John Paul Sartre is known as one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. He wrote many philosophical works novels and plays. Much of his work is tied into politics. The essay Existentialism is a Humanism is just one of his many works. Existentialism is a Humanism is a political essay that was written in 1945. Its purpose was to address a small public during World War II in Nazi occupied France. This essay stressed the public not to conform. Sartre introduced a great number of philosophical concepts in Existentialism. Two of these concepts are anguish and forlornness. They are simply defined, as anguish is feeling responsible for yourself as well as others and knowing that your actions affect others and forlornness is realizing that you are alone in your decisions. These two concepts are interwoven throughout the essay and throughout many of Sartre’s other works. Sartre’s view of anguish and forlornness in Existentialism is a Humanism addresses his view of life and man.
Sartre based his views on the basic ideas of existentialism. The idea that existence precedes essence is the central factor in the atheistic view of man. The belief that existence precedes essence states that there is no pre-existing concept of man. (2) In the existentialist view, man is what he makes of himself.
They believe that man was indefinable at first; he first appears, then defines himself. (1) There are no set plans as to how a man must live. He must make his own decisions and move towards his future with no help [from the outside world. The main idea of existential is what Sartre simply stated as…I am responsible for myself and for everyone else. I am creating a certain image of my own choosing. In choosing myself is choose man. (1) He is saying that man creates his own image of the self and it is different for all men. The belief that existence precedes essence directly ties into the fact that the atheistic existentialist believes that there is no god. They believe that there is no human nature and that humans are inherently free.
The concept of anguish is one of Sartre’s central ideas in Existentialism as a Humanism. It involves the realization that the choices and decisions a person makes not only affect the self, but they affect everyone. Anguish is getting over the selfishness that has become so prevalent in our society. A person must make decision while looking as society as a whole. Anguish is being concerned with the impact of your decisions on others.
Dealing with responsibility is just one form of anguish. A person must be responsible for themselves and others. The essay Existential is a Humanism gives the example of a military officer. All leaders and military officers feel anguish. They have the responsibility to themselves as well as others. A military officer preparing to send his troops into battle must fulfill his responsibilities to himself, his superiors and his troops. He realizes that his interpretations of the orders from above directly impact the fate of his troops.(1) The fact that he continues to make decisions even faced with anguish shows that a military officer feels responsible. All leaders know this anguish, but they continue to make decisions. (1) Anguish that they feel does not dissuade their action, but on the contrary it makes them stronger, it is the very condition of their action. The anguish that a military officer feels is what makes them responsible. Sartre saw anguish as a necessary component of life. It is what makes a person aware of their choices and responsibilities.
The concept of forlornness in Sartre’s eyes is coming to grips with the fact that we are alone in our decision making. We have no excuses, determinism or omens, that influence our decisions. The atheistic existentialist fells that we are alone in our decision making because there is no god. They feel that the decisions we make are only up to us. Man is free to make his own choices and man is condemned in the fact that he is free. Everything is choice.(1) Knowing that you are alone in your decisions can raise some very interesting questions. People must look into themselves and make the choices base on their own interpretations and experiences.
The example of a young boy forced to make the choice between staying with his mother of joining the Free French forces illustrates forlornness. In his heart he knows that the decision is up to him and as a result he is forlorn. In staying with his mother the young boy is making a choice towards a sympathetic sets of ethics and a concrete action. He may be giving up opportunities but feels that staying with his mother is the right decision. On the other hand if he chooses to leave his mother and join the Free French Forces, he is making the choice according to a broader set of ethics and an action dealing with a national collectivity. If he chooses the second option it is what he feels is the right and just decision. |There is one problem no matter what path he chooses. He will soon be caught in a vicious circle. He must make his own choice. Many people seek advice and they choose who will give it to them. A person chooses an advisor who will give them the answers and advice that they want to hear. If this young boy were to ask Sartre for advice, he would simply say, the choice is yours.
Anguish and forlornness are connected by the fact that all men are responsible for their own actions. Every choice a person makes or action he takes is totally up to the individual. A person is entirely free with no outside sources having an impact on them. Sartre embraced the views and concepts of the atheistic existentialist. The concepts he introduced will continue to be discussed throughout time.
While reading Existentialism is a Humanism, one must remember that it was intended for only a small public. Sartre never intended it to be read by the masses. It addresses his political views of the war. He wanted the French people not resist conformity. He wanted them to remember that they were free even though they were repressed. He also wanted the public to realize that the actions and choices they made affected the country as a whole.
1) John Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a Humanism. 1945.
2) John Paul Sartre. http://www.lcl.cmu.edu/CAAE/80254/Sart