Existentialism in Education



A keen study of quite an amount of existentialist philosophy would reveal that to write about existentialism is neither easy nor simple but a challenging and complex one. If doubts and confusions are left uncleared, one can only say that “contradictions and inconsistencies are fundamental to their thought.”1

Some illustrations of such paradoxes are – Heidegger’s statement -: ‘analyse death to understand life’, Jaspers : ‘Renounce your world and you will return to it’, Santre : You are a free man if you deny God’, Kierkegaard : ‘You are a free man if you accept God”, etc. When once a critique drew the attention of Sartre by his remark. ‘Your philosophy is problematic and ambiguous’, Sartre’s reply was ‘Man does seem to me to be ambiguous.’2

Not only their thought, even their language is obscure. Here is an example of existentialist dialectical confusion : ‘Nothing’ is revealed in dread, but not as something that ‘is’. Neighter can it be taken as an object. Dread is not an apprehension of Nothing. We would say rather : in dread Nothing functions as if at one with WHAT-IS-IN-TOTALITY?3

“Another very significant source of confusion arises out of the different personal lives and convictions of existential philosophers. Kierkegaard, Marcel and Jaspers are theists whereas Sartre and Heideggar are agnostics. Jaspers is a protestant whereas Marcel is a staunch Roman Catholic. Less said the better about the diversities of other existentialist philosophers like Berdyaev, Buber, Tillich and Neibhur.”


Just as the whole of Indian philosophy is either 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 resoning which upon reflection, appears to me to be the best.” Right from Plato down to (Spinoza, Leibnitz) Descartes, the majority of western thinkers have been believing 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’, essense being referred to ideas, values, ideals, thoughts, etc. and existence being referred to our lives. The last in the series was Hegal who carried farthest this effort to understand the world rationally.

But by the middle of the 19th Century there sprang up a Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who not only rejected the platonic view but reversed the order itself. Kierkegaard who may considered to be the founder of the philosophy of existence contradicted Hegal and asserted that Existence Precedes Essence.6 It is against any kind of rationalisations, universalities and generalities in philosophy. There is the extreme subjectivism in it. His major work ‘Either/or/to be or not to be.

Atleast for the western world, the first half of the twentieth century has been an age marked by anxieties, conflicts, sufferings, tragic episodes, dread, horrow, anguish, persecusion and human sacrifices caused by the two intermittent world wars. As Harper writes : “Tragedy, death, guilt, suffering all force one to appraise one’s total situation, much more than do happiness, joy, success, innocence, since it is in the former that momentous choices must be made.”7 So, there sprang up a group of philosophers spread all over Germany, France and Italy which were the places of social crisis.

Significant among these philosophers were Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegaar from Germany. France contributed two other existentialists -: Gabriel Marcel and Jean Paul Sartre. ‘There are quite a few gentlemen who are associated remotely with the philosophy of existentialism like Schelling, Nietsche, Pascal, Hussrell who have influenced existential thought but cannot be rigidly classified as existentialists.”8 Existentialism thus has a short history of nearly two centuries.


There are numerous ways to analyse the currents of existential thinking. As a system of philosophy or a school of thought, existentialism is a revole against traditional metaphysics. As a theory of human development, it is an approach to highlight the existence of being the process of becoming. Since a person, in the becoming state, always exists in a constantly dynamic phase, “his life may be regarded as a journey on which he finds ever newer experiences and gains greater insights.”

Existentialism represents a protest against the rationalism of traditional philosophy, against misleading notions of the bourgeois culture, and the dehumanising values of industrial civilization. Since alienation, loneliness and self-strangement constitute threats to human personality in the modern world, existential thought has viewed as its cardinal concerns a quest for subjective truth, a reaction against the ‘negation of Being’ and a perennial search for freedom. From the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, to the Twentieth Century. French philosopher, Jean Paul, Sartre, thinkers have dealt with this tragic sense of ontological reality – the human situation within a comic context.


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.


Various definitions of existentialism have been proposed by different authors.

