Existentialism – As an Educational Philosophy

Dr. V.K. Maheshwari, Former Principal

K.L.D.A.V(P.G) College, Roorkee, India.

“Because I exist, because I think, therefore, I think that I exist.” According to the statement ‘I think’ it is clear that ‘I’ exists and it has existence. ‘I’ that exists is always subjective and not objective. Now the person because of knowing the object does not desire to know the object, but he emerges himself in knowing the self. Kierkegaard

Existentialism is the most individualistic of all modern philosophies. Its overriding concern is with the individual and its primary value is the absolute freedom of the person, who is only what he, makes himself to be, and who is the final and exclusive arbiter of the values he freely determines for himself. Great emphasis is placed on art, on literature, and the humanistic studies, for it is in these areas that man finds himself and discovers what values he will seek to attain.

The term “existentialism” seems to have been coined by the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel  and adopted by Jean-Paul Sartre, Etymological meaning of ‘existence’ from two German words -: ‘ex-sistent’ meaning that which stands out, that which ‘emerges’ suggests that existentialism is a philosophy that emerges out of problems of life.

Initially Existentialism may appear to be a morbid philosophy because it deals with depressing themes such as alienation, anxiety, death and crises. To conclude this however, would be to misunderstand it. An expressed purpose of so many of the philosophers, who have contributed to this school of thought, is to allow people to experience a greater richness and happiness in their lives and to feel at ‘home’ in their world. In order to achieve a richer and more valuable existence however, the philosophy often refers to some ‘uncomfortable’ suggestions

Just as the whole of Indian philosophy is an extension, interpretation, criticism and corroboration of the Vedas and in it the Upanishads or an outright revolt against them, similarly it may be remarked of western philosophy as either a clarification of Socrates or his rejection. One would be still right in saying that the whole of western philosophy is an appendix on Socrates. So it is even true with existentialism that Socrates has been considered to be the first existentialist. Socrates statement: “I am and always have been a man to obey nothing in my nature except the reasoning which upon reflection, appears to be the best.” Right from Plato down to Descartes, the majority of western thinkers have believed in the immutability of ideas and the rest of the thinkers have been suggesting correctives to it. Anyhow their frame of reference has always been ‘Essence Precedes Existence’, essence being referred to ideas, values, ideals, thoughts, etc. and existence being referred to our lives.

Theoretical Rationale of Existentialism

Rather than attempt to define existentialism (which existentialists themselves maintain is futile it might to be better to determine what the task of philosophy is according to the proponents of this school of thought. First of all, the existentialist does not concern himself with problems concerning the nature, origin, and destiny of the physical universe. The philosopher should not even concern himself with the basic assumptions of the physical or biological sciences.

Metaphysical Position

Concept of God

Frederic Nietzsche’s statement, “God is dead,” succinctly expresses the atheistic existentialist’s view on the issue of the existence of a supernatural realm. Nietzsche says: Where is God gone? I mean to tell you! We have killed him – you and I! Do we not here the noise of the grave – diggers who are burying God? God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed! …. The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed had bled to death under our knife – …. What are our churches now, if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?

Assume that God exists and is all-powerful & all-knowing & all-good. Then also assume that evil exists in the world. Then God is either responsible for the existence of evil, in which case God is Himself evil & not all-good; or else God is not responsible for the existence of evil & yet knew that it was going to happen & couldn’t prevent it–so God is not all-powerful; or else God would have prevented evil but didn’t know it was going to happen, and is therefore not all-knowing. So given evil, God is either not all-good, not all-powerful, not all-knowing, or does not exist.

Concept of Self

Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.” Jean Paul Sartre

The very question of the nature of man is a meaningless one for the existentialist. In both of the sections above it was emphasized that man has no “nature” as such but rather that he must create his own essence. The uniqueness of man comes from his emotions, feelings, perception and thinking. The philosophy of existentialism stresses meaning, only through development of meaning in his life; man can make something of the absurdity which surrounds him. Man is the maker, and, therefore, the master of culture. It is man who imposes a meaning on his universe, although that universe may well function without him. Man cannot be ‘taught’ what the world is about. He must create this for himself.

