How Is Existentialism a Humanism?


Jane Flores

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. It is often associated with the idea that life has no inherent meaning or purpose, and that individuals must create their own meaning through their actions and experiences. While some critics have argued that existentialism is an inherently pessimistic worldview, others see it as a fundamentally optimistic philosophy that celebrates the human capacity for self-determination.

One of the key texts in existentialist philosophy is Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism.” In this essay, Sartre argues that existentialism is fundamentally a humanist philosophy, one that places the individual at the center of meaning-making and rejects any external authority or objective moral standards.

At the heart of Sartre’s argument is the idea of radical freedom. He argues that humans are unique among animals in their ability to choose their own path in life, to define their own values and goals, and to create meaning through their actions.

This freedom can be daunting and even terrifying, as it requires us to take responsibility for our choices and face the consequences of our actions. But it also gives us an unparalleled sense of agency and autonomy.

Sartre also emphasizes the importance of authenticity in existentialist philosophy. This means being true to oneself, rather than conforming to external expectations or societal norms. Authenticity requires a willingness to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity, to question accepted truths and values, and to create one’s own path in life.

Another key theme in existentialism is the idea of angst or anxiety. This arises from our recognition of our own mortality and finitude, as well as from our awareness of the contingency and absurdity of existence. But while angst can be paralyzing or overwhelming, it can also propel us towards action and creativity.

Overall, Sartre argues that existentialism offers a powerful framework for understanding what it means to be human. By emphasizing individual freedom, authenticity, and the importance of creating our own meaning, it challenges us to live fully and responsively in the world. While it may be a daunting philosophy, it is also one that celebrates the human capacity for self-determination and creativity.

In conclusion, existentialism is a humanist philosophy that places individuals at the center of meaning-making. It emphasizes radical freedom, authenticity, and the importance of creating our own values and goals. While it can be challenging and even terrifying at times, it offers a powerful framework for understanding what it means to be human and encourages us to live fully and responsibly in the world.