Existentialism Is a Humanism

by

Jean-Paul Sartre

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The renowned French existentialist philosopher who gave the 1945 lecture transcribed in this book. Sartre gave the lecture to address his concern that, as his fame grew throughout France and the world, the term “existentialist” became increasingly maligned through characterizations of the philosophy that was actually divorced from (and in some cases opposed to) the specifics of Sartre’s thought. He delivers the lecture in order to explain the basic tenets of existentialism to those ignorant of it, as well as to address the most common objections to existentialism from popular Communist and Christian critics who, he believed, fundamentally misunderstood his philosophy. Sartre values intellectual honesty, taking moral responsibility for one’s actions, and thinking deeply about the nature of his life.

Jean-Paul Sartre Quotes in Existentialism Is a Humanism

The Existentialism Is a Humanism quotes below are all either spoken by Jean-Paul Sartre or refer to Jean-Paul Sartre . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Existence, Essence and the Human Condition Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Yale University Press edition of Existentialism Is a Humanism published in 2007.
Existentialism Is a Humanism Quotes

Many will be surprised by what l have to say here about humanism. We shall attempt to discover in what sense we understand it. In any case, let us begin by saying that what we mean by “existentialism” is a doctrine that makes human life possible and also affirms that every truth and every action imply an environment and a human subjectivity.

Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

The truth is that of all doctrines, this is the least scandalous and the most austere: it is strictly intended for specialists and philosophers.

Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

When God creates he knows exactly what he is creating. The concept of man, in the mind of God, is comparable to the concept of the paper knife in the mind of the manufacturer: God produces man following certain techniques and a conception, just as the craftsman, following a definition and a technique, produces a paper knife. Thus each individual man is the realization of a certain concept within this divine intelligence.

Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker), The Christian Critics, God
Related Symbols: Paper Knife
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

What do we mean here by “existence precedes essence”? We mean that man first exists: he materializes in the world, encounters himself, and only afterward defines himself. If man as existentialists conceive of him cannot be defined, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later and then he will be what he makes of himself.

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Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Man is indeed a project that has a subjective existence, rather unlike that of a patch of moss, a spreading fungus, or a cauliflower. Prior to that projection of the self, nothing exists, not even in divine intelligence, and man shall attain existence only when he is what he projects himself to be—not what he would like to be.

Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

In choosing myself, I choose man.

Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

If a voice speaks to me, it is always I who must decide whether or not this is the voice of an angel; if I regard a certain course of action as good, it is I who will choose to say that it is good, rather than bad.

Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker), God
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

All leaders have experienced that anguish, but it does not prevent them from acting. To the contrary it is the very condition of their action, for they first contemplate several options, and, in choosing one of them, realize that its only value lies in the fact that it was chosen.

Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Dostoyevsky once wrote: “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.” This is the starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and man is consequently abandoned, for he cannot find anything to rely on—neither within nor without.

Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker), The Christian Existentialists, God
Page Number: 28-9
Explanation and Analysis:

Man is condemned to be free: condemned, because he did not create himself, yet nonetheless free, because once cast into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.

Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker)
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

People would prefer to be born a coward or be born a hero.

Related Characters: Jean-Paul Sartre (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Contrary to the philosophy of Descartes, or of Kant, when we say “I think,” we each attain ourselves in the presence of the other, and we are just as certain of the other as we are of ourselves. Therefore, the man who becomes aware of himself directly in the cogito also perceives all others, and he does so as the condition of his own existence. He realizes that he cannot be anything (in the sense in which we say someone is spiritual, or cruel, or jealous) unless others acknowledge him as such.

Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jean-Paul Sartre Character Timeline in Existentialism Is a Humanism

The timeline below shows where the character Jean-Paul Sartre appears in Existentialism Is a Humanism. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Existentialism Is a Humanism
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Sartre opens his lecture by declaring his goal: “to defend existentialism against some charges that have... (full context)
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Sartre briefly elaborates on the lecture’s title by acknowledging that his audience might be surprised that... (full context)
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Sartre then tries to more explicitly define “existentialism.” He suggests that the public uses the term... (full context)
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Sartre likens the knife’s manufacturer to the traditional idea of God as creator: under this view,... (full context)
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Sartre turns to the concept of subjectivity and argues that a human subject is a “project”—both... (full context)
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Sartre turns to anguish, which describes a person’s pain at realizing that they are morally responsible... (full context)
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Sartre says that anguish does not prevent action but is rather a “condition of action.” He... (full context)
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Sartre moves on to abandonment, by which he means simply the fact “that God does not... (full context)
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To illustrate his point about “passion,” Sartre tells the story of a student who was forced during World War II to choose... (full context)
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To illustrate his point about “signs,” Sartre tells the story of a man he met when he was detained in a German... (full context)
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Sartre explains “despair” as the fact that people, upon looking realistically at the probabilistic conditions surrounding... (full context)
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Sartre sums up his core belief that “reality alone counts” and recapitulates his contention that existentialism’s... (full context)
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Sartre agrees that existentialism starts with individual subjectivity and specifies that its foundational truth is Descartes’s... (full context)
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Although Sartre does not believe in a universal human nature, he argues that there is a universal... (full context)
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Sartre turns to the three remaining criticisms of existentialism, which also center on its subjectivism. The... (full context)
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...next criticism is that, under existentialism, people would not have a way to judge others. Sartre responds that the existentialist subject can, indeed, judge others by recognizing that their choices are... (full context)
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Sartre takes up two literary examples: a character from George Eliot, Maggie, who chooses to leave... (full context)
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Sartre takes up the final objection: that, since people choose their own values, those values “need... (full context)
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Sartre finally turns to the lecture’s title by addressing existentialism’s relationship to humanism. He says there... (full context)
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The second meaning of “humanism” is Sartre’s universal human condition, in which people act in the pursuit of goals and values outside... (full context)
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Sartre concludes by portraying existentialism as “an attempt to draw all of the conclusions inferred by... (full context)