Existentialism and Absurdism: Differences, Meaning, Books and More

Existentialism and Absurdism are two philosophical lenses that have shaped our understanding of existence and meaning. As humans we’ve struggled with questions about the purpose of our existence, the nature of freedom, and the meaning of life itself. In this Post we will see the meaning, core concepts, books and more about existentialism and absurdism.

Existentialism and Absurdism: Differences, Meaning, Books and More

What is Existentialism

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, primarily in Europe. At its core existentialism focuses on the individual’s experience of existence and the search for meaning in an indifferent or absurd world.

It rejects the notion of purpose, asserting instead that existence precedes essence, meaning that individuals are responsible for creating their own identity through their choices and actions. Existentialism tells the importance of freedom, authenticity, and personal responsibility in the challenges of human existence.

What is Absurdism

Absurdism is a philosophical outlook that emerged in the mid-20th century by the French philosopher Albert Camus. At its core absurdism struggles with the inherent conflict between humanity’s search for meaning and the apparent lack of meaning or purpose in the universe. Unlike existentialism which seeks to find meaning despite the absurdity of existence, absurdism confronts the absurdity head-on and suggests that the search for inherent meaning is futile.

The central concept in absurdism is “the Absurd,” which refers to the inherent contradiction between humanity’s desire for meaning and the irrationality of the universe. Absurdism encourages individuals to confront the Absurd with courage and defiance, while simultaneously striving to create their own meaning and purpose.

Comparison Between Existentialism and Absurdism

Existentialism and absurdism, though sharing some similarities but their approaches to the human condition and the search for meaning is different. Existentialism tells the absurdity of existence but contends that individuals can find meaning and purpose through personal choice and action, asserting that while life may lack inherent meaning, individuals have the freedom to create their own.

It often explores anguish, despair, and the existential crisis that arises from the confrontation with freedom and responsibility. Absurdism confronts the inherent contradiction between humanity’s search for meaning and the irrationality of the universe, suggesting that the pursuit of meaning in an inherently meaningless world is futile. It encourages individuals to confront the absurdity of existence with courage and defiance, accepting the inherent contradictions and irrationality of life while still striving to live with integrity.

Both Existentialism and Absurdism philosophies recognize the importance of individual freedom and responsibility but offer different perspectives on how individuals should respond to the absurdity of life, with existentialism addressing the creation of meaning through choice and action and absurdism advocating for an acceptance of the absurd and a defiant of life’s inherent contradictions.

Main Figures in Existentialism and Absurdism


1. Søren Kierkegaard: Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a Danish philosopher, theologian, and writer, is considered the father of existentialism. He was born into a wealthy and devout family in Copenhagen. While studying theology, Kierkegaard goes into philosophy, literature, and psychology. His contribution lies in telling individual experience and subjective truth over objective knowledge. Kierkegaard talks about anxiety, despair, and authenticity, advocating for personal choice and commitment in the face of existential uncertainty. His works including “Either/Or” and “Fear and Trembling,” challenged conventional thought, inspiring later existentialist thinkers like Nietzsche and Sartre. He died at 42.

2. Friedrich Nietzsche: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was a German philosopher known for his radical ideas and writing style. Born in Prussia, he studied classical philology and later became a professor at the University of Basel. Nietzsche rejected traditional morality and religion, famously declaring “God is dead.” His concept of the Übermensch, or “Superman,” addresses individual creativity and self-overcoming in a meaningless world. Nietzsche’s ideas deeply influenced existentialist thought, inspiring notions of personal freedom and the search for meaning in a universe devoid of inherent importance.

3. Jean-Paul Sartre: Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was a leading existentialist philosopher, novelist, and political activist from France. Born in Paris, he studied at École Normale Supérieure and served in World War II, which influenced his existentialist beliefs. His contribution, “existence precedes essence,” emphasizes individual freedom and responsibility in defining one’s own existence. Sartre’s works, including “Being and Nothingness” and plays like “No Exit,” explores freedom, authenticity, and existential angst. He was also an outspoken leftist and declined the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.


1. Albert Camus: Albert Camus, born in 1913 in Algeria, emerged as a seminal figure in 20th-century literature and philosophy. He introduced the concept of the Absurd in his novel “The Stranger” (1942) and explored it in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” (1942). Camus argued that life is meaningless and absurd, yet he advocated for confronting this absurdity with rebellion and finding meaning in the face of it. His works including “The Plague” (1947) and “The Rebel” (1951), goes into human existence, freedom, and morality. Camus’s contributions continue to influence literature, philosophy, and social thought. He was death in 1960.

