Download Existentialism – A Definition

Document related concepts

List of unsolved problems in philosophy wikipedia , lookup

Transactionalism wikipedia , lookup

Meaning of life wikipedia , lookup

Edifying Discourses in Diverse Spirits wikipedia , lookup

Zaid Orudzhev wikipedia , lookup

Eternal return wikipedia , lookup

Being wikipedia , lookup

Being and Nothingness wikipedia , lookup

French philosophy wikipedia , lookup

Jewish existentialism wikipedia , lookup

Existentialism wikipedia , lookup

Existentialism – A Definition
Existentialism in the broader sense is a 20th century philosophy that is centered upon the analysis of existence
and of the way humans find themselves existing in the world. The notion is that humans exist first and then each
individual spends a lifetime changing their essence or nature.
In simpler terms, existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free
will, choice, and personal responsibility. The belief is that people are searching to find out who and what they
are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook. And personal choices
become unique without the necessity of an objective form of truth. An existentialist believes that a person should
be forced to choose and be responsible without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions.
Existentialism – What It Is and Isn’t
Existentialism takes into consideration the underlying concepts:
 Human free will
 Human nature is chosen through life choices
 A person is best when struggling against their individual nature, fighting for life
 Decisions are not without stress and consequences
 There are things that are not rational
 Personal responsibility and discipline is crucial
 Society is unnatural and its traditional religious and secular rules are arbitrary
 Worldly desire is futile
Existentialism is broadly defined in a variety of concepts and there can be no one answer as to what it is, yet it
does not support any of the following:
 wealth, pleasure, or honor make the good life
 social values and structure control the individual
 accept what is and that is enough in life
 science can and will make everything better
 people are basically good but ruined by society or external forces
 “I want my way, now!” or “It is not my fault!” mentality
There is a wide variety of philosophical, religious, and political ideologies that make up existentialism so there is
no universal agreement in an arbitrary set of ideals and beliefs. Politics vary, but each seeks the most individual
freedom for people within a society.
Existentialism – Impact on Society
Existentialistic ideas came out of a time in society when there was a deep sense of despair following the Great
Depression and World War II. There was a spirit of optimism in society that was destroyed by World War I and
its mid-century calamities. This despair has been articulated by existentialist philosophers well into the 1970s
and continues on to this day as a popular way of thinking and reasoning (with the freedom to choose one’s
preferred moral belief system and lifestyle).
An existentialist could either be a religious moralist, agnostic relativist, or an amoral atheist. Kierkegaard, a
religious philosopher, Nietzsche, an anti-Christian, Sartre, an atheist, and Camus an atheist, are credited for
their works and writings about existentialism. Sartre is noted for binging the most international attention to
existentialism in the 20th century.
Each basically agrees that human life is in no way complete and fully satisfying because of suffering and losses
that occur when considering the lack of perfection, power, and control one has over their life. Even though they
do agree that life is not optimally satisfying, it nonetheless has meaning. Existentialism is the search and journey
for true self and true personal meaning in life.
Most importantly, it is the arbitrary act that existentialism finds most objectionable-that is, when someone or
society tries to impose or demand that their beliefs, values, or rules be faithfully accepted and obeyed.
Existentialists believe this destroys individualism and makes a person become whatever the people in power
desire thus they are dehumanized and reduced to being an object. Existentialism then stresses that a persons
judgment is the determining factor for what is to be believed rather than by arbitrary religious or secular world
Wikipedia Definition of Existentialism
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The philosophers Søren
Kierkegaard and Friedrich
Nietzsche foreshadowed
Existentialism is a term that has been applied to the work of a number of nineteenth and twentieth
century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences[1][2], took the human subject — not
merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual[3][4] — and his conditions
of existence as a starting point for philosophical thought. Existential philosophy is the explicit
conceptual manifestation of an existential attitude[5] that begins with a sense of disorientation and
confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world[6][7]. Many existentialists have also
regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophy, in both style and content, as too abstract and
remote from concrete human experience[8][9].
Existentialism emerged as a movement in twentieth-century literature and philosophy, foreshadowed
most notably by nineteenth-century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, though it
had forerunners in earlier centuries. Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kafka also described existential
themes in their literary works and in contemporary literature, Haruki Murakami's works have themes
of existentialism as well. Although there are some common tendencies amongst "existentialist"
thinkers, there are major differences and disagreements among them (most notably the divide between
atheistic existentialists like Sartre and theistic existentialists like Tillich); not all of them accept the
validity of the term as applied to their own work.[10]
1 Origins of Existentialism
2 19th century
o 2.1 Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
o 2.2 Dostoevsky and Kafka
3 Early 20th century
4 After the Second World War
5 Major concepts
o 5.1 A focus on concrete existence
o 5.2 Existence precedes essence
o 5.3 Angst
5.4 Freedom
5.5 Facticity
5.6 Authenticity and inauthenticity
5.7 The Other and The Look
5.8 Reason
5.9 The Absurd
6 Types
o 6.1 Atheistic
o 6.2 Theistic
o 6.3 Nihilism
7 Criticism
8 Influence outside philosophy
o 8.1 Cultural movement and influence
 8.1.1 Literature
 8.1.2 Film
 8.1.3 Theatre
 8.1.4 Music
o 8.2 Theology
o 8.3 Existential psychoanalysis and psychotherapy
9 See also
10 Notes
11 References
12 Further reading
13 External links
Origins of Existentialism
The term "existentialism" seems to have been coined by the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel around
1943[11][12][13] and adopted by Jean-Paul Sartre who, on October 29, 1945, discussed his own
existentialist position in a lecture to the Club Maintenant in Paris. The lecture was published as
L'existentialisme est un humanisme, a short book which did much to popularize existentialist
The label has been applied retrospectively to other philosophers for whom existence, and in particular
human existence, were key philosophical topics. Martin Heidegger had made human existence
(Dasein) the focus of his work since the 1920s, and Karl Jaspers had called his philosophy
"Existenzphilosophie" in the 1930s.[15][16] Both Heidegger and Jaspers had been influenced by the
Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, for whom the crisis of human existence had been a major
theme.[17][18][19] Kierkegaard came to be regarded as the first existentialist,[20] and has been called the
"father of existentialism",[21] because he was the first to explicitly make existential questions a primary
focus in his philosophy.[22] In retrospect, other writers have also implicitly discussed existentialist
themes throughout the history of philosophy.
Examples include:
 the Buddha's teachings,[23]
 the Bible in the Book of Genesis,[24] Ecclesiastes[25], and Job,[25]
 Saint Augustine in his Confessions,[26]
 Averroes' school of philosophy,
 Saint Thomas Aquinas' writings,
 Mulla Sadra's transcendent theosophy,
William Shakespeare's Hamlet.[27]
Individualist political theories, such as those advanced by John Locke, advocated individual autonomy
and self-determination rather than state rule over the individual. This kind of political philosophy,
although not existential per se, provided a welcoming climate for existentialism. In 1670, Blaise
Pascal's unfinished notes were published under the title of Pensées ("Thoughts"). He described many
fundamental themes common to what would be known as existentialism two and three centuries
later.[26] Pascal argued that without a God, life would be meaningless and miserable. People would
only be able to create obstacles and overcome them in an attempt to escape boredom. These tokenvictories would ultimately become meaningless, since people would eventually die. This was good
enough reason not to choose to become an atheist, according to Pascal.
[edit] 19th century
The Søren Kierkegaard Statue in Copenhagen.
As early as 1835 in a letter to his friend Peter Wilhelm Lund, the Danish philosopher Søren
Kierkegaard wrote one of his first existentially sensitive passages. In it, he describes a truth that is
applicable for him:
What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain
knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to
do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. ... I certainly
do not deny that I still recognize an imperative of knowledge and that through it one can work upon men, but it
must be taken up into my life, and that is what I now recognize as the most important thing.
—Søren Kierkegaard, Letter to Peter Wilhelm Lund dated August 31, 1835, emphasis added [28]
The early thoughts of Kierkegaard would be formalized in his prolific philosophical and theological
writings, many of which would later form the modern foundation of 20th century existentialism.[29][22]
[edit] Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
Main article: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche comparisons
Søren Kierkegaard as well as Friedrich Nietzsche were two of the first philosophers considered
fundamental to the existentialist movement, though neither used the term "existentialism" and it is
unclear whether they would have supported the existentialism of the 20th century. Their focus was on
human experience, rather than the objective truths of mathematics and science that are too detached or
observational to truly get at human experience. Like Pascal, they were interested in people's quiet
struggle with the apparent meaninglessness of life and the use of diversion to escape from boredom.
But Pascal did not consider the role of making free choices, particularly regarding fundamental values
and beliefs: such choices change the nature and identity of the chooser, in the view of Kierkegaard and
Nietzsche.[30][31] Kierkegaard's knight of faith and Nietzsche's Übermensch are examples of those who
define the nature of their own existence. Great individuals invent their own values and create the very
terms under which they excel. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were also precursors to other intellectual
movements, including postmodernism, nihilism, and various strands of psychology.
[edit] Dostoevsky and Kafka
Two of the first literary writers who were important to existentialism were the Czech author Franz
Kafka and the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky[32] Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground details
the story of a man who is unable to fit into society and unhappy with the identities he creates for
himself. Many of Dostoevsky's novels, such as Crime and Punishment, covered issues pertinent to
existential philosophy while offering story lines divergent from secular existentialism: for example in
Crime and Punishment one sees the protagonist, Raskolnikov, experience existential crises and move
toward a worldview similar to Christian Existentialism, which Dostoevsky had come to advocate.
Kafka created often surreal and alienated characters who struggle with hopelessness and absurdity,
notably in his most famous novella, The Metamorphosis, or in his master novel, The Trial. In his
philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus, the French existentialist Albert Camus describes Kafka's
oeuvre as "absurd in principle",[33] although he also finds present the same "tremendous cry of hope" as
is to be found in religious existentialists such as Kierkegaard and Shestov, and which Camus himself
[edit] Early 20th century
In the first decades of the 20th century, a number of philosophers – some working independently, but
all influenced in varying degrees by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky – developed positions
which were existentialist in all but name.
The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, in his 1913 book The Tragic Sense of Life in
Men and Nations, emphasized the life of "flesh and bone" as opposed to that of abstract rationalism.
Unamuno rejected systematic philosophy in favor of the individual's quest for faith. He retained a
sense of the tragic, even absurd nature of the quest, symbolized by his enduring interest in Cervantes'
fictional character Don Quixote. A novelist, poet and dramatist as well as philosophy professor at the
University of Salamanca, Unamuno's short story about a priest's crisis of faith, "Saint Manuel the
Good, Martyr" has been collected in anthologies of existentialist fiction. Another Spanish thinker,
Ortega y Gasset, writing in 1914, held that the human existence must always be defined as the
individual person combined with the concrete circumstances of his life: "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia"
("I am myself and my circumstances"). Sartre likewise believed that human existence is not an abstract
matter, but is always situated ("en situation").