Blackham (1952) has described existenalism as a philosophy of being “a philosophy of attestation and acceptance, and a refusal of the attempt to rationalize and to think Being.”

The peculiarity of existentialism, according to Blackham is that, “it deals with the separation of man from himself and from the world, which raises the question of philosophy not by attempting to establish some universal form of justification which will enable man to readjust himself but by permanently enlarging and lining the separation itself as primordial and constitutive for personal existence.”12

Harries and Leveys (1975) defined existentialism as “any of several philosophic systems, all centred on the individual and his relationship the universe or to God.” 13

Tiryakian (1962) defines it as “an attempt to reaffirm the importance of the individual by rigorous and in many respects radically new analysis of the nature of man.”14

In the opinion presented here, existentialism is a humanistic perspective on the individual situation, a philosophy of existence, of being, of authenticity and of universal freedom. It is a quest, beyond despaire, for creative identity. It is the philosophy that is a counsellor in crisis, “a crisis in the individual’s life, which calls upon him to make a ‘choice’ regarding his subsequent existence.”15

In brief, Existence does not mean living alive alone, it means to maintain perfect, powerful, self-conscious, responsible and intelligent life. Man should get opportunity for subjective consciousness. Truth is realised only in inner life. As modern mechanical and industrial life has taken away individual freedom from man, Existentialism lays emphasis on Freedom and Individual Responsibility. It has an Eye-view on human weakness and insecurity as man is leading a lonely life, being surrounded by anxieties, frustrations, fear, feeling of guilt etc. His individuality is being crushed.


1)     The centre of existence is man rather than truth, laws, principles or essence.

Man is characterized by decisions, will and choice. Although existentialists emphasize man’s place in the world, or man’s relationship to Being, or even man’s relationship to God, they still indicate that there is a certain uniqueness and mystery about the human person. The phenomenon of man is life as it is lived, and the mystery is an awareness of man’s deep and complex meaning, science and rational thinking cannot grasp or explain it.

2)     This notion of the uniqueness and mystery man implies that previous definitions of man have been completely unsatisfactory.

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.

3)     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. The real living person is more important than any statement we can make about him. Man’s existence is more important than his essence.

4)     Existentialism propounds the belief that man cannot accept the ready-made concepts of existence forced upon him.

He is a free agent capable of shaping of shaping his own life and choosing his own destiny. Thus we cannot treat people as machines, first pulling one lever, than another, and expect predictable results. Therefore, we cannot say that the stimulus response or conditioning is a sufficient description of man’s behaviour. Man can transcend both himself and his culture.

5)                 A synthesis of immanency and transcendency, guided by a primordial sense of ontological wonder and subjective knowledge constitutes existence.

6)                 People are able to appreciate human fortitude only through extreme situations, sorrow, disappointment and death enable humans to achieve authentic life. In short the main tenets of existentialism involve a kind of subjective and direct approach upholding the emergence of the person in a rather impersonal environment.


1)         Existence precedes essence

It was Plato who said that the surrounding world is a world of essences – ideas, values, ideals, thought etc. and the purpose of life is to discover these essences. Essences are already there and they precede existence. Even existence is an embodiment of an essence – the self, which is a part of an universal essence – the self. The majority of other Western philosopher carried forward this theory.

Descartes even affirmed the reality of existence because of its essence – thinking as he said, “I think, therefore, I am”. Bergson even went to the extreme of saying that ‘I do not think it (essence) thinks in me’,16 thereby striking a transcendental, desperately deterministic note on human existence.

Similarly naturalist philosophers rejected this type of a transcendental determinism but replaced it by a naturalistic determinism by identifying essences in nature as preceding existence. On the other hand pragmatists spoke of social determinism. As such, exstentialism 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 Blackham writes, “There is no creater of man. Man discovered himself. His existence came first, he now is in the process of determining his essence. Man first is, then he defines himself.”17

As Sartre himself explains his concept to us, “what is meant here by saying that, ‘existence precedes essence?’ “It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and only afterwards defines himself. It mean, as the existentialist sees him is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterwards will be something and he himself will have made what he will be…”18

Therefore, it can be easily observed that when idealists believe in transcendental values, Naturalists believe that values are resident in nature, pragmatists believe that values arise out of social life, existentialists affirm that the individual alone creates values. Reality is a state of becoming. Existence increases with every moment of life and essence is a consequence of this perpetual becoming.

