Sartre was an exponent of atheistic existentialism. He believed that “Existence is prior to essence. Man is nothing at birth and throughout his life he is no more than the sum of his past commitments. To believe in anything outside his own will is to be guilty of ‘bad Faith. ‘ Existentialist despair and anguish is the acknowledgement that man is condemned to freedom. There is no God, so man must rely upon his own fallible will and moral insight. He cannot escape choosing. ” Sartre’s Theory of the Universe is “There is no ultimate meaning or purpose inherent in human life; in this sense life is ‘absurd’.
We are ‘forlorn’, ‘abandoned’ in the world to look after ourselves completely. Sartre insists that the only foundation for values is human freedom, and that there can be no external or objective justification for the values anyone chooses to adopt. 1 To Sartre human life is an “unhappy consciousness,” a “useless passion. ” To this, I am obliged to comment: I believe that one’s life is, in itself, a value; and the objective standard for one to follow is that which advances this value.
Holding one’s own life as the ultimate value, a person can see the importance of the right choices among the many, choices which it is hoped will lead to the protection and advancement of an individual’s greatest value, that individual’s own life. Outside of Sartre’s view that life is an “unhappy consciousness,” a “useless passion,” much of what Sartre asserts makes sense and counters the dangerous notions of Freud and his ilk. For instance, Sartre emphatically rejects the idea advanced by Freud that certain mental events have unconscious causes.
Emotions, he says, are not outside the control of our wills, if one is sad it is because one chooses to be sad; we are responsible for our emotions; we are, ultimately, responsible for our own behaviour. According to Sartre, man is free and being conscious of this fact, can bring on pain, or anguish; and typically we try to avoid the consciousness of our own freedom. I feel that Sartre is a bit harsh on the purpose of human life. He makes us to be useless and worthless beings.
We have a purpose and are placed on the earth for a reason, whether it is for a good reason or a not so good reason. He does have a point but makes us seem as though we are unhappy disgusting people. It sounds like we are born miserable and thrive from that point to continue with misery. Yes we do choose our own emotions and the consequences to our behaviors, but he just seems so negative. 1 See Leslie Stevenson’s book, Seven Theories of Human Nature (1974) (Oxford University Press, 2nd Ed. , 1987); Stevenson was a reader in logic and Metaphysics at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.