?As defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, existentialism is “a chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad. ” This is the main theory behind philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s work. Because of the absence of knowledge about right and wrong in existentialism, Sartre says that “[w]e are left alone, without excuse.
This is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free” (32). In this sense, ‘condemned’ does not have a negative connotation to it. Sartre believes that it is a good thing that people are free to make their own choices in life instead of being locked into a set path without any chance to make their own choice. In this paper, I will argue that people are free to make their choices and that this leads to people being happier and more observant of the their actions. Existentialism is a very complex idea.
To counteract this complexity, Sartre defines the main idea behind this philosophy as “existence precedes essence” (32) When Sartre says this, he means that people exist and are born before they create their ‘essence’, which is basically what defines us. Humans, artifacts, and plants and animals are the three categories of objects in the world.. For humans, “existence precedes essence” (32). It is the opposite for artifacts. For artifacts, Sartre says “essence precedes existence”. The idea of the artifact comes before it is created.
For plants and animals, Sartre says that essence is the same thing as existence, or, in other words, “essence equals existence”. The idea that we are born before we are ‘defined’ places a lot of responsibility for people in their lives. This responsibility comes from the feeling that our choices create ourselves and each decision leads to helping to define a person’s life. To illustrate this, Sartre gives us of a young man who needs to make a choice that will have a huge impact on his life.
The choice he has to make is to go to war against Fascism or to stay at home with his mother; “he, at this moment, had the choice between going to England to join the Free French Forces or of staying near his mother and helping her to live” (33). The choice arises because he is the last family member that is living with his mother. He does not want to leave her alone, even though he wants to fight Fascism. Sartre’s response to this young man would be to just make a choice and act on that choice because whatever your choice ends up being is the thing that you most want to do.
Whatever the choice, the definition of the young man’s life changes. Sartre even goes so far as to say that if a person does not make a choice of the options that he has, he is still in fact making a choice not to make a choice. In the world, there are two different types of objects – objects that are “in-itself” and objects that are “for-itself. ” Objects that are in-itself are things such as artifacts and plants and animals that have a fixed and bounded definition. Humans are objects that are for-itself.
Humans that have no set definition and the definition is created by the person and differs by person. Each human must admit to two different parts of their conscience – facticity (I am the self that I am. ) and transcendence (I am not the self that I am. ). Facticity is the given factors in a person’s life, while transcendence is the parts of life that have an open possibility to them. If somebody denies one or both of these, Sartre says that they have bad faith, a form of self-deception. To explain bad faith, Sartre uses the example of a cafe waiter.
If the cafe waiter says that he is not a cafe waiter, he is actually something else, it ends up being denial of facticity. This is a denial of facticity because he actually is a cafe waiter since he is working as a waiter at the cafe at the time. On the other hand, the waiter could say that he could not possibly be anything else besides a cafe waiter. This would be a denial of transcendence due to the fact that if he wanted to he could be something else; it just might take a little bit of work. There are four main objections to the existentialism that Sartre believes in and writes about.
These objections are (1)that existentialism leads to passivity and defeatism, (2) that existentialism is pessimistic, (3) that existentialism is subjectivist and (4) that our essence is created before we exist. Sartre successfully responds to each of these objections. In terms of existentialism leading to passivity and defeatism, Sartre simply says that this is not true. He backs up his response through the concept of the responsibility that is given to each person through existentialism.
Because every action that a person takes causes their essence to change and the definition of their life to change, a person cannot be passive in creating their essence. By definition, they are active participants in this. Sartre gives basically the same response when considering the objection that existentialism leads to pessimism. The idea that existentialism leads to pessimism arises from the situation with the young man where Sartre says that whatever choice the young man makes, it has an impact on his essence. This would lead to pessimism because it basically says that whatever decision people make, it doesn’t matter due to the impact arising no matter what.
Sartre would say that the responsibility given to a person in creating their essence leads a person to be optimistic since they can change what defines them and how they are perceived in the world based upon each of their actions. It would certainly lead to pessimism if a person had no control over their essence. If it is already predetermined, why do anything? The objection that existentialism is subjectivist gets broken down into three different parts, with three different responses. The first part of this objection is that it does not really matter what you do.
This comes from the situation of the young man where Sartre says that the person should just choose and live with the choice. Even though the actual decision does not truly matter, the action is incredibly important. This importance comes from the idea that every action plays a role in creating your self. Under this objection also falls the idea that existentialism does not allow us to judge other people. Sartre responds by saying that every one of our actions is a judgment of what we believe is right or wrong.
Our actions then lead us to judge other people because our actions tell what we believe of other people’s choices, which is what creates a person’s essence. The final part of the subjectivist objection is that if we create our own values, then values have no serious meaning. Sartre responds to this in a very simple way. If this is the case, that’s too bad. The final major objection to existentialism comes from the philosophy of the Christian religion where people have a soul. The existence of a soul would indicate that people have essence before they exist.
One of the main response to this objection comes from Sartre being an atheist and not believing in God. Since he does not believe in God, Sartre says that there is no creator. Hence, there is no predetermined path to life. Even though this plays some part in the creation of this object, there are also atheist existentialists that do not feel this way. One of the main philosophers of this type of existentialism is Kierkegaard. His philosophy says that each person chooses their relationship with God, taking a ‘leap of faith’, and this leads to the creation of their essence.
The Christianity objection also involves the idea that God has a set path for people and that each person does not make choices, instead God guides them to what to do. Sartre would respond with the idea that there is no creator again here. Since there is not creator, each person needs to make the decisions as to his path in life and each decision he takes has an impact on his essence in life. Sartre knocks down every objection that is raised against his ideas of existentialism. He responds clearly and has evidence and reason to back all of his decisions up.
Therefore, Sartre’s ideas are correct in their approach to how people should live their everyday lives. Existentialism is a good way to look at life because it fills your mind with possibility and give you the choice of how to run your life. Because of this optimism and the responsibility given to people through the weight of their choices, existentialism helps out the world and makes it a better place to live in. Works Cited “existentialism. ” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. http://www. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/existentialism Sartre, Jean-Paul. Basic Writings. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001. Print.
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