Sartre holds that “existence precedes essence. ” A human being is simply what he or she wills to be. Sartre believes that we are defined by what we do. We are what we choose to do. Existentialism is not an easy concept to explain, and Sartre agreed. He summed up existentialism as existence precedes essence. What does that really mean? Sartre explained it using the analogy of the paper cutter. He said that an artisan whose inspiration came from a concept made the paper cutter. The artisan referred to the concept of what a paper cutter was and created it with a known method of production (part of the concept of the cutter) with a routine.
The paper cutter was produced a certain way creating on certain use for it. Therefore, the essence (the pre-production intent and method of creation) came before the actual existence of the paper cutter, its intent and plan for production was already determined. Existentialism is the opposite of this. If it were existentialism, the cutter would have been created at random without anyone knowing the intent of it until the artisan determined an intent for the cutter after its production. Following this line of thought, I find myself in a situation where there would be no despair at all because all the hope lies in ones self.
I define myself and my purpose in my life and I then take responsibility for my choice by living out my self-determined purpose. . The supreme virtue of existentialism is ultimate choice. This can only have been obtained if I am true to myself. I also have to take responsibility for my own actions because I choose my own actions and must live with the consequences. I can choose what I become and have to live with it, but I can change it to create a better fit if I thought my choice wasn’t totally correct.
Although Sartre’s philosophy has many advantages and it builds itself on the belief that we create our own choices and we are responsible for ourselves. I believe that many people will not take the challenge or back out in fear of the responsibility. This occurs because there is no way for the people to know for sure that the choice they make as their definition of themselves is correct. This creates a fear in many people, a fear of being wrong and a fear that being wrong could lead to their demise. Sartre admitted there was much anguish in taking the existential challenge because there was no way of knowing one was right.
Sartre’s advice to the leery was to be human, stick to ones self, and just hope for the best. This was the point where existentialism neared the thin line between philosophy in religion because to take this challenge, people had to have a belief in themselves in order to stick with their choices. Existentialism got much criticism not only because it was mainly atheistic, but also because of the morals it created. Actually, the morals were not created by existentialism, but by existentialists. They created their own morals and values to comply with choosing their own purposes in life.
The meaning of their lives directly paralleled the values chosen, in fact Sartre thought that the values chosen is what ones meaning of life was based upon. This idea was strongly criticized by many people because they feared that this could create anarchy. If everyone created their own values, there would be no set laws in which to obey. Sartre stated that ones conscience would be able to determine between right and wrong; and that one could tell if their choice of action served an injustice to another person.
Many were very skeptical of this, however; fearing that, for example, backing out of an agreement was acceptable to some, but would not be acceptable to others. In conclusion, despite the large amount of criticism, Sartre was widely followed and looked upon highly by many. He could support his ideas with reason and logic. These ideas appealed to large amounts of people because of the circumstances they were in. The timing of Sartre was part of what created such a large following.
Throughout history, change and the following of new and sometimes radical ideas came right after a large disaster in which people were left in despair looking for hope. If there is one thing to remember about existentialism it is that existence precedes essence. If one is an existentialist or not: one gets out of life what one puts in; the meaning of our lives comes not from what happens in our lives, but what we do in them; and every one of us are actors on the stage of life. In closing, Sartre said it best when he commented, “Man is encompassed by his own existence and there is no exit. ”
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