Man is not alone in the world. He is connected to other men; he communicates with others; therefore, he cannot live in a state of anarchy. Life is seen as a gift, which, in part is a mystery. Man is free to choose commitments in life, in his choice, he becomes himself. He is the product of his choices. He is, therefore, an individual who is different from other persons.

Second, individual man is not bound to other men by any predetermined notion of brotherhood or by allegiance to a certain group. On the contrary, each man should express his freedom in the creation of his own selfhood, first by “withdrawing from the crowd,” and then by communicating only with those whom he personally chooses . Sartre feels that the entire network of social life is anti-individual. Churches, schools, political parties, and even the family tend to militate against man’s absolute freedom.

Epistemological position

The existentialist approach  to knowledge is known as the phenomenological method. The atheistic existentialists inherited this method from Husserl. It was adapted further by Heidegger and Sartre to suit their philosophy of “will and action,” especially as it concerns the individual… The phenomenological method consists in the expression of the experiences of consciousness through the media of ordinary language

Existentialists have given little attention to inductive reasoning. Science, they believe, has been one of the major dehumanizing forces in the modern world

In opposition to this cold impersonal approach to knowledge, the existentialist argues that true knowledge is “choosing, actions, living, and dying.”

Axiological position

Existential ethics

Kierkegaard reacted to this way of thinking by saying that it was up to the individual to find his or her own moral perfection and his or her own way there. “I must find the truth that is the truth for me . . . the idea for which I can live or die” he wrote.

Authenticity & human freedom

Existentialists have a special connotation of the Authentic man According to the existentialists, becoming authentic allows one to determine how things are to count towards one’s situation and how one is to act in relation to them.

Generally the existentialists consider authentic individuals to take responsibility for determining and choosing possibilities and not to simply become a determined product of a cultural moment. One can choose one’s own identity and possibilities rather than have these dictated by the crowd.

According to existential ethics the highest good for humans is “becoming an individual or “authenticity” = psychological coherence + integrity = not merely being alive but having a real life by being true to yourself

In authenticity & human unfreedom the failure to choose in this way, or the failure to take full responsibility for one’s choices, is “inauthenticity” = psychic incoherence + lack of integrity. Accordingly, the worst thing of all is in authenticity & unfreedom, so it is morally impermissible.

The very essence of good is choosing.It seems them, that man never chooses evil. A man “becomes a man” when he makes choice. When he makes choices he creates his own values. When he creates his own values, he creates his own being or essence.


Another distinctive feature of the aesthetical views of existentialists lies in their use of the art forms, especially literature, drama, and painting, as media for communicating philosophical doctrines.

Fundamental Postulates of Existentialism

Permanence and Change-The existentialists, deny the preeminence of essence. They reject the notion that there is a predetermined nature for every human being. Man is not born with a rational soul which “forms the matter,” the body. Man has no essence at birth; he must create his own essence. And with Darwin, the existentialist would concur that no living beings will remain the same – all are in the process of changing. Consequently, existentialism is to be classified as one of the philosophies of change.

Existence precedes essence -Existentialism is a revolt against any kind of determinism and an affirmation of the free nature of man. They affirm that existence is prior to essence that man is fundamentally free to create his essences. As Black ham writes, “There is no creator of man. Man discovered himself. His existence came first; he now is in the process of determining his essence. Man first is, and then he defines himself.”

Freedom is identical with existence -Man, then, does not possess free will as a part of his essential mature, but rather he exists in a state of absolute freedom. None of the environmental or hereditary forces are considered strong enough to impair man’s freedom. The most important characteristic to existentialist freedom, then, is that it is absolute. It does not consist, as some traditional philosopher’s hold, in the freedom to choose among alternative goods. Man has no guideposts by which to make his choice. He must simply make choices and this choice will determine his being. He is completely responsible for his own decisions and the effects they will have upon himself and others.