2)         ‘Contingency’ of human life is the ‘giveness’ or ‘throw ness’ of human life.

Existentialists believe that existence of a person means his period from birth to death. There was nothing before birth and would be nothing beyond death. In between we have been thrown into a social life and the characteristics of this social life are the contingent circumstances of our life. ‘This contingency is often characterised by experiences of dread, horror, anguish, solitude, bewilderment, uncertainty and finally limited by death.’19

As Jean Wahl puts it : “Man is in this world, a world limited by death and experienced in anguish; is aware of himself as essentially anxious; is burdened by his solitude within the horizen of his temporality.”20

Therefore, we are all aware of our situation in life, limited by death and existentialists rightly remark that man is the only being in the world who knows that some time he will die. That is why his existence is throughout permeated by dread, anxiety and fear. He cannot escape or transcend this situations. He must learn to live with anguish, dread and anxiety. He must learn to love death (Justices Socrates, Lincoln, Kennedy, Gandhi and a score of other great men for whom dying for a meaningful cause was of greater significance than living a purposeless life.)


There are a number of correlates in Indian philosophy for existential concepts for e.g., anguish, Dukha, dread and horror; Bhagya, Bhiti etc.

But when existentialism advises us to live with these categories of contingency, Indian philosophy counsels us to transcend them. This is very clearly evident in the concepts of a sthithaprajna21 in the Gita. One sloke runs like this –

¤ãü:?Öê¿Öã ´Ö­Ö×¾¤ü?­Ö: ÃÖã?Öê¿Öã ײÖ?Ö­ÖïÖéÆü

¾ÖߟָüÖ?Ö ³ÖµÖ: ?ëúÖê¬Ö ×ã֟Ö׬Ö: ´Öã×­Ö¹ý“”ûŸÖê  22

(He who is not depressed by anguish, elated by joy and at times of fear, anxiety love, horror and anger maintains his equanimity and poise as a sage). 23

Even the India attitude towards death is similar to that of existentialism. As an illustration, to quota Gita -: (For a man enjoying popular esteem infancy is worse than death) ‘Gandhi once had said that death in freedom is sweeter than life in bondage.’25

3)     Freedom is identical with existence -:

According to Sartre freedom is identical with existence. As such existentialism has even been described as a search for ways in which man’s freedom to create may be widely established and understood. In Marjorie Grene’s terms -: “The revolutionary philosophy turns out to be philosophy of freedom – not just the philosophy of those who seek freedom but the philosophy of the very free act itself.”27 According to existentialists, man is not only free but he is condemned to be free. He is only not free, not to be free. This is the tragedy of human life. This infinite freedom entails upon him a heavy sense of responsibility and this situation of being burdened with a heavy responsibility is the cause of dread, anguish and anxiety. The peculiar quality of human reality is that it is without excuse.28 A bold, honest, responsible and authentic existence would help man to face this situation.

4)     ‘Being’

According to existentialist, education should make a man subjective and should make him conscious for his individuality or ‘self’. Being self conscious he will recognise his ‘self’ and he will get an understanding of his ‘being’.

5)     Authentic man

Existentialists have a special connotation of the Authentic man, they say is one who has permeation of his values and choices by clear awareness of his situation, especially regarding the fact of death. If a man considers death imminent he leads authentic existence.

6)     Individuality

Individuality lies on self-realisation, a motivating force, which makes the inner life of man centre of concentration free from anxiety. There is a basic desire and inclination for the existence of individuality in man. It should be recognised. If this existential individuality is recognised, his life becomes purposeful and important. At the same time he becames conscious for his ‘self’.

