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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

26 - Existentialism

from Section Five - Central Movements and Issues

Summary

Discussing existentialism in a volume on the history of philosophy from 1945 to 2015 poses some unique challenges. The first concerns the extension of the term. While it was customary for writers on existentialism in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1950s to include a core set of philosophers under this rubric (Sartre, Camus, Marcel, Jaspers, and Heidegger), all but Sartre (and Beauvoir)1 denied being existentialists. Further, these same writers often expanded the list to include supposed precursors such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and even Socrates, Pascal, and Dostoevsky, who would have found the term quite alien. Mention of Dostoevsky suggests a second challenge: the fact that Sartre and Beauvoir were as well known for their literary output as for their more philosophical work meant that “existentialism” came to designate a peculiarly philosophically inflected cultural movement into which a great number of writers, visual artists, filmmakers, and others were conscripted.2

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