Lewis's Reviews > Existentialism Is a Humanism

Existentialism Is a Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre
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's review
Aug 08, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: philosophy
Read in August, 2008

Sartre's lecture on Existentialism clarifies most of the common misconceptions people seem to end up with.
Here's one of them:
Essence comes before existence. This is true of most things. A table for example can only be a finite amount of things, the carpenter knows what these are before he makes it and it has very little ability to change. The same is true for most living things as well. A bird just exists, it lives, feeds and eventually expires. Human beings however are different. Existentialism tells us that our existence comes before our essence. The point of human potential on this planet is limitless, we do not know what we are going to be until we are it. You realise when you are there what the point is. Humans have the ability to make their own freely involved choices in life, they are not tied into their essence like others are; it is a non fatalistic philosophy.
The book also talks about the idea that existentialism can lead to seclusion in the universe; non belief in god which seemingly ascribes to nihilism and mistrust as would be expected towards an atheist: if you do not believe in god you are a threat, you could murder without care. Sartre corrects the misinterpretations and helps to answer the questions of a quizzical post war culture; new interest in metaphysics had arisen and existentialism proposed to hold some of the answers.
I enjoyed the work but it is drawn together in a very dense way and is sometimes hard to follow. Sartre is a very clever man, a part of the intelligentsia of the time, however sometimes I feel he is being very pretentious and overly ostentatious in his description.
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