7)     Subjectivity (self consciousness)

It means nature of knower. But Chaube, S.P. and Akhilesh (1981, p.225) writes -: Kierkegeard says, “ 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. Objectivity always proves an impossible notion. It gives only ideas but these ideas can be realised only by becoming introvert and subjective. If we use ‘we’ in place of ‘I’ the existence of ‘I’ is lost and objectivity replaces subjectivity. Existential subjectivity means only ‘self-existence’. Objective knowledge is realised mentally only when a person ponders over it subjectively. But objective knowledge is without object, because as soon as the self-realises it, it becomes devoid of object and by becoming centre of self-consciousness, becomes comprehensive and subjective. Now the person because of knowing the object does not desire to know the object, but he emerges himself in knowing the self.

(Note -: The concept ‘meaning’ and ‘existence’ is already discussed)


1)          For the existentialist Reality I s ‘Being’ or ‘existence   of an individual’.

2)         Existentialism wants man to be without metaphysics.

3)         They wish to restore the status of man which he has lost in this advanced technological and mechanised society.

4)         Man is not man but humanity. It implies that each man’s actions, while subjectively inspired influence by other people.

5)         The existentialists aver that the person’s mind is the source and substance of all knowledge.

6)         The realisation of existence proceeds from the ‘inwardness of man’.

7)         That knowledge is valid which is of value to the individual.

8)         They do not believe in absolute values. They argue that as long as the empirical spirit remains alive, it must remain open to revision and correction and hence it cannot adhere to fixed values.

9)         Values should be generated by our free decisions.

10)     Freedom is the source of ultimate values.

11)     The emphasis on ‘personal existence’ and subjectivity in existentialism has led to an emphasis on man’s freedom, Choice and Action.

12)     Freedom is the raw material of ‘his being’. Man owes ‘his being’ to freedom, which is the basis of all human activity. “To be free is to be free to change to do, to act, to inflict oneself on the world, to change the world.”29

13)     The idea of death should be accepted gracefully.

14)     Existence precedes essence. It means a person lives before he dies. Until a person dies he can always change his essence by doing good things and then he will die a noble death.

15)     Even if God exists, that would make no difference for a man who needs to know that nothing can save him from himself, not even the valid proof of the existence of God.

16)     Human development is seen as independent of external forces, guided by the creative forces of the integral self. It is the development that is a self-directed synthesis of self-destined energy, potential, aspirations and needs.

17)     The individual has freedom of choice, which implies a capacity to change. It is a freedom that helps with the self-emerging process.

18)     Identify and security attained at the cost of freedom constitude bad faith. Likewise, to question the dynamic of the personality is an act of bad faith.

19)     Development consists of a uniquely subjective style by which the individual relates to others and to the processes of being and becoming.

20)     “The individuality of man is supreme. This ‘individuality’ is greater and more important than the existence of man, nation and the world. It is very much near to the individual life of man.”30

21)     The existence of ‘self’ is related with the existence of the ‘other’.

V.R. Taneja Writes -: “Existentialists do not believe in absolute values. Indirectly, however, they concede absolute values like ‘awareness of death’, ‘fidelity’, ‘sincerity’, ‘integrity’ etc. “Existentialism is an ethic of integrity in which running away from oneself is evil, facing oneself is good.” It is the integrity of character and action rather than of vision alone that is to be prized. “Treat every man as an end and never as means”. Everyone must choose without reference to pre-established values. Everyone has to invent a law for oneself. Man makes himself. He is not found readymade. He makes himself by the choice of his morality. He cannot choose anything else except his morality. Such is the pressure of circumstances upon him. The heart and centre of existentialism is the absolute character of free commitment through which he realise himself.”31


“The philosophy of existentialism has not displayed any particular interest in eduction.”32 Therefore, it has been observed that the educational implications are derived and deduced from their philosophy rather than that are developed by existentialists.


1)   “Education is that which helps an individual to realise the best that he is capable of. In doing so eduction must help the individual to realise the ‘facticity’ (contingency) of his existence to face the categories of this facticity – dread, anguish, anxiety and fear – resolutely and courageously and finally prepare him to meet death with pleasure.”33

2)   “Education for happiness is a dangerous doctrine because there can be no happiness without pain and no ecstasy without suffering.”34 Therefore, existentialists would welcome an education, which throws open to children human suffering, misery, anguish and the dreadful responsibilities of adult life.

