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Presentation on theme: "SARTRE, FROM “EXISTENTIALISM IS A HUMANISM” PHILOSOPHY 224."— Presentation transcript:


2 JEAN-PAUL SARTRE Jean-Paul Sartre (1905- 1980) was a French philosopher, author, playwright and activist. He was one of the most influential philosophers of the 20 th Century. He’s best known as one of the key figures in a philosophical movement known as existentialism. He’s actually one of the few representatives of the movement to call himself an existentialist.

3 EXISTENTIALISM One thing that all of the existentialists share is an emphasis on the centrality of subjective experience. This should be understood in two different, but related, ways: the rejection of any objective/external determination or meaning; the insistence on human freedom. Both of these senses are captured with the slogan made famous by Sartre: “existence precedes essence.” There is no pre-given meaning to our lives. We first are (exist), and then make our lives meaningful through our actions.

4 NO METAPHYSICS As is suggested by this slogan, Sartre is relatively unconcerned with metaphysical speculation. The metaphysical tradition has been dominated by philosophies of ‘essence.’ The account he does provide of reality focuses on human existence. The title of his first major work, Being and Nothingness, indicates the tenor of the ontological account that he offers.

5 HUMAN NATURE The fundamental feature of human existence is "nothingness." We have no essence, no nature. How do we know this? Sartre asks us to consider the nature of consciousness. Our existence is different from the existence of the things in the world. We not only exist, we are conscious of ourselves as existing (our being is in-itself, for-itself). The fundamental structure of self-conscious is negation (we are not like the other things in the world; all choice is the refusal of the other options; desire implies lack; etc).

6 MEANINGLESS, BUT FREE As defined by nothingness, our existence is meaningless. According to most accounts, the meaning of our lives is given to us. Sartre denies this. To the extent that our life comes to have meaning, it has only the meaning we choose to give to it. We are thus absolutely free. We find ourselves in the world, with qualities and capacities that we are not the source of. Nonetheless, we are not passive bearers of these qualities. They have the significance we allow them to have. Ex. Being born female in our culture.

7 BAD FAITH According to Sartre, this account of our existence is true even for those of us who believe that our meaning is given to us. In essence, people choose to ignore the fact that they are free creatures, hiding their freedom from themselves by putting faith in some 'higher' power, or by blaming circumstance or others for the negative effects of their choices. It's easy to understand why. Absolute freedom implies absolute responsibility. If we're miserable, it's much easier to blame it on someone or something else then face up to the fact that we are the cause. Likewise, it's much easier to be a passive participant in our lives than to be actively engaged with our existence. Sartre calls this self-denial Bad Faith.

8 AUTHENTICITY The opposite of bad faith, and Sartre's prescription, is what he calls authenticity. Authenticity is not the same thing as "good faith," which as Sartre understands it is just another way to abandon yourself to a transcendent meaning. Living authentically requires taking the nothingness at the heart of our existence seriously. This requires to us to live as freedom, accepting full responsibility for the meaning of our lives.

9 “EXISTENTIALISM” Sartre begins the reading by making a distinction between two species of existentialism: atheistic and Christian. Though there seems to be a fundamental opposition between the two, they actually share an essential claim: human existence precedes human essence. However, Sartre seems to suggest that only the atheistic version can consistently affirm that hypothesis. After all, if you believe God created humans, how is that different from the potter who made the pot? For Sartre, before there is meaning, there is existence (187-188). Note that existentialism is not a naïve subjectivism. It does not suggest that we are self-created, but merely that we are the source of significance in our existence.

10 “IS A HUMANISM” It is on this basis that Sartre makes the connection between existentialism and humanism. Existentialism grants to human existence a fundamental dignity. We are absolutely free, and as such, absolutely responsible. In an echo of Kant, Sartre insists that this responsibility extends beyond our own existence to the existence of all. In choosing for ourselves we choose for all (188-9).

11 DIMENSIONS OF FREEDOM Sartre attempts to clarify our situation by exploring the meaning of three dimensions of our freedom: anguish, abandonment, and despair. Anguish Complete responsibility imposes an incredible burden on humans. If we face up to it, we are unavoidably anguished. Example of Abraham. Abandonment He characterizes this fact by reference to the non-existence of God. If there is no God, everything is permitted. We thus have no excuses. We are condemned to be free. By abandonment, Sartre refers to the fact that we are thrown into existence. We always find ourselves in a situation that we are then required to lay claim to. There is no escape from this (191-2). Despair By despair, Sartre refers to the fact that our freedom precludes the possibility of hope. The only thing that we can count on is our will, and reasonable anticipation of what will follow from that will. Living without hope is not to give up acting. Just the opposite is true: we are and we are only what we make ourselves (196-7).

12 FINAL ANALYSIS What then are we to make of Sartrean existentialism? True inheritor of Descartes: the subject is truth. It’s a theory that doesn't deny the dignity of human beings by treating them as objects. No human nature, but there is a human condition: freedom. Aesthetic ideal? Summing up (205).


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