Existentialism and Existence Precedes Essence

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 7 November 2016

Existentialism and Existence Precedes Essence

Born in 1905, and the writer of many plays, novels and literature , Jean Paul Sartre became a famous philosophical writer on existentialism post world war 2. (wikipedia) He mainly dealt with three areas of study and they were existentialism, Marxism and Anarchism. (Basic Writings) This paper is an attempt to describe Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialist view. It discusses Sartre’s development of existentialism and the idea that destiny depends solely upon the individual choices. (Existentialism –Jean Paul Sartre)The other related concepts also discussed in this paper are of being –in-itself, being-for-itself, being-for-others and bad faith.

The second part of the paper identifies how existentialist ethics are useful in an individual’s life and in an accounting profession. To begin with, the ideology of existentialist thinkers focuses on individuality, subjectivity, freedom and choice. (What is Existentialism-Trends and Ideas) However overtime, philosophers have varied their understanding about an individual’s purpose in life , and the obstacles and consequences that entails them to achieve their objective. (Wikipedia) As such there are two kinds of existentialists.

There are the Christians namely, Jasper Gabriel Marcel, professed Catholics and Heidegger and the French existentialist like Sartre. Many writers claims that the word existentialism cannot be defined rather it is a shared thought. It was Jean Paul Sartre who first coined the definition of the concept existentialism in his essay “Existentialism is Humanism”. (Sartre for beginners) To Sartre existentialism is a doctrine that renders human life possible, a doctrine that affirms the truth and based on human subjectivitiy (Existentialism is in Humanism).

The main ideology of Sartre’s existentialist thoughts are that existence precedes essence. However this could be better understood if we reverse the situation essence precedes existence. (Existentialism is in Humanism) To explain this, Sartre uses the example of a paper knife made by an artisan who in his mind the ideology behind creating the paperknife. Together with the artisan’s ideas and the production techniques a paper knife was created. Even though the paper knife is created, it is man who should know its functionality and purpose.

Hence Sartre claims that the paper knife is an essence (being in itself) And the ideas and production techniques precedes its existence. Jean Paul Sartre believed that existentialism does not involve any supreme being thus there is no need to ponder about the existence of god. (Athiesm and Existentialism) He regards that it is man who lays down the foundations of morality and he is the best boss of any choices he makes in his life. This is the first principle of Existentialism. (Existentialism is in Humanism) According to Sartre , since God doesn’t exist then there is at least one being whose existence comes before God and that being s man.

(Existentialism is in Humanism) Or as Heidegger puts it , it is human reality. As such, I will briefly explain Sartre’s ontology ( the theory of being or existence), in relation to being in itself, being for itself and being for others. (Stevens Chris) Sartre identifies being –in-itself as the unconscious being, while the being- for –itself as a conscious being. (wikepedia) Being in itself is like an object that lacks the ability to change, isn’t aware of itself and is concrete. For example a tree is like an object as it doesn’t have the ability to change or lacks any consciousness.

(www. sparknotes. com) Further on, Sartre identifies being-in-itself as the essence of things such as the idea of the thing, defining the thing, its nature and functions. (Sartre for beginners) In his book “Being and Nothingness” Sartre identifies 3 characteristics in relation to being-in-itself. •Being in itself (It is not caused rather is self-contained) •It is (not applicable to the principles of sufficient reason) •It is what it is (it is purely affirmative or positive)

To simply put, man exists as nothing initially and when they surge up in the world, they tend to define themselves (existentialism is in Humanism) This involves the study of being for itself – the conscious being. The other type of being is the conscious being, being for itself. It is described as a being with choice. Basically an individual has complete freedom to decide upon his choices. (Extentialism and being)

Being for itself is the existence where man makes his own decisions and defines his own existence through the realization and control of being in itself. (Extentialism and being) Being for itself also claims that humans being simply by existing with no human nature neither predetermined character.

The significance of being for itself is freedom. Human freedom according to Sartre is developed by the notion of non-being. According to Sartre the for it self is able to be more than our past, to be free at the moment , to choose how and is unbound by acts of past to make itself to constitute itself as aseries of choices each made freely in the present moment. (Use the example of the boulder)(www. latrobe. com) According to Sartre being for itself is the conscious being resulting in who we are. The conscious or awareness helps us to decide the choices that we make.

In being and nothing ness , the author identifies three characteristics of being for itself. One of the characteristics mentioned is in relation to being in itself. Being in itself does not need being for itself to exist. (talk more about the what is and what is not) In being for itself man always creates and recreates himself. This is a continual process till death. (Use the example of the waiter and he woman) Being for others in Sartrean existentialism is that part of human existence that is social and socially defined.

(wikipedia) Sartre believes that in the state of being for others observes that we cannot treat others as mere objects in the world, but rather observe them as being. Sartre believes that a person who is observed by the another person through the “look” becomes the subject of the other person’s conscious leading the latter to form opinions about the former. (stevens) For example if someone caught us in the act of doing something humiliating , then we find we have to define ourselves on their terms. (jean paul Sartre www. Mythosandlogos. com) Sartre talks about being for others in negative terms because of the nature of being judged by others.

Nothingness doesn’t come from being initself. Coz being it iself is positive and doesn’t do anything (Being and nothingness) Using this concept we can now identify Sartre’s existentialist thought that existence precedes essence. With this phrase, Sartre claims that there is no predefined essence to humanity except that which we make of ourselves. Or in other words no human nature exists because there is no God. Thus man simply is. Sartre claims that man is nothing and will attain existence when he is what he purposes. If existence is prior to essence man becomes responsible for what he is.

