Existentialism Is a Humanism | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Jean-Paul Sartre an is nothing other than what he makes of himself. Existentialism Is a Humanismby the Numbers Months Sartre spent in a German prisoner-of-war camp 9 People who lined the streets of Paris on April 19, 1980, the day of Sartre’s funeral procession ~50,000 Year Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he refused to accept 1964 Cigarette packs Sartre reportedly smoked each day, a habit that likely led to his death from lung edema after being treated for lung cancer 2 Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Guardian, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Copyright © 2018 Course Hero, Inc. A committed intellectual and activist, Sartre is the figure most often associated with existential philosophy. He wrote “Existentialism Is a Humanism” in an attempt to redeem existentialism from charges that it is “antihumanistic” and pessimistic. The essay is relevant today for its comprehensive definitions of existentialist concepts. JEAN-PAUL SARTRE1905–80 Author Growing Bourgeoisie Sartre criticized the middle class for its capitalistic values, which he believed made the majority suffer. Rise of Communism The need for social justice after the war led many intellectuals to sympathize with communist regimes. World War II Sartre learned firsthand the importance of committedaction during World War II. Context Themes Absolute Freedom As free agents, people must take responsibility for how they use their freedom. Existence Precedes Essence Without God to determine human nature, human beings must invent themselves. Committed Action People do not exist except through their actions in the world. Conscious Choice When people deliberately choose an ethical course of action, they embark on a lifelong project to improve society. Immoral? Freedom of choice doesn't make people immoral; it makes them accountable for their actions. Pessimistic? Believing existence is meaningless isn't pessimistic; people can create a hopeful future. Self-Focused? Contemplating the self doesn't prevent people from acting for the public good; their choices do. Meaning in a World without God Originally a lecture given in October 1945, “Existentialism Is a Humanism” is Sartre’s attempt to refute critiques of existential philosophy. In it, he states that people are free to decide how to live their lives and that this concept, while inevitably leading to anguish and despair, is essentially humanistic for its emphasis on ethics. DEFENSE AGAINST CRITIQUES French Original Language 1946 Year Published Jean-Paul Sartre Author Existentialism Is a Humanism Essay Philosophy

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