2. Franz Kafka: Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Czech-born writer whose works have become synonymous with the themes of alienation and existential angst. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Prague, Kafka’s writing career flourished alongside his day job in insurance. His most famous works include “The Metamorphosis,” “The Trial,” and “The Castle,” all exploring the absurdity and futility of human existence.

3. Samuel Beckett: Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright, novelist, and poet, is celebrated for his contributions to Absurdism, a literary movement with the meaninglessness and uncertainty of human existence. Born in 1906 in Dublin, Beckett gained international acclaim with his iconic play “Waiting for Godot,” which epitomizes Absurdist themes through its portrayal of characters trapped in an endless cycle of waiting. His has done works including novels like “Molloy” and “The Unnamable.” Through his minimalist style and philosophical inquiries, Beckett invites audiences to confront the absurdity of existence solidifying his status as a seminal figure in 20th-century literature.

Core concepts of Existentialism and Absurdism


1. Existence precedes essence: Existentialists argue that individuals are born into the world without a purpose or essence. Instead, they create their own essence through their choices, actions, and experiences.

2. Authenticity: Existentialism encourages individuals to live authentically, meaning they should act in accordance with their own values, beliefs, and desires rather than conforming to societal norms or expectations.

3. Freedom and Responsibility: Existentialists believe that humans have free will and are responsible for their choices and actions. This freedom can be both liberating and daunting as it requires individuals to take responsibility for creating meaning in their lives.

4. Anguish and Despair: Existentialism tells the inherent anxiety and uncertainty that comes with being human. This anguish arises from the awareness of one’s own freedom and the responsibility to make meaningful choices in a world without inherent meaning.

5. Search for Meaning: Existentialists explore questions of meaning and purpose in life, often struggling with existential questions such as the meaning of existence, the nature of morality, and the pursuit of authentic living.


1. The Absurd: Absurdism posits that there is a conflict between humanity’s search for meaning and the irrational, indifferent universe. The absurd arises from the human desire for order, purpose, and meaning with the meaningless nature of existence.

2. Rebellion: Absurdism advocates for rebellion against the meaningless of life. This rebellion involves the absurdity of existence while simultaneously asserting one’s own autonomy, freedom, and individuality in the face of it.

3. Acceptance: While rebellion is an aspect of Absurdism it also involves a form of acceptance. This acceptance does not imply resignation or passive submission to the absurd, rather, it entails acknowledging the absurdity of existence and life’s contradictions and uncertainties.

4. The Absurd Hero: Absurdism often portrays individuals who confront the absurdity of existence with courage, integrity, and defiance. These absurd heroes embody the Absurdist philosophy by life’s absurdity while living with authenticity and dignity.

5. Nihilism vs. Hope: Absurdism tells the tension between nihilism, which denies the possibility of meaning or purpose, and hope, which suggests the potential for creating meaning in spite of the absurdity of existence. While Absurdism acknowledges the futility of seeking ultimate meaning it also recognizes the possibility of finding value in the midst of absurdity.

Existentialism and Absurdism Approaches to Ethics and Morality


1. Emphasis on Individual Freedom: Existentialists emphasize the absolute freedom of the individual to make choices and create their own meaning in life. This freedom is both liberating and burdensome as individuals must take full responsibility for their choices and their consequences.

2. Authenticity: Existentialists stress the importance of living authentically which involves making choices that are true to one’s own values, desires, and experiences. Authenticity requires self-awareness and the courage to confront the challenges and uncertainties of existence.

3. Responsibility: Existentialism places a strong emphasis on personal responsibility. Since individuals are free to choose their actions, they are also responsible for the consequences of those actions.

4. Ethical Absurdity: Existentialists often contend that traditional ethical frameworks are inadequate in a world devoid of meaning or purpose. In the absence of absolute moral standards, individuals must create their own ethical principles based on their unique circumstances and values.

5. Subjectivity of Values: Existentialists reject the idea of universal moral truths arguing that values are subjective and contingent upon individual experiences and perspectives. Consequently, what is ethical for one person may not be ethical for another.

6. Existentialist Virtues: While existentialism eschews fixed moral rules, it does advocate certain virtues such as courage, authenticity, and integrity. These virtues are not dictated by external authorities but emerge from individuals’ commitment to living meaningfully and responsibly.

