Keys Points of Sartrean Existentialism

Existence precedes essence.

There is no human essence or nature in the mind of God. Paper knife artisan has an idea of the paper knife beforehand. God = artisan. Idea=essence. BUT there is no God. Therefore, there is no human essence that exists prior to our actions. There is no universal "human-ness" apart from God either. There is nothing in common, no universal Man as Kant would argue. There is no essence that precedes historic existence. Individuals create their identity through their actions. A human creates an authentic self through transcending immanence, forming "projects".

Complete freedom.

If there is no God and no essence (i.e., if existence precedes essence), then there are no rules, no ultimate values since there is no God or human essence upon which to base them. "If there is no God, then everything is permitted" (Dostoevsky).

No determinism. no accidents. I choose my war. I choose to be born.

Complete responsibility.

If we have complete freedom, then we are completely responsible. A person is entirely responsible for what he or she is since existence precedes essence. The entire responsibility for our actions is on our own shoulders.

Must choose for self and all humanity. In choosing for ourselves, we choose for all humanity. We create an image of what "man" ought to be in our epoch. To marry or to join a trade union. ("I am thereby committing not only myself, but humanity as a whole, to the practice of monogamy. I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself, I fashion man." [ Sartre in Solomon and Greene, 411]) We act as universal legislators. ". . . one always ought to ask oneself what would happen if everyone did as one is doing; nor can one escape from that disturbing thought except by a kind of self-deception (411)". Lying: "the act of lying implies the universal value which  it denies." (411)

Abandonment and anguish.

We are alone, abandoned with no God or pre-existing essence, values or moral system. We are anxious because we have no basis for our choices given our complete freedom and responsibility. Examples: Abraham and Isaac, woman on the telephone, military leaders, Sartre's pupil in WWII. Neither Christianity, Kantianism, Utilitarianism or even his own feelings prior to deciding can give the pupil a basis for decision. After deciding,he knows what his values and feelings are.

Being-in- Itself, Being-for-Itself, and Bad Faith.

A. l'en-soi - being in itself (the being of things) and le pour-soi - being for itself (a conscious subject, being human consciousness - with an open past and future) People have a "double property" the facts about ourselves and our denial or creative rebellion against those facts - facticity and transcendence. We also define ourselves over against others. (Sexual encounters as war.)

B. General Definition of Bad Faith

1. To deny or pretend we are free and responsible

2. To deny our abandonment and anguish

3. Blaming outside events, persons, God, or appealing to external authority of any kind. Any attempt to bind present decision to pre-existent standards is inauthentic flight from responsibility.

4. To deny our facticity and our transcendence

C.  Examples: a. woman on date b. waiter