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Existentialism was the most important philosophic movement of the twentieth century. It examined the unique nature of individual experience. Existentialism focused on matters of human freedom, choice, and responsibility. It rose to prominence thought the efforts of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy said that one’s material being exists prior to and independent of any intrinsic factors. His premise challenged the fundamentals of traditional philosophy - Plato identified “essence” as ideas that were eternal and unchanged; for Aristotle, human’s capacity for rational thought was the “essence” that separated humans from the lower animals. Sartre proposed that humans have no fixed nature and they are not instilled with special divinity nor are they rational by nature. They are neither imprisoned by unconscious forces, as Freud held, nor are they determined by economic conditions, such as Marx maintained. Sartre suggested that humans are born into the world as body/matter and they proceed to make choices by which they form their own natures. In his analysis, each person is the sum of their actions. “We are what we choose to be,” he insisted, and because of that, we must choose at every turn between a variety of possibilities. Furthermore, since every choice implies a choice for all mankind, we bear the burden of total responsibility, a condition Sartre called “anguish” (Fiero, 2011, p. 429.) This viewpoint struck a balance between optimism and despair. While freedom and meaning depend on human action, all actions are played out within a moral voice. According to Sartre, we all seek meaning in a meaningless world (Fiero, 2011. P. 430.)

While Sartre excluded the question of God’s existence, Christian Existentialists saw little contradiction between the belief in a Supreme Being and the ethics of human freedom and responsibility. They believed that the religious philosophy did not need to concern itself with the proof of God’s existence;...

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