Existentialism Is a Humanism

by

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Existentialism Term Analysis

The philosophical movement Sartre espouses. Its fundamental proposition is the notion that existence precedes essence, which means that people are born without a fixed identity or purpose, and they form themselves and their lives through their actions alone. As a result of what Sartre calls the human condition—that people act as a subject within the constraints of an environment—Sartre argues that there are no absolute moral truths, and indeed that human life is only possible insofar as people recognize their freedom over their own choices and their responsibility for the outcome of those choices. While scholars have offered various definitions of existentialism with various historical scopes, the narrowest definition includes Sartre, as well as fellow French philosophers Albert Camus, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gabriel Marcel, and Simone de Beauvoir (who was Sartre’s partner in the later part of their lives). Most commentators (including Sartre here) also include philosophers Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Karl Jaspers, as well as novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, as either early existentialists or precursors to existentialism.

Existentialism Quotes in Existentialism Is a Humanism

The Existentialism Is a Humanism quotes below are all either spoken by Existentialism or refer to Existentialism. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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:

It makes me wonder if what they are really annoyed about is not its pessimism, but rather its optimism. For when all is said and done, could it be that what frightens them about the doctrine that I shall try to present to you here is that it offers man the possibility of individual choice?

Page Number: 19-20
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:

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:
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Existentialism Term Timeline in Existentialism Is a Humanism

The timeline below shows where the term Existentialism appears in Existentialism Is a Humanism. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Existentialism Is a Humanism
Radical Freedom, Choice, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Existentialism and Its Critics Theme Icon
Sartre opens his lecture by declaring his goal: “to defend existentialism against some charges that have been brought against it.” He names four charges: two from... (full context)
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...on the lecture’s title by acknowledging that his audience might be surprised that Sartre sees existentialism as a kind of humanism. This is largely because the public mistakenly views existentialism as... (full context)
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Radical Freedom, Choice, and Responsibility Theme Icon
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Sartre then tries to more explicitly define “existentialism.” He suggests that the public uses the term as a fashionable insult rather than actually... (full context)
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...reflect a view of what is “good” for humanity as a whole. Sartre argues that existentialism’s “fundamental meaning” lies in the fact that people cannot overcome this condition of subjectivity. Sartre... (full context)
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...work out in their favor. He then addresses the Communist objection that this means that existentialism cannot accommodate solidarity, since, to be effective in their actions, people have to rely on... (full context)
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Sartre sums up his core belief that “reality alone counts” and recapitulates his contention that existentialism’s critics are actually attacking its optimism rather than its pessimism. This is because existentialism blames... (full context)
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Sartre agrees that existentialism starts with individual subjectivity and specifies that its foundational truth is Descartes’s famous I think,... (full context)
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Sartre turns to the three remaining criticisms of existentialism, which also center on its subjectivism. The next objection is that existentialism makes all values... (full context)
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The next criticism is that, under existentialism, people would not have a way to judge others. Sartre responds that the existentialist subject... (full context)
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Sartre finally turns to the lecture’s title by addressing existentialism’s relationship to humanism. He says there are two things “humanism” can mean. The first is... (full context)
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Sartre concludes by portraying existentialism as “an attempt to draw all of the conclusions inferred by a consistently atheistic point... (full context)