Reason-Existentialism asserts that people actually make decisions based on the meaning to them rather than rationally.  Kierkegaard saw strong rationality as a mechanism humans use, their fear of being in the world: “If I can believe that I am rational and everyone else is rational then I have nothing to fear and no reason to feel anxious about being

The Absurd-When an individual’s consciousness, longing for order, collides with the Other’s lack of order, it is absurdity’

The notion of the Absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning to be found in the world beyond what meaning we give to it. This meaninglessness also encompasses the amorality or “unfairness” of the world.

Fact city-A denial of one’s own concrete past constitutes an inauthentic lifestyle, and the same goes for all other kinds of fact city. In other words, the origin of one’s projection will still have to be one’s fact city,

Alienation-Feelings of alienation can emerge from the recognition that one’s world has received its meaning from the crowd or others, and not from oneself, or that one is out of touch with one’s ‘inner self’. And our present “personal and collective mental instability follows from the peculiar form of alienation associated with alienation from the centre – alienation from meaning, value, purpose and vision, alienation from the roots of and reasons of our humanity.

Angst-Angst, sometimes called dread, anxiety or even anguish is a term that is common to many existentialist thinkers. It is generally held to be the experience of human freedom and responsibility… It is this condition of absolute freedom in which man finds himself and the responsibility entailed by it that creates the condition in man called anguish. The realization of this responsibility causes existential anguish.

Abandonment-By abandonment, the existentialist means that since God does not exist, man is left to his own deserts in crating himself and the kind of world in which he will live. There are no apriority values according to which he can make his decisions; there are no transcendental codes of behavior; there is no moral law in “nature” to be discovered and followed by man. Men are abandoned to his own decision – he must do what he wills; he must create his own essence.

Despair-Despair is another condition resulting from absolute freedom. Sartre describes this condition in these words. “It [despair] merely means that we limit ourselves to a radiance upon that which is within our wills, or within the sum of the probabilities which render our action possible.” Thus, when on makes a decision to act, he never can be sure what the result will be for him or others. Man must decide and act without hope.

Existential Crises- The phenomenon of anxiety – as an important characteristic of the existential crisis – is regarded as a rarity and has been described as “the manifestation of freedom in the face of self Experiencing anxiety individuates, hence ‘death’ as an issue readily lends itself to this crisis because only oneself can die one’s own death“.

Existentialism in education

The philosophy of existentialism has not displayed any particular interest in education. Therefore, it has been observed that the educational implications are derived and deduced from their philosophy rather than that are developed by existentialists

Just as its namesake sprang from a strong rejection of traditional philosophy, educational existentialism sprang from a strong rejection of the traditional, essentialist approach to education. Existentialism rejects the existence of any source of objective, authoritative truth about metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Instead, individuals are responsible for determining for themselves what is “true” or “false,” “right” or “wrong,” “beautiful” or “ugly.” For the existentialist, there exists no universal form of human nature; each of us has the free will to develop as we see fit.

Aims and Objectives of Education

Existentialists have been quite consistent in their recommendation of educational aims which are in harmony with their philosophic views… Existentialism is concerned principally with liberal education, freeing man from his isolation and his anonymity, freeing his mind from the confusions that prevent him from seeing his situations and his powers.

Prior to starting this general objective for education, Harper had pointed up that the existentialist wants to educate the “whole child,” not just one side. This “whole-child” concept has been utilized by others, among them the instrumentalists. But the existentialist proposes a more individualistic notion, that is, the “unfolding of the individual as a whole in the situation in which he finds himself. The existentialist emphasizes those situations such as tragedy, guilt, suffering, and, death which happen to the individual rather than the group. Nietzsche voices the same view against “the general all genuine aims for education” in which the individual is lost sight of as an individual.

According to existentialist, education should make a man subjective and should make him conscious for his individuality or ‘self’. Being self conscious he will recognize his ‘self’ and he will get an understanding of his ‘being’. Individuality lies on self-realization, a motivating force, from an existential perspective; a sense of self-identity is gained by how an individual relates to and values his or her relations. The purpose of education is to build character, to optimize potential and creativity and to enhance the quality of life through knowledge, and then from an existentialist perspective bureaucratization needs to be replaced by humanization.

