The Prevailing Worldview of Essentialism in the Pre-19th Century

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Up until the 19th century, ‘Essentialism’ was the standard view of universe where it was thought that everything has an essence including us, humans, where essence can be referred to a collection of properties that identifies what the thing is meant to be, and it give its function before it’s there.

Hence, this claim fell under the moto “essence precedes existence.” For example, for a knife to be one, it must be propertied with a cutting edge and a handle.

If the cutting edge is missing, it won’t be a knife anymore. This shows that its essence or its design exists before the knife is assembled. Nonetheless, a painter is not born to be a painter; he chooses to be one, and it happens to be by the actions he willingly and freely chooses.

However, in a public lecture in Paris in 1945, the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, claimed that “Existence Precedes Essence” which became the main slogan of ‘Existentialism’ which Sartre defines as “a doctrine that makes humans life possible and also affirms that every truth and every action imply an environmental and human subjectivity” (Sartre, p.

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Sartre proclaims that humans, unlike objects or animals, first exist, then they start searching for an essence according to what they freely choose to be. They are defined by the actions they choose to make but thinking about what they are or what they want to be isn’t enough, what important is the action taken, “I am what I do”.

Starting from this motto, and because we have no essence, there’s nothing in this world to pave the right path for a human to find his essence.

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Once we accept this. This is what Sartre referred to as “Abandonment.” There’re no values or rules to pave the right track for humans to follow.

Humans are abandoned for if they consult the nature of what values to follows, it’s not like the nature can tell them; the answers don’t exist “there are no signs in this world” (Sartre, p.33). It’s like human is thrown into existence and it’s up to him to choose whatever he wants to choose, and takes full responsibility of that, “man is condemned to be free” (Sartre, 29). Some might say that there are signs out there that can direct them into taking the right choices.

However, as Sartre says, it’s also humans who choose which way to decode the signs, “man interprets the sign a he pleases,” (Sartre, 29); that’s why they aren’t credible to guide humans into taking the right choices. Even trying to rely on one’s feelings to take choices can’t be valid since feelings are enhanced through taken actions, and since actions are freely taken, feelings can’t be relied on as well.

Abandonment leads to anguish. Anguish is inflicted upon man because of the fact that he is sentenced to be free, thus he is responsible for not only the decisions he picks, but also responsible for what all humans should be. This is because when he invents his own values, he ends up inducing them on humanity as a whole. For example, if a person chooses to steal, the value of “stealing” can be applied to all humanity here one will be capable of saying “men steal.”

Sartre claims that, “we should act without hope” (Sartre, 35), this is because of the fact that we can’t control what we can’t do; we can’t control the future. If I start something and aimed for a purpose, I can’t guarantee success. All I can do is work hard and do my best, but I shouldn’t be hopeful for more, because what comes later is out of my control. Even after one’s death, he can’t count on people to continue what he started since they might choose differently because of the fact that they are free.

All the preceding Sartre refers to as “despair.” As when a person goes into deceiving and lying to himself about the fact that he is free, he falls in bad faith. For example, a student who fails might attribute his failure to the fact I’m a bad student. In other words, it is when a person attributes his action to his nature for being a specific thing, rather than admitting to the fact that his nature results from his action.

This paper will discuss Sartre’s Existentialism’s main concept in Fight Club movie through the protagonist Jack.

The main concept Fight Club movie is grounded on is Existentialism. Existentialism vividly appears when the protagonist Jack starts searching for a meaning in his life and trying to find his essence. It is shown from the beginning of the movie where Jack is viewed as a person who’s not satisfied with his exhausting and empty life and he doesn’t know how to change that, give a meaning and value to his life, and find his essence.

He falls in Bad Faith where he attributes his lack of freedom to the society and his job mainly, hence he couldn’t make his own choices to be completely free. He has the desire to rebel against the values set by society, but he’s coward to do so.

In the very beginning, Jack believes that death is his solution where he wishes for a plane crash to get him killed. He then goes on buying furniture to fill the emptiness in his life where he says, “what kind of dining set defines me as a person?”; here we could see that he’s trying to find his identity through materialism.

