Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. It is a belief system that emerged in the 20th century and has had a significant impact on literature, art, and culture.

Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the key figures of existentialism. In this article, we will explore the first principle of existentialism as Sartre explains it.

The First Principle of Existentialism

According to Sartre, the first principle of existentialism is that existence precedes essence. This means that individuals are not born with a predetermined purpose or essence. Instead, they exist first and then create their own purpose through their actions and choices.

This idea stands in contrast to traditional philosophical beliefs that suggest humans are born with an inherent nature or essence that defines their purpose in life. However, Sartre argues that this belief is limiting because it doesn’t allow for individual freedom and choice.

What Does It Mean?

To understand this concept better, let’s consider an example. Imagine a chair created by a carpenter.

The carpenter has a blueprint or plan for the chair before it is made. The chair has an essence or purpose before it exists.

However, humans are not like chairs. We do not have a predetermined essence or purpose before we exist. Instead, we exist first and then create our own meaning and purpose through our actions and choices.

Sartre believed that this freedom to create our own meaning can be both empowering and terrifying. It means that we are responsible for our own lives and cannot rely on external factors to define us.

Implications

The idea of existence preceding essence has several implications for human life. Firstly, it means that there is no universal human nature or essence that applies to everyone. Each person must define their own values, beliefs, and purpose in life.

Secondly, it means that our actions and choices are significant because they create our identity and purpose. We cannot escape responsibility for our choices, as they shape who we are.

Finally, it means that life has no inherent meaning or purpose. It is up to each individual to create their own sense of meaning and purpose through their actions and choices.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the first principle of existentialism is that existence precedes essence. This means that individuals do not have a predetermined essence or purpose before they exist. Instead, they must create their own meaning and purpose through their actions and choices.

Sartre believed that this concept was liberating because it allowed individuals to define themselves on their own terms. However, it also meant that individuals had to take responsibility for their lives and could not rely on external factors to define them.

Overall, the first principle of existentialism challenges traditional beliefs about human nature and offers a new perspective on individual freedom and choice.