.. as both right-wing and left-wing parties shunned him and his revolutionary attitude. He became immensely popular both in France and in America. Sartre died on April 15, 1980, having lived a completely inconsistent and disorderly life. However, his outlandish ways had spread the fame of Existentialism and he had left his ineraseable mark on the world forever.
His works Sartre wrote several books, plays, and articles on several subjects, primarily political and philosophical. Some are listed below: Nausea (1938) A novel which dealt with one character, Roquentin, on his search to understand existence and essence. He finds himself unable to associate things as commonly known, and the reader is left to determine whether this is a breakthrough or a fault. The Transcendence of the Ego (1937) A phenomenological study of human consciousness Being and Nothingness (1943) Sartre’s famed dissertation on the relationship between being-in-itself and being-for-itself. The first part of his non-fictional works on Existentialism. Here he delved briefly into the idea of human “existence preceding essence” and more in depth into the concept of forlornness and anguish as they relate to consciousness and freedom. Existentialism and Human Emotion / Existentialism is a Humanism (1946) Apparently two translations of the same title, his most famous work in America.
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In this text he dealt in greater depth with the idea that humanity has the unique position of existence which precedes essence, and here he basically disqualifies the concept of God. The Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960) His essay in support of “pure” Marxism as it ideally protects human freedom. Meant to be two volumes, he abandoned the second before completion. Emotions: Outline of a Theory (1936) An essay The Flies (1943) His anti-Nazi play produced during WWII. No Exit (1944) A play The Age of Reason (1945) A novel Anti-Semite and Jew (1946) An essay The Respectful Prostitute (1947) A play Dirty Hands (1948) A text Saint Genet (1952) A biography The Family Idiot (1982) A critique Sartre and Existentialism It is true that Sartre did not originate Existentialism, he merely popularized it. Without Sartre, Existentialism, today many people may never have heard of the philosophy and it certainly would not have become ingrained in the pop culture that it helped to define. An explanation of Existentialism is appropriate. Existentialism is defined as the “term used to refer to any philosophy that emphasizes fundamental questions of meaning and choice as they affect existing individuals” (Soccio, 477). Pojman outlines “three theses of Existentialism” on pages 351-355: 1.
Existence precedes essence. In other words, man is the only species that can define himself. We can decide our own definitions by the choice we make and the actions we take. 2. The Absurdity of Existence. Existence is absurd, as we can make any choice and most people make inferior choices in life. The amount of possibilities at any time is countless; if nothing else, we always have the option of life or death. There is no meaning apart from humanity.
3. Freedom. As Sartre says, we are “condemned to freedom.” We have ultimate choice in everything. Because of this we feel ungrounded, a sense of anguish. Because we have existence before essence, we must create our essence with the freedom we have. We must define ourselves. Existentialist themes often include “choice, freedom, identity, alienation, inauthenticity, despair, and awareness of our own mortality” (Soccio, 477).
There are two main schools of Existentialism: religious Existentialism, which would include the principles of Kierkeegard and Heidegger, and secular Existentialism, which includes the philosophy of Nietzsche and Sartre. Obviously, the religious existentialists did not dismiss the existence of God but rather attributed the absurdity of existence to the inner voice of God calling us to higher forms of self. The secular Existentialists, or atheist Existentialists, totally disavowed the existence of God and dismissed the importance of one, implying that such a being is impossible – a being “in-itself-for-itself” in the words of Sartre – and paradoxical as well as useless. In reality, all Sartre did was take the ideas of Nietzsche and other great Existentialists and use it to fuel his works of fiction and his essays. It was these works that earned popularity for the school of thought, and that can be considered his greatest achievement: the promotion of Existentialism.
Problems with Existentialism and Modern Applications So what are the weaknesses of his theory? How would we apply his thoughts to contemporary social issues? Let’s try to take a stab at these issues . . . One problem with Existentialism has come into the spotlight as of late: genetics. The study of genetics is a widely expanding field.
Through science we have learned that genes and DNA are responsible for traits from hair color and height to alcoholism and probably homosexuality. What were once considered “choices” are now being found to be much more hereditary than we have been comfortable to admit. There may be a certain degree of freedom of choice, but as time passes we learn that more and more of our behavior is genetically coded into our DNA and we are merely acting it out. And if this is the case, how do we philosophize on the issue of other primates? Some primates have 97-99% and possibly greater similarity of genetic sequences compared to humans. How much of their behavior is choice? The topic of genetic engineering could be a point for either side: on one hand, we can define ourselves on a much greater scale, but on the other hand we are admitting that we are patterned after our genes, as all other creatures are.
How would Sartre feel about the topic of genetic engineering? How would Existentialism deal with it? I think that Existentialists would say that such freedom would lead us to a greater sense of anguish as we are faced with a greater sense of freedom to define ourselves and mankind. But since Sartre says that “as we Daphne ourselves we define all of humankind,” we should likely avoid the pursuit of such a field, as we have a responsibility to our fellow humanity. As most human life is absurd and most people make inferior choices, it would be best to avoid the topic, although we have the freedom to pursue it if we desire. How would he feel about abortion? Since in choosing for ourselves we choose for humanity, our responsibility should dictate that abortion is wrong. This part of the philosophy is reminiscent of Kant’s categorical imperative, but it does not imply that we should necessarily do what is right. However, for the proliferation of mankind as the only species where existence precedes essence, it would only make sense that (secular) Existentialists should decide against abortion. But again, we must never forget that the option exists.
Likewise, the secular Existentialists would decide on various issues. As Sartre averred, we always have the choice of life or death. However, through his actions it is apparent that we should choose life, because to choose death would exterminate consciousness. A being can not be conscious in death, as there is nothing to be conscious of. Consciousness can only exist as it is conscious of something. A being conscious of its own unconsciousness is impossible to Sartre. Thus sums up the life and philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Although this essay can in no way be considered a thorough examination of his life and of the philosophy of Existentialism or even secular Existentialism, it serves the purpose of identifying the general ideas the man popularized in his works and spread into an entire world and consciousness.