April 16, 2018 - mh9868a
Jean-Paul Sartre was a twentieth century French philosopher who introduced the idea of Existentialism. In his book, Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre explains that Existentialism is the theory that “makes human life possible and also affirms that every truth and every action imply an environment and a human subjectivity.” Basically, Sartre is saying that Existentialism is the belief that human life is just a reflection of one’s environment and decisions. Also, to further explain this concept, he says, “existence precedes essence.” In this quote, Sartre is saying that we are not born with a divine path to the meaning of our lives. There is no predetermined destiny that we will fulfil in our lifetimes. Instead, he says we are born without meaning and slowly create meaning in our lives through our actions and decisions. While Sartre advocates for his idea of self meaning in Existentialism, I disagree with some of the points he makes in his argument about self meaning making.
Before Sarte introduced the idea of Existentialism, the theory of divine paths given to humans by God was the primary belief of how people found their purposes in life. They believed that before birth God gave you a distinct path for your life. That way, your life had meaning from the beginning. This was a very popular belief among philosophers at the time. However, Sartre renounces the idea of God’s will, and he says that atheistic existentialism says that God does not exist so humans have to make their own meanings in life. Therefore, nobody is born a good or bad person. Thus, Sartre explains that man creates his own essence. Also, Sartre says that “man is nothing other than what he makes of himself.” Here, Sartre is saying that man can completely create himself in any way he wants through his actions and words throughout his life. In Sartre’s view, man is who he believes himself to be. If a man does good deeds and dedicates himself to helping others throughout his life and believes himself to be a good person, than he is and will be remembered as such.
In Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre makes a lot of arguments about the meaning of a person’s life. While I agree with Sartre’s claim that humans are born without a life purpose and that nobody is inherently good or bad, I disagree with Sartre’s claim that we are nothing other than what we make ourselves to be. I don’t think that a person’s perception of themselves is how we are remembered. Instead, we are other people’s perceptions of us. This is because when we are gone, all that’s left is the memories other people had of us. Even if we make ourselves out to be the best people, somebody will have a different opinion of you. Therefore, if people perceive us in a way that is different from how we perceive ourselves, then we will be remembered in the different ways other people thought of us.
For example, in today’s world, social media is king. It rules what we do, how we act, and how we see ourselves, and how we see each other. When I post on social media, usually Snapchat or Instagram, I am showing people what I want them to see. Typically, I only post when I am doing something fun or exciting. Although some people do, I almost never post about long, miserable nights in the library, the disagreement I had with a friend, or my mundane, monotonous daily life. Rather, I post when my friends and I go on adventures in the city, when I see my dog, or when I do something new, such as trying a restaurant for the first time. Therefore, I am projecting a certain image of myself onto the world. This image is the one that will be remembered because the general public can see only the best parts of my life. In reality, my life is nothing like what I show on social media. For this reason, I create a person for others to see, but that is not the same person I believe myself to be.
Sartre says that human “existence precedes essence,” and explains that man creates himself through his actions and decisions after birth. While I agree create the meaning of our lives after birth, I disagree that we are who we believe ourselves to be. Instead, we are who others believe us to be.
Sartre, Jean-Paul, Existentialism is a Humanism (London: Methuen, 1948).