Education is that which helps an individual to realize the best that he is capable of. In doing so education must help the individual to realize the ‘fact city’ (contingency) of his existence to face the categories of this fact city – dread, anguish, anxiety and fear – resolutely and courageously and finally prepare him to meet death with pleasure.

Education for happiness is a dangerous doctrine because there can be no happiness without pain and no ecstasy without suffering.” Therefore, existentialists would welcome an education, which throws open to children human suffering, misery, anguish and the dreadful responsibilities of adult life.

Every individual is unique. Education must develop in him this uniqueness. It must cater to individual differences Education must make pupil aware of the infinite possibilities of his freedom and the responsibilities he must bear in life.

The most important aim in education is the becoming of a human person as one who lives and makes decisions about what he will do and be. “Knowing” in the sense of knowing oneself, social relationship, and biological development, is all the parts of becoming. Human existence and the value related to it is the primary factory in education.

Education should train men to make better choices and also give the man the idea that since his choices are never perfect, the consequences cannot be predicted.

The ultimate aim of education is to make man conscious of his destination, to give understanding of his ‘being’ and ultimately lead him to his heavenly abode. So, it is clear that the existentialism accepts the principle of liberal education.

In short, the objective of education is to enable every individual to develop his unique qualities, to harness his potentialities and cultivate his individualities. It means the implication of existentialist formulations for child rearing education and counseling practices are many. Since existentialists behold human life as unique and emerging a child is to be recognized as a full person and not simple as an in complete adult. The practices by which the child is socialized varied from culture to culture.

Curriculum of Existentialism

To the extent that the staff, rather than the students, influence the curriculum, the humanities are commonly given tremendous emphasis. They are explored as a means of providing students with vicarious experiences that will help unleash their own creativity and self-expression. For example, rather than emphasizing historical events, existentialists focus upon the actions of historical individuals, each of whom provides possible models for the students’ own behavior. In contrast to the humanities, math and the natural sciences may be deemphasized, presumably because their subject matter would be considered “cold,” “dry,” “objective,” and therefore less fruitful to self-awareness. Moreover, vocational education is regarded more as a means of teaching students about themselves and their potential than of earning a livelihood. In teaching art, existentialism encourages individual creativity and imagination more than copying and imitating established models.

Although many existentialist educators provide some curricular structure, existentialism, more than other educational philosophies, affords students great latitude in their choice of subject matter. In an existentialist curriculum, students are given a wide variety of options from which to choose.

Existence of individuals must constitute the “core of studies” both in and out of school. It is worth noting, however, they do not demand that history, science, mathematics, and the like be thrown out of the curriculum. Their criticism is leveled at the impersonal, cold, and dry as dust approach to subject matter found in the schools. It is safe to assume, then that both traditional and modern subject matter would be found in the existentialist schools. But subject matter would not be learned “for its own sake”. The views that one should teach subject matter for its own sake, or for training the pupil’s intellect, or for adjusting the student to his environment are foreign to existentialist thought.

There is one feature of the existentialist curriculum which should differentiate it sharply from most existing elementary, secondary, and college programs. Most of these programs are devoid of content designed to offer the educed the opportunity to express his individuality in moral and artistic ways. The existentialist has made extensive use of the art forms as the media for conveying their beliefs about philosophical matters. It certainly would be in harmony with this emphasizing on values to provide the broadest possible curricular offerings in the value-laden area. Early in the elementary school, the child should be given the opportunity to express himself in any art from which he chooses. Also, the school program should afford myriads of opportunities, for the young pupil to make his own decisions in ethical matter. If this emphasis is continued throughout the secondary and college programs, then the student will be truly “educated to freedom.”

