A Reflection on Existentialism

For my next post, I want to tackle with something a little bit more complex this time. I’m currently reading Jean Paul Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism and I’ve really been enjoying it thus far. As I’ve had a great interest in philosophy for the longest time, I wanted to reflect on this work and try to get across what I believe the idea of “existentialism” represents.

As we go through life, our personal worldviews are shaped from within and without. In a sort of symbiotic relationship, the individual and the whole of society mold each others perceptions and beliefs about the world at large.

Often times, signals get crossed because every individual derives for him or herself a different point-of-view, which in turn clouds the perception of society as a whole. A question we ought to ask ourselves is “How do we know what’s best for society when we only have a basic understanding of ourselves as individuals?” This is a question that the idea of existentialism seeks to find out.

Existentialism is the idea that “existence precedes essence” and that we as humans are responsible for charting the path we take in this life, rather than outside forces like fate or destiny. It is often thought of as being a sort of tragic, defeatist mindset, when it actually argues the opposite case. Instead of arguing that we as humans have nothing to hope for without the help of divine intervention and miracles, it rather encourages us to make the best of what we have in this life and to continue building on the foundation that we have thus established.

Sartre writes an interesting point in his lecture:

“What we mean to say is that a man is nothing but a series of enterprises, and that he is the sum, organization, and aggregate of the relations that constitute such enterprises.”

Correct me if I’m wrong of course, but what I get from this is that we as humans define ourselves by what we are able to accomplish and by refining the achievements of the past, thereby adding to the sum of all of our individual parts. We have thousands of years to show for both the failures and accomplishments of mankind, with many more years to follow, and it’s on that level that we make a name for the human race as a whole.

In a way, it’s arguing that we are more liberated by not being tied to the expectations of the supernatural, but by our own standards instead; we are responsible for what we do alone. But perhaps many of us desire that link to some higher power in order to lift a mental weight off our shoulders and diffuse responsibility to another force because of the guilt we feel about the mistakes we’ve made. On the other hand, this allows us to give credit where credit is due whenever we have achieved great things that benefit the rest of the human race, so it can be considered a bit of a toss-up philosophically speaking.

This is just a brief reflection on this school of thought and I figured it would be fascinating to think about. Feel free to discuss your thoughts below and I look forward to reading!

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One thought on “A Reflection on Existentialism

  1. Here’s a couple of thoughts from one of my favorite writers:
    “The end of life is not human happiness; it is human growth. . Growth in character and achievement. Happiness is a by-product of that growth. The universe therefore had to be a semi-hard universe—it had to be sufficiently hard to sharpen our souls upon. Were their no disease, there would be no research to find remedies and thus no growth. No earthquakes then no improvements on buildings being built and no growth. No weeds in our gardens then no need to figure out how to et rid of them…no growth.
    We have to be unfinished masters of an unfinished world. The world is imperfect so we can make the effort to perfect it. In finishing the unfinished we help finish ourselves.” (and pages later): “the goal of the individual as perfection of character and life is not to get to Heaven but to try to bring heaven to earth.” (later in the book) “The goal of human society, then, is the Kingdom of God on Earth. There are thus two goals which are really one-namely the perfected individual in a perfected society. ” E. Stanley Jones “Growing Spiritually”

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