Although Martin Buber wrote his major philosophical works in German, and studied and taught at the
Universities of Berlin and Frankfurt, he stands apart from the mainstream of German philosophy. Born
into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1878, he was also a scholar of Jewish culture and involved at various
times in Zionism and Hasidism. In 1938, he moved permanently to Jerusalem. His best-known
philosophical work was the short book I and Thou, published in 1922. For Buber, the fundamental fact
of human existence, too readily overlooked by scientific rationalism and abstract philosophical
thought, is "man with man", a dialogue which takes place in the so-called "sphere of between" ("das
Two Russian thinkers, Lev Shestov and Nikolai Berdyaev became well-known as existentialist
thinkers during their post-Revolutionary exiles in Paris. Shestov, born into a Russian-Jewish family in
Kiev, had launched an attack on rationalism and systematization in philosophy as early as 1905 in his
book of aphorisms All Things Are Possible.
Berdyaev, also from Kiev but with a background in the Eastern Orthodox Church, drew a radical
distinction between the world of spirit and the everyday world of objects. Human freedom, for
Berdyaev, is rooted in the realm of spirit, a realm independent of scientific notions of causation. To the
extent the individual human being lives in the objective world, he is estranged from authentic spiritual
freedom. "Man" is not to be interpreted naturalistically, but as a being created in God's image, an
originator of free, creative acts.[36] He published a major work on these themes, The Destiny of Man in
Gabriel Marcel, long before coining the term "existentialism", introduced important existentialist
themes to a French audience in his early essay "Existence and Objectivity" (1925) and in his
Metaphysical Journal (1927).[37] A dramatist as well as a philosopher, Marcel found his philosophical
starting point in a condition of metaphysical alientation; the human individual searching for harmony
in a transient life. Harmony, for Marcel, was to be sought through "secondary reflection", a
"dialogical" rather than "dialectical" approach to the world, characterized by "wonder and
astonishment" and open to the "presence" of other people and of God rather than merely to
"information" about them. For Marcel, such presence implied more than simply being there (as one
thing might be in the presence of another thing); it connoted "extravagant" availability, and the
willingness to put oneself at the disposal of the other.[38] Marcel contrasted "secondary reflection" with
abstract, scientific-technical "primary reflection" which he associated with the activity of the abstract
Cartesian ego. For Marcel, philosophy was a concrete activity undertaken by a sensing, feeling human
being incarnate - embodied - in a concrete world.[39][40] Although Jean-Paul Sartre adopted the term
"existentialism" for his own philosophy in the 1940s, Marcel's thought has been described as "almost
diametrically opposed" to that of Sartre.[41] Unlike Sartre, Marcel was a Christian, and became a
Catholic convert in 1929.
In Germany, the psychologist and philosopher Karl Jaspers -- who later described existentialism as a
"phantom" created by the public,[42] -- called his own thought, heavily influenced by Kierkegaard and
Nietzsche -- Existenzphilosophie. For Jaspers, "Existenz-philosophy is the way of thought by means of
which man seeks to become himself...This way of thought does not cognize objects, but elucidates and
makes actual the being of the thinker."[43]
Jaspers, a professor at the University of Heidelberg, was acquainted with Martin Heidegger, who held
a professorship at Marburg before acceding to Husserl's chair at Freiburg in 1928. They held many
philosophical discussions, but later became estranged over Heidegger's support of National Socialism.
They shared an admiration for Kierkegaard[44], and in the 1930s Heidegger lectured extensively on
Nietzsche. Nevertheless, the extent to which Heidegger should be considered an existentialist is
debatable. In Being and Time he presented a method of rooting philosophical explanations in human
existence (Dasein) to be analysed in terms of existential categories (existentiale); and this has led many
commentators to treat him as an important figure in the existentialist movement.
[edit] After the Second World War
Following the Second World War, existentialism became a well-known and significant philosophical
and cultural movement, mainly through the public prominence of two French writers, Jean-Paul
Sartre and Albert Camus, who wrote best-selling novels, plays and widely-read journalism as well as
theoretical texts. These years also saw the growing reputation outside Germany of Heidegger's book
Being and Time.
Sartre had dealt with existentialist themes in his 1938 novel Nausea and the short stories in his 1939
collection The Wall, and had published a major philosophical statement, Being and Nothingness in
1943, but it was in the two years following the liberation of Paris from the German occupying forces
that he and his close associates -- Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and others -became internationally famous as the leading figures of a movement known as existentialism.[45] In a
very short space of time, Camus and Sartre in particular, became the leading public intellectuals of
post-war France, achieving by the end of 1945 "a fame that reached across all audiences."[46] Camus
was an editor of the most popular leftist (former French Resistance) newspaper Combat; Sartre
launched his journal of leftist thought, Les Temps Modernes, and two weeks later gave the widely
reported lecture on existentialism and humanism to a packed meeting of the Club Maintenant.
Beauvoir wrote that "not a week passed without the newspapers discussing us";[47] existentialism
became "the first media craze of the postwar era."[48]
By the end of 1947, Camus's earlier fiction and plays had been reprinted, his new play Caligula had
been performed and his novel The Plague published; the first two novels of Sartre's The Roads to
Freedom trilogy had appeared, as had Beauvoir's novel The Blood of Others. Works by Camus and
Sartre were already appearing in foreign editions. The Paris-based existentialists had become
Sartre had travelled to Germany in 1930 to study the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Martin
Heidegger,[50] and he included critical comments on their work in his major treatise Being and
Nothingness. Heidegger's thought had also become known in French philosophical circles through its
use by Alexandre Kojève in explicating Hegel in a series of lectures given in Paris in the 1930s.[51] The
lectures were highly influential; members of the audience included not only Sartre and Merleau-Ponty,
but Raymond Queneau, Georges Bataille, Louis Althusser, André Breton and Jacques Lacan.[52] A
selection from Heidegger's Being and Time was published in French in 1938, and his essays began to
appear in French philosophy journals. Heidegger read Sartre's work and was initially impressed,
commenting: "Here for the first time I encountered an independent thinker who, from the foundations
up, has experienced the area out of which I think, Your work shows such an immediate comprehension
of my philosophy as I have never before encountered."[53]. Later, however, in response to a question
posed by his French follower Jean Beaufret[54], Heidegger distanced himself from Sartre's position and
existentialism in general in his Letter on Humanism.[55] Heidegger's reputation continued to grow in
France during the 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1960s, Sartre attempted to reconcile existentialism and Marxism in his work Critique of
Dialectical Reason. A major theme throughout his writings was freedom and responsibility.
Albert Camus was a friend of Sartre, until their falling-out, and wrote several works with existential
themes including The Rebel, The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, and Summer in Algiers. Camus, like
many others, rejected the existentialist label, and considered his works to be concerned with people
facing the absurd. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus uses the analogy of the Greek myth to demonstrate
the futility of existence. In the myth, Sisyphus is condemned for eternity to roll a rock up a hill, but
when he reaches the summit, the rock will roll to the bottom again. Camus believes that this existence
is pointless but that Sisyphus ultimately finds meaning and purpose in his task, simply by continually
applying himself to it.
Simone de Beauvoir, an important existentialist who spent much of her life as Sartre's partner, wrote
about feminist and existential ethics in her works, including The Second Sex and The Ethics of
Ambiguity. Although often overlooked due to her relationship with Sartre, de Beauvoir integrated
existentialism with other forms of thinking such as feminism, unheard of at the time, resulting in
alienation from fellow writers such as Camus. Frantz Fanon, a Martiniquan-born critic of colonialism,
has been considered an important existentialist.[56]
Paul Tillich, a important existential theologian following Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth, applied
existential concepts to Christian theology, and helped introduce existential theology to the general
public. His seminal work The Courage to Be follows Kierkegaard's analysis of anxiety and life's
absurdity, but puts forward the thesis that modern man must, via God, achieve selfhood in spite of life's
absurdity. Rudolf Bultmann used Kierkegaard's and Heidegger's philosophy of existence to
demythologize Christianity by interpreting Christian mythical concepts into existential concepts.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, an existential phenomenologist, was for a time a companion of Sartre. His
understanding of Husserl's phenomenology was far greater than that of Merleau-Ponty's fellow
existentialists. It has been said that his work, Humanism and Terror, greatly influenced Sartre.
However, in later years they were to disagree irreparably, dividing many existentialists such as de
Beauvoir, who sided with Sartre. Michel Foucault would also be considered an existentialist through
his use of history to reveal the constant alterations of created meaning, thus proving history's failure to
produce a cohesive version of reality.
[edit] Major concepts
[edit] A focus on concrete existence
Existentialist thinkers focus on the question of concrete human existence and the conditions of this
existence rather than hypothesizing a human essence. However, even though the concrete individual
existence must have priority in existentialism, certain conditions are commonly held to be "endemic"
to human existence.
What these conditions are is better understood in light of the meaning of the word "existence," which
comes from the Latin "existere," meaning "to stand out." Man exists in a state of distance from the
world that he nonetheless remains in the midst of. This distance is what enables man to project
meaning into the disinterested world of in-itselfs. This projected meaning remains fragile, constantly
facing breakdown for any reason - from a tragedy to a particularly insightful moment. In such a
breakdown, we are put face to face with the naked meaninglessness of the world, and the results can be
devastating. It is in relation to this that Albert Camus famously claimed that "there is only one truly
serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide" in his The Myth of Sisyphus. Although
"prescriptions" against the possibly deleterious consequences of these kinds of encounters vary, from
Kierkegaard's religious "stage" to Camus' insistence on persevering in spite of absurdity, the concern
with helping people avoid living their lives in ways that put them in the perpetual danger of having
everything meaningful break down is common to most existentialist philosophers.
[edit] Existence precedes essence
Main article: Existence precedes essence
A central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the actual
life of the individual is what constitutes what could be called his "essence" instead of there being a
predetermined essence that defines what it is to be a human. Although it was Sartre who explicitly
coined the term, similar notions can be found in the thought of many existentialist philosophers, from
Kierkegaard to Heidegger.
It is often claimed in this context that man defines himself, which is often perceived as stating that man
can "wish" to be something - anything, a bird, for instance - and then be it. According to most
existentialist philosophers, however, this would rather be a kind of inauthentic existence. What is
meant by the statement is that man is (1) defined only insofar as he acts and (2) that he is responsible
for his actions. To clarify, it can be said that a man who acts cruelly towards other people is, by that
act, defined as a cruel man and in that same instance, he (as opposed to his genes, or "the cruel nature
of man", for instance) is defined as being responsible for being this cruel man. As Sartre puts it in his
Existentialism is a Humanism: "man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and
defines himself afterwards." Of course, the more positive, therapeutic aspect of this is also implied:
You can choose to act in a different way, and to be a good person instead of a cruel person. Here it is
also clear that since man can choose to be either cruel or good, he is, in fact, neither of these things
[edit] Angst
Angst, sometimes called dread, anxiety or even anguish is a term that is common to many existentialist
thinkers. Although its concrete properties may vary slightly, it is generally held to be the experience of
our freedom and responsibility. The archetypal example is the example of the experience one has when
standing on a cliff where one not only fears falling off it, but also dreads the possibility of throwing
oneself off. In this experience that "nothing is holding me back", one senses the lack of anything that
predetermines you to either throw yourself off or to stand still, and one experiences one's own freedom.
