Jean-Paul Sartre's Existentialism and Human Flourishing
How might Sartre's existentialism aid human flourishing (full human development intellectually, culturally, etc.) and how might it hinder human flourishing?
First, Sartre emphasizes personal responsibility. He asserts, "Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself" (1323). Sartre is saying that we cannot blame others for the life we are living. We must get rid of excuses and choose what we want to become. He emphasizes action over thinking about something. We must act. Second, he states that existence precedes essence. In other words, he does not believe we are born with a certain essence. What we will become is what we choose to become. He states that "man first of all is the being who hurls himself toward a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future" (1323). This reminds me of Heidegger. Sartre is saying the future is open; it is not determined. We choose what we want to be. Life is a blank sheet that we fill out. Sartre states that existentialism makes "every man aware of what he is and to make full responsibility of his existence rest on him" (1323). So, Sartre is saying we are responsible for our lives.
He states that the existentialist "thinks it is very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with him" (1324). He condemns those atheists who want to keep the moral law. He states that "everything is permissible" since God does not exist. It is up to us to create our own values. His overall worldview come form a postion of atheism: "Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position" (1323). He believes this is the truth and our worldview must be consistent. Sartre does not think that we can find "some omen by which to orient himself" (1325). Instead, man is "condemned to be free" (1325). It is up to him to choose what he values and how he wants to live his life.
Sartre emphasizes both subjectivity and intersubjectivity. He agrees that the first truth is that "I think; therefore, I exist" (1328). He states that we are aware of ourselves. In some sense, we transcend our environment. He thinks it is wrong to treat man as an object. He believes man has dignity. He states, "We definitely wish to establish the human realm as an ensemble of values distinct from the material realm" (1329). He charges materialists with treating humans as objects. He sees us being connected to others. We are not isolated individuals seeking truth like Descartres and Kant; instead, "we reach our own self in the presence of others, and the others are just as real to us as our own self" (1329). This seems to be stating that at the foundation is a relationship with others. I cannot know truth with others. Even when we choose, we choose universally. We make choices that we want everyone to make. He wants everyone to achieve their potential and not blame circumstances for not achieving in life. In addition, he thinks the other is essential for our knowledge and existence. We are responsible for ourselves, but we need others.
He believes there is not a universal human nature, but he does believe there is a universal human condition. He thinks this human condition is similar for different people at different times and different countries. He means by condition the "a priori limits which outline man's fundamental situation in the universe" (1329). He does think there are differences in historical situations, but what does not vary is "the necessity for him to exist in the world, to be at work there, to be there in the midst of other people and to be mortal there" (1329). I assume this is what he thinks it is to be human. He thinks we can choose what we want to become in relationship with others. We are not isolated from others. He thinks it is not possible not to choose. Even when we do not choose, we still choose. In our choosing, we involve others.Sartre argues that "man will fulfill himself as a man, not in turning toward himself, but seeking outside himself a goal which is just this liberation, just this particular fulfillment" (1333). We must choose goals to realize our values. Life does not come with meaning, but we create meaning.
We have seen that Sartre's existentialism will aid human flourishing by emphasizing the importance of choosing, by taking responsibility for our own life, be creating our lives in relationship with others, and by choosing goals that give our lives meaning. It seems many of Sartre's ideas are prominent in current society. One often hears that we need to create our own values, we must choose goals to give our lives purpose, and we must be involved in this world, not a world after this life. Are there things that might hinder flourishing? There does seem to be some problems which the view proposed here. The creating of values seem quite subjective, and no way to judge between values. It does seem that there is a human nature and a moral law and we reject these things to our own harm. Sartre's ideas provide little guidance on building a good human life. He just says that we must choose, but not what we shall choose. What we choose might hinder human flourishing.