Existence Precedes Essence

Existentialism is a Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre

                What I discussed to the group was lecture by Jean-Paul Sartre in defense of Existentialism. This article was glittered with insights that were made all the more enjoyable being that Sartre’s position was very similar to mine.


Existence Precedes Essence

                This is the very mantra of Sartre’s ideology. It describes how human beings are different from inanimate objects. A scissor is made to cut paper; it is made following a predetermined purpose. Sartre argues that we, on the other hand, are conceived without such purpose or destiny.

“Man exists, turns up appears on the scene, and, only afterwards defines himself”



                “Thus, existentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him.”

                We have free will and that gives us the power to choose, therefore we are entirely responsible for what we choose to do with our brief breath of life. I have long shared this view of responsibility and I am a bit appalled by people who peddle ancient preachments which call for humanity to bow down and obey pre-ordained paths and commandments carved up by divine dictators.



                Sartre argues that we anguish arises from this inescapable subjectivity. Nothing is objective, nothing can be referenced as absolute. Consequently, the justification for any such deed we consider must come from us and most not be exclusive to us; the reasons for any action must be viable to everyone else given the circumstance. When we choose, we choose for everyone.



                Forlornness arises from the non-existence of an absolute morality or code of ethics. This is the feeling conjured up by the realization that there is no God, we have no one to cling to but ourselves. “There is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom” we have no excuses. We are thrown into a pit absent of values, values that must be determined and maintained by our mortal selves.



                Despair arises from the fact that we can only change things that our within our power- and there are a lot of things beyond our power to change. The universe is indifferent to the affairs of man. If humanity shall perish from the face of the earth, no star will care to blink in mourning.


What Will Happen Will Happen

                “things will be as man will have decided them to be” Regardless of what is good, evil, moral or immoral, things will happen and humanity will be entirely free to choose so and will be entirely responsible for it.

                But this isn’t a call for passivism. “the doctrine I am presenting is the very opposite of quietism, since it declares ‘There is no reality except in action’.. ‘Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life’”


Sartre addresses some critics on the subjectivity of choice

  1. “Well then, you’re able to do anything, no matter what! You’re promoting anarchy!”

But this isn’t the point. It is not possible to not choose. In not making a choice you are still choosing not to choose. Choice is inescapable; we are “condemned to be free” because we are human, whether or not we are existentialists.


  1. “You can’t pass judgement on others, because there’s no reason to prefer one idea to another!”

We can still hold values, and values appear out of the choices we make. Through our actions (as an individual and as a group), we create ethics.


  1. “Everything about your choice is arbitrary!”

We define ourselves through our actions, “in relationship to involvement.” And as we make ourselves—as we make choices—it is absurd to say we are choosing arbitrarily.

                In summary, Sartre may seem morbid when he declares that life is purposeless but his intent is quite the opposite. I see it as a call for awareness to humanity that this is the only life we have. Living is much more precious when there is no belief of a divine after party. As said by the great Stephen Fry, “That’s what religion has become, a feeble and anemic nonsense, because we understood that the fire was within us, it was not in some idol on an altar, whether it was a gold cross or whether it was a Buddha or anything else, that we have it. The fault is in our stars, but also the glory is in our stars. We take credit for what is great about man and we take blame for what is dreadful about man, we neither grovel or apologize at the feet of a god, or are so infantile as to project the idea that we once had a father as human beings and we therefore should have a divine one too.”

This entry was published on August 18, 2014 at 3:02 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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