3)   Students must develop a consistent scale of values, authenticate their existence by being committed to these values and so act as to be prepared to die for these values than to live without them. Dyning for one’s own country constituted the supreme sacrifice.

4)   Every individual is unique. Education must develop in him

this uniqueness. It must cater to individual differences.

5)   Education must make pupil aware of the infinite possibilities of his freedom and the responsibilities he must bear in life.

6)   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, are all the parts of becoming. Human existence and the value related to it is the primary factory in eduction.

7)   Education for complete development of personality.

8)   More importance to subjective knowledge than objective knowledge.

9)   Education for perfection of man in his environment.

10)             Education should create consciousness for ‘self’.

11)                       Eduction 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.

12)                       “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.”35

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 counselling practises are many. Since existentialists behold human life as unique and emerging a child is to be recognised 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.


1)   Since the existentialists believe in the individuals freedom, they do not advocate any rigid curriculum.

2)   They recognise the ‘individual differences’ and wish to have diverse curricula suiting the needs, abilities and aptitudes of the individual.

3)   Curriculum, they say should not primarily satisfy the immediate needs but also ultimate needs.

4)   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 judgement of others.

5)   “Second place is given to social sciences as they lead the man to feel that he is nothing more than an object. They however, wish to teach social sciences for inculcating moral obligation and for knowing the relationship of the individual to a group.”36

6)   History should be taught in order to help the students to change the course of history and to mould future.

7)   The specialization in any field must be complemented by liberalising studies for it is the man who counts and not the profession.

8)   The study of the world’s religion should be taught so as to develop religious attitude freely within the students. The ideal school permits religious unfolding in according with whatever doctrine the student wishes to accept or to reject. Religion keeps him aware of death.

9)   Realisation of self-forme part of the curriculum. Self-examination and social obedience is the first lesson. The child must be saved from his own unexamined self and from those who interfere with the free exercise of his moral decision.

10)                       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.’37

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 reverberatory 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.


1)   Existentialists favour the Socratic Approach to teaching, as Socratic Method is personal, intimate and an I-thou affair. As Kneller put it, “The existentialist favours 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 stesthoscope sounds the heart.”38

2)    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.

3)   Like Socrates, ‘personal reading’ should be stressed.

4)   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.

5)   Methods of teaching must develop the creative abilities in children. The world and man reveal themselves by their undertakings.


1)   It is from the psychological interpretations of existential thought that counselling thinkers get much of their intellectual grounding.

2)   Counselling have become an integral part of education and are playing an important role in helping young people to meet the challenge and to develop a positive view of ‘self’.

3)   It insists that the aim of counselling in education is to promote maximum self-development by enhancing the individuals’ powers to choose for, and direct himself.


1)   The counsellor’s efforts are directed through towards helping each of the counsellors to formulate a set of unique beliefs and a way of practising them. He does not emphasize and ‘right’ values.

2)   All learning aims are formulating the aspirations and desires of the unique individuals, so that he can understand himself and through this build up personal regard for others.

3)   Counselling theory takes a dynamic view of personality. Each human being started with what he has by heredity and should continue to change and grow through experiences during his lifetime.


1)                 Existentialists do not wish the teacher to be social minded umpire or provider of free social activity (as the pragmatists want) or a model personality (as the Idealists say) 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.

2)                     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’.

3)                     His effort should be that students’ mind should have autonomous functioning so that they become free, charitable and self-moving.

4)                     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.

5)                     It is the teacher who impresses up on the students to work hard and make the best of life and accept death as something inevitable but tell them that death can be gloomy as well as glorious. It is he who inculcates in the students the idea that a life lived lazily, selfishly or improperly is a life not worthy living. Dying for one’s country is glorious. So, the role of the teacher is very important.

6)                     The teacher must build positive relationships between himself and his students.

7)                     Teachers should avoid applying labels to children (such as ‘lazy’, ‘slow learner’ etc.) for individuals may indeed come to think of themselves this way.