It seems, then, as suggested above, that the existentialist is not so much concerned with the actual courses or subjects in a curriculum as he is with what the teacher and) the pupil does with them. The exercise of existential freedom within a curriculum is more important than the curriculum. George Kneller takes each area of the curriculum, history, science, citizenship, music, art, dramatics, poetry, biography, and shows how the “existential approach” can be applied to each one. In each instance the student “lives” the subject or, better, becomes personally involved in the life of the material under consideration

The central place is given to ‘humanities’, poetry, drama, music, art, novels etc. as they exert the human impact in revealing man’s inherent quilt, sin, suffering, tragedy, death, late and love. Humanities have spiritual power. Art and Literature, they say should be taught, as they represent a priori (cause effect) power of human nature. Through these the students profit from the ideas and judgment of others. History should be taught in order to help the students to change the course of history and to mould future.

Scientific subjects and mathematics should be included in the curriculum but they should not be given more stress, as they deal with objective knowledge. ‘Self-knowledge precedes universal knowledge.

In short, they don’t believe in formal curriculum consisting of set of body of studies to be pursued but a curriculum, which features the riverberatory effect upon heart, and mind of passionate good reading and then personal contact. The curriculum should be chosen, sorted out and owned by the learner.

Instructional Methodology

Existentialist methods focus on the individual. Learning is self-paced, self directed, and includes a great deal of individual contact with the teacher, who relates to each student openly and honestly. In reality, the way in which subject matter is handled seems to be more important to the existentialist than the subject matter itself

To recognize the ‘individual differences’ and wish to have diverse curricula suiting the needs, abilities and aptitudes of the individual. Existentialist methods focus on the individual. Learning is self-paced, self directed, and includes a great deal of individual contact with the teacher, who relates to each student openly and honestly.

Perhaps the most significant assumption or underlying belief regarding educational methodology is that any teaching method must place the responsibility for choosing what to learn tend actually learning it upon the individual. This assumption is entirely in harmony with the existentialist’s insistence upon the absolute freedom of the individual. Obviously, on self-respecting existentialist would employ the traditional lecture-recite-assign-test method. He would reject with equal zeal the problem-solving method of instrumentalism because of its social emphasis. Any method which fosters group thinking or group action would be alien to the existentialist,

Perhaps, then, the only criterion for method is that the teacher show by his example that education is a concentration on personal freedom – one which encourages the student to accept the facts and beliefs which have relevance for him. Nietzsche states this position very vigorously in criticizing the traditional method (historic-scholastic method) of teaching the mother tongue: The historical method has become so universal in our time, that the living body of language is sacrificed for the sake of anatomical study …. The historical method may certainly be a considerable easier and more comfortable one for the teacher. It also seems to be compatible with a much lower grade of ability and, general, with a smaller display of energy and will on his part. But we shall find that this observation holds well in every department of pedagogical life. .

Similarly, a science should be considered a personal, human activity in which the student relives the great moment of discovery in the history of science. It should not be taught as an exercise in laboratory technique nor as a cold lifeless body of content to be mastered. The existential way to teach science is to have the students live it. This approach to teaching proposed by Kneller seems to be the same as that which Nietzsche implied in his criticism of traditional methods

Existentialists favor the Socratic Approach to teaching, “The existentialist favors the Socratic method, not so much because it involves ‘induction’ or the collection and analysis of all available evidence, nor because of its complementary process of ‘definition’, whereby general values are reached from particular instances; but chiefly because it is a method that tests the inner-life-as a stethoscope sounds the heart.” Socratic ‘Problem Method’ should be accepted if the problem originates in the life of the one who has to work out the solutions. But it is unacceptable if the problem is derived from the needs of the society. Like Socrates, ‘personal reading’ should be stressed.

They reject the group method, because in-group dynamic, the superiority of the group decision over individual decision is prominent. There is a danger of losing unique individualism and free choice. Methods of teaching must develop the creative abilities in children. The world and man reveal themselves by their undertakings

Concept of Teacher

The teacher’s role is to help students define their own essence by exposing them to various paths they may take in life and creating an environment in which they may freely choose their own preferred way. Since feeling is not divorced from reason in decision making, the existentialist demands the education of the whole person, not just the mind.

There are five characteristics of this ideal that are formulated by this existential framework. These include becoming more authentic, more spiritual, having a critical attitude, having a clear sense of personal identity and a developing empathetic awareness towards others.

