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Romanticism and Existentialism

Romanticism and existentialism are the two philosophies, which appeared to counterbalance the ideas of Enlightenment. The period of Enlightenment was characterized by the predominance of empiric, sensational, and rational views concerning religion, society, and life. Among the most prominent thinkers of this period were Hobbes, Bacon, Descartes, Copernicus, Newton and many others. According to this philosophy, the most important issues for people were rationality and sensory experience, which were the basis of science and knowledge. Thus, the followers of Enlightenment claimed that humans had to keep in mind nothing but intellect and ideas derived from experience.

However, many philosophers began to argue that apart from intellect and science there are emotions, feelings and instincts which form not less inevitable part of humans’ life. They insisted that these irrational components were present in every personality. This very philosophy was called romanticism and its followers emphasized that people were not totally rational creatures, resembling machines, and that inner experience was of major importance as well.

The key ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the father of romanticism, were the ideas of the feelings’ predominance, the noble savage, and the general will. In brief, he believed that basically every person is born good and free but soon becomes contaminated by the rules of the society. The one, who does not, is called “the noble savage”, as he is governed by feelings and does not express selfishness. The general will shows what is best for the society, while individual will is suppressed under the influence of the first. Another romantic Joann Wolfgang von Goethe thought over the choices between the opposite issues, namely between good and evil or love and hate. Unlike other romantics, he was not against the science and he even made his contribution into it. His contemporary Arthur Schopenhauer in his works discussed the existence of two worlds: phenomenal and noumenal ones. He also claimed that life is a cycle of needs with no end and the most powerful motive of human behavior is the will to survive.

The second philosophy that was opposed to Enlightenment was existentialism. According to it, the central notion for humans is their existence. Existentialists stressed the meaning of life and freedom of choice. They also claimed, as well as the romantics did, that feelings and emotions are the main guides for the behavior of individuals and humans cannot exist without their personal interpretations of life and without making certain choices on their ground. Søren Kierkegaard, one of the first modern existentialists, dedicated his life to thinking over religion, truth, belief in God and personal freedom. He believed that logic and facts prevent people from communicating with God and claimed that religion is not a rational notion. In accordance with Kierkegaard, religion must be based only on faith.

Friedrich Nietzsche, one more follower of existentialism, created the theory about the Apollonian (rational side) and Dionysian aspects (irrational side) of human nature and described the tension between them. Besides, speaking about religion, he claimed that people had killed God and nobody took care of humanity. For Nietzsche, will to power was one of the most meaningful motives, as it influenced people’s behavior and perception of the world. Being a psychologist, he made great contribution to the study.

In sum, both romanticism and existentialism influenced the development of modern psychology and its main trends, humanistic psychology, and psychoanalysis.

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