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Existentialism philosophical movement or tendency emphasizing individual existence freedom and choice that influenced many diverse writers in the 19th and 20th centuries Because of the diversity of positions associated with existentialism the term is impossible to define precisely Certain themes common to virtually all existentialist writers can however be identified The term itself suggests one major theme the stress on concrete individual existence and consequently on subjectivity individual freedom and choice Most philosophers since Plato have held that the highest ethical good is the same for everyone insofar as one approaches moral perfection one resembles other morally perfect individuals The 19th-century Danish philosopher Sren Kierkegaard who was the first writer to call himself existential reacted against this tradition by insisting that the highest good for the individual is to find his or her own unique vocation As he wrote in his journal I must find a truth that is true for me the idea for which I can live or die Other existentialist writers have echoed Kierkegaards belief that one must choose ones own way without the aid of universal objective standards Against the traditional view that moral choice involves an objective judgment of right and wrong existentialists have argued that no objective rational basis can be found for moral decisions The 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche further contended that the individual must decide which situations are to count as moral situations All existentialists have followed Kierkegaard in stressing the importance of passionate individual action in deciding questions of both morality and truth They have insisted accordingly that personal experience and acting on ones own convictions are essential in arriving at the truth Thus the understanding of a situation by someone involved in that situation is superior to that of a detached objective observer This emphasis on the perspective of the individual agent has also made existentialists suspicious of systematic reasoning Kierkegaard Nietzsche and other existentialist writers have been deliberately unsystematic in
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