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Philosophy of life

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Wilhelm Dilthey.

There are at least two senses in which the term philosophy is used: a formal and an informal sense. In the formal sense, philosophy is an academic study of the fields of aesthetics, ethics, epistemology, logic, metaphysics, as well as social and political philosophy. One's "philosophy of life" is philosophy in the informal sense, as a personal philosophy, whose focus is resolving the existential questions about the human condition.[1]

"Philosophy of life" also refers to a specific conception of philosophizing as a way of life,[2] endorsed by the German Lebensphilosophie movement whose main representative is Wilhelm Dilthey[3] and several other Continental philosophers such as Henri Bergson[4] and Pierre Hadot.[2]

The human situation[edit]

The human situation appears to be a struggle between what is (existence) and what ought (essence) to be.

  • Normative situations – Alternatives, Choice, Freedom, Values, Standards, Ideals, Obligation, Responsibility
  • Existential predicament – Finitude, Alienation, Anxiety, Guilt, Ambivalence, Thrownness

Main answers to the existential question[edit]

There are at least three prevailing theories on how to respond to the existential question.

Denial of essence[edit]

  • Regression, pre-human existence
  • Nihilism, denial of meaning

Denial of existence[edit]

  • Eastern mysticism
  • Essentialism

Affirmation of essence and existence[clarification needed][edit]

  • Humanism
  • Religion
  • Zen

Religion as an attempt to overcome the existential predicament[edit]

There are two basic forms of existentialism:

Religious existentialism[edit]

Religious existentialism is best exemplified by St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, Paul Tillich, and the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. Religious existentialism holds that there are two levels of reality, essence, which is the ground of being, and existence. Religion is the ultimate concern in this view.

Atheistic existentialism[edit]

Atheistic existentialism is best exemplified by Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre. It holds that there is one level of reality, existence. In this view, each person constructs his own unique and temporary essence.

See also[edit]

  • Absurdity
  • Essence
  • Existence
  • Existential crisis
  • German Idealism
  • Human situation
  • Lebensphilosophie
  • Meaning of life
  • Self-discovery
  • Vitalism
  • Henri Bergson
  • Wilhelm Dilthey
  • Ferdinand Fellmann
  • Viktor Frankl
  • Pierre Hadot
  • Søren Kierkegaard
  • Hans Jonas



  1. Timothy Fetler, Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion Charts, Sun Press, 1968.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pierre Hadot (1922-2010) by Matthew Sharpe in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  3. Scott Campbell, Paul W. Bruno (eds.), The Science, Politics, and Ontology of Life-Philosophy, Bloomsbury, 2013, p. 8.
  4. Michael Chase, Stephen R. L. Clark, Michael McGhee (eds.), Philosophy as a Way of Life: Ancients and Moderns – Essays in Honor of Pierre Hadot, John Wiley & Sons, 2013, p. 107.

Further reading[edit]

  • William James and other essays on the philosophy of life, Josiah Royce
  • Existential philosophy, Paul Tillich

External links[edit]

Academic journals

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