It can also be seen in relation to the previous point how angst is before nothing, and this is what sets it
apart from fear which has an object. While in the case of fear, one can take definitive measures to
remove the object of fear, in the case of angst, no such "constructive" measures are possible. The use
of the word "nothing" in this context relates both to the inherent insecurity about the consequences of
one's actions, and to the fact that, in experiencing one's freedom as angst, one also realizes that one will
be fully responsible for these consequences; there is no thing in you (your genes, for instance) that acts
in your stead, and that you can "blame" if something goes wrong. Not every choice is perceived as
having dreadful possible consequences (and, it can be claimed, our lives would be unbearable if every
choice facilitated dread), but that doesn't change the fact that freedom remains a condition of every
action. One of the most extensive treatments of the existentialist notion of Angst is found in Søren
Kierkegaards monumental work Begrebet Angest (The Concept of Dread).
[edit] Freedom
The existentialist concept of freedom is often misunderstood as a sort of liberum arbitrium where
almost anything is possible and where values are inconsequential to choice and action. This
interpretation of the concept is often related to the insistence on the absurdity of the world and that
there are no relevant or absolutely "good" or "bad" values. However, that there are no values to be
found in the world in-itself doesn't mean that there are no values: each of us usually already has his
values before a consideration of their validity is carried through, and it is, after all, upon these values
we act. In Kierkegaard's Judge Vilhelm's account in Either/Or, making "choices" without allowing
one's values to confer differing values to the alternatives, is, in fact, choosing not to make a choice - to
"flip a coin", as it were, and to leave everything to chance. This is considered to be a refusal to live in
the consequence of one's freedom; an inauthentic existence. As such, existentialist freedom isn't
situated in some kind of abstract space where everything is possible: since people are free, and since
they already exist in the world, it is implied that their freedom is only in this world, and that it, too, is
restricted by it.
What isn't implied in this account of existential freedom, however, is that one's values are immutable; a
consideration of one's values may cause one to reconsider and change them. A consequence of this fact
is that one is not only responsible for one's actions, but also for the values one holds. This entails that a
reference to "common values" doesn't "excuse" the individual's actions: Even though these are the
values of the society the individual is part of, they are also his own in the sense that s/he could choose
them to be different at any time. Thus, the focus on freedom in existentialism is related to the limits of
the responsibility one bears as a result of one's freedom: the relationship between freedom and
responsibility is one of interdependency, and a clarification of freedom also clarifies what one is
responsible for.
[edit] Facticity
A concept closely related to freedom is that of facticity. It is defined by Sartre in Being and
Nothingness as that in-itself which you are in the mode of not being it. This can be more easily
understood when considering it in relation to the temporal dimension of past: Your past is what you are
in the sense that it co-constitutes you. However, to say that you are only your past would be to ignore a
large part of reality (the present and the future) while saying that your past is only what you were in a
way that would entirely detach it from you now. A denial of one's own concrete past constitutes an
inauthentic lifestyle, and the same goes for all other kinds of facticity (having a body (e.g. one that
doesn't allow you to run faster than the speed of sound), identity, values, etc.).
In relation to freedom, facticity is both a limitation and a condition of your freedom. It is a limitation in
that a large part of your facticity consists of things you couldn't have chosen (birthplace, etc.), but a
condition in the sense that your values most likely will depend on it. However, even though your
facticity is "set in stone" (as being past, for instance), it cannot determine you: The value ascribed to
your facticity is still ascribed to it freely by you. As an example, consider two men, one of which has
no memory of his past and the other remembers everything. They have both committed many crimes,
but the first man, knowing nothing about this, leads a rather normal life while the second man, feeling
trapped by his own past, continues a life of crime, blaming his own past for "trapping" him in this life.
There is nothing essential about his committing crimes, but he ascribes this meaning to his past.
However, to disregard your facticity when you, in the continual process of self-making, project
yourself into the future, would be to put yourself in denial of yourself, and would thus be inauthentic.
In other words, the origin of your projection will still have to be your facticity, although in the mode of
not being it (essentially).
Another aspect of facticity is that it entails angst, both in the sense that freedom "produces" angst when
limited by facticity, and in the sense that the lack of the possibility of having facticity "step in" for you
to take responsibility for something you have done also produces angst.
[edit] Authenticity and inauthenticity
The theme of authentic existence is common to many existentialist thinkers. It is often taken to mean
that one has to "find oneself" and then live in accordance with this self, but in one sense, if one
considers the self to be substantial or "fixed," that the self truly is some thing you can find if you look
hard enough, this is a misunderstanding.
What is meant by authenticity is that in acting, one should act as oneself, not as One, one's Genes or
any other essence. The authentic act is one that is in accordance with one's freedom. Of course, as a
condition of freedom is facticity, this includes one's facticity, but not to the degree that this facticity
can in any way determine one's choices (in the sense that one could then blame one's background for
making the choice one made). The role of facticity in relation to authenticity involves letting one's
actual values come into play when one makes a choice (instead of, like Kierkegaard's Aesthete,
"choosing" randomly), so that one also takes responsibility for the act instead of choosing either-or
without allowing the options to have different values.
In contrast to this, the inauthentic is the denial to live in accordance with one's freedom. This can take
many forms, from pretending choices are meaningless or random, through convincing oneself that
some form of determinism is true, to a sort of "mimicry" where one acts as "One should." How "One"
should act is often determined by an image one has of how one such as oneself (say, a bank manager)
acts. This image usually corresponds to some sort of social norm, but this does not mean that all acting
in accordance with social norms is inauthentic: The main point is the attitude one takes to one's own
freedom and responsibility, and the extent to which one acts in accordance with this freedom.
[edit] The Other and The Look
The Other (when written with a capitalised "o") is a concept more properly belonging to
phenomenology and its account of intersubjectivity. However, the concept has seen widespread use in
existentialist writings, and the conclusions drawn from it differ slightly from the phenomenological
accounts. The experience of the Other is the experience of another free subject who inhabits the same
world as you do. In its most basic form, it is this experience of the Other that constitutes
intersubjectivity and objectivity. To clarify, when one experiences someone else, and that this Other
person experiences the world (the same world that you experience), only from "over there", the world
itself is constituted as objective in that it is something that is "there" as identical for both of the
subjects; you experience the other person as experiencing the same as you. This experience of the
Other's look is what is termed the Look (sometimes The Gaze).
While this experience, in its basic phenomenological sense, constitutes the world as objective, and
yourself as objectively existing subjectivity (you experience yourself as seen in the Other's Look in
precisely the same way that you experience the Other as seen by you, as subjectivity), in
existentialism, it also acts as a kind of limitation of your freedom. This is because the Look tends to
objectify what it sees. As such, when one experiences oneself in the Look, one doesn't experience
oneself as nothing (no thing), but as something. Sartre's own example of a man peeping at someone
through a keyhole can help clarify this: At first, this man is entirely caught up in the situation he is in;
he is in a pre-reflexive state where his entire consciousness is directed at what goes on in the room.
Suddenly, he hears a creaking floorboard behind him, and he becomes aware of himself as seen by the
Other. He is thus filled with shame for he perceives himself as he would perceive someone else doing
what he was doing, as a Peeping Tom. The Look is then co-constitutive of one's facticity.
Another characteristic feature of the Look is that no Other really needs to have been there: It is quite
possible that the creaking floorboard was nothing but the movement of an old house; the Look isn't
some kind of mystical telepathic experience of the actual way the other sees you (there may also have
been someone there, but he could have not noticed that you were there, or he could be another Peeping
Tom who just wants to join you).
[edit] Reason
Emphasizing action, freedom, and decision as fundamental, existentialists oppose themselves to
rationalism and positivism. That is, they argue against definitions of human beings as primarily
rational. Rather, existentialists look at where people find meaning. Existentialism asserts that people
actually make decisions based on the meaning to them rather than rationally. The rejection of reason as
the source of meaning is a common theme of existentialist thought, as is the focus on the feelings of
anxiety and dread that we feel in the face of our own radical freedom and our awareness of death.
Kierkegaard saw rationality as a mechanism humans use to counter their existential anxiety, their fear
of being in the world: "If I can believe that I am rational and everyone else is rational then I have
nothing to fear and no reason to feel anxious about being free."
Like Kierkegaard, Sartre saw problems with rationality, calling it a form of "bad faith", an attempt by
the self to impose structure on a world of phenomena — "the Other" — that is fundamentally irrational
and random. According to Sartre, rationality and other forms of bad faith hinder us from finding
meaning in freedom. To try to suppress our feelings of anxiety and dread, we confine ourselves within
everyday experience, Sartre asserts, thereby relinquishing our freedom and acquiescing to being
possessed in one form or another by "the look" of "the Other" (i.e. possessed by another person - or at
least our idea of that other person). In a similar vein, Camus believed that society and religion falsely
teach humans that "the Other" has order and structure.[58] For Camus, when an individual's
consciousness, longing for order, collides with the Other's lack of order, a third element is born:
[edit] The Absurd
Main article: Absurdism
The notion of the Absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning to be found in the world beyond
what meaning we give to it. This meaninglessness also encompasses the amorality or "unfairness" of
the world. This contrasts with "karmic" ways of thinking in which "bad things don't happen to good
people"; to the world, metaphorically speaking, there is no such thing as a good person or a bad thing;
what happens happens, and it may just as well happen to a good person as to a bad person. This
contrasts our daily experience where most things appear to us as meaningful, and where good people
do indeed, on occasion, receive some sort of "reward" for their goodness. Most existentialist thinkers,
however, will maintain that this is not a necessary feature of the world, and that it definitely isn't a
property of the world in-itself. Because of the world's absurdity, at any point in time, anything can
happen to anyone, and a tragic event could plummet someone into direct confrontation with the
Absurd. The notion of the absurd has been prominent in literature throughout history. Søren
Kierkegaard, Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoevsky and many of the literary works of Jean-Paul Sartre and
Albert Camus contain descriptions of people who encounter the absurdity of the world. Albert Camus
studied the issue of "the absurd" in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus.
[edit] Types
[edit] Atheistic
Atheistic existentialism is the form of existentialism most commonly encountered in today's society.
What sets it apart from theistic existentialism is that it rejects the notion of a god and his transcendent
will that should in some way dictate how we should live. It rejects the notion that there is any "created"
meaning of life and the world, and that a leap of faith is required of man in order for him to live an
authentic life. In this kind of existentialism, belief in a god is often considered a form of Bad Faith.
In this kind of existentialism, the way to face the absurdity of the world is to create a meaning for
yourself. This creation of meaning ex nihilo doesn't degrade your meaning as such, as all meaning
would be created meaning. In other words, creating a meaning of your own life is completely
legitimate, as long as you do not base it in "objective" existence, or let it be the main "pillar" of your
life. According to Kierkegaard, one would be in a perpetual state of despair (although it would be an
unrealised despair that one would flee from whenever it showed itself) if one had some meaning (It
doesn't necessarily have to be one single meaning; even a multitude of meanings is fragile) as the main
pillar of one's life.
