Existentialism Is a Humanism | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Existentialism Is a Humanism | Glossary


abandonment: (n) the feeling produced when an individual realizes there is no God—i.e., no foundational being who has determined human nature and constructed laws to govern human behavior

anguish: (n) the sense of uncertainty people experience when they have accepted responsibility and chosen a course of action but are unsure of how that course of action will affect others. Anguish results from not knowing the "right" course of action because, in the absence of God, there are no essential laws or guidance.

a priori: (adj) relating to knowledge that is independent of experience

atheistic existentialist: (phrase) someone who believes that man, not God, is in charge of his own destiny, which is both a tremendous responsibility and a source of anguish

authenticity: (n) commitment to action based on one's own values. Anything else, Sartre believes, is living in bad faith.

bad faith: (phrase) refusal to accept responsibility for one's life. People might endlessly talk about their project but never undertake it, or they might hide behind existing social structures instead of consciously living according to their own values.

bourgeois: (n) a member of upper middle-class society. For Marxists bourgeois means an enemy of the proletariat (working-class people) and the revolution.

Christian existentialist: (phrase) an existentialist who believes in God but does not accept that God governs human behavior. Like all existentialists they feel that man must determine his own values and that existence precedes essence.

despair: (n) the result of living an inauthentic life or living in bad faith. Sartre views despair as the state of being limited by probabilities outside a person's control, such as a lame leg or a train that arrives too late.

intersubjectivity: (n) the interplay of the conscious action ("subjectivity") of all people. Sartre believes conscious action will lead all people to act for the greater good, each one acting alone but aware of others.

Marxism: (n) a left-wing political movement based on the writings of Karl Marx. Marxists believe that workers are unfairly subjugated by the bourgeoisie and must unite to overthrow society and replace it with a more just distribution of wealth.

phenomenology: (n) the philosophical study of how individual human beings react to objects, other people, and sensory stimuli. In Sartre's time it was a study of human subjectivity most interested in the question, "What is the self?"

project: (n) a course of action committed to by an individual. Each human life is potentially a project, but only those who accept responsibility for determining their values and for acting consciously to uphold them can truly be said to have a project.

subjectivity: (n) action and outlook according only to one's own values and perspective

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