Existential – Meaning & Definition

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Is it an adjective? Is it a noun? Is it a philosophy or a life crisis? No, it’s the word existential. This is a term that can confuse even the best of us, don’t worry. So, let’s take a sec and dive into the deep pool of meaning that this word contains. Buckle up; I’m about to get existential.

What Is the Meaning of Existential?

Existential Meaning Definition

In its most basic form, existential refers to anything about existence. But I often see it used in a philosophical context, related to existentialism, a philosophy centered on the individual, personal choice, and the meaning of life as self-determined.

That’s a lot to unpack!

You might hear someone state that they’re having an existential crisis because they’re stressed to the max and don’t know what they’re doing in life. Here, the word is an adjective, modifying the word crisis, but let’s dig a little deeper to understand what exactly that means.

Existential Threat vs. Existential Crisis

An existential threat is what you’d consider a hazard to a people’s actual human existence or survival. This could be like a nuclear war, climate change or even an asteroid hitting the Earth. You know, all the usual, everyday stuff we see on the news these days.

But an existential crisis is less about the end of the world and more about an individual questioning their life’s purpose or values. It’s the kind of crisis that may occur at three in the morning when you’re pondering the meaning of life while lying in bed and staring at the ceiling.

As an author, full-time writer and busy mom, I often feel like I’m having an existential crisis. It just comes with the territory.

The Etymology of the Word Existential

The term existential comes from the Latin word existentialis, from existere which means to exist or to be. It weaseled its way into the English language around the late 1600s, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that it was popularized in the context of existential philosophy.

What Is a Synonym for Existential?

  • Ontological
  • Life-related
  • Personal
  • Subjective
  • Individualistic

Is Existential Positive or Negative?

As an adjective, existential isn’t really positive or negative. It can describe both beneficial personal growth (positive) and a distressing crisis of meaning (negative). It honestly depends on the context. Like a philosophical chameleon, it changes based on its surroundings.

Using Existential in a Sentence

Existential Meaning Definition 1
  • The ancient philosopher pondered existential questions about the true meaning of life.
  • A massive asteroid called Apophis poses an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it.
  • After losing his job, Jake faced an existential crisis and questioned his purpose in life and whether to continue in the same field or not.
  • Climate change is an existential issue that needs our immediate attention before it’s too late.
  • The new book I’m reading delves into existential themes, exploring the human condition and the search for meaning.

Bottom Line

Existential is a word that packs a philosophical punch, reminding us that existence is both deeply personal and universally significant. Use it wisely, my friends, and remember that all your existential questions are valid, especially those at 3 a.m.

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