Two leading 20th century figures among atheist existentialists were Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert
[edit] Theistic
Theistic existentialism is, for the most part, Christian in its outlook, because the the way traced by
Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and others is even nowadays quite strong.
But there have been existentialists of other theological persuasions, like Islam (see Transcendent
theosophy) and Judaism. Unlike atheistic existentialists, they posit the existence of God, and that God
is the source of our being. It is generally held that God has designed the world in such a way that we
must define our own lives, and each individual is held accountable for his own self-definition.
[edit] Nihilism
This article or section has multiple issues. Please help improve the article or discuss these issues
on the talk page.
 Its neutrality is disputed. Tagged since May 2008.
 Its factual accuracy is disputed. Tagged since May 2008.
This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding
reliable references. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July 2008)
This article requires authentication or verification by an expert.
Please assist in recruiting an expert or improve this article yourself. See the talk page for details. (July 2008)
Though nihilism and existentialism are distinct philosophies, they are often confused with one another.
A primary cause of confusion is that Friedrich Nietzsche is a central philosopher in both fields.
Adding to the confusion is a form of existentialism, nihilistic existentialism, which contains elements
of both. What sets existential nihilists apart from pure nihilists is that while nihilists do not believe in
any meaning whatsoever, existential nihilists only believe this in relation to any sort of meaning to life.
This position is implied in "regular" nihilism, and existential nihilists may also subscribe to the full
nihilistic view, but existential nihilism is still a separate view.
While other existentialists will allow for meaning in people's lives (meaning which they themselves
project into it), existential nihilists will deny that this meaning is anything but self-deception.
Existential nihilists could thus seem to be more pessimistic than the other existentialists, but even here,
conclusions vary. Some will claim that the best thing to do is to commit suicide while others will claim
that the lack of objective meaning of life means you should just do as you wish: a hedonism of sorts.
Also there are those who hold that nihilism is both a necessary burden of the authentic thinker and a
source of dread, pushing them to hold in suspension one's tendency to accept the reality of values while
maintaining the unfulfilled desire for their discovery.
[edit] Criticism
Herbert Marcuse criticised Existentialism, especially Being and Nothingness (1943), by Jean-Paul
Sartre, for projecting anxiety and meaninglessness onto the nature of existence itself: "Insofar as
Existentialism is a philosophical doctrine, it remains an idealistic doctrine: it hypostatizes specific
historical conditions of human existence into ontological and metaphysical characteristics.
Existentialism thus becomes part of the very ideology which it attacks, and its radicalism is
illusory".[59] In 1946, Sartre already had replied to Marxist criticism of Existentialism in the lecture
Existentialism is a humanism.[60] In Jargon of Authenticity, Theodor Adorno criticised Heidegger's
philosophy, especially his use of language, as a mystifying ideology of advanced, industrial society,
and its power structure.[citation needed]
In Letters on Humanism, Heidegger criticized Sartre's existentialism:
Existentialism says existence precedes essence. In this statement he is taking existentia and
essentia according to their metaphysical meaning, which, from Plato's time on, has said that
essentia precedes existentia. Sartre reverses this statement. But the reversal of a metaphysical
statement remains a metaphysical statement. With it, he stays with metaphysics, in oblivion of
the truth of Being.
In From Descartes to Wittgenstein, Roger Scruton says that Heidegger's concept of inauthenticity and
Sartre's concept of bad faith were self-inconsistent; both deny any universal moral creed, yet speak of
these concepts as if everyone were bound to abide them. In chapter 18, he says: "In what sense Sartre
is able to 'recommend' the authenticity, which consists in the purely self-made morality, is unclear. He
does recommend it, but, by his own argument, his recommendation can have no objective force."
However, despite the seemingly moral tone present in each, both Heidegger and Sartre stress
throughout their respective works that these are not to be taken as evaluative concepts, and if we take
their word for this (as Scruton does not), there is no inconsistency in this regard. Both authors appeal to
the reader in all regards to decide for him/herself.
Logical positivists, such as Carnap and Ayer, say Existentialists frequently are confused about the verb
"to be" in their analyses of "being".[61] They argue that the verb is transitive, and pre-fixed to a
predicate (e.g., an apple is red): without a predicate, the word is meaningless. Another alleged
confusion, in existentialist metaphysical literature, is that existentialists try to understand the meaning
of the word "nothing" (the negation of existence) by presuming it must refer to something. Borrowing
Kant's argument[62] against the ontological argument for the existence of God, logical positivists argue
that existence is not a property.[citation needed] Existentialists would respond to both claims by an appeal to
the reader's intuitive understanding on the matter, which is guided to this end through the descriptive
content of their works. They treat the matter as beyond the scope of argument and logic.
[edit] Influence outside philosophy
[edit] Cultural movement and influence
The term existentialism was first adopted as a self-reference in the 1940s and 1950s by Jean-Paul
Sartre, and the widespread use of literature as a means of disseminating their ideas by Sartre and his
associates (notably novelist Albert Camus) meant existentialism "was as much a literary phenomenon
as a philosophical one."[63] Among existentialist writers were Parisians Jean Genet, André Gide, André
Malraux, and playwright Samuel Beckett, the Norwegian Knut Hamsun, and the Romanian friends
Eugène Ionesco and Emil Cioran. Prominent artists such as the Abstract Expressionists Jackson
Pollock, Arshile Gorky, and Willem de Kooning have been understood in existentialist terms, as have
filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman.[63] Individual films such as the 1952
western High Noon and Fight Club (1999) have also been cited as existentialist.[64][65] Also, existential
theological influence is apparent in the Angel's Egg.
[edit] Literature
In the 20th century, existentialism experienced a resurgence in popular art forms. In fiction, Hermann
Hesse's 1928 novel Steppenwolf, based on an idea in Kierkegaard's Either/Or (1843),[specify] sold well in
the West. Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets adopted existentialist themes. "Arthouse" films began
quoting and alluding to existentialist thought and thinkers. Existentialist novelists were generally seen
as a mid-1950s phenomenon that continued until the mid- to late 1970s. Most of the major writers were
either French or from French African colonies. Small circles of other Europeans were seen as literary
precursors by the existentialists, but literary history increasingly has questioned the accuracy of this
After the 1970s, much cultural activity in art, cinema, and literature contains both postmodernist and
existential elements. Books such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) (now republished as
Blade Runner) by Philip K. Dick, and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk all distort the line between
reality and appearance while simultaneously espousing strong existential themes. Ideas from such
thinkers as Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Foucault, Kafka, Nietzsche, and Eduard von Hartmann permeate
the works of artists such as Chuck Palahniuk, Irvine Welsh, Michael Szymczyk, David Lynch, Crispin
Glover, and Charles Bukowski, and one often finds in their works a delicate balance between
distastefulness and beauty. The novel Hopscotch, by Julio Cortázar depicts the existentialism in its
main character, Horacio Oliveira.
[edit] Film
Existential themes have been evident throughout 20th century cinema. Many films portray characters
going through the "existential dilemma" or existential problems. Just as there is much controversy
about the definition of existentialism, there is a fine line between existential and non-existential films.
One might ask how certain movies can be considered existential, while others are not, and the
judgment is purely subjective. However, for the sake of discussion, it is beneficial to provide a clear
definition of existential movies. The most accurate definition says that existential movies are those
which have strong plots that deal with subjects such as dread, boredom, nothingness, anxiety,
alienation and the absurd. Furthermore, the definition states that movies which deal with the themes of
existential literature seriously are also considered as being existential.[66]
A number of 1940s and 1950s-era films explored existential themes, including the US film noir genre,
which explored the ambiguous moral dilemmas of people drawn into the gangster underworld. Film
noirs tend to revolve around heroes who are more flawed and morally questionable than the norm,
often fall guys of one sort or another. The characteristic heroes of noir are described by many critics as
"alienated" and "filled with existential bitterness."[67] Film noir is often described as essentially
pessimistic. The noir stories that are regarded as most characteristic tell of people trapped in unwanted
situations (which, in general, they did not cause but are responsible for exacerbating), striving against
random, uncaring fate, and frequently doomed. The movies are seen as depicting a world that is
inherently corrupt. Classic film noir has been associated by many critics with the American social
landscape of the era—in particular, with a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation that is said to
have followed World War II.
Existentialist themes were also present in other genres. The French director Jean Genet's 1950 fantasyerotic film Un chant d'amour shows two inmates in solitary cells whose only contact is through a hole
in their cell wall, who are spied on by the prison warden. Reviewer James Travers calls the film a
"...visual poem evoking homosexual desire and existentialist suffering" which "... conveys the
bleakness of a existence in a godless universe with painful believability"; he calls it "... probably the
most effective fusion of existentialist philosophy and cinema."[68]
Stanley Kubrick's 1957 anti-war film Paths of Glory "illustrates, and even illuminates...existentialism"
by examining the "necessary absurdity of the human condition" and the "horror of war"[69]. The film
tells the story of a fictional World War I French army regiment which is ordered to attack an
impregnable German stronghold; when the attack fails, three soldiers are chosen at random, courtmartialed by a "kangaroo court", and executed by firing squad. The film examines existential ethics,
such as the issue of whether objectivity is possible and the "problem of authenticity".[70]
On the lighter side, the British comedy troupe Monty Python have explored existential themes
throughout their works, from many of the sketches in their original television show, the Flying Circus,
to their last major release and what is likely the most obvious example, the 1983 film The Meaning of
Life[71]. Of the many adjectives (some listed in the introduction above) that might indicate an
existential tone, the one utilized the most by the group is that of the absurd.
Some contemporary films dealing with existential issues include Fight Club, Waking Life, and
Ordinary People[72]. Likewise, films throughout the 20th century such as Taxi Driver, High Noon,
Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now, The Seventh
Seal, Ikiru, I ♥ Huckabees, and Blade Runner also have existential qualities.[73] Notable directors
known for their existentialist films include Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard,
Michelangelo Antonioni, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Woody Allen.[74]
Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York focuses on the protagonist's desire to find existential
meaning in life as he sees its end.[75]
[edit] Theatre
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote No Exit in 1944, an existentialist play originally published in French as Huis
Clos (meaning In Camera or "behind closed doors") which is the source of the popular quote, "Hell is
other people." (In French, "l'enfer, c'est les autres"). The play begins with a Valet leading a man into a
room that the audience soon realizes is in hell. Eventually he is joined by two women. After their
entry, the Valet leaves and the door is shut and locked. All three expect to be tortured, but no torturer
arrives. Instead, they realize they are there to torture each other, which they do effectively, by probing
each other's sins, desires, and unpleasant memories.