It is vividly assured later when his condominium is bombed, Jack feels that his existence is gone where he says, “every stick of furniture in there was my life.” When Jack attends support groups to treat his insomnia and he cries, he thinks he finds his freedom in giving up, “I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom”, which makes him a weaker person and doesn’t really help him in reaching freedom.

The first step towards finding his essence, and without noticing, Jack creates a hallucinating figure, Tyler Durden, that represents what Jack always wanted to be; a free person. Because Jack lacks the courage to do what it takes it become free, Tyler does that for him, where Jack was unaware that he’s the one taking the actions. Tyler in sum, represents the existential figure that Jack fails but wishes to be.; he knows that deep inside, but he needs Tyler to make him confront the truth.

Aligning with Sartre’s claim that the person’s essence is defined through his actions, Tyler helps Jack to get rid of the meaningless in his life where Jack makes authentic choices that totally oppose what he does in the beginning. Tyler helps Jack realize that his identity doesn’t rely on materialism but rather on his actions which is why he previously blew up his apartment, so Jack detaches from being a consumer and asserts that by living in an abandoned filthy house.

He gets rid of his weakness by creating the Fight Club and becoming the brave man, brave enough to fight his own boss that he, at first, blamed him for being of the reason for not being free. Fight Club gives him the courage and freedom to do whichever he wanted without fearing anything.

Jack then begins to adopt Tyler’s personality little by little, an it is apparent in the way he acts in his job which completely differs from the beginning, and even with the way he looks later (bruised, dirty, blooded, mean, etc.·). He even starts criticizing the way people are living; he feels sorry for the guys hurrying to gyms to look the way Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger claimed they should, which means that this choice is inauthentically (not freely) made and traps their freedom.

Even through minute details like the haiku poetry he writes “worker bees can leave, even drones can fly away, the queen is their slave”, it is vivid that he’s expressing his freedom by showing that how escaped the bondage of reality that forces him to be what he doesn’t want to. In addition, Jack saying “I became the calm, little center of the world. I was Zen master” shows that he starts to find meaning in his once-meaningless life.

In addition, not only does Tyler help Jack into finding his essence, he also tries to push people into doing that. This appears in many ways. One way is when recruiting members to Fight Club and them undergoing same experience as Jack’s.

Another way is when Tyler threatens a man to death if he doesn’t follow what he always wanted to be. The major method is Project Mayhem where it aims to destroy credit card companies for most of the people are stuck in consumerism (like Jack was) and define themselves through money; this way they’d be urged to find their essence away from consumerism.

Moreover, Tyler believes that being aware of the physical existence is a key to finding freedom. He makes Jack crash on purpose with a car without fearing death. The final stage in defining himself and reaching his freedom, and towards the end of the movie, Jack chooses to shoot Tyler. He’s fully aware that it means killing himself as well; but he takes this choice authentically.

Once Jack encounters death, he’s ultimately aware of his physical existence. As for Tyler’s Mayhem Project for destroying value systems, Jack rejects Tyler’s value and he confirms it by the shooting. By that, he chooses what values to stick to, hence, finding a purpose for his existence. With this action, Jack finally equalizes between the desires of him as “Jack” and him as the existential “Tyler”.

The shooting can be seen as essential to Jack’s existence as well if we consider Marla’s role in the movie. Marla is the character that provides him with knowledge about his existence; that’s another reason for Jack to shoot Tyler who plots to kill Marla, so that he doesn’t lose the only character that is proved to be fundamental to his existence. Hence, the end of the movie shows how Jack finally found a meaning, essence, and freedom; and thus, starts to live “existentially”.

In conclusion, Fight Club conveys a deep theme of Existentialism where it can be interpreted and found in many scenes and details. The whole movie shows how the Protagonist Jack little by little finds value in his life, defines his essence, and finally takes full responsibility of his authentically chosen actions, and thus, takes a leap into existential life with the help of his existential self, Tyler.

Similar topics:

Essay about Fight Club
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The Prevailing Worldview of Essentialism in the Pre-19th Century. (2019, Nov 20). Retrieved from

The Prevailing Worldview of Essentialism in the Pre-19th Century
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