The key belief of existentialists is that existence precedes essence. In order to understand that claim we must first understand what Jean- Paul Sartre means by the term “essence.” He gives an example of a person forging a paper-cutter. When an individual sets out to make any object, he/she has a purpose for it in mind and an idea of what the object will look like before beginning the actual production of it, so this object has an essence, or purpose, before it ever has an existence. The individual, as its creator, has given the paper-cutter its essence. Using the paper cutter example, Sartre argues that human beings cannot have an essence (or purpose) before their “production,” becaus...
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...pose then it follows that the actions we perform in the world would have to subscribe to determinism. However, when God is taken out of the picture when it comes to defining nature/essence then free-will abounds. Contriving our purpose, or essence, from our community still allows us to exercise free will; because to be a community consists of a few conditions that must be met and beyond that can take many different forms it presents the ability of choice and adaptation based upon those choices.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. New York: Washington Square Press , 1956.
—. Existentialism is a Humanism. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp. , 1985.
Taylor, Charles. Philosophy and the Human Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
—. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.
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