Existentialist themes are displayed in the Theatre of the Absurd, notably in Samuel Beckett's Waiting
for Godot, in which two men divert themselves while they wait expectantly for someone (or
something) named Godot who never arrives. They claim Godot to be an acquaintance but in fact hardly
know him, admitting they would not recognize him if they saw him. Samuel Beckett, once asked who
or what Godot is, replied, "If I knew, I would have said so in the play." To occupy themselves they eat,
sleep, talk, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide—anything "to hold
the terrible silence at bay".[76] The play "exploits several archetypal forms and situations, all of which
lend themselves to both comedy and pathos."[77] The play also illustrates an attitude toward man's
experience on earth: the poignancy, oppression, camaraderie, hope, corruption, and bewilderment of
human experience that can only be reconciled in mind and art of the absurdist. The play examines
questions such as death, the meaning of human existence and the place of God in human existence.
Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is an absurdist tragicomedy first staged at the
Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966.[78] The play expands upon the exploits of two minor characters
from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Comparisons have also been drawn to Samuel Beckett's Waiting For
Godot, for the presence of two central characters who almost appear to be two halves of a single
character. Many plot features are similar as well: the characters pass time by playing Questions,
impersonating other characters, and interrupting each other or remaining silent for long periods of
time. The two characters are portrayed as two clowns or fools in a world that is beyond their
understanding. They stumble through philosophical arguments while not realizing the implications,
and muse on the irrationality and randomness of the world.
Jean Anouilh's Antigone also presents arguments founded on existentialist ideas.[79] It is a tragedy
inspired by Greek mythology and the play of the same name (Antigone, by Sophocles) from the 5th
century B.C. In English, it is often distinguished from its antecedent by being pronounced in its
original French form, approximately "Ante-GŌN." The play was first performed in Paris on 6 February
1944, during the Nazi occupation of France. Produced under Nazi censorship, the play is purposefully
ambiguous with regards to the rejection of authority (represented by Antigone) and the acceptance of it
(represented by Creon). The parallels to the French Resistance and the Nazi occupation have been
drawn. Antigone rejects life as desperately meaningless but without affirmatively choosing a noble
death. The crux of the play is the lengthy dialogue concerning the nature of power, fate, and choice,
during which Antigone says that she is "... disgusted with [the]...promise of a humdrum happiness";
she states that she would rather die than live a mediocre existence.
Critic Martin Esslin in his book Theatre of the Absurd pointed out how many contemporary
playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov wove into their
plays the existential belief that we are absurd beings loose in a universe empty of real meaning. Esslin
noted that many of these playwrights demonstrated the philosophy better than did the plays by Sartre
and Camus. Though most of such playwrights, subsequently labeled "Absurdist" (based on Esslin's
book), denied affiliations with existentialism and were often staunchly anti-philosophical (for example
Ionesco often claimed he identified more with 'Pataphysics or with Surrealism than with
existentialism), the playwrights are often linked to existentialism based on Esslin's observation.[80]
[edit] Music
Please help improve this section by expanding it with:
examples and additional citations. Further information might be found on the talk page. (February
Many solo artists and bands have released existentially themed works ranging from single songs to
entire albums. Some of these artists have focused and built their entire careers exploring these themes.
Notable examples include Jim Morrison of The Doors, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Trent Reznor of
Nine Inch Nails[81] among others.
[edit] Theology
Main article: Christian existentialism
Christ's teachings had an indirect style, in which his point is often left unsaid for the purpose of letting
the single individual confront the truth on their own.[82] This is evident in his parables, which are a
response to a question he is asked. After he tells the parable, he returns the question to the individual.
An existential reading of the Bible demands that the reader recognize that he is an existing subject
studying the words more as a recollection of possible events. This is in contrast to looking at a
collection of "truths" which are outside and unrelated to the reader, but may develop your
reality/God.[83] Such a reader is not obligated to follow the commandments as if an external agent is
forcing them upon him, but as though they are inside him and guiding him from inside. This is the task
Kierkegaard takes up when he asks: "Who has the more difficult task: the teacher who lectures on
earnest things a meteor's distance from everyday life-or the learner who should put it to use?"[84]
Existentially speaking, the Bible doesn't become an authority in a person's life until they authorize the
Bible to be their personal authority. Existentialism has had a significant influence on theology, notably
on postmodern Christianity and on theologians and religious thinkers such as Nikolai Berdyaev, Karl
Barth, Paul Tillich, Wilfrid Desan and John Macquarrie.
[edit] Existential psychoanalysis and psychotherapy
Main article: Existential therapy
One of the major offshoots of existentialism as a philosophy is existential psychology and
psychoanalysis, which first crystallized in the work of Ludwig Binswanger, a clinician who was
influenced by both Freud and Heidegger, and Sartre, who was not a clinician but wrote theoretical
material about existential psychoanalysis. A later figure was Viktor Frankl, who had studied with
Freud and Jung as a young man[citation needed]. His logotherapy can be regarded as a form of existential
therapy. An early contributor to existential psychology in the United States was Rollo May, who was
influenced by Kierkegaard. One of the most prolific writers on techniques and theory of existential
psychology in the USA is Irvin D. Yalom. The person who has contributed most to the development of
a European version of existential psychotherapy is the British-based Emmy van Deurzen.
With complete freedom to decide, and complete responsibility for the outcome of decisions, comes
anxiety (angst). Anxiety's importance in existentialism makes it a popular topic in psychotherapy.
Therapists often use existential philosophy to explain the patient's anxiety. Psychotherapists using an
existential approach believe that a patient can harness his anxiety and use it constructively. Instead of
suppressing anxiety, patients are advised to use it as grounds for change. By embracing anxiety as
inevitable, a person can use it to achieve his full potential in life. Humanistic psychology also had
major impetus from existential psychology and shares many of the fundamental tenets. Terror
management theory is a developing area of study within the academic study of psychology. It looks at
what researchers claim to be the implicit emotional reactions of people that occur when they are
confronted with the knowledge they will eventually die.
[edit] See also
Existential despair
Existential humanism
Existential crisis
Existential phenomenology
Existential meaning
Existentiell (Heideggerian terminology)
List of major thinkers and authors associated with existentialism
Existential therapy
Meaning of Life
The Ister (film)
[edit] Notes
^ John Macquarrie, Existentialism, New York (1972), pages 18-21.
^ Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich, New York (1995), page 259.
^ John Macquarrie, Existentialism, New York (1972), pages 14-15.
^ D.E. Cooper Existentialism: A Reconstruction (Basil Blackwell, 1999, page 8)
^ Solomon, Robert C. (1987). From Hegel to Existentialism. Oxford University Press. pp. 238. ISBN
^ Robert C. Solomon, Existentialism (McGraw-Hill, 1974, pages 1-2)
^ D.E. Cooper Existentialism: A Reconstruction (Basil Blackwell, 1999, page 8).
^ Ernst Breisach, Introduction to Modern Existentialism, New York (1962), page 5
^ Walter Kaufmann, Existentialism: From Dostoevesky to Sartre, New York (1956), page 12
^ Walter Kaufmann. Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre. (Cleveland: The World Publishing
Company, 1956) 11
^ D.E. Cooper Existentialism: A Reconstruction (basil Blackwell, 1999, page )
^ Thomas R. Flynn, Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2006, page 89
^ Christine Daigle, Existentialist Thinkers and Ethics (McGill-Queen's press, 2006, page 5)
^ L'Existentialisme est un Humanisme (Editions Nagel, 1946); English Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism
and Humanism (Eyre Methuen, 1948)
^ John Potevi, A Dictionary of Continental Philosophy (Yale University press, 2006, page 325)
^ Thomas R. Flynn, Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2006, page 89
^ S. Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, "A First and Last Declaration": "…to read solo
the original text of the individual, human-existence relationship, the old text, well known, handed down
from the fathers, to read it through yet once more, if possible in a more heartfelt way."
^ Michael Weston, Kierkegaard and Modern Continental Philosophy (Routledge, 2003, page 35)
^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
^ Christine Daigle, Existentialist Thinkers and Ethics (McGill-Queen's press, 2006, page 5)
^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
^ a b Ferreira, M. Jamie, Kierkegaard, Wiley & Sons, 2008.
^ Mulder Jr., Jack. Mystical And Buddhist Elements in Kierkegaard's Religious Thought, Edwin Mellen
Press, 2006
^ Kierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling, Penguin Classics, 1985
^ a b Kierkegaard, Søren. Works of Love, Princeton University Press, 1998.
^ a b Storm, D. Anthony. Søren Kierkegaard: A Primer
^ Kaufmann, Walter. From Shakespeare to Existentialism. Princeton University Press, 1980
^ Kierkegaard, Søren. The Essential Kierkegaard, edited by Howard and Edna Hong. Princeton, 2000
^ Marino, Gordon. Ed. Basic Writings of Existentialism. Modern Library, 2004.
^ Luper, Steven. "Existing". Mayfield Publishing, 2000, p.4–5
^ Ibid, p. 11
^ Hubben, William. Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka, Scribner, 1997.
^ Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (Trans. Justin O'Brien, Hamish Hamilton, 1955, page 104)
^ Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (Trans. Justin O'Brien, Hamish Hamilton, 1955, page 107)
^ Maurice S. Friedman, Martin Buber. The Life of Dialogue (University of Chicago press, 1955, page
^ Ernst Breisach, Introduction to Modern Existentialism, New York (1962), pages 173-176
^ Samuel M. Keen, "Gabriel Marcel" in Paul Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
(Macmillan Publishing Co, 1967)
^ John Macquarrie, Existentialism (Pelican, 1973, page 110)
^ John Macquarrie, Existentialism (Pelican, 1973, page 96)
^ Samuel M. Keen, "Gabriel Marcel" in Paul Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
(Macmillan Publishing Co, 1967)
^ Samuel M. Keen, "Gabriel Marcel" in Paul Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
(Macmillan Publishing Co, 1967)
^ Karl Jaspers, "Philosophical Autobiography" in Paul Arthur Schilpp (ed.) The Philosophy of Karl
Jaspers (The Library of Living Philosophers IX (Tudor Publishing Company, 1957, page 75/11)
^ Karl Jaspers, "Philosophical Autobiography" in Paul Arthur Schilpp (ed.) The Philosophy of Karl
Jaspers (The Library of Living Philosophers IX (Tudor Publishing Company, 1957, page 40)
^ Karl Jaspers, "Philosophical Autobiography" in Paul Arthur Schilpp (ed.) The Philosophy of Karl
Jaspers (The Library of Living Philosophers IX (Tudor Publishing Company, 1957, page 75/2 and
^ Ronald Aronson, Camus and Sartre (University of Chicago Press, 2004, chapter 3 passim)
^ Ronald Aronson, Camus and Sartre (University of Chicago Press, 2004, page 44)
^ Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance, quoted in Ronald Aronson, Camus and Sartre
(University of Chicago Press, 2004, page 48)
^ Ronald Aronson, Camus and Sartre (University of Chicago Press, 2004, page 48)
^ Ronald Aronson, Camus and Sartre (University of Chicago Press, 2004, chapter 3 passim)
^ Rüdiger Safranski, Martin Heidgger - Between Good and Evil (Harvard University Press, 1998, page
^ Entry on Kojève in Martin Cohen (editor), The Essentials of Philosophy and Ethics(Hodder Arnold,
2006, page 158); see also Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the
Phenomenology of Spirit (Cornell University Press, 1980)
^ Entry on Kojève in Martin Cohen (editor), The Essentials of Philosophy and Ethics(Hodder Arnold,
2006, page 158)
^ Martin Hediegger, letter, quoted in Rüdiger Safranski, Martin Heidgger - Between Good and Evil
(Harvard University Press, 1998, page 349)
^ Rüdiger Safranski, Martin Heidgger - Between Good and Evil (Harvard University Press, 1998, page
55. ^ William J. Richardson, Martin Heidegger: From Phenomenology to Thought (Martjinus Nijhoff,1967,
page 351)
56. ^ Macey, David. Franz Fanon: a Biography. New York City: Picador, USA. p. 129-130.
