Essay on the Historical Background of “Existentialism”
Machines were to be his hand-maid, but he himself became a slave to them. From the scientific viewpoint, like other aspects of nature, man was also regarded as an object of exploitation. Against this developing situation existentialism emerged as a protest against the society, the state and the world and asserted the supremacy of the individuality of man.
Existentialism does not accept the ideas that give a secondary place to the individual and accords greater importance to society for continuing man’s exploitation. It is against exploitation of the individual, whether it is found in communism, socialism, fascism or in any other ‘ism.
It accepts the necessity of the welfare of society also, but it considers the individual above the society it regards society as a tool for the development of individuality of man.
Existentialists do not accept any time limit for existentialism. They say that it is neither old nor new. It existed earlier; it exists today and will exist in the future also. Attempts have always been made for maintaining the existence of the individual and these attempts will always continue.
Existentialism found great recognition and popularity during the twentieth century. Just as Marxism developed after the two World Wars, similarly existentialism also gained wider recognition.
In the novels of Jean Paul Sartre of France we find psychological glimpses of existentialism. In the writings of Soren Kierkegaared of Denmark we find the philosophical viewpoints of existentialism during 1813 and 1855.
Towards the close of the nineteenth century, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger was very much influenced by existentialism as expressed in Kierkegaard’s writings. The novelist, Sartre supported the view-points of Kierkegaard. In a way, we may regard Kierkegaard as the father of existentialism.