Chapter 25. "Man Makes Himself" by Jean-Paul Sartre

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Ideas of Interest from Existentialism Is A Humanism
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Jean-Paul Sartre, University of Pavia Galleries

About the author…

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), a leading existentialist in post World War II France, advocates the radical freedom and concomitant personal responsibility of the individual. Although recognizing the constraints of the human condition and the limitations imposed by our environment, he also emphasizes the Cartesian assumption of the freedom of human consciousness. If we try to be "somebody" or "something," Sartre argues we become inauthentic and are acting "in bad faith." To try to make something of ourselves, as a purpose of life, is a mistake, for such an attempt would only tend to objectify what we are. No one wishes to be regarded as an object. Instead, Sartre emphasizes that each person is entirely the author of his choices—all significant aspects of choices are unconstrained by outside influences. When in 1960 Sartre exhorted the troops in the French Foreign Legion fighting in Algeria to desert, de Gaulle was asked why he took no action against Sartre. President de Gaulle replied, "One does not arrest Voltaire." In keeping with Sartre's view of authenticity, while declining the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, Sartre replied, "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution."

About the work…

In his Existentialism Is A Humanism,[1] a public lecture given in 1946, Sartre provides one of the clearest and most striking insights into the anti-philosophy termed "existentialism." Many of the issues discussed here are part of the family-relation of concepts often cited as being part of the existential movement. By its very nature existentialism cannot be consistently thought of as a popular philosophy both because of its rejection of crowd values as well as its rejection of a common human nature. Indeed, Jaspers, Heidegger, and Camus all disassociated themselves from existentialism after the enormous success of Sartre's works. Even Sartre himself later turned away from the unique individuality of existential perspective to a anomalous political Marxism.

Ideas of Interest from Existentialism Is A Humanism

  1. What does Sartre mean when he explains that for human beings "existence precedes essence"? Is "essence" in this context something particular or something universal?

  2. According to Sartre, what is the difference between Christianity and Christian existentialism?

  3. Explain how, according to Sartre, there is a universal value in every choice. Does objectivity originate from subjectivity?

  4. What is the relation between "anguish" and uniqueness of action? Explain what is mean by "existential anguish". Does anguish create the conditions for inaction in the inauthentic person?

  5. What does Sartre mean by "abandonment"? How can I ever know that my choices are right or good?

  6. According to Sartre, how is the authentic life distinguished from self-deception? How is each person "condemned to be free"?

  7. What is existential despair? How does it arise as one of the conditions of human activity?

  8. In what ways are morality and ęsthetics comparable?



Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism Is A Humanism. Trans. by Philip Mairet. Public Lecture, 1946.