57. ^ Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). From Plato to Derrida. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey:
Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-158591-6.
58. ^ Camus, Albert. "An Absurd Reasoning"
59. ^ Marcuse, Herbert. "Sartre's Existentialism". Printed in Studies in Critical Philosophy. Translated by
Joris De Bres. London: NLB, 1972. p. 161
60. ^ Text at
61. ^ Carnap, Rudolf, Uberwindung der Metaphysik durch logische Analyse der Spache [Overcoming
Metaphysics by the Logical Analysis of Speech], Erkenntnis (1932), pp.219-241. Carnap's critique of
Heidegger's "What is Metaphysics".
62. ^ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A:595-602. B:623-627
63. ^ a b Steven Crowell entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by 2004-08-23
64. ^ Kavadlo, Jesse (2005). "The Fiction of Self-destruction: Chuck Palahniuk, Closet Moralist" (PDF).
Stirrings Still, the International Journal of Existential Literature.
Retrieved on 2007-05-10.
65. ^ The Western Narrative, University of San Diego
66. ^ What is an Existential Movie?
67. ^ Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the
American Style, 3d ed. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
68. ^ © James Travers 2005
69. ^ Holt, Jason. "Existential Ethics: Where do the Paths of Glory Lead?". In The Philosophy of Stanley
Kubrick. By Jerold J. Abrams. Published 2007. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 081312445X
70. ^ Holt, Jason. "Existential Ethics: Where do the Paths of Glory Lead?". In The Philosophy of Stanley
Kubrick. By Jerold J. Abrams. Published 2007. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 081312445X
71. ^ "'s Films with an Existential Theme". Retrieved on 2009-02-02.
72. ^ Existential & Psychological Movie Recommendations
73. ^ Existentialism in Film
74. ^ Existentialist Adaptations - Harvard Film Archive
75. ^ "Review: 'Synecdoche, New York'".,0,5252277.story. Retrieved on 2008-11-17.
76. ^ The Times, 31 December 1964. Quoted in Knowlson, J., Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett
(London: Bloomsbury, 1996), p 57
77. ^ Cronin, A., Samuel Beckett The Last Modernist (London: Flamingo, 1997), p 391
78. ^ Michael H. Hutchins (14 August 2006). "A Tom Stoppard Bibliography: Chronology". The Stephen
Sondheim Reference Guide. Retrieved on
79. ^ Wren, Celia (12 December 2007). "From Forum, an Earnest and Painstaking 'Antigone'". Washington
Retrieved on 2008-04-07.
80. ^ Kernan, Alvin B. The Modern American Theater: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967.
81. ^ "The Existential Notion that "God is Dead" in Industrial Music". Retrieved on 2009-02-02.
82. ^ Palmer, Donald D. Kierkegaard For Beginners. 1996. Writers And Readers Limited. London,
England. p.25
83. ^ Hong, Howard V. "Historical Introduction" to Fear and Trembling. Princeton University Press.
Princeton, New Jersey. 1983. p. x
84. ^ Kierkegaard, Soren. Works of Love. Harper & Row, Publishers. New York, N.Y. 1962. p. 62
[edit] References
Razavi, Mehdi Amin (1997), Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination, Routledge, ISBN
Albert Camus Lyrical and Critical essays. Edited by Philip Thody (interviev with Jeanie
Delpech, in Les Nouvelles litteraires, November 15, 1945). pg 345.
[edit] Further reading
Appignanesi, Richard; and Oscar Zarate (2001). Introducing Existentialism. Cambridge, UK:
Icon. ISBN 1-84046-266-3.
Cooper, David E. (1999). Existentialism: A Reconstruction (2nd ed. ed.). Oxford, UK:
Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-21322-8.
Luper, Steven (ed.) (2000). Existing: An Introduction to Existential Thought. Mountain View,
California: Mayfield. ISBN 0-7674-0587-0.
Marino, Gordon (ed.) (2004). Basic Writings of Existentialism. New York: Modern Library.
ISBN 0-375-75989-1.
Szymczyk, Michael (2004). Toilet: The Novel. Bloomington: Authorhouse (USA). ISBN 9781418423865.
Solomon, Robert C. (ed.) (2005). Existentialism (2nd ed. ed.). New York: Oxford University
Press. ISBN 0-19-517463-1.
Appignanesi, Richard (2006). Introducing Existentialism (3nd ed. ed.). Thriplow, Cambridge:
Icon Books (UK), Totem Books (USA). ISBN 1-84046-717-7.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism and Humanism.
Rose, Eugene (Fr. Seraphim). Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age. Saint
Herman Press (1 September 1994). ISBN 0-938635-15-8.
[edit] External links
 Friesian interpretation of Existentialism
 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Existentialism
 "Existentialism is a Humanism", a lecture given by Jean-Paul Sartre
 Bioexistentialism
 The Existential Primer
Journals and articles
 Stirrings Still: The International Journal of Existential Literature
 [1] Existential Analysis published by The Society for Existential Analysis
Existential psychotherapy
 An Introduction to Existential Counselling
 International Society for Existential Therapy
 HPSY.RU — Existential & humanistic psychology History of existentially-humanistic
psychology's development in formerly Soviet nations
Introduction to Existentialism
when a school of thought is many things
Restrain your biases and suppress your notions as to what existentialism is. I seldom
encounter individuals without “rubber stamp” answers for what is existential, what
constitutes existentialism, and who were/are the existentialists. If you wish to learn
something about existentialism — read on. If you seek dark, depressing thoughts about
alienation and hopelessness… watch 24-hour news channels.
Those most often associated with “existentialism” failed to form a cohesive philosophical
discipline based on existential theories. Existentialism, while taught at universities, cannot
point to leaders in the same way idealism or rationalism can. As you read the works of
“existentialists” you come to see divisions and paradoxes not only between individuals, but
within the works of many of the thinkers.
Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are forerunners of existentialism. If we want to thank, or blame,
two men for radical individualism, we could start with them. There were others before them,
but most texts on existentialism seem to firmly place them at the foundation. Radical
individualism is not existentialism, however. More importantly, Nietzsche believed our
natures dictated some of our choices and Kierkegaard’s faith in a omniscient Creator imposed
limits on free will. Nuances are found throughout philosophy, remember.
Sartre came to declare existentialism a minor footnote to Marxism, which illustrates
Sartre’s interests were more in politics than pure philosophical theory. It could be argued that
living authentically, possibly using Socrates as a model, we should do more than think about
philosophy — it must be lived. Camus was an absurdist, suggesting existentialism was more
methodology than philosophy. Camus called existentialism “philosophical suicide” if used to
ponder life. Considering Camus’ fascination with death, that’s quite a statement.
I call the existential attitude philosophical suicide. How else to start from the world’s lack of
meaning and end up by finding a meaning and a depth to it?
- Albert Camus as paraphrased; Introducing Existentialism; Appignanesi, p. 36
Husserl and Heidegger were not existential, though they contributed to the development of
phenomenology and, therefore, existentialism. Jaspers suggests existentialism, but it might
require mental gymnastics to call him existential. I could defend such a classification, but
many scholars would reject this outright and place him among the phenomenologists, along
with Merleau-Ponty.
I advise visitors to read the lexicon following this introduction. Existentialism, and
philosophy in general, is infected with a variety of lexicons, unfortunately. Definitions of
words vary by philosopher; no two seem to use a word to mean
the same thing. I have done my best to assemble a basic lexicon.
When thinkers differ in meanings, I attempt to explain when,
how, and why — if we can ever understand why people change
words. (Ah, through the looking glass we venture.)
Do not use this site as a study guide. The incomplete nature of this Web site might result in misunderstanding the
profiled individuals. The pages are sometimes posted unedited or appear in outline form. These documents contain
excerpts from the works of others. Read their books.
NOTE: Citations are not in MLA or APA format to prevent “borrowing” from this site. Included passages are in the format
Work; Author, p. Page, with full citations at the end of each Web page.
What is Not Existential?
There is no one answer to what is existential, so I am going to present what is not in an attempt to clarify
things through the fog. (That is satire, if you read Camus.) By first understanding what existentialism excludes,
discussions of what might be included become possible.
Existentialism does not support any of the following:
The good life is one of wealth, pleasure, or honor.
Social approval and social structure trump the individual.
Accept what is and that is enough in life.
Science can and will make everything better.
People are good by nature, ruined by society or external forces.
There are, according to existentialism and its predecessor, phenomenology, some problems with Western
philosophical traditions. The basic problem is that humans are not good, sharing, generous creatures. Children
are what we remain our entire lives… greedy, manipulative, brats. Some people disguise it better than others.
The people in charge of America would be the people in charge of most countries: the best “political” people. Or,
as one 60s radical said, “There were eventually leaders in every commune.”
Watch a preschool class. I owned a children’s bookstore, and before that I was a teacher. Children are not
nurtured to behave poorly. In fact, the challenge is to socialize a child. We struggle to be social creatures. Society
is unnatural. Rules are difficult.
“Mine” is naturally a child’s way of thinking. It is soon followed by “I didn’t do it!”
Existentialism requires the active acceptance of our nature. Professor Robert Olson noted that we spend our
lives wanting more and more. Once we realize the futility of wordly desire, we try to accept what we have. We
turn to philosophy or religion to accept less. We want to detach from our worldly needs — but we cannot do so. It
is the human condition to desire. To want. To seek more, even when that “more” is “more of less.” It is a desire to
prove something to ourselves, as well as others.
The existentialists … mock the notion of a complete and fully satisfying life. The life of every man, whether he
explicitly recognizes it or not, is marked by irreparable losses. Man cannot help aspiring toward the goods of this
world, nor can he help aspiring toward the serene detachment from the things of this world which the traditional
philosopher sought; but it is not within his power to achieve either of these ambitions, or having achieved them
to find therein the satisfaction he had anticipated.
- Existentialism; Olson, p. 14
One female visitor complained about “mankind,” but attempts at “non-sexist” writing ignore etymology: man was Old English for
“any person.” Man as gender-specific is unique to Modern English. Other words I considered were once limited to men, and in
some places still are. There’s no easy solution, even if we want one. See Style Guide, Mankind.
— This is sarcasm. Language is a serious concern for existentialism. Languages reveal cultural prejudices.