7. The Absurd: Existentialists confront the absurdity of human existence, the tension between our longing for meaning and the indifferent universe in which we find ourselves. Individuals must confront the existential challenge of creating meaning and purpose in spite of the apparent futility of existence.

8. Choice and Dread: Existentialist philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre discuss the concept of existential dread or anxiety that arises from the awareness of our freedom and responsibility. This anxiety is also seen as a catalyst for authentic living and the exercise of genuine moral agency.


1. Recognition of the Absurd: Absurdism begins with the acknowledgment that human existence is fundamentally absurd. Life lacks meaning or purpose, and attempts to find ultimate meaning in an indifferent universe are futile. This recognition sets the stage for an existential crisis characterized by feelings of alienation and disorientation.

2. Rebellion Against the Absurd: Absurdism advocates for rebellion against this condition. Instead of succumbing to despair or nihilism, individuals are encouraged to embrace their freedom and create meaning in defiance of the absurd. This rebellion involves an affirmation of life and a commitment to living fully in the face of existential uncertainty.

3. Ethical Implications of Absurdism: Absurdism challenges traditional ethical frameworks by questioning the possibility of objective moral truths in a meaningless universe. Instead of seeking absolute moral principles, absurdism addresses the importance of subjective values and personal integrity. Individuals must make ethical choices based on their own experiences, beliefs, and commitments, even in the absence of universal moral standards.

4. Revolt and Solidarity: Camus suggests that the absurd hero confronts the meaninglessness of existence through acts of revolt and solidarity. Revolt involves one’s freedom and dignity in the face of absurdity, while solidarity entails recognizing the shared human condition and supporting others in their struggle against the absurd.

5. The Myth of Sisyphus: In his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus presents the myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor for the human condition. Sisyphus, condemned to roll a boulder uphill for eternity, symbolizes the absurdity of repetitive and futile tasks. Camus suggests that Sisyphus can find meaning and purpose in his defiant acceptance of his fate.

6. Absurdism and Morality: While absurdism does not provide a fixed moral code, it encourages individuals to act with integrity and compassion in the face of absurdity. Morality emerges from the authentic engagement with life and the recognition of our shared humanity. Absurdism does not offer definitive answers to ethical questions but instead makes individuals to struggle with the complexities of moral decision-making in a world without ultimate meaning.

Books About Existentialism and Absurdism


  • Being and Time By Martin Heidegger
  • No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • The Fall by Albert Camus
  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
  • The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
  • The Rebel by Albert Camus
  • The Outsider by Colin Wilson
  • At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell


  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • The Castle by Franz Kafka
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • The Bald Soprano by Eugène Ionesco
  • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Endgame by Samuel Beckett
  • The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Debates Around Existentialism and Absurdism

In existentialism, a core debate is around the concept of free will versus determinism. While existentialists address individual freedom and choice in creating meaning, some say that human actions may be influenced or even determined by factors such as genetics, environment, and societal conditioning, challenging the genuine agency. This debate questions about the nature of human autonomy and responsibility in a world where external forces may constrain individual freedom.

Another debate within existentialism concerns authenticity versus conformity. Existentialist philosophy encourages individuals to live authentically, with their true selves and values. In societies that often prioritize conformity to social norms, individuals may face considerable pressure to suppress their authentic identities leading to a tension between societal expectations and personal authenticity.

Absurdism is with the challenge of the absurdity of existence without descending into nihilism. Absurdism advocates for confronting the meaninglessness of life with defiance and rebellion, some question whether such a response can provide genuine fulfillment or purpose. Absurdism confronts the existential anxiety that arises from the absurdity of existence, acknowledging the psychological toll of living in a meaningless world and the difficulty of maintaining mental well-being amidst such circumstances.

Existentialism and Absurdism Relevance in Today’s World

In the past, existentialism held relevance as it an individual agency and freedom in a world often dominated by societal norms and structures. Philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir urged individuals to assert their autonomy and make meaningful choices.

Existentialism was particularly pertinent while the social upheavals of the 20th century providing a philosophical framework for understanding the complexities of human existence in the aftermath of two world wars and amidst the rise of totalitarian regimes. The authenticity, the search for meaning, and the confrontation of existential dread resonated deeply with individuals with the existential uncertainties of the era.

Today, existentialism remains relevant as it goes through the complexities of modern life, especially in the digital age. With technological advancements, globalization, and shifting cultural norms, individuals face increasingly complex choices and ethical dilemmas. Existentialist ideas about authenticity and self-discovery are particularly pertinent in a world where social media often shapes identity and where individuals may struggle to their genuine selves amidst the pressures of online personas and societal expectations.

