What Is Existentialism?

Text: Existentialism is a Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre.

We start out in Sartre’s work (Existentialism is a Humanism), by defining what existentialism is not. During his era, it was a “fashionable trend” to call oneself or be classified as an existentialist. It seemed that artistic individuals were mainly subjected to this title, possibly because art has direct ties to philosophy. Art may be the physical form of the thought of man, however, existentialism seems to exist (ha!) in a realm reserved only for “specialist and philosophers”. It takes more than deep thought or profound conversation to be considered an existentialist. There is a common agreement between all existentialist that “existence precedes essence,” and according to Sartre, this is the first principle of the definition of existentialism. He utilizes the idea of the paper knife, a tool created a certain way and has a definite purpose. The craftsman does not create the knife without a formula or purpose, but man is not solely a tool. In order for one to be an existentialist, he must believe that he existed without definite knowledge of his purpose. Although man may be created, he is crafted from “nothing”, a concept rooted in Heidegger’s phenomenology. We cannot understand the nature of nothing, but we can assume that it is being devoid of anything. After being born from nothingness, without a universal nature-also known as human nature-man can begin to define himself. It is similar to the zygote and embryo, cells are unspecified at first, and only after time will they be differentiated and defined. To be an existentialist, you must believe that our being is a stem cell, that must be exposed and defined, rather than given a set definition.

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