Existentialism assumes we are best when we struggle against our nature. Mankind is best challenging itself to
improve, yet knowing perfection is not possible. Religions present rules, yet the believers know they cannot live
by all of those rules. The “sin-free” life is beyond human nature. Is that any less reason to try to be good,
generous, caring, and compassionate? Perfectionism is considered unhealthy by psychiatrists for a reason.
The Struggle
The word “existential” is used to describe so many people, fictional characters, choices, and situations that it
has been reduced to meaning any dilemma revealing the true nature of a person. The notion of dilemma reduces
“existential” to an adjective describing too many common choices. Existentialism properly defines a broader
philosophy, in which life itself is a choice.
Why is Buddhism Not Existential?
Siddharta Gautama was appalled by suffering and chaos in the world. So much so, he left his wife and son to
meditate on the meaning of everything. Unfortunately, he didn’t find answers among the gurus. There were no
easy answers. In some ways, yes, Siddharta experienced an “existential” discovery: life is suffering.
But, Siddharta did not follow the existential notion of rebelling or fighting to establish a meaning. He did not
openly challenge people and political leaders. Instead, he took a different approach:
When he met his first disciples at Benares after his enlightenment, the Buddha outlines his system, which was
based on one essential fact: all existence was dukkha. It consisted entirely of suffering; life was wholly awry.
Things come and go in meaningless flux. Nothing has permanent significance. Religion starts with the
perception that something is wrong. […] The Buddha taught that is was possible to gain release from dukkha by
living a life of compassion for all living beings, speaking and behaving gently, kindly and accurately, and
refraining from anything like drugs or intoxicants that cloud the mind.
- A History of God; Armstrong, p. 32
Unlike the existentialists, Siddharta is a stoic in nature: accept things as they are, don’t try to change them or
control them. Curiously, this is rebellious in that it rejects social norms. Siddharta was rejecting the Hindu
teachings of his time, much as Kierkegaard challenged the ritualized nature of Christianity. But, Siddharta was
not an active rebel. He was, in many ways, teaching a passive resistance that the existentialists would reject.
Questions to Ponder
Philosophy and religion exist to answer “why?” when we want an excuse for human nature. Maybe science will
explain away sociopaths and even mere anger someday. We can treat depression, anxiety, mania, and numerous
other “disorders” with pills. Alienation, despair, and anguish may vanish. If they do, what of existentialism? Do
humans need their pain? Is suffering what makes us stronger, as Nietzsche suspected?
Some questions posed by the thinkers profiled on this site:
If something worth living for is worth dying for, what about something not worth dying for? (Camus)
Did man create God to have a reason to live? (Dostoevsky)
Does society make women and men different or do we choose our roles? (Beauvoir)
Would living forever add meaning to life? (Heidegger)
How do you really act in private? (Sartre)
Without love, without people, what is a person? (Kafka)
Language, Essence, and Existence
For myself, questions of philosophy eventually confront matters of language and expression. What we know is
complicated when we try to share knowledge or wisdom. Each time we communicate, some loss of meaning is
Most visitors to this site have heard Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous statement from Being and Nothingness,
“Existence precedes and rules essence.” In general, it is accepted that people create an essence while all other
things have an essence and are then created or understood by people. If you have a new idea for a tool, the idea
exists before the object you intend to create. However, you can understand your idea only via words or symbols
already known. This means all comprehension of “essense” is limited by existing language.
Likewise, how we relate to people and each other is limited by language, even if we accept the idea that first a
person exists, then he or she is free to define a “self” in the world. The concepts of language and symbols
complicate the existence-essence relationship because how we describe something affects how others perceive
that thing or person.
Science has yet to appreciate fully how the deaf think, which admittedly complicates this entire model.
We communicate via images, sounds, and touch. For most of us, what we think is converted to a form of
“unspoken speech” in our minds. This means we can only understand and explain things in some form of spoken
word. Philosophers dealing with ideas of deconstruction and postmodern linguistics have come to appreciate the
limits of language and the social implications of words.
French, as with most languages, is gender-specific even when naming objects. Simone de Beauvoir wondered
how language affects gender identity. Language shapes us, while we also have some power to shape language.
Because language is not static, we can argue for new words, new meanings, and even new grammars.
Unfortunately, no language is a perfect representation of ideas, and our ideas are shaped by existing language.
If we each define an essence by living and making choices, we are still limited by words and other forms of text
when we want to express that essence to others.
A Quick Lesson
Good morning/afternoon/evening class. {Mr. Wyatt pauses to accept joyful greetings.} Allow me to write a
word on the board.
I need my morning tea, or I will not be able to discuss matters in a civil tone. So, you have until I finish tea to
ponder and write your thoughts on what I have written.
{Mr. Wyatt enjoys a simple tea, gathered from his favorite tin, which is kept in a drawer at his desk. The
hotplate, violating some campus policy or other, sits on a table behind him.}
Ah, refreshed. What did some of you write?
Blue is the English word for a wavelength in the visible light spectrum. We use it to symbolize many things…
For that, you must read Husserl’s complete works and report on how he viewed the relationship between
science and philosophy. Anyone else?
I don’t know. It is the word “blue” written in white chalk on a blackboard.
Bravo! That is exactly the problem we face when studying anything. There are 20 definitions for “blue” in the
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Until I write a sentence, “blue” is only a word. Alone, most things lack meaning
— even people. We isolate things, even ourselves, to appreciate them and undertand them better. Isolated, the
meaning is somehow lost. It is a paradox Kafka explored in short stories and Sartre examined ad nauseam.
I have a list of study questions on existentialism for those interested.
Existentialism is Living
Mankind is the only known animal, according to earth-bound existentialists, that defines itself through the act
of living. In other words, first a man or woman exists, then the individual spends a lifetime changing his or her
essence. Without life there can be no meaning; the search for meaning in existentialism is the search for self…
which is why there is existential psychotherapy. (Imagine a therapist telling people life has no meaning!) In
other words, we define ourselves by living; suicide would indicate you have chosen to have no meaning.
Existentialism is about being a saint without God; being your own hero, without all the sanction and support of
religion or society.
- Anita Brookner (b. 1938), British novelist, art historian. Interview in Writers at Work, Eighth Series, ed.
George Plimpton (1988).
Existentialism is not dark. It is not depressing. Existentialism is about life. Existentialists believe in living —
and in fighting for life. Camus, Sartre, and even Nietzsche were involved in various wars because they believed
passionately in fighting for the survival of their nations and peoples. The politics of existentialists varies, but
each seeks the most individual freedom for people within a society.
All too often people link a lack of faith or secular beliefs with existential ideals. Existentialism has little to do
with faith or the lack thereof. To quote Walter Kaufmann, one of the leading existential scholars:
Certainly, existentialism is not a school of thought nor reducible to any set of tenets. The three writers who
appear invariably on every list of existentialists — Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre — are not in agreement on
essentials. By the time we consider adding Rilke, Kafka, and Camus, it becomes plain that one essential feature
shared by all these men is their perfervid individualism.
- Existentialism; Kaufmann, p. 11
In order to understand the current meaning of existentialism, one must first understand that the American
view of existentialism was derived from the writings of three political activists, not intellectual purists.
Americans learned the term existential after World War II. The term was coined by Jean-Paul Sartre to describe
his own philosophies. It was not until the late 1950s that the term was applied broadly to several divergent
schools of thought.
Despite encompassing a staggering range of philosophical, religious, and political ideologies, the underlying
concepts of existentialism are considered:
Mankind has free will.
Life is a series of choices, creating stress.
Few decisions are without any negative consequences.
Some things are irrational or absurd, without explanation.
If one makes a decision, he or she must follow through.
Existentialism, broadly defined, is a set of philosophical systems concerned with free will, choice, and personal
responsibility. Because we make choices based on our experiences, beliefs, and biases, those choices are unique
to us — and made without an objective form of truth. There are no “universal” guidelines for most decisions,
existentialists believe. Instead, even trusting science is often a “leap of faith.”
The existentialists conclude that human choice is subjective, because individuals finally must make their own
choices without help from such external standards as laws, ethical rules, or traditions. Because individuals make
their own choices, they are free; but because they freely choose, they are completely responsible for their choices.
The existentialists emphasize that freedom is necessarily accompanied by responsibility. Furthermore, since
individuals are forced to choose for themselves, they have their freedom — and therefore their responsibility —
thrust upon them. They are “condemned to be free.”
For existentialism, responsibility is the dark side of freedom. When individuals realize that they are completely
responsible for their decisions, actions, and beliefs, they are overcome by anxiety. They try to escape from this
anxiety by ignoring or denying their freedom and their responsibility. But because this amounts to ignoring or
denying their actual situation, they succeed only in deceiving themselves. The existentialists criticize this flight
from freedom and responsibility into self-deception. They insist that individuals must accept full responsibility
for their behavior, no matter how difficult. If an individual is to live meaningfully and authentically, he or she
must become fully aware of the true character of the human situation and bravely accept it.
- World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia © 2001 by World Book, Inc.
Ivan Soll, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Beyond this short list of concepts, the label existentialist is applied broadly. Even these concepts are not
universal within existentialist works, or at least the writings of people groups as the existentialists. There is
no one or two sentence statement summarizing what more than a dozen famous and infamous people pondered.
The only common factor seems to be despair. The accompanying grid illustrates the range of ideals expressed by
the major existentialists. Not every existentialist follows a perfect row in the grid. In particular, their political
theories are more varied than the three categories listed.
Free Will
The first row might represent the writings of Blaise Pascal or Fyodor Dostoevsky, both of whom defended
fundamentalist religious beliefs, including their inherent contradictions. The last row is representative of JeanPaul Sartre’s writings, if not his own beliefs. As previously stated, uniting the men and women behind this
matrix of concepts is futile. Their thoughts are linked by a belief that this life is a near-futile struggle against
forces aligned in opposition to the individual.
The Existentialists
The individuals listed represent major contributors to existentialism and related philosophies. This chart is in
philosophical order, not in the order of publication or life. Following the chart is further information on other
existentialists or contributors to the philosophy. I would like to thank site visitor Eduardo Tenenbaum for his
suggestions for this chart. I have made some minor changes, reflecting the input of visitors.
Philosophy /
Contribution Entry
Kaufmann’s Comments
Studied individual
will, freedom, and
Eastern Orthodox anguish.
Probably as a
consequence of his long
association with
criminals, he had an
intense interest in
abnormal and perverted
types, the psychology of
which he analysed with
an uncanny subtlety.
I can see no reason for
calling Dostoevsky an
existentialist, but I do
think that Part One of
Notes from Underground
is the best overture for
existentialism ever
Protestant Theist
Considered the first
existentialist, his
works were
popularized by
E.T.: Formulated
the aesthetic,
ethical and
religious as modes
of existence.
Perfected the
Socratic technique
of indirect
Danish religious
philosopher. A precursor
of modern existentialism,
he insisted on the need
for individual decision
and leaps of faith in the
search for religious truth,
thereby contradicting
Protestant rationalist
Here lies Kierkegaard’s
importance for a vast
segment of modern
thought: he attacks
received conceptions of
Christianity, suggests a
radical revision of the
popular idea of the self,
and focuses attention on
Ideas influenced
Heidegger and
Individualist, Anti- Sartre.
