Restrain your biases and suppress your notions as to what existentialism is. I seldom encounter individuals without “rubber stamp” answers for what is existential, what constitutes existentialism, and who were/are the existentialists. If you wish to learn something about existentialism — read on. If you seek dark, depressing thoughts about alienation and hopelessness… watch 24-hour news channels.
Those most often associated with “existentialism” failed to form a cohesive philosophical discipline based on existential theories. Existentialism, while taught at universities, cannot point to leaders in the same way idealism or rationalism can. As you read the works of “existentialists” you come to see divisions and paradoxes not only between individuals, but within the works of many of the thinkers.
Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are forerunners of existentialism. If we want to thank, or blame, two men for radical individualism, we could start with them. There were others before them, but most texts on existentialism seem to firmly place them at the foundation. Radical individualism is not existentialism, however. More importantly, Nietzsche believed our natures dictated some of our choices and Kierkegaard’s faith in a omniscient Creator imposed limits on free will. Nuances are found throughout philosophy, remember.
Sartre came to declare existentialism a minor footnote to Marxism, which illustrates Sartre’s interests were more in politics than pure philosophical theory. It could be argued that living authentically, possibly using Socrates as a model, we should do more than think about philosophy — it must be lived. Camus was an absurdist, suggesting existentialism was more methodology than philosophy. Camus called existentialism “philosophical suicide” if used to ponder life. Considering Camus’ fascination with death, that’s quite a statement.
I call the existential attitude philosophical suicide. How else to start from the world’s lack of meaning and end...