Teachers are potentially able to offer a very valuable ‘other horizon’ which is able to assess qualitatively the understandings of students. Teachers can be most influential in the educational development of students’ spirituality if, through their interaction, ‘crises’ can be created. Teachers can be the learner’s ‘best enemy’), able to ‘wound’ most provokingly. This is somewhat like playing the ‘devil’s advocate’ in order to test and to clarify the understandings of others.

In order to exercise one’s freedom in an authentic manner it is also necessary that the teacher develop a critical attitude. Having a critical indicates that persons appreciate that they have a certain degree of unquestioned meanings that constitute how they make sense of, and give value and purpose to life. It is recognized that the teacher be necessarily a life-long learner…

The teacher’s characteristic of being ‘open’ to possibilities includes a willingness to allow others to re-evaluate those aspects of one’s understandings that can be articulated. If one chooses to ‘close’ oneself off from the criticisms of others, one is no longer teacher. Having’openness’ in this regard allows one to come to an understanding of self and others.

The teacher should become aware of how s/he relates to the entire curriculum. One is understood to be ‘in’ truth by critically examining and reflecting upon all which one understands. Therefore, the traditionally accepted meanings attached to various issues should be “touched with a hammer” both to ‘sound them out’ and to examine how the learner is attuned to them. Understanding, creating and choosing one’s personal identity – who one is and what one stands for – is a desirable characteristic of a teacher. Personal identity may reference historical, sociological, religious and biological frameworks,

An important characteristic of a teacher is that they have the ability to make judgments with regards to what is worthwhile and valuable in them and in others. This should be demonstrated by an empathetic awareness for others whom they are in-the-world-with…

Existentialists do not wish the teacher to be social minded umpire or provider of free social activity or a model personality to be limited, by the students. He must himself be a free personality, engaged in such relations and projects with individual students that they get the idea that they are too are free personalities. He may indirectly influence them about his values but he should impose his cherished values on them, test his values become the code of conduct for the students, who may begin to accept them without thought. Instead of expecting them to imitate he should help them to be ‘original’ and ‘authentic’.

His effort should be that students’ mind should have autonomous functioning so that they become free, charitable and self-moving. The role of teacher is very important because he is the creator of such as educational situation in which the student can establish contact with his self by becoming conscious of his self and can achieve self-realization.

The teacher must build positive relationships between himself and his students. He should avoid applying labels to children (such as ‘lazy’, ‘slow learner’ etc.) for individuals may indeed come to think of themselves this way. The teacher is also changing and growing as he guides the pupil in his discovery of self.

Concept of Student

The question “who should be educated?” would appear to be a rather simple one for the existentialist. One might expect him to answer to anyone who so desires should be given all the education he wants. This response is probably correct as far as education in general is concerned, since the broad meaning of education includes more than schooling. In other words a person can educate himself in many ways such as by reading, by working, and perhaps, most important, by living – by willing and acting.

However, some existentialists have been quite clear in advocating a culture and education for the elite. Nietzsche was very outspoken in his scorn of “equality of opportunity” for all the children of all the people. The education of the masses cannot, therefore, be our aim; but rather the education of a few picked men for great and lasting works…… What is called the “education of the masses” cannot be accomplished except wit difficulty; and even if a system of universal compulsory education be applied, they can only be realized outwardly: those individuals of lower levels where, generally speaking, the masses come into contact with culture – all these levels can scarcely be reached by direct means…..In this context Nietzsche was not peaking only of college or university education but of the lower levels, elementary and secondary. He felt the public education, which attempted to educate the masses, was bound to fall short of the aim of true education simply because the masses were involved.

The existentialists want to give full freedom to the child. But the child should know the nature of his ‘self’ and recognize his being and convert imperfection into perfection.     They do not want the child to become selfish, autocratic and irresponsible. Freedom is needed only for natural development. Education should be provided according to the child’s powers and the needs. The relation of the child with his ‘self’ should be strengthened rather than severed. The child has to make ‘choices’ and decisions.

