The essence of Sartre is found in a slim volume of just under 100 pages: Existentialism and Human Emotions. In a single sentence, Sartre turned several centuries of conventional thinking on its head: "Existence precedes essence". Sartre himself, however, credits Rene Descartes whose cogito ergo sum or, en francais, Je pense donc je suis; in English: "I think, therefore I am".
"For we mean that man first exists, that is, that man first of all is the being who hurls himself toward a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future. Man is at the start a plan which is aware of itself, rather than a patch of moss, a piece of garbage, or a cauliflower; nothing exists prior to this plan; there is nothing in heaven; man will be what he will have planned to be. Not what he will want to be. Because by the word "will" we generally mean a conscious decision, which is subsequent to what we have already made of ourselves."Existence precedes essence", therefore, strikes at the very heart of dogma, prejudice, pre-conceived notions of any sort, ideologies into which humankind is inclined to shoe-horn reality. Existentialism begins with a clean slate. The 'moving finger' may or may not write but most certainly does not dictate what we may or may not make of ourselves.
I may want to belong to a political party, write a book, get married; but all that is only a manifestation of an earlier, more spontaneous choice that is called "will." But if existence really does precede essence, man is responsible for what he is. Thus, existentialism's first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him. And when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men."
--Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions
In existentialism, therefore, there is no place to run, no place hide. It is the price we pay for being free. For that reason, existentialism is liberating. Man is no longer limited by theological notions of his origin with God's breath in the Garden or at the tip of God's finger, as depicted by Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling. That 'man', alone, is responsible for what he is or becomes is the source of 'existential angst'. And also our freedom.
Existentialism is the enemy of dogma --religious, psuedo-scientific, political ideology. For that reason alone, existentialism is often, though fallaciously, identified with the political left-wing. The 'right wing' undermines itself from within, by what Sartre would call 'mauvaise foi', i.e., bad faith.
'Bad faith' was best illustrated by Bertolt Brecht who summed it up: "A man who does not know the truth is just an idiot; but a man who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a crook!" The photographer Richard Avedon was even more succinct: "You cannot expect another man to carry your shit!"
Thus 'bad faith' defines the 'crook' and, thus, the many American politicians who blame a universe of strawmen for their own failures --minorities, liberals, the world-wide communist conspiracy, Islamic 'terrorists' and left-wing subversives throughout the U.S. labor, anti-war and civil rights movements.
Existentialism is the philosophy that says --grow up! Stop making excuses! Stop blaming others! Existentialism is the tough-minded philosophy of no lies, no excuses, no bullshit!
Jean-Paul Sartre: "I am my liberty!"
Cogito ergo sum
Note: The Existentialist Cowboy is currently bombarded by spam from a lunatic name caller of the right wing ilk! Therefore, comments are moderated. Intelligent comments are, as always, welcome! Ad hominem attacks, spam and psychotic drivel is not! Eventually, the offending party will be committed to an asylum and we adults can once again engage in intelligent, articulate dialogue. Thanks for understanding.Bluebloggin
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