Existentialism

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In his 1946 essay Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre undertakes the task of defending existentialism against what he defines as “charges” (341) brought against it. Sartre begins to outline the “charges” brought against existentialism and further, existentialists. Following the medieval quaestio-form, Sartre begins with the statement of the objection, a short discussion, and then his reply to each. The first of the charges is that of quietism. “First, it has been charged with inviting people to remain in a kind of desperate quietism because, since no solutions are possible, we should have to consider action in this world as quite impossible” (341). Historically, quietism was a Christian philosophy that advocated withdrawal from worldly activities for passive and constant contemplation of God. The Roman Catholic Church officially decreed quietism to be heresy. The Christians then raise the objection that existentialism focuses on the hopelessness of the human situation and as a result, the philosophy leaves little ambition for action. The next of these objections is that of “…dwelling on human degradation, with pointing up everywhere the sordid, shady, and slimy, and neglecting the gracious and beautiful, the bright side of human nature…” (341) As Sartre explains, the objection is essentially that existentialisms focuses on the “evil” or dreary side of life. The third charge made against existentialism is that of isolation. “(FINISH QUOTE)…having ignored human solidarity, with considering man as an isolated being.” (341) The objection is that existentialism ignores human solidarity and examines human beings as individuals. The fourth and final charge laid against existentialism is that of arbitrariness. “…we are charged w... ... middle of paper ... ...o pass judgment on others, because there’s no reason to prefer one configuration to another’” (360). “…one can still pass judgment, for, as I have said, one makes a choice in relationship to others. First, one can judge (and this is perhaps not a judgment of value, but logical judgment) that certain choices are based on error and others on truth” (362). The final “sub charge” is that “‘everything is arbitrary in this choosing of yours. You take something from one pocket and pretend you’re putting it into the other.’” (360) Sartre explains, “…if I’ve discarded God the Father, there has to be someone to invent values,” (365) and that “…to say that we invent values means nothing else but this: life has no meaning a priori. Before you come alive, life is nothing; it’s up to you to give it a meaning and value is nothing else but the meaning that you choose” (365).

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