Sartre’s Concepts of Existentialism and Their Differences

7 Mins read

In an essay, Sartre makes an attempt to answer 4 criticisms of Existentialism:

  • Existentialism is a type of “desperate quietism” that enables no room for solutions to the issues of human existence.
  • Existentialism is a type of pessimism (a philosophy of despair), preoccupied with the dark and adverse features of human existence.
  • Existentialism propagates a doctrine of atomistic individualism and excessive subjectivism whereas ignoring the communal features of human existence.
  • The atheism of Existentialism results in value-nihilism, the doctrine that “anything goes” in the moral sphere.

The first three criticisms had been levied towards Existentialism by both Marxist and Christian critics, whereas the fourth was made by the Christian critics alone.

Let’s have a look on the variations between Sartre’s Existentialism concepts:

The distinction between “essence” and “existence”

The central doctrine of Existentialism is “that existence precedes essence or . . . that subjectivity [rather than objectivity] must be the starting point [in the project of understanding human existence].”

The human individual is a subject somewhat than an object, an individual rather than a thing. Human existence is prior to the human essence within the sense that the human individual is a being-in-the-world before he defines himself, before he’s defined by others, before he takes on an “essence.” Man begins as nothing, and makes himself by way of his decisions and actions. Thus, an individual’s “essence” is a product of his mode of “existence” and never the opposite way around.

Another manner of placing that is to say that an individual’s objectivity (character, identity, occupation, social position, and so forth.) is a product of and therefore depends on his subjectivity. Indeed, if by “essence” we imply a fixed, mainly unchangeable nature or identity, then, in an essential sense, man isn’t and “essence;” for, in Sartre’s view, the person is at all times free to change his goal standing in the world, to vary himself and his existential state of affairs. Thus, the character or identification of the existing individual is rarely fixed and unchangeable; the existing individual might at all times turn into more or less than his is.

The distinction between “being-in-itself” and “being-for-itself”

Being-in-itself is the precept of objectivity (facticity) and refers to the being of things (essences); whereas being-for-itself (l’etre-pour-soi) is the precept of subjectivity (consciousness) and refers back to the being of individuals (existences). Human existence is rooted in each of those modes of being; man is each a thing and a conscious subject (individual). Sartre describes this because the duality of human existence, and this duality is the idea of the ambiguity of life (and thus of the ambivalence of human motion). Man has a choice between living as a thing and living as an individual. But the truth that he has this choice proves, in Sartre’s view, that, on the human stage, existence is prior to essence. Choice is the first actuality of human existence, and it’s choice that determines the essence of the person. Moreover, the basic choice, probably the most primary of our “existential decisions,” is the selection between “thing-hood” and “personhood.” Shall I select to be a thing or an individual? Either way, since it’s a matter of choice, my subjectivity will stay the antecedent ground of by objectivity. 

Read About: Themes in Kafka’s story The Judgment

Human subjectivity, freedom, and responsibility

The precedence of subjectivity entails that man is a conscious being, “a plan which is aware of itself.” This subjective consciousness — which is the foundation of my decisions, actions, and “essence” — can also be the bottom of human freedom. And freedom entails responsibility. If existence precedes essence, then every individual is answerable for what he makes of his life; and it’s the task of Existentialism to make each human being conscious of this reality. Sartre is a radical libertarian on the question of the truth and scope of human freedom. That is, he argues that no morally related decisions or actions are the required results of both pure or supernatural causes. Human consciousness is totally aside from the realm of goal reality and is therefore not ruled by any forces exterior itself. The “will” is radically free, and each individual is totally answerable for himself, for his decisions and actions, and for his world (i.e., his “project”). My world is my construction, and it’s what it’s because of my decisions and actions; my character or identity can also be my construction. To deny this reality is, in keeping with Sartre, “bad faith”.

The nonexistence of God and man’s “condemnation” to freedom

The great burden of human freedom and responsibility turns into nearly overwhelming throughout the context of Sartre’s atheism. Sartre has written that his model of Existentialism is “nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position.” Thus, his evaluation of the human situation presupposes the nonexistence of God.

Sartre’s atheism is considerably totally different from different types of atheistic thought. Sartre is vital of sure secular humanists who attempt to trivialize the human significance of the “death of God.” For Sartre, the nonexistence of God is of the greatest tragic import for humanity; for if God doesn’t exist, then there isn’t any final basis for the concepts of value or meaning. Without God, there are not any definable ethical boundaries, no obvious ground of common purpose, nothing for man to cling to. “We are alone, with no excuses.”

