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The Big Names of Existentialism. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger. Some Famous Existentialists. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) Albert Camus (1913-1960). “A woman is not born…she is created.”

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the big names of existentialism
The Big Names of Existentialism

Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger

Some Famous Existentialists
  • Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
  • Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
  • Albert Camus (1913-1960)

“A woman is not born…she is created.”

de Beauvoir’s most famous text is The Second Sex (1949), which some claim is the basis for current gender studies…

nihilism is the state of belief in nothing
Nihilism is the state of belief in nothing

“When you ain’t got nothin’,

you got nothing to lose.” (Bob Dylan)

A nihilist refuses to see this possibility. For the nihilist, when you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothing to win

existential literature
Existential Literature

Three people to know: Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80),

Albert Camus (1913-60) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86)

Born Nov. 7, 1913 in Mondovi, French Algeria

Father dies in 1914 during World War I, only story Albert knows is that his father became violently ill at a public execution.

Mother was illiterate, partially deaf, and afflicted with a speech disorder – very poor.

Attended elementary in a school close to a Moslem community and saw first-hand the idea of the “outsider” he would later develop.

significant events
Significant Events

High school: developed a lifetime love for literature, theater, and film.

Also enjoyed soccer for sport and the life lessons it taught him

“I learned . . . that a ball never arrives from a direction you expected it. That helped me later in life, especially in mainland France, where nobody plays straight.”

significant events1
Significant Events

Briefly joined the Communist Party but was disillusioned by the mindless, even absurd, work he was assigned to do.

In the 1940’s his writing began to attract international attention.

In 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize. He was grateful, but he felt he had not yet achieved the fame such an award indicated.

significant events2
Significant Events

On January 4, 1960, Camus died tragically in a car accident.

the myth of sisyphus
Camus publishes this non-fiction work a year after completing The Stranger. In this retelling of the myth of Sisyphus, he embodies his concept of the Absurd.

The story concludes with Camus’ pivotal philosophical statement:

“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

To understand his point, we must understand the themes that his writing explores.

l tranger the stranger or the outsider
L’Étranger(The Stranger or The Outsider)

Written by Albert Camus in 1942

(who did not sail the ocean blue)

albert camus
Albert Camus

The Stranger

A tale of absurdity, death, and coming to grips with the meaning of one’s existence.

No single work by any existentialist has reached more people directly

The Nobel Prize for literature in 1957

themes of albert camus
Themes of Albert Camus
  • The Absurd
  • Revolt
  • The Outsider
  • Guilt and Innocence
  • Christianity vs. Paganism
  • Individual vs. History and Mass Culture
  • Suicide
  • The Death Penalty
camus absurd world
Camus’ Absurd World

The world of values is

never predictable nor controllable.


“A spirit of opposition against any perceived unfairness, oppression, or indignity in the human condition.”

This idea runs counter to existentialism as it proposes that there is a common good that is more important than one’s destiny. True revolt is performed out of compassion for others.

the outsider
The Outsider

“The `stranger’ or the outsider observes everything, even his own behavior, from an outside perspective.”

Camus lived most of his life being in various groups without being of them. This view requires a “zero-degree” objectivity about everything. Camus had this with friends and community.

guilt and innocence paganism vs christianity
Guilt and Innocence Paganism vs. Christianity

“I continue to believe that this world has no supernatural meaning . . . But I know that something in this world has meaning – man.”

There is no clear answer to this in The Stranger. The reader must decide if the character is legally innocent of the murder he is charged with or if he is technically guilty?

It is the struggle between universal guilt (original sin) and universal innocence (pagan primitivism)

Camus respects the Christianity even uses many Christian symbols in his writing, but he maintains Pagan world views.

individual vs history and mass culture
Individual vs. History and Mass Culture

Modern life has an alienating and dehumanizing effect of man. We live in an age that is becoming more impersonal everyday. If anything, modern man lives the drudgery of Sisyphus in meaningless jobs with mind-numbing repetitions.

suicide death penalty
Suicide Death Penalty

This, for Camus, is the fundamental issue for moral philosophy as it represents the only possible response to the Absurd. In the end, the morally valid response is to continue living.

Camus opposes the death penalty in all of his writings. He considered it “the most premeditated of murders” because it causes the victim to suffer his death every day until it happens.

Although Camus was personally committed to values such as individualism, free choice, inner strength, authenticity, personal responsibility, and self determination, he repeatedly denied that he was an existentialist.

Although he embraced many of the ideas, he believed that for one to be considered anything one must commit themselves totally to that doctrine, he was unwilling to do this.