Lecture 1: Sartre

  1. Was first given as a public lecture Oct 28, 1945, just after end of WWII
  2. Sartre makes 4 main arguments
  3. 1. Humans were not created to serve a preexisting purpose
  4. 2. To a great extent, people are self-creating
  5. 3. Individual consciousness is not causally determined to construct a particular identity of particular ends. 
  6. 4. Values are subjective. Something is valuable because I choose to value it
  7. Purpose of the lecture was to defend existentialism
  8. Existentialism was accused of inciting people to dwell in the question of despair
  9. Accused of having no moral or political foundation
  10. According to the communists, existentialists based their doctrine on pure subjectivity, upon the cartesian I think, a position from which it is impossible to regain solidarity with other people who exist outside the self
  11. Christians reproach existentialists for denying the “commandments of God and all values prescribed as eternal” People can do whatever they want and cannot condemn the views or actions of others. 

Existence comes before Essence

  1. A doctrine that affirms “both an environment and a human subjectivity”, that is, both objective and subjective, but begins with the subjective. 
  2. Confronts humans with the possibility of choice
  3. Humans are not like a paper-knife that is made, where one has a conception of it in advance. Here “production precedes existence”
  4. If “we think of God as the creator, we are thinking of him...as a supernal aristan”. God has a conception of humans held in advance, that humans possess a human nature that is found in everyone. In this case essence comes before existence. 

First principal: Humans are what they make themselves to be

  1. With atheistic existentialism, humans exist before they can be defined
  2. “There is no human nature because there is no God to have a conception of it”
  3. Humans primarily exist- humans are- they propel themselves “towards a future”
  4. If existence precedes essence, then humans are responsible for what they are. 
  5. The individual is free
  6. Humans “cannot pass beyond human subjectivity”

Second principal: humans are condemned to be free

  1. Humans choose themselves
  2. In choosing, they choose for all humans...their choices are creative
  3. When we choose, we affirm it’s value, which is why we experience
  4. Anguish
  5. Abandonment (no a prior values)
  6. Despair
  7. (Bad Faith)

“You are free, therefore choose- that is to say, invent”

  1. No rule of general morality
  2. We choose the interpretations of signs, so we are responsible for these interpretations
  3. Despair “we limit ourselves to a reliance upon that which is within our wills, or within the sum of the probabilities which render our action feasible”
  4. We shold act without hope
  5. Commit and then act that commitment

Ethic of Action and Self-commitment

  1. Quietism “let others do what I cannot do”
  2. “There is no reality except an action”
  3. Humans aare “nothing esle but (they) purpose, (they) exist only in so far as (they) realise” themselves
  4. They are the sum of their actions
  5. Not pessimism but optimism 


  1. Descartes and the Cartesian cogito: I think, therefore I am 
  2. All objects are no more than probable
  3. The absolute truth is one’s immediate self of one’s self. 
  4. Existentialism does not make humans into objects

The Other and Inter-subjectivity

  1. Sartre distinguishes his position from Descartes’; for Sartre, “when we say “I think” we are attaining to ourselves in the presence of the other. 
  2. The other is indispensable to my existence and to any knowledge I can have of myself
  3. The other is a freedom which confronts mine, which thinks or will either for or against me. 

The human conditon 

  1. Historical situations will vary, but there is a universality of the human condition, which is not the same as universal human nature
  2. The human condition is the necessities of “being in the world, of having to labour and to die there”
  3. The limitations of the human condition are both objective and subjective
  4. For Sartre, this means that “every purpose, however individual it may be, is of universal value.

It is not possible not to choose

  1. If I do not choose, that is still a choice. 
  2. Humans make themselves
  3. They cannot but choose a morality. We create and invent morality as we go along. 
  4. We define humans only in relation to their commitments thus we cannot reproach them for their irresponsible choices. 
  5. Forget progress...humans are “always the same, facing a situation that is always changing and choice remains always a choice within a situation
  6. Judgement he reserves for self-deception and not the values themselves.


  1. Freedom can have no other aim than freedom itself. 
  2. Those who have good faith will freedom for freedom’s sake.
  3. In willing freedom, we discover that it depends entirely upon the freedom of others and that the freedom of others depends upon our own. 
  4. Once we are committed to freedom, we are obliged to will the liberty of others at the same time as our own. 
  5. But I cannot will the freedom of others, they must will it for themselves. 


  1. Two meanings: 
  2. “A theory which upholds man as the end-in-itself and as the supreme value”
  3. But for existentialists Humans can never be an end-in-itself since humans are still to be determined. 
  4. Humans are all the time outside of themselves: “It is not projecting and losing himself beyond himself that he makes man to exist; and, on the other hand, it is by pursuing transcendent aims that he himself is able to exist”
  5. Humans are self-surpassing. 
  6. “Nothing can save (humans from themselves), not even a valid proof of the existence of God”
  7. It is a doctrine of action

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