Sartre quotes Dostoevsky’s assertion that “If God did not exist, then everything would be permissible.” The level of this assertion, in keeping with Sartre, is that, with out God, there isn’t any way to define the distinction between the morally permissible and the morally impermissible. There are not any fastened boundaries inside which my life may take on definable form; there are not any absolute guidelines to fall back on. If God doesn’t exist, then we will “find no values or commands to turn to which [might] legitimize our conduct;” there are not any excuses and no final justifications for our lives. And it’s on this sense that we experience our freedom as “condemnation”: it’s a “dizzying” freedom, a freedom with out absolute ethical boundaries, an unguided and inescapable “openness” towards being that can by no means be closed. Man’s “openness” points toward God, the transcendent absolute; however since there isn’t any God, and since man  can’t turn into God, we’re “condemned” to the unclosable openness of freedom. Only death, due to this fact, can release us from the “condemnation” of freedom, of the human situation; however death isn’t any answer, in keeping with Sartre, since the individual can haven’t any experience of the “closedness” (or the “resolution”) of death. Thus, “unhappy consciousness” is an ineradicable dimension of the human situation, and the acceptance of this example is “good faith“.

On the idea of his “postulatory atheism,” Sartre concludes that a full and “authentic” recognition of the burden of human freedom and responsibility will result in an ongoing experience of anguish, forlornness, and despair.

The existential consequences of the nonexistence of God: anguish, forlornness, and despair

Existential anguish is the results of an awareness of one’s “total and deep responsibility” for oneself and for others; it’s based mostly on the truth that one should select and act with out proof of the correctness or worth of one’s decisions and actions.

This agony of choice follows from the non-existence of God. As indicated above, if God doesn’t exist, then there could be no absolute standards or ethical guidelines which could give form to our freedom. In the absence of God and God’s ethical legislation, the person is thrown back on himself; he’s confronted with the terrible necessity of inventing his personal values and of action on the idea of his personal analysis of himself and of the world wherein he lives.

“Every man ought to say to himself, ‘Am I really the kind of man who has the right to act in such a way that humanity might guide itself by my actions?'” This question should, in spite of everything, be answered by the questioner himself and by nobody else, and, given the human tendency towards self-deception, it’s extremely possible that this Sartrean model of Kant’s categorical imperative will likely be used to justify nearly any worth or action.

Read About: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible: Summary

Recognition of this instability within the human project of valuing, selecting, and appearing is the bottom of anguish — the experience of being left on one’s personal to define for oneself the character of the good and the right.

Existential forlornness is intently associated to existential anguish. It is a result of “facing up” to the complete consequences of the nonexistence of God. Forlornness is an awareness of being left on one’s personal, of getting been abandoned; it’s the experience of utter aloneness. Man experiences “the death of God” as abandonment. Without God, human freedom is skilled as an intolerable burden: “man is condemned to be free.” If God is dead, then there could be no goal standards of life. There is due to this fact no foundation for making excuses for oneself; there isn’t any escaping one’s freedom and grave accountability. There is “no exit.” Man is “thrown” into this situation; he’s confronted with the need of defining himself with out set standards, in “fear and trembling.” This is what Sartre means when he says that “man is condemned to be free” Man should not solely make himself — invent himself! — by way of his decisions and actions; however he should achieve this within the absence of any ontologically real requirements. This is a mandatory consequence of our existential forlornness, our experience of getting been deserted by God, of getting been “thrown” into being with non goal indication as to what we’re to be or to do.

Download Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction by Thomas Flynn free PDF Book

Existential despair is a consequence of anguish and forlornness. Despair is the conclusion that one can’t finally depend on anybody or something exterior of 1’s personal will and one’s personal subject of action. Since there isn’t any God, there could be no final confidence, no final hope, that every one is well. Without God, we can’t realistically hope for something beyond the finite prospects of our personal individual existential conditions. Existential despair, then, is the giving up of all hope in requirements and realities exterior of these which we ourselves define and create by way of our personal concrete lives and actions; it’s acceptance of 1’s full and terrible responsibility for one’s decisions and actions, for one’s personal life, and for one’s world.

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