Existentialism is one of the most important philosophical movements of the 20th century, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism” is one of its most influential texts. In this article, we will explore what Sartre meant by the phrase “Existentialism is a Humanism,” and why it is still relevant today.

What is Existentialism?

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. It arose in Europe in the aftermath of World War II, when many people were questioning traditional values and beliefs in the wake of the destruction wrought by the war.

One of the key ideas of existentialism is that human beings are fundamentally free, but also fundamentally responsible for their own lives. This means that we must make our own choices and create our own meaning in life, rather than relying on external sources like religion or tradition to tell us what to do.

What Does Sartre Mean by “Existentialism is a Humanism”?

In his essay “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Sartre argues that existentialism is a philosophy that puts human beings at the center of everything. He contends that every human being has an innate desire for freedom and autonomy, and that it is up to each individual to create their own meaning and purpose in life.

Sartre believes that this emphasis on human agency and creativity can be seen as a form of humanism. He writes: “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. [..] Man makes himself; he is not found ready-made; he makes himself by the choice of his morality.”

In other words, Sartre believes that existentialism affirms the importance of individual human beings, and encourages us to take responsibility for our own lives rather than relying on external sources of authority or meaning.

The Importance of Freedom

One of the key themes of Sartre’s essay is the importance of freedom. He argues that human beings are fundamentally free, but that this freedom can be overwhelming and terrifying. We must take responsibility for our own lives and make our own choices, but this requires us to face up to the fact that there is no external source of guidance or meaning.

Sartre writes: “Man is condemned to be free. Condemned because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.”

For Sartre, this freedom is both a burden and an opportunity. It requires us to take responsibility for our own lives, but it also allows us to create ourselves and shape our own destinies.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Sartre’s essay “Existentialism is a Humanism” argues that existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes human agency and creativity. It encourages us to take responsibility for our own lives and create our own meaning in a world where traditional values and beliefs may no longer provide guidance.

While some might argue that existentialism can be bleak or nihilistic, Sartre sees it as an affirmation of human freedom and individuality. By embracing our own autonomy and creativity, we can create meaning in a world that might otherwise seem meaningless.

Ultimately, “Existentialism is a Humanism” reminds us that we are all responsible for our own lives, and that we have the power to shape our own destinies through the choices we make.