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Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism”

The passage

“Obviously I do not mean that whenever I choose between a millefeuille and a chocolate éclair, I choose in anguish. Anguish is a constant in this sense – that my original choice is something constant. Indeed, this anguish is in my view, the complete absence of justification at the same time as one is responsible in regard to everyone”.

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The Passage Context

Inexplicably, the definitive lecture that Sartre originally gave in French with the title “L’Existentialisme est un Humanisme” which directly translated to English as Existentialism is a Humanism drew sharp reactions from reviewers who felt that Sartre’s work greatly portrayed anti-humanistic qualities. They felt that when Sartre declared existentialism as a humanity concept, he was actually making a purposeful provocation of the entire humanity.

Sartre, therefore, sought to defend his theory which was and is still greatly linked to existentialism as a philosophical movement. He aggressively sought to refute the “label” that he was an existentialist. He, therefore, wanted to explain his theory in a comprehensive manner to avoid ambiguity and misinterpretation. The passage is his response when he was asked about his use of words like anguish and despair when explaining his philosophy.

According to Sartre, his ideas were actually intended for philosophers and technicians, and that his theory was rightfully underlined by the belief that the existence of human beings comes before the essence. That is to mean that unlike the ordinary assumption that, there were a blueprint and a reason of which there is pre-existence of an actual object, humans did not have a pre-established purpose, nature, or any goal they ought to accomplish.

An Exposition of The Passage

In the passage, Sartre is explaining to his critics that simple choices like choosing Millefeuille over chocolate éclair are not done in anguish. However, the choice does not have justification though one would be responsible for the choice. In essence, this viewpoint means that Sartre believed in free will and that human choices were indeterminate. Thus Sartre insists that human beings were in anguish in their existence. The most basic meaning of this theory is that, whenever any human being dedicates him/herself to something, with the clear understanding that he/she is not only making a choice of what will be but will in so doing be making a big decision for the entire humanity. In such a situation, the person cannot help but feel the weight and profound responsibility.

Quite a number of people do not express anxiety when faced with big decisions. The argument here is that they are merely disguised in their anguish according to Sartre. Most people feel that they are not responsible for anyone but themselves! However, if asked what would happen if all humans did the same thing. They respond that “everyone cannot do that”. In reality, they are scared of self-deception and the truth of the matter is, they should always ask themselves, what if everyone did the same.

Significance of the Passage

Considering the fact that a person can consider lying in order not to be accountable for his/her actions means that there is a universal value or responsibility attached to the action. By use of such disguise, the anguish Sartre described in his lecture thus exposes itself. To clarify this concept, Sartre feels that stories like Abraham’s test are significant to this explanation. When an angel appeared to him and asked him to sacrifice his son, anyone in his shoes would have questioned, “Is this really an angel? Why me?”, “Am I the Abraham he wants?” Is there enough proof for all this?

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Thus no one can prove that every person is not responsible for the entire humanity. There is no proof whatsoever and nothing can dispute or make a convincing assurance that a person is not responsible for all mankind. By such arguments, Sartre makes his point that every person acts or should act in such a manner as if the entire world was watching. If a person does not question him/herself whether he/she is the right person to be doing any action, he/she will be dissembling anguish.

When making a choice, it is only ‘you who determines whether you feel it’s appropriate or not. The anguish a person feels in such a position is not just a fixed outcome and should not cause inaction or quietism. It is a concept so simple and pure, an idea everyone borne with responsibilities clearly understands. It’s the anguish that the ultimate decision lies with the person taking the action despite anything else like a command from those in authority.

Sartre supports the concept of humanity that respects and preserves the dignity of human beings. This emphasizes human choices as being central to the growth of all human values. Thus his existentialism concept magnifies the optimism humanism depicts. Despite his rejection of pre-established goals, human beings are still responsible for what they become this responsibility places the future of humanity in their hands.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, May 28). Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism”. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/jean-paul-sartres-existentialism-is-a-humanism/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, May 28). Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism”. https://studycorgi.com/jean-paul-sartres-existentialism-is-a-humanism/

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"Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism”." StudyCorgi, 28 May 2021, studycorgi.com/jean-paul-sartres-existentialism-is-a-humanism/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism”." May 28, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/jean-paul-sartres-existentialism-is-a-humanism/.


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StudyCorgi. "Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism”." May 28, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/jean-paul-sartres-existentialism-is-a-humanism/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism”." May 28, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/jean-paul-sartres-existentialism-is-a-humanism/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism”'. 28 May.

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