Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

Overthink Podcast

Resumo da obra em inglês.

La liberté selon Jean-Paul Sartre

Par Camille Renard, France Culture

Pour Sartre, “jamais nous n’avions été plus libres que sous l’occupation allemande”. Il y a 40 ans exactement mourait le philosophe de l’existentialisme. En ces temps difficiles pourtant, sa définition de la liberté éprouvée dans la contrainte semble plus que jamais d’actualité.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Jean-Paul Sartre

Few philosophers have been as famous in their own life-time as Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–80). Many thousands of Parisians packed into his public lecture, Existentialism is a Humanism, towards the end of 1945 and the culmination of World War 2. That lecture offered an accessible version of his difficult treatise, Being and Nothingness (1943), which had been published two years earlier, and it also responded to contemporary Marxist and Christian critics of Sartre’s “existentialism”. Sartre was much more than just a traditional academic philosopher, however, and this begins to explain his renown. He also wrote highly influential works of literature, inflected by philosophical concerns, like Nausea (1938), The Roads to Freedom trilogy (1945–49), and plays like No Exit (1947), Flies (1947), and Dirty Hands (1948), to name just a few. He founded and co-edited Les Temps Modernes and mobilised various forms of political protest and action. In short, he was a celebrity and public intellectual par excellence, especially in the period after Liberation through to the early 1960s. Responding to some calls to prosecute Sartre for civil disobedience, the then French President Charles de Gaulle replied that you don’t arrest Voltaire.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Existentialism

What distinguishes existentialism from other movements in the intellectual history of the West is how it stretched far beyond the literary and academic worlds. Its ideas are captured in films by Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Goddard, Akira Kurosawa, and Terrence Malick. Its moods are expressed in the paintings of Edvard Munch, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and Edward Hopper and in the vitiated forms of the sculptor Alberto Giocometti. Its emphasis on freedom and the struggle for self-creation informed the radical and emancipatory politics of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as well as the writings of Black intellectuals such as Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Its engagement with the relationship between faith and freedom and the incomprehensibility of God shaped theological debates through the lectures and writings of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Martin Buber, among others. And, with its penetrating analyses of anxiety and the importance of self-realization, the movement has had a profound impact in the development of humanistic and existential approaches to psychotherapy in the work of a wide range of theorists, including R.D. Laing, Rollo May, Viktor Frankl, and Irvin Yalom.

Nihilism: The emergence of existentialism as an intellectual movement was influenced by the rise of nihilism in late nineteenth century Europe as the pre-modern religious worldview was replaced with one that was increasingly secular and scientific. This historical transition resulted in the loss of a transcendent moral framework and contributed to the rise of modernity’s signature experiences: anxiety, alienation, boredom, and meaninglessness.

Engagement vs. Detachment: Against a philosophical tradition that privileges the standpoint of theoretical detachment and objectivity, existentialism generally begins in medias res, amidst our own situated, first-person experience. The human condition is revealed through an examination of the ways we concretely engage with the world in our everyday lives and struggle to make sense of and give meaning to our existence.

Existence Precedes Essence: Existentialists forward a novel conception of the self not as a substance or thing with some pre-given nature (or “essence”) but as a situated activity or way of being whereby we are always in the process of making or creating who we are as our life unfolds. This means our essence is not given in advance; we are contingently thrown into existence and are burdened with the task of creating ourselves through our choices and actions.

Freedom: Existentialists agree that what distinguishes our existence from that of other beings is that we are self-conscious and exist for ourselves, which means we are free and responsible for who we are and what we do. This does not mean we are wholly undetermined but, rather, that we are always beyond or more than ourselves because of our capacity to interpret and give meaning to whatever limits or determines us.

Authenticity: Existentialists are critical of our ingrained tendency to conform to the norms and expectations of the public world because it prevents us from being authentic or true to ourselves. An authentic life is one that is willing to break with tradition and social convention and courageously affirm the freedom and contingency of our condition. It is generally understood to refer to a life lived with a sense of urgency and commitment based on the meaning-giving projects that matter to each of us as individuals.

Ethics: Although they reject the idea of moral absolutes and universalizing judgments about right conduct, existentialism should not be dismissed for promoting moral nihilism. For the existentialist, a moral or praiseworthy life is possible. It is one where we acknowledge and own up to our freedom, take full responsibility for our choices, and act in such a way as to help others realize their freedom.

Referenced in