Dis 7, 2001

JEAN PAUL SARTRE on Choice and Ethics
2:26 PM 12/7/01

Jean-Paul Sartre still stands as one of my all-time favorite atheists. The ethics he laid was crisp and exacting. The individual will exact from his every little action and smallest decision what he prescribed for everybody else. Thus, every particular decides the universal.

The most powerful institutions of his time, of course, thought otherwise. The essence precedes existence. Edicts have been laid as a universal for all individuals to follow. From these universal laws, state, church, and society expects its constituents to derive their everyday actions. Thus, everything hearkens back to some rigid set of universals.

Atheistic Exisentialism, the thinking and movement which he championed, reversed the whole thing. Every man, by choosing something, walking a certain path, and executing a particular action above all other choices, roads, and possible deeds actually chooses for all mankind! The universal "Ethics" is derived from actual individual choices and practices.

Man is free. Man is condemned to be free.

If man is truly free and without a supreme being, essence, or path above her, then that is a truly distressing situation! No One and No Thing tells her what to do. In fact, it is her every choice and move that sets the standards and defines Ethics! Even when she tries to escape from choice, that is a choice. And in so choosing, she effectively enters her prescription for all mankind. Who would bear such a responsibility?

Review
I think it will do all of us a favor to read Sartre's Existentialism and Human Emotions. I read it, chewed, swallowed, and digested it, and in doing so, I am prescribing all of mankind to do so, Atheist, Muslim, Protestant, Muslim, Adventist, Agnostics, and everybody whom I have excluded in the expedience of my narrow-mindedness. Just read, one doesn't have to follow everything he says or believe in the entirety of his creed!

There are some interesting details that one must bear in mind.

  • Existentialism and Human Emotions is a small volume, definitely uncharacteristic of Sartre who is known for producing bulky tomes.
  • I don't care if my very human emotions count or not but I think I was darn lucky he compiled the little thing.
  • Sartre also attempts socialism but only within the confines of his existentialism.
  • Even engagement in socialism is an individual choice.
  • Very bourgeouisie? Go figure.
  • His most important axiom is the Cartesian Cogito Ergo Sum.
  • He built his whole brand of existentialism from there.
  • One of Sartre's most controversial choices was his rejection of the Nobel Prize that was being awarded him.
  • Again, go figure.


Maybe I'll write more of him when I finish rereading the book. Maybe that'll serve as a stronger prescription? For the time being, au revoir!