Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. The movement originated in Europe during the 1940s, and the term was coined by Jean-Paul Sartre, who is considered one of the most influential existentialist thinkers.

One of the most famous essays on existentialism is “Existentialism is a Humanism” by Sartre. In this essay, he defends existentialism against several criticisms and argues that it is a form of humanism. But what does he mean by that?

What is Humanism?
Humanism is a philosophy that emphasizes human values and concerns, rather than religious or supernatural ones. It places great importance on reason, ethics, and individual freedom. Humanists believe in the power of humans to create meaning in their lives and to shape their own destiny.

What is Existentialism?
Existentialism shares many of the same values as humanism but takes them even further. It emphasizes the individual’s unique experience of existence and the search for meaning in life. Existentialists believe that humans are free to choose their own path in life, but this freedom also comes with responsibility and anxiety.

The Argument of “Existentialism is a Humanism”
In his essay, Sartre argues that existentialism is a form of humanism because it puts humans at the center of its philosophy. He writes: “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” This means that we are not predetermined by our genes or our environment; we have the power to create our own identity through our choices and actions.

Sartre also addresses several criticisms of existentialism in his essay. One common criticism is that it leads to nihilism (the belief in nothingness) or despair because it emphasizes the absurdity of existence.

But Sartre argues that this view misses the point: “The existentialist..finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven.” In other words, without a divine source of meaning, we must create our own values and purpose in life.

Sartre also addresses the criticism that existentialism is too individualistic and ignores social and political issues. He argues that the opposite is true: “Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position.” By rejecting religious or supernatural sources of authority, we are forced to confront the reality of our situation and take responsibility for our actions.

In conclusion, “Existentialism is a Humanism” is a powerful defense of existentialism as a philosophy that emphasizes human values and concerns. Sartre argues that it is not only compatible with humanism but takes its values even further by emphasizing individual freedom and responsibility. Whether or not one agrees with Sartre’s arguments, his essay remains an influential work in existentialist thought.