In my education journey, I have had to deal with many experiences and challenges that have in turn shaped my personal philosophy. However, part of the influences shaping my personal philosophy includes my personal experiences and life in general. At some point, I was torn between the philosophies of existentialism and essentialism and even confused over their different meanings. Ideally, some part of me was for the view that essence precedes existence while another part argued for the concept of existence preceding essence. Perhaps, the reason for this intermix and confusion stems from the fact that the two concepts are both true and dear to my life, albeit in different angles. As such, my early life was shaped by a combination of both philosophical concepts. In fact, it is only lately that I have developed a permanent inclination to the concept of existence over essence. Ultimately, therefore, my personal philosophy in education has inclined towards existentialism.
Over the course of my life, I have grown to appreciate the work of philosophers in shaping my existentialism concept. In this regard, most of the theorists shaping the concept in me are full time existentialists with deep understanding of the concept. In fact, some of these philosophers have shaped the concept and are considered the architects of the same. These theorists believe that an individual person exists as a responsible and free agent with the power to determine their personal development via acts of will (Mart, 2012). This is to say that individuals create the essence and meaning of their lives and that the same is not defined by other forces. Indeed, this has been my understanding of life and I have grown accustomed to these basic facts. My educational philosophy has therefore been inclined towards the subject of existentialism with existence preceding essence. This inclination is based on the belief that each hum an being is at the liberty of determining and choosing their own destiny.
There is general trend of existentialist theorists regarding traditional and academic philosophies as remote and abstract. According to these philosophers, the traditional philosophies did not match the reality of concrete human experiences and are therefore abstract in totality. One of the theorists that have influenced my philosophical views is Soren Kierkegaard who is considered to be the father of existentialism. In fact, he was the first existentialist even though he never used the exact word in his teachings and writings. His reasons for the choice of existentialism over essentialism stem from the belief that individualism is more powerful when applied in life. To this end, therefore, Kierkegaard posited that the society and its beliefs had no direct influence on the personal life of individuals (Cooper, 2009). That is to say that the individual had the responsibility of providing meaning to their life and in the process living authentically with passion and sincerity. Today, the concept as advanced by this theorist has applications in other disciplines besides philosophy. Indeed, existentialism is commonly in use in subjects such as psychology, art, theology and literature.
Despite Kierkegaard being considered the father of existentialism, it is Jean-Paul Sartre who first adopted the term. In fact, Sartre was the first prominent philosopher to apply the term existentialism in his teachings and writings. This development coupled with the fact that the term was applied to many philosophers in hindsight, long after they had died, compounds the meaning of the term. Today, there is no general agreement as to the exact definition of the term with most philosophers defining the term to suit their teachings. Regardless, the term has basic concepts whose applications may be used in different subjects with a general but agreeable consensus. It is Sartre who admits the fact that existence precedes essence among existentialists (Sartre, 1948). Accordingly, all existentialism may not agree on all the concepts but must share in the common and fundamental doctrine of existence preceding essence. According to Sartre, the most important thing in individuals is the fact that they are individuals rather than what defines them. It is therefore, the actual life of individuals that constitute their true essence over other externally defined essences. Consequently, human beings have the consciousness to develop and create their personal values and determine their meanings in life.
While most of the existentialists are amoral atheists, they could also be agnostic relativists as well as religious moralists. Camus is one such existentialist who is considered as an atheist and who shaped my philosophical views through his reasoning. According to his views, the sufferings and losses incurred when considering the absence of control, perfection and power in one’s life render human life incomplete. That is to say that human life is not fully satisfying because of the sufferings and losses sustained in the process of life. Nonetheless, the fact that human life is not fully satisfying cannot be used to conclude that it has no meaning. The opposite is in fact true considering that existentialism is a journey in search of true self and meaning in one’s personal life. This is the journey that I, as well as many others, have taken in my educational philosophical inclination.
Mart, C. T. (2012). Existentialism in two plays of Jean-Paul Sartre. International Journal of English and Literature, 3(3), 50-54.
Sartre, J. P. (1948). Existentialism and Humanism (1947). Philosophy: Key Texts, 115.
Cooper, D. E. (2009). Existentialism: A reconstruction.
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