Child thrives better when relieved from intense competition, harsh discipline, and fear of failure. Thus each child can grow to understand his own needs and values and take charge of the experiences for changing him. In this way self-evaluation is the beginning and end of the learning process, as learning proceeds, child is freely growing, fearless, understanding individual. Primary emphasis must always be on the child, as learner and not on the learning programmed. Child needs positive evaluation, not labels.

Concept of School

From what has been said about the role individuality should play in the development an application of educational methodology it is quite evident that none of the traditional agencies of education (family, Church, and state) can claim the primary right to educate.” it was quite clear that the individual, the personification of absolute freedom, is the sole “agency” responsible for creating his own essence or being. To be consistent, the existentialist cannot permit any agency “outside the individual” to usurp this primary right and responsibility

The school should provide an atmosphere where the individuals develop in a healthy way. Any subject in school (even extra activities like athletics, music etc.) can present existential situations for teaching and the development of human beings. The aim of school tasks should be to nurture self-discipline and cultivate self-evaluation.

Mass teaching and mass testing is not advocated in schools. The schedule must be flexible and open. Democratic ideals should pervade the school. Democracy must be the soil in which the individual grows. It should be the democracy of unique individuals who value differences and respect one another. Self-government, pupil participation in planning and the encouragement of a free atmosphere characterize the school.

Mechanization and impersonality should be counteracted in school. Student’s timetables and work programmers are computerized. And thus the relationships between the individual students and the school programmed become an impersonal one. Besides this, the use of programmed instruction, teaching machines and other equipments tend to decrease the personal contact between teachers and pupils. This impersonality is a hazard to the individual development and growth of the child’s personality. Concern and respect for the individual student should be a feature of the school.

Nietzsche’s attack on public education is based upon his conviction that the public schools in his country destroyed individual freedom and responsibility and replaced them with a state-enforced conformity. Since mass education has been initiated by the state or in some instances by the Church, many existentialists feel that both of these organizations have overstepped their bounds. Nietzsche rightly comments “But who will persuade me that today’s (public) school have an absolute right to their existence? … I am not convinced that in itself the school is necessarily a good thing. It is at best a benevolent, well meaning concentration camp. It denies in its actual make up the very emancipation and enfranchisement of youth that it is established to cherish…. Deny, if you can, the dreadful similarity between the mass education of children in a school and the mass production of goods in a factory. ‘”.

Certainly, the atheistic existentialist has an additional reason for denying the rights of the Church in educational matters, since he considers the entire theological-administrative structure of the churches as a grand and fraudulent imposition on the individual’s freedom of choice and action. Such misuse of education can only be resisted by the existentialist.

The family, too, should not be considered the chief agency of education. The authoritarian structure of families has crushed the individuality of the young. Simply because the parents have provided the biological components of the child, they are not entitled to dictate what the child shall make of himself.

Consequently, we are left with only one conclusion: the individual is the sole “agency “of education. The family, Church, and state should provide an atmosphere conducive to the individual’s creation of his own essence. Their only role in the educative process in an auxiliary one – a service role. These agencies should cooperate in “freeing the individual” from the artificial restraints of organized society so that he will be able to choose and act as he wishes.

Evaluation of Existentialism

The evaluation of existentialism has been quite negative. Some even view it as an ant philosophical movement. Others, however, do not take such a dismal view of it. James Collins believes that it is a challenging and instructive philosophy. It embodies a legitimate continuation of several important European traditions and addresses itself to vital problems of the greatest contemporary moment for both philosophy and life . Perhaps the somewhat morbid popular interest in the personality of Sartre may be advanced as an excuse for not giving careful hearing to the arguments of the existentialists


After studying the philosophy of Existentialism, the question will arise in anybody’s mind: how can the aims, curricula and methods in a school depend upon the individual’s choice and freedom? Organization of such a programmed would be impossible and bring about chaos.

The teacher’s individual relationship and close understanding of every pupil’s personality would require a great deal of time and effort.

The concepts of ‘Being’, ‘meaning’, ‘Person’ are not very clear and appear nebulous. It is not easy to build up an educational programmed when the terminology for the objectives of the educational process is not clear…

Educational standards and practices that manipulate the child’s behaviors in an arbitrary manner violate the principle of free choice.