Existentialist perspectives continue to inform discussions surrounding mental health and well-being giving approaches to resilience and coping strategies in addressing existential crises and the existential challenges of contemporary society.

Absurdism which emerged as a response to existentialism, continues to offer insights into the human condition both in the past and today. In the past absurdism challenged the prevailing philosophical and societal assumptions about the rationality and orderliness of the universe. Philosophers like Albert Camus and Franz Kafka confronted the absurdity of existence highlighting the human struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world.

Today, absurdism remains relevant amidst the uncertainties of rapid technological advancement, political upheaval, and environmental crises. The sense of disorientation and alienation that many individuals experience in the face of existential threats like climate change and the existential angst generated by the uncertainties of the digital age resonate with absurdism’s exploration of the irrationality and chaos in human existence.

Practical Applications in Existentialism and Absurdism


Existentialism often viewed as an abstract philosophical concept possesses practical applications that extend into various aspects of life, from personal development to professional work. One application lies in the psychotherapy, where existential therapy offers an approach to addressing psychological challenges.

Rooted in the existentialist belief that individuals are responsible for creating meaning in their lives, existential therapy focuses on helping clients explore their values, choices, and the ways in which they relate to the world. By encouraging individuals to confront the existential realities of freedom, responsibility, and the inevitability of death, therapists assist clients in gaining information into their authentic selves and finding purpose amidst life’s uncertainties.

Existentialist principles find practical application in organizational psychology and leadership development. The individual freedom and responsibility aligns with contemporary theories of leadership that prioritize empowering individuals and fostering a sense of ownership and accountability within organizations.

Leaders informed by existentialist perspectives recognize the importance of creating environments that support employees’ autonomy, encourage meaningful contributions, and foster a sense of purpose in their work. By promoting authentic communication, encouraging self-reflection, and the uncertainties of organizational life, leaders can cultivate resilient teams capable of change with courage and integrity. Existentialist insights into the human condition also inform strategies for managing workplace stress, addressing burnout, and a sense of meaning and fulfillment in professional work.

Existentialism gives practical guidance for individuals seeking life’s transitions and challenges, such as career changes, relationship issues, or existential crises. Through practices such as journaling, mindfulness, and existential reflection, individuals can cultivate self-awareness, clarify their values, and make choices with their authentic selves.

Existentialist concepts such as the “leap of faith” and the “authentic choice” empower individuals to uncertainty, take risks, and pursue paths that resonate with their deepest aspirations. Existentialist literature and philosophical texts serve as sources of inspiration and guidance for individuals seeking to explore existential in their personal lives, providing frameworks for reflection and tools for life’s existential uncertainties.


Practical applications of absurdism is beyond philosophical discourse to influence various aspects of contemporary life, resilience, coping strategies, and approaches to the complexities of existence. One practical application lies in mental health and well-being. Absurdism acknowledges the absurdity and unpredictability of life, which can often lead to feelings of anxiety, disillusionment, and existential despair.

The absurdity of existence and accepting the lack of inherent meaning, individuals can adopt a more resilient mindset that allows them to confront existential challenges with a sense of defiance and humor. This perspective encourages individuals to recognize the futility of seeking ultimate answers or solutions to life’s existential questions and instead focus on finding meaning and purpose in the present moment.

Rather than succumbing to despair or nihilism in the face of life’s inherent absurdity, absurdism encourages individuals to find solace in the absurdity itself. The irrationality and chaos of existence individuals can cultivate a sense of liberation and empowerment freeing themselves from the constraints of conventional norms and expectations. This perspective promotes a more flexible and adaptive approach to life allowing individuals to go through uncertainty with resilience and creativity.

Absurdism can inform practical approaches to decision-making and problem-solving in various domains of life. In a world with complexity, ambiguity, and rapid change, the recognition of life’s inherent absurdity can serve as a powerful tool for reframing challenges and finding innovative solutions.

By adopting an absurd perspective that acknowledges the fundamental irrationality of human existence, individuals can approach problems with a sense of openness and curiosity, the inherent uncertainty and unpredictability of the world. This approach fosters a mindset of experimentation and exploration encouraging individuals to embrace failure as an inevitable aspect of the human experience and to find humor and joy in the absurdity of life’s twists and turns.

Also Read: Top 5 Stoic Philosophy Books