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Above all else, Jean-Paul Sartre is remembered for his existential philosophies presented in his writing. Even Sartre himself referred to his works as existential. Since existentialism is based on the free will of man, it is not a modern philosophy, but goes back to Biblical times. Modern existentialism, however, became popular in the nineteenth century. Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, was one of the founders of modern existentialism. As a Christian, he believed that man had to choose whether to have a life with Christ or without Christ; however, even if man accepted Christian beliefs, Kierkegaard felt that man was destined to experience some level of despair. Those who wallowed in their despair became physically sick and incapable of action; their life had no meaning for them.
Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher, did not agree with Kierkegaard's existential philosophies. Since he was an atheist who believed in no higher being, Heidegger believed that all of existence had no meaning. He further believed that man spent his life filled with toil and dread, but in the end, at the time of death, all the care and concern ended in nothingness.
The development of Sartre's existential philosophies came during and after World War II and largely in reaction to the totalitarianism of Hitler, who forced people to support his beliefs or perish. Because the people of Europe were totally disillusioned after the war, they claimed that life seemed absurd and questioned if there really was a God. As a result, many of them could easily accept Sartre's existential beliefs, and he became a popular writer.