Many teaching practices, testing procedures, and bureaucratic system of classifying children may be questioned.

Teachers who have learned to provide existential encounters for their students enable the learners, “to create meanings in a cosmos devoid of objective meaning to find reasons for being in a society with fewer and fewer open doors.”

There are some major areas of conflict between atheistic existentialism and traditional. The former’s complete denial of any forces outside the “human situation” and its rejection of any essential characteristic in man are contrary to traditional metaphysical beliefs. The radical subjectivity of existentialist epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics is also not in harmony with both traditional and many modern views of these issues.

Other limitations of existentialism lessen the acceptability of this school of thought as a philosophy for modern man. The most glaring one seems to be the naïve view the existentialists take of the “social realities” of the modern industrial, urban world. They offer no social theory for solving the complex problems of our scientific age Thus proposals for “individual living “ might appeal to the hermit or the frontiersman but they are of little help to the people who must spend their lives in large cities, work for large companies, worship in large congregations, and even recreate in crowds.. Man is responsible, not only for himself but for his fellowmen.

Yet another weakness might be noted in existentialist philosophy which limits its application to the modern world, namely, the neglect of the scientific mode of knowing in their general theory of knowledge. After all, this is the “age of science” and complete philosophy of life cannot relegate the philosophy of science to a position of minor importance.

As an educational philosophy, existentialism, at least in its present form, does not provide an adequate basis for educational theory. Perhaps this state of affairs is due to the fact that most existentialists have given no serious consideration to the development of the educational implications of their fundamental philosophical tenets.

There is no place in existentialist philosophy for social theory as developed within the other philosophies The existentialist often is accused of being “antisocial” in his behavior as well as in his philosophy. If existentialists have no theory of society, it might be more accurate to ask how they view other men. First, they would grant to others the same existential freedom which they demand for themselves. That is, man is never to be viewed as a means but rather as an end.

The school itself has become a place where the individual is “socialized” so that he can be a good group member, a good citizen rather than a good person. If existentialism does nothing else but bring about a proper balance between the individual and society, it will have merited the praise of educators.

The existential view of development is not without its critics, many of whom view of theory and its practices as representing a neurotic, narcissistic philosophy of pain and anguish.


In contrast, existentialism’s protagonists see it as the only hope for human survival as in existentialism.   Since existentialism is optimistic, the preaches the doctrine of action and emphasizes the concept of freedom, responsibility and choice, it has exerted an increasing appeal to the educator, who has been shown the new horizons

Interest is directed on the ‘man’ – his genuine or authentic self, his choices made with full responsibility of consequences, and freedom. It describes and diagnoses human weaknesses, limitations and conflicts

Man cannot be explained by reason as the idealists emphasize. It traces the origin of all these and anticipates that man will overcome them. These arise; they say when a man comes to have a sense of meaninglessness of his life.

They do not want man to be philistine (one whose interests are material and common place) or mediocre who submerges himself. They want the ‘transcendence’ of man, which means that he should become more and more ‘authentic’.

In short, Existentialism is an attitude and outlook that emphasizes human existence, the qualities of individual persons rather than man in abstract of nature and the world in general. Education, therefore, must edify and enrich man’s mind so that it may be respectable in his own eyes and in the eyes of the, others. It should help him to make him human.


Ayer, A. J. (1990). The Meaning of Life and Other Essays. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London: Harvard University Press.

Chatter, M. F. (2000). Spirituality as struggle: Poetics, experience and the place of the spiritual in educational encounter. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, 5(2), 193-201.

Cooper, D. E. (1999). Existentialism: A reconstruction. (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.

Delors, J. (1998). Learning: the treasure within. (2nd ed.): UNESCO Publishing/The Australian National Commission for UNESCO.

Education Queensland. (1999). The Next Decade: A discussion about the future of Queensland State Schools. Brisbane: Education Queensland.

Heidegger, M. (1996). Being and Time (Joan Stambaugh, Trans.). Albany: State University of New York Press.



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