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Philosophical movement oriented toward two major themes, the analysis of human existence and the centrality of human choice. Existentialism's chief theoretical energies are thus devoted to questions about ontology and decision. It traces its roots to the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. As a philosophy of human existence, existentialism found its best 20th-century exponent in Karl Jaspers; as a philosophy of human decision, its foremost representative was Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre finds the essence of human existence in freedomin the duty of self-determination and the freedom of choiceand therefore spends much time describing the human tendency toward bad faith, reflected in humanity's perverse attempts to deny its own responsibility and flee from the truth of its inescapable freedom.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on existentialism, visit Britannica.com.