Sartre: Existentialism is a humanism (Summary)

sartre existentialism

The lecture The Existentialism is a humanism of Sartre is one of the best-selling French philosophy book.

Pronounced at the Sorbonne (well known university in Paris) in 1946, two years after Being and Nothingness (his theory of ontology theory) being published, the lecture aims to remove misunderstandings and criticisms directed to this book, especially marxists and catholics ones.

The thesis of the conference is : my philosophy is a humanist philosophy, which places human freedom above all. In summary: “existence precedes essence.”

Critics of Sartrean existentialism:

Marxist criticism:

For Marxists, existentialism is a philosophy of failure, inactive. A bourgeois and contemplative philosophy. But also a individualistic philosophy. But according to Sartre, his philosophy is based on action.

On the individualistic criticism, Sartre has difficulty to argue. He will do that later in the Critique of the Dialectical Reason, where he attempts to reconcile the collective logic and the individual approach (concept of praxis).

Catholic critics on the existentialism

If Sartre  undertakes the atheism of his thought, he does not concede that his philosophy is nihilistic (no values). According to him, man is the creator of his own values ​​(as opposed to the spirit of seriousness).

For Sartre, the idea of ​​a Christian existentialism (Jaspers, Kierkegaard, Pascal) is inconsistent: if God exists, then the existence of man is no longer contingent : the essence precedes existence, which is incompatible with human freedom.

Sartre and the existence:

Ek-sistere, for Sartre, means to project oneself outside. Man exists in that he is nothing definite, he becomes what he has decided to be. The notion of human nature is absurd, since it gives the man an essence which man can not tear himself away (only the objects have a nature, a specific function)

Sartre and Freedom:

Man is condemned to be free

This sentence is ethical and metaphysical at the same time : If human freedom is absolute, the subject is still involved in a situation (= facticity of being so). But it is man who gives meaning to the situation. Thus a situation is intolerable in itself, because it becomes a project of revolt gave him that. “We have never been more free than under the Occupation.” A tragic situation makes it more urgent action. The world is never the mirror of my freedom.

Freedom is seen as a power of annihilation, as exceeding the given (man is a “for-itself”).

“Being free to be condemned, it means you can not find my limits freedom of others than herself.” Not choosing is a choice (choosing not to choose). The only limit to my freedom is my death, which transformed my life in essence, be in destiny.

Man lives yet poorly this situation of total freedom. He invents subterfuges, including bad faith to escape his freedom. Bad faith is to pretend that one is not free, it is something to dream. Consciousness, Sartre tells us, always trying to coincide with itself, to be completed, to be “in-itself”

Man makes his facticity excuse to get in-itself. Sartre distinguishes 6 types of facticity:

– Being born in a society and a given time

– Having a body

– Having a past

– The fact of existing in a world that existed before

– Does exist among other men (question of intersubjectivity)

– The fact of death (finitude)

For Sartre, we must assume our contingency.

Sartre and intersubjectivity:

The ratio of consciousness in Sartre is in the mode of conflict, as a relation of recognition: each requires the other consciousness to be recognized as conscientious, as free. Now, if I recognize free as free, I’m doing it my master. Others becomes another person when his will, his liberty is opposed to mine (others, “it me who is not me”)

Analysis of the light is illuminating: the gaze of others I found its existence. “People see me so I can see.” The For-itself is also a For-hire.

But when I look at the others in its being fixed, I do my thing looked, so I will be exalted. Conversely, if others look at me, I’m choséifié. I am what others see me.


If the text of Existentialism is a humanism is far from being as specific as the thought of Sartre, it at least has the merit of making his ideas more accessible. It gives an overview of its main concepts (awareness, others, freedom, responsibility, …) and thus remain to be read, again and again.

More on Sartre’s Philosophy:

Sartre’s morality : Choice and Responsability

Sartre : Philosophy Summary

– Sartre and Freedom

Sartre Quotes

– Sartre: Existence precedes essence

– Sartre: Hell is others

– Sartre: Nausea

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