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RAMOS EDUC 301 Advanced Educational Philosophy

Ph. D. Educ. Student DR. ISAIAS A. BANAAG


by Jean-Paul Sartre


What is the meaning of life? What is my true identity? What is my greater

purpose? How should I live my life? What is death? What happens when we die? Is
there a God, and if so what is his nature? How do I make moral choices? How do I
choose between two competing good or bad choices?
All these questions are the kinds of questions asked by an existentialist. To
understand what is existentialism vis-a-viz humanism it is incumbent upon us to ponder
on the thoughts of known existentialists like J.P. Sartre. This paper will dwell on
reflecting on his work Existentialism and Humanism.


Sartre begins his discussion by stating that there are Objections to

Existentialism. One objection is that it embodies a quietism of despair. Critics say that
there is no hope of changing the world and human relations. Another is that it
overemphasizes evil and is too negative and pessimistic. The other is it is too
subjective. It lacks potential for solidarity. And lastly it is nihilistic (denies moral values)
and anarchistic.

Existentialism according to Sartre is a doctrine that does render human life

possible; a doctrine, also, which affirms that every truth and every action imply both an
environment and a human subjectivity. Freedom, as understood by the existentialist, is
opposed to a conservative resignation and acceptance of the status quo. There are two
varieties of existentialismChristian and atheist. Both hold that subjectivity is primary
and that, for human beings, existence precedes essence.

Atheistic existentialism declares that if God does not exist there is at least one
being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be
defined by any conception of it. That being is man or, as Heidegger has it, the human

Sartre uses Tool Analogy in describing the philosophy of existentialism, the

Paper-knife analogy. Essence precedes existence. According to him the concept
determines the being and nature of the tool. The concept of this analogy is that the sum
of the formulae and the qualities which made its production and definition possible.
There is no concept, purpose, or a priori plan that determines human nature or the
character of individual human lives.

The author proceeds by discussing the philosophys first principle. According to

him, man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the worldand defines
himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to
begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he
makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a
conception of it. Man simply is. Not that he is simply what he conceives himself to be,
but he is what he wills, and as he conceives himself after already existingas he wills
to be after that leap towards existence. Man is nothing else but that which he makes
of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism.

On the concept of consciousness, Sartre expounded on that man is the first thing
(creature) for whom existence precedes essence due to the fact that man is not created
but merely "appears on the scene". Then, can't it be said that all living creatures, indeed
all natural objects, since they are not created either, share in this feature that existence
precedes essence? How is human reality distinct in this respect? Sartre adds that
perhaps we should distinguish plant and animal life, which human beings and animals
take part in, from human life which is unique in that it is characterized by consciousness
which extends beyond the present moment into the past and future.

On the concept of Responsibility and Anguish Sartre explains that human beings
are nothing but what they make of themselves. Thus, all are responsible for what they
are. But each individual is also responsible for all human beings. The human beings
essence according to Sartre is given subjectively, i.e. from within. (free choice). Man
can think of himself as different and in doing so he negates the present. Thus, he is
always more than the current sum of the facts about him. This negation is a condition of

Lastly, Sartre discusses his comment on the concept of subjectivism. According

to him the word subjectivism is to be understood in two senses, and mans adversaries
play upon only one of them. Subjectivism means, on the one hand, the freedom of the
individual subject and, on the other, that man cannot pass beyond human subjectivity. It
is the latter which is the deeper meaning of existentialism. When we say that man
chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we
also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the
actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one
which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he
ought to be.


Jean- Paul Sartre, one of the principal exponent of Existentialism, accords

complete autonomy to human beings, thereby suggesting that there is no reality higher
than human individuals. He does not believe in any super human reality, like God.
Atheistic existentialism, to which Sartre is one of the most important subscribers,
declares that God does not exist, and as such, there is at least one being whose
existence comes before his essence, a being which exists because it can be defined at
all. In other words, Sartre tells us that man, first of all, exists, encounters himself, surges
up in the world- and defines himself afterwards.

I am a pure Christian. I was born in a Christian family who believes that God has
made all the creations in this world. This is the very reason that I do not agree with the
ideas of Sartre, him being an atheist. I believe in God. My beliefs are anchored on my
religion. However, in fairness to him for being an important exponent of philosophy, I
wish to give credits to him for advancing one idea that existentialism upholds- that
human beings have autonomy.

Before going into the depth of reflecting on the article of Sartre I believe it is
necessary to discuss the ideas of Existentialism and Humanism first. Existentialism is a
philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person
as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the
will. Humanism on the other hand is an outlook or system of thought attaching prime
importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress
the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs,
and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.

would like to begin with the charges made against the philosophy in question.
With respect to the first reproach, he characterizes existentialism as a humanism in that
it renders human life possible (more on this later). It is therefore not quietist, but is a
doctrine in which truth and action have an environment and a human subjectivity. I
agree with Sartre on this juncture. Quietism is a devotional contemplation and
abandonment of the will as a form of mysticism. The author advances individuality.
Therefore, it would be absurd to think that a person with full autonomy has abandoned
his will. The human being in this case is a free individual. When you have the freedom,
you also have the will to do whatever you like.

On pessimism Sartre objects to the characterization of existentialism as dark,

gloomy, or, as obsessed with the ugly or with evil; indeed, he declares that
existentialism is not pessimistic, but rather, is essentially optimistic, as it confronts man
with a possibility of choice. Again, I also find myself in consonance with Sartre on this
matter. How can a person endowed with possibility of choices be bereft of hope? As
stated earlier by Sartre, it is not pessimism that bothers those who have been
confronted by existentialism, but the sternness of its optimism. In other words, humans

have a choice; he/she begins in nothingness, and becomes that which he/she chooses
and does and he/she is completely responsible for that which he/she becomes,
whether for good or evil. In this way, the destiny of humankind lies solely with
humankind itself, with its self-commitment, with its choices and with its a cti o n s .

On subjectivism on the other hand, Sartre states that existentialism is

characterized by the phrase existence comes before essence and he continues, or,
if you will, that we must begin from the subjective. Here he is directly and
comprehensively confronting the third reproach against existentialism and is seeking to
show that the reproach is based upon a misunderstanding of existentialism.

Sartre states that by subjectivism, he does not merely mean the freedom of the
individual subject, but, on a deeper level, that the human cannot transcend the situation
of human subjectivity as such. In this way, subjectivity does not mean that each of us is
free to choose, out of caprice, whatever we may wish. Returning, in a certain sense, to
the ethical universalization of the Kantian categorical imperative, Sartre states that as
we freely choose for ourselves, we are, at once, choosing for all humankind.

Sartre contends that we must begin with this position of self- attainment, of this
absolute truth of consciousness, since it grounds the otherwise probabilistic state of
affairs which is the situation in which the subject finds itself. He states that there must
be an absolute truth and that this is found in ones immediate sense of ones self.