PHL100: Sartrean Existentialism
Sarte's "Existentialism is a Humanism"
- Sartre (1905-1980) sees himself as representing atheist
- Sarte summarizes his existentialism with the claim that
for human being, existence precedes essence. This means that
first we exist, and then we decide what to be.
- Contrast the case of artifact. A hammer is a hammer because
it is made to do that. But we are not made (and even if you
believe we were made, Sartre notes, you can believe we were made
free). So we have no purpose in the sense that a hammer does.
We have to choose what we are to be.
- Sartre claims that there is something universal about my
choices: if I choose to be a Christian Union member, then I
assert that this is a way to be that at least I found worthy.
- Human being is anguished becuase we cannot be certain of
- Human being is forlorn because there is no certainty to
be found about our decisions, no fixed and certain guide to
human nature. Sartre famously phrased this, "Man is condemned
to be free."
- Human being can be despairing because our choices may not
result in the ends we seek or expect.
- Sartre's philosophy is heavily influenced by -- it might
even be fair to say, derived from -- the early philosophy of
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Heidegger was a deeper
philosopher, although Sartre was an infinitely better man.
- Heidegger's philosophy is vastly complex, and we cannot
do it justice here. However, one point is worth mention, as
an addendum to Sartre's comments: Heidegger's notion of Das
Mann, or "The They."
- Heidegger argues that we get our selves first from
our socialization by others, by the vague "one" or "they"
that we refer to when we say, "One does not chew with her
- The They, however, is not a human being. It is an abstraction,
an inauthentic amalgam of our social discourse. The They does
not die, nor does it make choices (at least, it faces no responsibility
- We are always tempted to give in to how The They defines
us. When we do this we are being inauthentic, we are lying to
ourselves and pretending, for example, that these are right
and certain things. But in fact we must die and we must
accept responsibility for our actions. Hiding in The They is
a way to hide from this.