Jonathan Dickerson's Reviews > Existentialism Is a Humanism

Existentialism Is a Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre
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Sep 20, 2011

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As Sartre's philosophical view was gaining worldwide popularity, he began to face sharp criticism from Communists, Christians and the general public. Communists argued that Sartre’s focus on the individual undermined their emphasis on group solidarity. Christians, including the Catholic Church, criticized Sartre for his atheist stance, claiming that his amoral, godless philosophy was a danger. The public often misunderstood the true meaning of existentialism as viewed it as a generously hopeless outlook on life. Sartre felt that these three groups were either misinformed as to what the philosophy of existentialism was about, or, only critiqued his ideas because they felt personally threatened by the philosophy.

On October 29, 1945, Sartre addressed the criticisms of existentialism to a crowd at the The Club Maintenant in Paris. His lecture was titled, “Existentialism Is a Humanism.” The speech centered around the following three themes as they relate to existentialism: anguish, abandonment and despair.

Through this speech, Sartre posits that existentialism should not be dismissed as a philosophy of pessimism but rather, a philosophy of optimism. Although anguish, abandonment and despair are recognized with this philosophical movement, it is what existentialism does with these issues that makes it positive. Existentialism defines a human by their actions, not by forces beyond one’s control. Existentialism shows that the destiny of man is found within himself, not predetermined by some supernatural force. Existentialism places the only chance of hope in the hands of the individual, not in the hands of others. Existentialism is a philosophy of raw truth. Or, better stated, it's honest. It's not always pretty, but embracing the gritty side of life as a human is a beautiful gesture.
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