Sartre claims that individuals when they choose they have to keep in mind that they are responsible for the entire mankind. Moreover if existence precedes essence an individual‘s responsibility is greater as it doesn’t only concern him but also concerns the mankind as a whole. Another point that Sartre lays in front of us is the level of responsibility of mankind, “Therefore, I am responsible for myself and for everyone else. I am creating a certain image of man of my own choosing. In choosing myself, I choose man. ” In other words, what he does builds on the view of man in general, so he is responsible for the image of mankind.

Sartre describes the three existential emotions, anguish, forlornness, and despair, and offers us his opinion on each of them. For anguish he gives us a definition that anguish is felt by a person “who involves himself and who realizes that he is not only the person he chooses to be, but also a lawmaker who is, at the same time, choosing all mankind as well as himself. ” He gives us the example of Abraham believing that an angel of God has ordered him to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, this shows the anguish of trying to act rightly without ever being able to secure any conclusive evidence of what is the right course of action.

The second emotion, forlornness, Sartre says that it is “very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. ” The third and last emotion, despair, is the realization that we cannot ultimately rely on anyone else for anything. It is a rather disturbing realization. “

But, given that man is free and that there is no human nature for me to depend on, I can not count on men whom I do not know by relying on human goodness or man’s concern for the good of society. ” Bad faith is a philosophical term introduced by Jean Paul Sartre to refer to any sort of self deception which denies the existence of human freedom. (Wikipedia, Bad Faith and Falleness)

According to Sartre, Bad Faith occurs when some one tries to rationalize our existence of actions through religion, science or some other belief system. (Bad faith and Falleness) Existentialists claim that individuals have the freedom to choose and be able to determine their goals.

(Wikipedia) The freedom to choose in itself is what entails us to establish Bad faith. The term freedom which is “condemned to be free” is the very being of the being for itself. An individual must therefore forever choose itself and therefore make itself. (Sartre’s existentialism and Human emotions) According to the concept of bad faith, freedom is used in two different modes respectively. An individual can use freedom not to choose, in order to avoid dealing with the consequences of that freedom and the responsibility that goes along with it. (Bad faith and Falleness).

On the other hand an individual can be limited by ones facticity. (wikepedia) Facticity is a concept that is closely related to freedom and makes up of one’s past. A denial of one’s past (being –in-itself) is to act in accordance with bad faith. Thus an individual limited by one’s facticity can lead him to make a conscious choice in anguish as well as acknowledge the consequences if there are any. (wikipidea) The concept of anguish is one of Sartre’s central ideas in Extentialism as Humanism. It involves the realization that the decision an individual makes also has impact on others.

(Existentialisation in Humanism) Anguish is also about getting over the selfishness and dealing with a responsibility for oneself as well as for others. (Existentialism-definition www. wordiq. com) For example a military officer who orders is troops to go to the battle must fulfil his duties as well his troops and superiors. He knows his decisions are based out of anguish but he has responsibilities to fulfill for himself as well as to his superiors and his troops. (Existentialism in Humanism) To explain how bad faith operates, Sartre wrote in his book about a woman who had the choice of whether to go out on a date with a suitor.

The need for choices becomes even more as she knows the expectation of the man’s desires. In the story, the man places his hand upon the woman. As such doesn’t make any moves nor indicates any sort of filtration. Thus this leaves her with making a conscious choice as well as avoiding to take responsibility of the situation along with avoiding the consequences. This situation of the woman as Sartre believes is to live and act in bad faith. THE WAITER IN BAD FAITH ‘Let us consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid.

He comes toward the customers with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the client. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tightrope-walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand. All his behaviour seems to us a game.

He applies himself to linking his movements as though they were mechanisms, the one regulating the other; his gestures and even his voice seem to be mechanisms; he gives himself the quickness and pitiless rapidity of things. He is playing, he is amusing himself. But what is he playing? We need not watch long before we can explain it: he is playing at being a waiter in a cafe. “This abstract is sourced from the book “Being and Nothingness” using the 1996 copyright extract from Vincent Spade” The study of being for it self identifies that individuals have the freedom make choices to the level it will help them achieve that goal.

This freedom according to Sartre is sometimes limited depending on our facticity. Our factity is made of our past – and our past is limited in circumstances such as place of birth, date of birth etc… As Sartre puts it one’s facticity should not be a recurring problem for one’s present. For example a group of students went on a hike and on their way they came across a boulder which blocked their path. (Sartre for beginners) Jean Paul Sartre became a self-declared existentialist and based his central idea that existence precedes essence. (www. sartre.org/existentialism)

With this enigmatic phrase, Sartre argues that mankind first exists as nothing, and then as they surge up in the world they become responsible for their own actions. (existence precedes essence by Jacobs D) It can further be claimed that there is no predefined essence to humanity except that which we make for ourselves. And as such Sartrean existentialism does not acknowledge the existence of god, thus enabling humans the freedom to be able to choose for themselves. (Major concepts in existentialism) Sartre claims that the essence defines what we do which leads to who we are.

And this essence is not fixed rather a continual process of defining oneself till death. (Existence precedes essence) Essentially the concept of existence preceding essence is important as it plays the judge of good and evil. If things simply are without directive purpose then the truth will exist only as a projection of that which is a product of existence. For truth to exist, existence has to exist before it, making it not the predecessor but the ruler of its own objectivity. (Major concepts in existentialism- reword the sentences)


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 7 November 2016

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