Modern Western Philosophy Sartre for Competitive Exams

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Modern Western Philosophy: Sartre Concept of Humanism & Freedom (Philosophy)


  • Jean Paul Sartre was a French philosopher.
  • He is regarded as one of the most influential figures in the philosophy of Existentialism, Marxism and phenomenology.
  • Existentialism is a philosophical branch of study that deals with the study of the human subject — not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human being or individual.
  • In other words, it is a branch of philosophy that emphasises on the existence of the being as an independent agent living in the free world with freedom of will.
  • Sartre first՚s work is, “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” which was originally presented as a lecture.
  • One of his most significant work is, “Being and Nothingness.”

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The Concept of Humanism

  • Sartre՚s in 1946 delivered a lecture which was later converted into a book, named, “Existentialism Is a Humanism” , it has also been titled as Existentialism and Humanism, and Existentialism.
  • This work has been seen as the starting point of Sartre՚s philosophical career as an existentialist.
  • Existentialism is a method of philosophy which recognises a person as a free and a responsible agent who works with freedom of will.
  • Sartre mentions the concept of existentialism in this work and asserts that, “Existence precedes Essence” .
  • This basically means that existence of a person stands prior to their essence.
  • In other words, no fixed essences- goals, character, etc. can dictate or control the human life and human existence because an individual defines its own essence.
  • This quote, “existence precedes essence” is also famously known as the maxim of existentialism.
  • As a result, Sartre quotes, “man first exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world and defines himself afterwards.”
  • Hence, it can be understood that he rejected the concept of determinism.
  • He believes in the philosophy of optimism- where one defines oneself and human agents possess freedom of will and are responsible agents of their actions.

The Concept of Freedom

  • Freedom is the heart of Sartre՚s philosophy and the concept also holds a central place in his existential philosophy.
  • According to his famous quote, “existence precedes essence” and “man is condemned to be free” - Sartre expounds his existential thinking according to which man is a free agent who is solely responsible for his actions in life because he possess freedom of will.
  • Therefore, according to him, the concept of freedom is absolute.
  • Sartre said, there exists a duality between things, i.e. there are “being-in-itself” and “being-for-itself” .
  • The former is a group of things which are not free and are determined or controlled by their essence, so, they are fixed and complete in nature.
  • On the other hand, there exists things which are free, conscious, they are not fixed by the essences and hence, they are incomplete in nature.
  • They are called things belonging to “Being-for-itself,” for example, self-conscious human beings. They are not determined by their essence, as they make their own mark according to themselves (depending on their choices) and work with freedom of will in choosing and deciding for themselves and are thus, incomplete and not fixed in nature.
  • Or, according to Sartre, being-for-itself, the conscious free being has the ability to reflect upon its actions, choices and hence, it can freely determine or define itself.
  • In other words, only self-conscious, responsible human beings can be free for they possess the ability of self-reflection.
  • On the other hand, the concept of being-in-itself can be best understood with the example of a sapling, which is determined and limited by its essence of being a tree. It has no other option nor choices.
  • Hence, it is fixed and complete in nature.
  • According to Sartre, there are certain things which a conscious human subject cannot change or example, one՚s birth into a family or selection of one՚s parents, etc.
  • Yet, he believes that we can change our perspective or attitude towards such things.
  • In other words, Sartre believes that human have the ability to choose as to what they want to become.
  • In short, according to Sartre, the life of the subject is characterised by his freedom, by his choices and how he sees the world which he inhabits.
  • What makes an individual is only his choices, and not some fixed essence.
  • Hence, man is a free, conscious and a responsible agent. He himself alone is responsible for what he is and what he may become.
  • The most significant contribution by Sartre to philosophy is the way he stressed uncompromisingly on the concept of freedom of an individual. He did not believe in God and said we have no alternative but to choose and decide for ourselves and in that sense, we can create our own values/essence.
  • Thus, according to Sartre՚s philosophy the basic element of human existence is freedom which is inseparable from us in nature.

The Concept of Bad-Faith

  • In Being and Nothingness, Sartre identified a problem which according to him attacked the subjects, the conscious beings called Mauvaise Foi meaning Bad Faith.
  • It occurs when we lie to ourselves in-order to spare ourselves some pain which results in long time psychological suffering of the subject.
  • It occurs specially when the subjects tell themselves that they have no options or choices left and have to conform.
  • In other words, it also means concealment of truth or a phenomenon in which subjects aren՚t true to themselves and adopt someone else՚s values and lose their quality to choose and be response agent of their lives. They might also blame their circumstance or other people for this.
  • It is due to this the free agent loses the opportunity for changing and improving its life which essentially lies in its own actions and doings.
  • Hence, bad faith closes down on the option of freedom.







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