Existentialism is a humanism- Concepts Explained

Jean Paul Sartre:- A great fan of cinema, jazz, the American novel, and German phenomenology. He was a man who developed his own judgments and tastes without caring for cultures and ongoing trends.

Sartre declared his work “Existentialism is a humanism” strictly reserved for philosophers. He was assured that the public would not understand his philosophy which was way ahead of his time. People, according to Sartre, were defined by era, and during his time, existentialism was only beginning to find its place while still facing a lot of problems ahead. At present, the theory of Existentialism is popular among readers and people not only try to understand the existentialist philosophy but also implement it in their lifestyles.

During the time when Sartre presented his idea, Marxists misunderstood it to be contrary to their philosophy of Marxism. They criticized the work of Sartre without even going through it. For them, Existentialism was hopeless

philosophy which includes a state of quietism (others can do what I cannot do) and despair. Existentialism was called an ugly philosophy and existentialists were called naturalists. People fear naturalists because they take laws for granted and do what seems right for them.
Marxists believed that man is determined by his economic conditions. But Sartre was going the other way. For him, economic conditions are secondary.
The first and foremost need for determining individuality is existence, that is man’s presence in this world.

A great fan of cinema, jazz, the American novel, and German phenomenology.

According to Sartre, man can achieve freedom by his own responsibility to choose. There is no requirement of good economic conditions for attaining freedom.   

Sartre’s major work highlighted the terms like responsibility, project, freedom, action, individual, and solitude. He criticizes – Marx, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Descartes, Kant. Whereas he cited– Guide, Racine, Proust, Stendhal, Cocteau, Picasso.  

Some of Sartre’s quotes referring to freedom, responsibility, existence, action and truth are-

“A man who is free and one who is enslaved cannot be perceived from the same perspective.”

Sartre (1948) “to seek truth is to prefer being above all else, even in a catastrophic form, simply because it exists.”

Boris Vian’s novel “froth on the daydream” describes Jean Paul Sartre truly as “Jean-sol-Partre” or ‘the one clearing his path with an axe’.

 In his life, Sartre tried hard to explain to critics the right meaning of his work, but nobody was ready to listen. At the time, he even thought that he would never publish his book. But he collected the strengths by reading novels of Albert Camus and kept on forming his philosophies, directing towards Existentialism. Around 1960, he became the first global public intellectual.

What is an Existentialist?
Existentialism is a philosophy where man is nothing other than his own projections. Man is the sum of organizations, relations, attitudes, and exposure of his responsibility in life. In life, a man commits himself, and draws his own portrait, outside of which there is nothing.

There are two kinds of existentialist-
1. Theists- Karl Jasper and Gabriel Marcel
2.Atheists- Heidegger and Sartre

Sartre Philosophy- “Existence precedes Essence” is still debatable, but somehow made its marks on today’s readers. 

Glimpse of Jean-Paul Sartre

Existentialism precedes Essence means- First a man exists, he materializes his life, and only then he defines himself.

And so, the first principle of existentialism is that man is nothing more than what he makes of himself. After he decides what he wants to do, his “will” starts acting on his behalf.

 “will” is a conscious decision we take after we make ourselves what we are.

Second principle of Existentialism is Subjectivism

Subjectivism is –  

  1.   The freedom of the individual to choose what he will be.

  2.   It is the ability to form theories related to the deeper part of self.

  3.   It is an approach to understand core values of life. It is also the ability to define and reproduce what is not visible but exists in reality.  

  4.   It is also his inability to transcend human subjectivity.

The terms mostly referred by Sartre in defining his philosophy are- Despair, Responsibility, Absurd

In our objective world, we must choose those which depend on our probabilities. In this way, we are likely to feel less despair in life.

The world of objects is the world of probability. Only the world of subject is truth.

Example- In case, we are searching for a job, but we know that we won’t get the right job because of lack of degree or diploma. Then, we must finish our degree or diploma first, and go ahead for job search. In this way, despair or disappointment in the aftermath of an event could be avoided.

Our responsibility is greater because it concerns all mankind. A man should bear responsibility for what he chooses. Responsibility leads a man to his better objectives in society. A man’s freedom comes together with his responsibility for it. So, we could say responsibility is the price for freedom.  

Dostoyevsky once said, “If God doesn’t exist, everything is permissible” – this is the starting point of existentialism.

We need to understand that bad faith in the possibility of God could debar us from taking our full responsibility. In case, we change our vision a bit, we would realize that responsibility is the man’s tool towards becoming a better human.

“Man is nothing other than his own project. He exists only to the extent that he realizes himself, therefore he is nothing more than the sum of his actions..responsible for what he is..condemned to be free..committing himself to life.”

The absurd man is a humanist. He knows only the good things in the world. 

➽ True Absurdist :– True absurdists are people who are not constantly thinking about the people they love, yet they claim to love them. Even when they are not thinking about them, they would be capable of compromising their well-being in the name of an abstract feeling, in the absence of any real and immediate emotion.

Feeling :– It is merely the abstract unity and the meaning of discontinuous impression.

Relative absurdities exist in relation to absolute rationalism.

Absolute rationalism is a truth with absolute certainty based on reason. Rationalists believe that knowledge, or our grasp of truth, is obtained without the use of our senses. For example, John is young as a lion is reasonable to provide reason for John’s bold and fierce nature. There is no need to prove it by the means of sense perception.

Absurd, on the contrary, goes unreasonable. But a relative absurdist assumes reason to be somewhat relatable to truth.   

Existentialism is a remarkable concept since it brings man on his own foot rather than relying on others for a livelihood. It is a modest departure from the principle of interdependence, whereby one assumes complete responsibility for oneself. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of existential philosophy and make its concepts accessible to everyone. If there is a lack of clarity in the notions, readers are free to prefer the originals.

Reference– Sartre, Jean-Paul, et al. Existentialism Is a Humanism. Annotated, Yale University Press, 2007.

Cite source (MLA 8th edition)

Prasad, Madhvi. “Existentialism Is a Humanism- Concepts Explained.” Philotreat, 29 June 2021, www.philotreat.in/jean-paul-sartre.