8)                     The teacher is also changing and growing as he guides the pupil in his discovery of self.


1)               The existentialists want to give full freedom to the child. But the child should know the nature of his ‘self’ and recognise his being and convert imperfection into perfection.

2)               They do not want the child to become selfish, autocratic and irresponsible. Freedom is needed only for natural development.

3)               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.

4)               The child has to make ‘choices’ and decisions.

5)               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.

6)               Primary emphasis must always be on the child, as learner and not on the learning programme.

7)               Child needs positive evaluation, not labels.


1)               The school should provide an atmosphere where the individuals develop in a healthy way.

2)               Any subjectin school (even extra activities like athletics, music etc.) can present existential situations for teaching and the development of human beings.

3)               The aim of school tasks should be to nurture self-discipline and cultivate self-evaluation.

4)               Mass teaching and mass testing are not advocated in schools.

5)               The schedule must be flexible and open.

6)               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.

7)               Mechanization and impersonality should be counteracted in school. Students timetables and work programmes are computerized. And thus the relationships between the individual students and the school programme becomes 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.


1)               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 programme would be impossible and bring about chaos.

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

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

4)               Where there is child-rearing education and counselling practices are many the practices by which the child is socialized varies from one culture to another. If the emphasis in the culture is on mundane security and the value of world essence, then the individual may experience neurotic growth through the conflict between these unsuitable values and the person’s inner forces of creativity that continue to aspire for unique emergence and subjective expression. The extent to which a child is accepted or rejected, succeeds or fails, and develops satisfactorily of is retarded depends on the experiences and processes which explain the meaning of things (persons, objects, situations) in relation to the child’s being.

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

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

7)               Over structured public and parochical school systems enslave rather than liberate young souls. Such institutions serve a political rather than a truly educational purpose, promoting the manufacture of efficient robot rather than inspired, enlightened, and creative individuals. As a result various contemporary educational theories are radicalising the institutionalised structures of learning.

8)               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.”

9)               If the purpose of education is to build character, to optimise potential and creativity and to enhance the quality of life through knowledge, then from an existentialist perspective bureaucratisation needs to be replaced by humanization. That the existential goal is not being achieved today is illustrated by such evidence as that product in a study of students’ values indication that ‘American students predominantly seek to learn survival skills rather than to develop a social conscience, a situation contrary to an existentialist view of satisfactory development.’ ‘This crisis in education is not confined to the west but is observed in Eastern Cultures as well.’

10)          In the realm of counselling existential intervention is conceptualised as “a conscioms attitudinal perspective toward rebuilding the impaired self’. The existential influences on counselling practices, though not fully acknowledged nor duly assessed, have been far-reaching.

Some form of existential intervention is employed by such a range of practioners as those using gestalt therapy, “antipsychiatry”, rational-emotive psychotherapy, psychodrama, transactional analysis communication and cognitive approaches, encounter groups, and reality therapy.


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.

1)               interest is directed on the ‘man’ – his genuine or authentic self, his choices made with full responsibility of consequences, and freedom.

2)               It describes and diagnoses human weaknesses, limitations and conflicts.

3)               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.

4)               They do not want man to be philistine (one whose interests are material and common place) or mediocre who submerges himself.

5)               They want the ‘transcendence’ of man, which means that he should become more and more ‘authentic’.

6)               Man cannot be explained by reason as the idealists emphasise.

7)               Since existentialism is optimistic, the preaches the doctrine of action and emphasises the concept of freedom, responsibility and choice, it has exerted an increasing appeal to the educator, who has been shown the new horizons.

In short, Existentialism is an attitude and outlook that emphasises 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.


