The word philosophy comes from Greek and literally means love of wisdom. Webster dictionary defines philosophy as a critical study of fundamental beliefs and the grounds for them. Both explanations of philosophy are correct and concrete, while where the meaning of human existence is located has no such concrete answer, but in this paper we will examine where Sartre believes it to be. Sartre’s existentialism is a philosophy, which deals with man. It states that man is that which he makes of himself and that he has to make his own choices in a state of anguish.
Man chooses in anguish, because he has no external guidelines to help him and must rely on his own morals and beliefs. Man chooses completely want he wants to do. His existence depends on this. And this is where I believe Sartre locates the meaning to mans’ existence. According to Sartre mans’ existence only takes on meaning through his actions. The Sartrian existentialist finds it extremely troubling that God does not exist because with Him vanishes all hope of finding values in an intelligible heaven.
As Dostoevsky once said, If God did not exist, then everything would be permitted. (pg 22) Sartre claims this to be the existentialist starting point. This is the reason that Sartre talks about anguish, because one cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. It must necessarily follow that man is to be forlorn; he can’t find anything to depend upon either internally or externally. He therefore lacks excuses. We cannot explain our actions in terms of or in reference to… given and specific human nature. g 23) This rules out of the possibility of predetermination. Man is free, man is freedom. (pg 23) For non-existentialists, passion and fate may be an excuse for their actions; but for existentialists, taking responsibility for one’s choices is a central belief. Fate is overruled and passions hold no power. An existentialist will never view a great passion as a destructive agent, or blame fate for making a man commit certain actions. Again pointing to mans’ existence being defined by his choices and actions.
Since Sartre claims that existence precedes essence, an existentialist will also deny the support of an organized religion. As a result there is an absence of values. The existentialists’ world is one of being forsaken and abandoned. In this sense, abandonment can mean that we ourselves decide our being. As an example we can consider the case of the man who was faced with a difficult decision the. The young man had two choices: To take care of his mother, or to go to England to join the freedom forces. The first option is a concrete and certain course of action.
It is immediate, but directed to only one individual. The second choice of action is addressed to an infinitely greater cause, yet the outcome is rather uncertain. The Kantian ethic warns not to regard another person as a means, but rather as an end. (pg 25-26) In this case, for the young man to remain with his mother, he would be treating her as the end and the freedom fighters as the means. On the other hand, if he were to aid the freedom fighters, he would be treating them as the end at the risk of treating his mother as the means.
This example shows how man cannot rely on values. Sartre in this case recommended to the young man to trust his instincts. Sartre’s philosophy also deals with despair and the meaning of one’s life. Marxists say, Your action is limited by your death; but you can rely upon the help of others. (pg 30) However, Sartre claims that he must confine himself to what he can see. Existentialists doubt that others will carry on their work after their death. An existentialist does not necessarily believe that the revolution will lead to the triumph of the working class.
To carry this further, from the individual cases to the great collective movements, it is necessary for the masses to free themselves by once again going back to the idea that one must do everything on his own. Another principle of existentialism is that one must first make a choice and then act upon the commitment, according to the formula that Sartre provides us with. For the existentialist, hope is a passion that gets him nowhere. He must face life in his abandoned state, with courage and self-affirmation.
Sartre’s existentialism is unique in its individualistic outlook, its detachment, its lack of reliance of an outer code to manage behavior, and its emphasis on man’s self-reliance. Existentialism, as exemplified in the work of Sartre, deals with fundamental issues of life and how he finds mans’ existence within the choices and actions that define him. Since Sartre believes that there is no transcendent this theory causes man to be alone. Man has only himself to fall back on. Man makes his own future through the actions that he makes. This is where man is defined, and his existence finds meaning.