense of disorientation, confusion, or anxiety in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.

Existentialism is associated mainly with certain 19th- and 20th-century European philosophers who shared an emphasis on the human subject, despite profound doctrinal differences. Many existentialists regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience. A primary virtue in existentialist thought is authenticity. Søren Kierkegaard is generally considered to have been the first existentialist philosopher, though he did not use the term existentialism. He proposed that each individual—not society or religion—is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely, or “authentically”.


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