  1. Liverary, N.Y., 1958, p. 19.
  2. Jean Wahl : ‘A Short History of Existentialism’, phil. Library, N.Y, 1949, 30.
  3. Heidegger : ‘Existence and Being’, Vision press, London, 1949, p. 368.
  4. Seetharamu, A.S. : ‘Philosophy of Education’, 1989, New Delhi, S.B. Nagia, for Ashish Publishing House, 8/81, Punjabi Bagh, New Delhi – 110 026, p. 79.
  5. Kenneth Richmond : ‘Socrates and the Western World’ – An Essay in the philosophy of Education, Alvin Redman (Ed.) London (1954), pp. 39-40, 46.
  6. Seetharamu, A.S.: op.cit., p. 80.
  7. Ralph Harper : ‘Existence and Recongnition’ in NSSE 54th Yearbook. ‘Modern Philosophies of Edcuation’, Part-I, University of Chicago press, Chicago, pp. 236-237.
  8. Seetharamu, A.S.: op.cit., p. 81.
  9. Kingston, F.T. : 1981 : ‘French Existentialism : A Christian Critique’, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario, p. xii.
  10. Ruggeiro, : ‘Extistentialism’ (ed.) Happen Stall, Editor’s Introduction, p. 17, Seeker and Warburg, London, 1946.
  11. Blackham, H.J., 1953 : Six Existentialist Thinkers, Routledge and Kegan Paul, Macmillan Co., London, p. 150.
  12. Ibid, pp. 151-152.
  13. Harris, W.H. and Levey, J.S. (Eds.) 1975, The New Coumbia Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press, New York, p. 911.
  14. Tiryakian, E.A., 1962 : Sociologism and Existentialism Two perspectives on the Industrial and Society, Percentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, p.77.
  15. Strinivasan, G. : “The Esixtentialists and Hindu Philosophical Systems,” Udayana Publications, Allahabad, 1967, p. 17.
  16. Seetharamu, A.S.: op.cit., p. 83.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Sartre : “Existentialism”, The Philosophical Library, New York, 1952, p. 18.
  19. Heidegger : op.cit., ‘Being and Time’ is an exposition of this thesis, Seetharamu, op. cit.,  p. 85.
  20. Ibid,p. 31.
  21. Gureu Datt, K. : “Exitentialism and Indian Thought”, Phil.Lib., N.Y., 1960, p. 18.
  22. Gita, Chapter II, Gorakhpur Press, Gorakhpur.
  23. Seetharamu, A.S.: op.cit., p. 86.
  24. Gita, Chapter II, Canto 33, Gorakhpur Press, Gorakhpur.
  25. Seetharamu, A.S.: op.cit., p. 86.
  26. Sartre : “Of Human Freedom” (Ed.) W. Baskin, Phil.Lib., N.Y., 1966, p. 40.
  27. Grene, Marjorie : “Dreadful Freedom : A Critique of Existentialism”, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1948, p.25.
  28. Sartre : op. cit. (26), p. 95.
  29. Taneja, V.R. : “Socio-Philosophical Approach to Eduction”, 1987, New Delhi : Atalantic Publishers and Distributors, B-2, Vishal Enclave, Najafgarh Road, New Delhi-110027, p.256.
  30. Chaube, S.P. and Akhilesh : “Philosophical and Sociological Foundation of Education”, 1981 : Agra, Vinod Pustak Mandir, Agra-2, p.222.
  31. Ibid, p. 255.
  32. Butler, J.D. : “Four Philosophies and their practice in Education and Religion %, (3rd Ed.), Harper and Row, N.Y., 1968, p. 462.
  33. Seetharamu, A.S.: op.cit., p. 87.
  34. Kneller : op.cit., p. 122.
  35. Chaube, S.P. and Akhilesh : op. cit., p. 237.
  36. Taneja, V.R. : op. cit., p. 259.
  37. Seetharamu, A.S.: op.cit., p. 90.
  38. Ibid, p. 134.
  39. Green, M. : 1967, Existential Encounters for Teachers, Random House, New York, p.4.
  40. Chronide of Higher Education, 1982 : April, p.10.
  41. Mohan B.: 1972, India’s Social Problem, Indian International Publications, Allahabad.
  42. Mohan B. : 1979 : Conceptualization of Exitential Intervention, Psychol : Q.J. Hum. Behav. 16 (3) : 39-45.

Source by Dr.S.S.Chaugule

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