Philosophy Essay Example: Existentialism and Humanism

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Middlebury College
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The philosophy of Existentialism emphasizes individual choice, freedom, and existence. According to the philosophy, as there is no God or any other transcendent forces, humans define their meaning of life. Humans must make rational decisions in an irrational world and embrace existence as it is the only way to counter nothingness. Beings are unrestricted to make personal assessments and hence have a personal responsibility. With action, decision and freedom come responsibility, or the individuals will fall into absurd conditions characterized by suffering and death.

Existentialism originated from the 19th to 20th century. The biggest propagators of the philosophy included Soren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Simone de Beauvoir, Karl Jasper and Jean-Paul Sartre. This movement was prescribed to individuals who saw the inadequacies of the other belief systems claiming that they were remote, academic and superficial; they refused to belong to a specific school of thoughts. These philosophers (Solomon, 29) popularized the existing themes like freedom and determinism, death and desire, anxiety and the search for the absolute.

Together with his contemporaries Albert Camus and Simone De Beauvoir, Sartre was known as the figurehead for the philosophy of Existentialism. He helped popularize the movement through plays and novels and numerous academic works. As a young man, he was a confirmed atheist and committed to Marxist and communism.

According to Sartre, individuals are a product of their real-life situations. He believed that existence was before essence in that a man is born without meaning and thrown into the universe. The actions we choose and how we act are what determines our apparent qualities as Sartre puts it at first, (Man) is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he will have made what he will be. He says that men are condemned to be free, and though they might seek to deny, distort and evade this freedom they will nonetheless have to face it if they want to be moral beings.

Existentialism and Humanism is one of the most popular works of Sartre that introduces the key themes of Existentialism like Being and Nothingness and raises the questions of human existence. The book offers genuine insight into the conditions of human life. The book is about the existence of man that comes before essence. The purpose and blueprint of the physical thing, human being, is not pre-established. He states in his book that he doesnt believe in common human nature as the source of human morality but rather, individuals are forced to choose what they will become.

Satre's philosophy centered on three different issues, abandonment, anguish and despair. They all connoted a form of suffering, and although they have negative associations, they bring a positive aspect. According to him, God metaphysically exists at one point in time but then abandoned humans (Visker, 17). He expresses the sense of loss that is caused by the realization that there is not God to affect our moral choices. He believes in the freedom of will and the responsibility that comes with the choices we make. He names the responsibility placed upon us as anguish.' He describes despair as an attitude of the fact that different aspects of life are beyond our control.

Humans are a result of their activities and beliefs, and without the existence of God, it is left to humans to use their freedom the right way otherwise they will fall into unavoidable death. Humans are responsible for their actions do they become what they decide.


Works Cited

Solomon, Robert C. "Emotions In Continental Philosophy.." Philosophy Compass, vol 1, no. 5, 2006, pp. 413-431. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/j.1471-8286.2006.00034.x.

Visker, Rudi. "Was Existentialism Truly A Humanism?." Sartre Studies International, vol 13, no. 1, 2007, Berghahn Books, doi:10.3167/ssi.2007.130102.


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