Outline of Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism”

This post outlines his essay “Existentialism and Humanism” or “Existentialism is humanism.” Good for students in Phil. 101 and other interested readers.

Let’s get started on Sartre’s short essay.

I. Introduction

A. Two kinds of Existentialism

1. Christian (God and man; think of Soeren Kierkegaard)

2. Atheist (man alone)

B. Atheist version: Existence precedes essence

1. Subjectivity (I or me) is the starting point (not God)

2. Sartre is into this

3. You exist, so now you have to create your essence

C. Christian version: essence precedes existence

1. God creates your essence and your existence lines up with it

2. Eample: Paper-cutter

a. Concept inspires artisan or maker

b. He uses method of production or making it

c. It has a purpose or specific use

d. It is determined (pre-determined)

3. Sartre is NOT into this

D. God as Creator

1. A Superior Artisan

2. He knows exactly what he is creating (human)

E. Analogy (continued)

1. God = maker of paper-cutter

2. Concept of man in God’s mind = concept of paper-cutter in artisan’s mind

3. God makes man, following certain techniques and routines = manufacturer does the same to paper-cutter

F. Thus . . .

“The individual man is the realization of a certain concept in divine intelligence”

G. To C, D, E, and F, Sartre says, “No way, man!”

H. “Atheism” of Enlightenment philosopher

1. “Thus, here too the essence of man precedes the historical existence that we find in nature”

2. Sartre disagrees with this—too weak

I. God does not exist

1. Therefore, existence precedes essence for someone.

2. Who? Humans

3. There is no human nature, esp. not a universal human nature, since there is no God to conceive it

4. Man conceives himself and wills himself to be–“after this thrust towards existence”

5. Now go out and make your essence (essential identity or being) by your free will and free acts

6. This is the opposite of C through F

7. Sartre agrees with this version of Existentialism

II. What Humans Make of Themselves

A. What is subjectivity?

1. Humans have dignity (more than a stone, a table etc.)

B. A human is the start of a plan for himself

C. Nothing exists prior to this plan (nothing in heaven)

D. The Will

1.. This precedes all our actions (e.g. joining a political party, writing a book, getting married)

E. Humans are responsible for what they are

F. Existentialism makes human aware that he is responsible for himself, that is, for all humans

G. Two kinds of subjectivity

1. Individual chooses and makes himself

2. Individual cannot transcend himself

H. Repeats “F”

1. To choose is to affirm values for everyone

2. We cannot choose evil

3. We always choose the good

4. Good for us is good for all

5. Our responsibility is huge

I. We endorse entire institutions, e.g. monogamy, trade unions, communism

III. Anguish

A. We choose all humankind and ourselves

B. Feeling of deep and total responsibility

C. “What if everyone acts this way?”

1. Double-dealer says, “Not everyone does”

D. Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac

1. We are obliged to perform exemplary acts

2. Am I the kind of person who might guide society in my choices?

E. No quietism / passivity

1.. Example: military office sends men into battle; he is totally responsible

IV. Forlornness

A. God does not exist

1.. We must face the consequences

B. French teachers in 1880s

1. Discard God, but keep the morality (like an empty shell), but Sartre says no; we must take God’s nonexistence all the way.

C. God’s nonexistence is very distressing

1. No longer a priori Good (a priori means before experience; note word prior)

2. This goodness is not contained in God’s thoughts

D. “If God didn’t exist, everything would be possible”

E. No fixed and given human nature

F. Humans are free

1.. No divine commands or values

2. Condemned to be free

3. No omen or sign in the world to guide us

4. “Man is the future of man”

5. Ex: young man during WWII

a. Stay with mother or fight?

b. Can Christian doctrine help him? (charity is unclear)

c. Kantian ethics (treat humans as an end, not as a means or stepping stones); if he stays and cares for mother, then he’s treating soldiers as stepping stone; if he goes, then mother is stepping stone, not an end in herself)

6. “The only thing left is to trust our instincts”

a. How is value of feeling determined?

b. Our actions (remember, we create our essence)

V. Despair

A. We depend only on our will

B. Probabilities make our action possible

C. We depend on them

D. Communists say join them; work together in unity

1.. Sartre cannot depend on humans

VI. Quietism or Activism?

A. Involve yourself

B. Have no illusions

C. Do everything in your power to brings about your choice

E. “There is no reality except in action”

F. Fulfill yourself

G. You are nothing more than the accumulation of your actions

ARTICLES IN SERIES (alphabetical order)

Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

Clifford’s Ethics of Belief

Descartes’s Meditations I and II

Hick’s Evil and God of Love

Hume’s Argument against Design

Hume’s Theory of Knowledge

James’s Will to Believe

Kant’s Ethics

Locke’s Theory of Knowledge

Mill’s Ethics

Nietzsche’s Madman and the Death of God

Paley’s Watchmaker and Design Argument

Plato the Soul Man

Plato’s View of Justice and the Soul

Rachels’s Moral Objectivism

Ryle’s Category Mistake

Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism”

Socrates’s “Apology”


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