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Sartre and Baldwin

Thoughts and reflections after reading Sartres 43-page defense of Existentialism in his 1957 Existentialism and Human Emotions

The connection I want to illustrate between these two thinkers is that of the liberation from essence of essential categories. For Sartre, as propounded in Existentialism and Human Emotions, atheistic existentialism is making a radical departure from the concept of od. Sartre sa!s that both atheistic and theistic conceptions of existentialism take as their first principle the idea that existence precedes essence. That is, that human beings, first of all, are thrown into the world, the! show up in the uni"erse, and onl! afterwards do the! go about making choices and acting in the world so as to constitute what might be termed their essence. Historicall!, in theolog! and philosoph!, this idea was in"erted, essence preceded existence. There was some ideal, some eternal, uni"ersal idealit! that prescribed what things, which actuall! existed in the world, were. There was supposedl! some fixed, essential nature about things, which defined them. Sartre wants to push back against that idea and state that because there is no od from whom such essentialisms can issue, man is free, alone, and responsible for what it is that she is. #t the outset, she is nothing, and onl! after choosing and acting does she begin to construct and create who and what it is she shall be. Thus, essence takes on two "er! different definitions in these two formulations. The historical essence precedes existence formulation posits an ideal or uni"ersal, eternal thingness that makes something what it is. In the case of humans, then, this account would propose something called human nature. This would be an intrinsic, essential feature that defined what it meant to be human. Hence, there would no escape or means b! which to alter it because b! it$s "er! definition, the human was prescribed b! this essential character. In a sense, then, the human being would be locked into this mode of being. od would, historicall! speaking, prescribe this essence. Howe"er, on the existentialist account, espousing the in"ersion, existence precedes essence, there is no od %in atheistic existentialism& to prescribe this uni"ersal, eternal human nature. #nd since there is no od, the onl! being who can be said to prescribe this essence, if there is one, is the human being. The powerful mo"e is that, no longer is essence concei"ed of as this immutable categor! that, from eternit!, was worked out and defined for all time. 'o. Instead, essence is d!namic. (ankind can create and recreate mankind. 'o longer is humanit! locked in, fore"er immured b!, an essential human nature. If we ha"e freedom, if we can and must choose and act in this world, then we can ha"e no recourse to eternal "erities that, prior to our existence, mandated that we should act, li"e, beha"e and the like, in some prescribed wa!. The former, classical notion of essence, ser"ed to absol"e us of an! responsibilit!. i"en that existentialism denies determinism and espouses human freedom and dignit!, it also accepts, with intense appreciation and commitment, the utter responsibilit! that must be ours. 'o longer are we able to impute credit or dishonor for our actions and words to

some human nature, which sa!s that we will alwa!s act or speak in a certain wa!. 'o. )e ha"e freedom. )e can choose. #nd if we can choose one thing, then, we can also choose another. This has powerful implications for Baldwin and his attack on race, as he works in his writing and acti"ism to expose its fallaciousness. *espite race being recogni+ed as a social construct, the idea of race posits certain natural kinds or t!pes of humans. ,ace as an idea supposes that these kinds ha"e natures, essential features, that distinguish them from the other races or t!pes of human beings. -harles (ills, in his .//0 lac!ness "isi#le$ Essa%s on &ace and 'hilosoph% , describes a 1metaph!sics of race2 and details the position of the racial realist, the person who 1in the most minimal sense 3 thinks it is ob4ecti"el! the case5 independent of human belief5that there are natural human races6 in other words, that races are natural kinds. In the stronger, more interesting sense, a racial realist will also belie"e that the differences between races are not confined to the superficial morphological characteristics of skin color, hair t!pe and facial features, but extend to significant moral, intellectual, characterological, and spiritual characteristics also, that there are racial essences.2 %789:&