E.T.: Developed
concepts of Will-toPower, Eternal
Recurrence and
German philosopher who
reasoned that
Christianity’s emphasis
on the afterlife makes its
believers less able to
cope with earthly life.
The refusal to belong to
any school of thought, the
repudiation of the
adequacy of any body of
beliefs whatever, the
opposition to philosophic
systems, and a marked
dissatisfaction with
traditional philosophy as
superficial, academic, and
remote from life — all this
is eminently characteristic
of Nietzsche.
Georg W. F.
German Idealism,
Influenced Marx,
Husserl, Sartre, and
many others.
Hegel’s followers
broke into “left”
and “right” wings.
First to promote
the concept of
German idealist
philosopher who
interpreted nature and
human history and
culture as expressions of
a dialectical process in
which Spirit, or Mind,
realizes its full
Edmund Husserl
Developed concept
of essences and
E.T.: Developed
the concept of the
Austrian-born German
philosopher and
mathematician. A leader
in the development of
phenomenology, he had
a major influence on the
Martin Heidegger
Assistant to
Husserl, wrote
about Kierkegaard’s
E.T. Student of
proclaimed the end
of metaphysics.
German existentialist
philosopher. His
masterpiece, Being and
Time (1927), argued that
confronting the question
of the meaning of being,
encompassing one’s own
death, was central for an
authentic human
An early disciple… would
sum up Heidegger’s
importance by asserting
that he introduced
Nietzsche into philosophy.
{Note: Kaufmann
disagrees with the
preceding observation} He
made it possible for
professors to discuss with
a good conscience matters
previously considered
literary, if that.
Franz Kafka
Similar to Camus,
Absurdist, Jewish Sartre, in
depictions of cruel
Kafka presents a world
that is at once real and
dreamlike and in which
individuals burdened
with guilt, isolation, and
anxiety make a futile
search for personal
Kafka stands between
Nietzsche and the
existentialists: he pictures
the world into which
Heidegger’s man, in Sein
und Zeit, is “thrown,” the
godless world of Sartre,
the “absurd” world of
Jean-Paul Sartre
French philosopher,
playwright, and novelist.
Influenced by German
philosophy, particularly
that of Heidegger, Sartre
was a leading exponent
It is mainly through the
work of Jean-Paul Sartre
that existentialism has
come to the attention of a
wide international
audience. Sartre is a
Student of
colleague and lover
of de Beauvoir.
of 20th-century
existentialism. His
writings examine man as
a responsible but lonely
being, burdened with a
terrifying freedom to
choose, and set adrift in
a meaningless universe.
Simone de
Best known as a
“feminist” writer,
she was the editor
of many of Sartre’s
works. Lover of
Sartre, friend to
Camus and
French writer,
existentialist, and
feminist. Women’s social
subjugation is credited to
patriarchal rather than
biological or
psychological structures.
Her book became one of
the seminal treatises of
the modern feminist
Maurice MerleauPonty
One-time friend of
Sartre, Camus.
Supporter of
Unlike many
phenomenologists, he
affirmed the reality of a
world that transcends
our consciousness of it.
In his studies of
perception he laid
emphasis on the physical
and the biological (or
vital) as levels of
conceptualization that
preconditioned all mental
Albert Camus
French Resistance
Existentialist /
member during
Absurdist, Atheist WWII with Sartre,
Merleau-Ponty, de
Beauvoir. Brought
“humanism” to his
His belief that man’s
condition is absurd
identified him with the
existentialists (see
existentialism), but he
denied allegiance to that
group; his works express
rather a courageous
humanism. The
characters in his novels
and plays, although
keenly aware of the
philosopher in the French
tradition… at the
borderline of philosophy
and literature.
{Paraphrase of
Kaufmann} Camus marks
the finale of
existentialism… an
attempt to move beyond
what Sartre had defined.
Camus cannot be called
an existentialist, but his
ideas evolved alongside
those of Sartre and
meaninglessness of the
human condition, assert
their humanity by
rebelling against their
Karl Jaspers
Agnostic, Theist
Contemporary of
Sartre, Camus, et
al. Jaspers sought
to make philosophy
more open for the
general public…
more relevant.
German psychiatrist,
philosopher, and
theologian. A founder of
modern existentialism,
he was concerned with
human reactions to
extreme situations.
It is in the work of Jaspers
that the seeds sown by
Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
first grew into
existentialism or, as he
prefers to say,
Other Thinkers of Note
Other existentialists worthy of mention include:
Jean Wahl (1888–1974), founder of the French Existentialists movement, which grew under Sartre.
Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973), French Roman-Catholic philosopher.
Influential philosophers and writers, with existential concepts reflected in their works include:
Nicolas Alexandrovich Berdyaev (1874–1948), Russian Neo-Romanticist
Leo Isakovich Shestov Schwarzman (1866–1938), Russian Irrationalist
José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955), Spanish writer
Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936), Spanish philosopher
Jean-Paul Sartre 1946
Existentialism Is a Humanism
Written: Lecture given in 1946
Source: Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, ed. Walter Kaufman, Meridian
Publishing Company, 1989;
First Published: World Publishing Company in 1956;
Translator: Philip Mairet;
Copyright: reproduced under the “Fair Use” provisions;
HTML Markup: by Andy Blunden 1998; proofed and corrected February 2005.
My purpose here is to offer a defence of existentialism against several reproaches that
have been laid against it.
First, it has been reproached as an invitation to people to dwell in quietism of despair. For if every way
to a solution is barred, one would have to regard any action in this world as entirely ineffective, and
one would arrive finally at a contemplative philosophy. Moreover, since contemplation is a luxury, this
would be only another bourgeois philosophy. This is, especially, the reproach made by the
From another quarter we are reproached for having underlined all that is ignominious in the human
situation, for depicting what is mean, sordid or base to the neglect of certain things that possess charm
and beauty and belong to the brighter side of human nature: for example, according to the Catholic
critic, Mlle. Mercier, we forget how an infant smiles. Both from this side and from the other we are
also reproached for leaving out of account the solidarity of mankind and considering man in isolation.
And this, say the Communists, is because we base our doctrine upon pure subjectivity – upon the
Cartesian “I think”: which is the moment in which solitary man attains to himself; a position from
which it is impossible to regain solidarity with other men who exist outside of the self. The ego cannot
reach them through the cogito.
From the Christian side, we are reproached as people who deny the reality and seriousness of human
affairs. For since we ignore the commandments of God and all values prescribed as eternal, nothing
remains but what is strictly voluntary. Everyone can do what he likes, and will be incapable, from such
a point of view, of condemning either the point of view or the action of anyone else.
It is to these various reproaches that I shall endeavour to reply today; that is why I have entitled this
brief exposition “Existentialism is a Humanism.” Many may be surprised at the mention of humanism
in this connection, but we shall try to see in what sense we understand it. In any case, we can begin by
saying that existentialism, in our sense of the word, is a doctrine that does render human life possible; a
doctrine, also, which affirms that every truth and every action imply both an environment and a human
subjectivity. The essential charge laid against us is, of course, that of over-emphasis upon the evil side
of human life. I have lately been told of a lady who, whenever she lets slip a vulgar expression in a
moment of nervousness, excuses herself by exclaiming, “I believe I am becoming an existentialist.” So
it appears that ugliness is being identified with existentialism. That is why some people say we are
“naturalistic,” and if we are, it is strange to see how much we scandalise and horrify them, for no one
seems to be much frightened or humiliated nowadays by what is properly called naturalism. Those who
can quite well keep down a novel by Zola such as La Terre are sickened as soon as they read an
existentialist novel. Those who appeal to the wisdom of the people – which is a sad wisdom – find ours
sadder still. And yet, what could be more disillusioned than such sayings as “Charity begins at home”
or “Promote a rogue and he’ll sue you for damage, knock him down and he’ll do you homage”? We all
know how many common sayings can be quoted to this effect, and they all mean much the same – that
you must not oppose the powers that be; that you must not fight against superior force; must not
meddle in matters that are above your station. Or that any action not in accordance with some tradition
is mere romanticism; or that any undertaking which has not the support of proven experience is
foredoomed to frustration; and that since experience has shown men to be invariably inclined to evil,
there must be firm rules to restrain them, otherwise we shall have anarchy. It is, however, the people
who are forever mouthing these dismal proverbs and, whenever they are told of some more or less
repulsive action, say “How like human nature!” – it is these very people, always harping upon realism,
who complain that existentialism is too gloomy a view of things. Indeed their excessive protests make
me suspect that what is annoying them is not so much our pessimism, but, much more likely, our
optimism. For at bottom, what is alarming in the doctrine that I am about to try to explain to you is – is
it not? – that it confronts man with a possibility of choice. To verify this, let us review the whole
question upon the strictly philosophic level. What, then, is this that we call existentialism?
Most of those who are making use of this word would be highly confused if required to explain its
meaning. For since it has become fashionable, people cheerfully declare that this musician or that
painter is “existentialist.” A columnist in Clartes signs himself “The Existentialist,” and, indeed, the
word is now so loosely applied to so many things that it no longer means anything at all. It would
appear that, for the lack of any novel doctrine such as that of surrealism, all those who are eager to join
in the latest scandal or movement now seize upon this philosophy in which, however, they can find
nothing to their purpose. For in truth this is of all teachings the least scandalous and the most austere: it
is intended strictly for technicians and philosophers. All the same, it can easily be defined.
The question is only complicated because there are two kinds of existentialists. There are, on the one
hand, the Christians, amongst whom I shall name Jaspers and Gabriel Marcel, both professed
Catholics; and on the other the existential atheists, amongst whom we must place Heidegger as well as
the French existentialists and myself. What they have in common is simply the fact that they believe
that existence comes before essence – or, if you will, that we must begin from the subjective. What
exactly do we mean by that?
If one considers an article of manufacture as, for example, a book or a paper-knife – one sees that it has
been made by an artisan who had a conception of it; and he has paid attention, equally, to the
conception of a paper-knife and to the pre-existent technique of production which is a part of that
conception and is, at bottom, a formula. Thus the paper-knife is at the same time an article producible
in a certain manner and one which, on the other hand, serves a definite purpose, for one cannot
suppose that a man would produce a paper-knife without knowing what it was for. Let us say, then, of
the paperknife that its essence – that is to say the sum of the formulae and the qualities which made its
production and its definition possible – precedes its existence. The presence of such-and-such a paper-
knife or book is thus determined before my eyes. Here, then, we are viewing the world from a
technical standpoint, and we can say that production precedes existence.
When we think of God as the creator, we are thinking of him, most of the time, as a supernal artisan.
Whatever doctrine we may be considering, whether it be a doctrine like that of Descartes, or of
Leibnitz himself, we always imply that the will follows, more or less, from the understanding or at
least accompanies it, so that when God creates he knows precisely what he is creating. Thus, the
conception of man in the mind of God is comparable to that of the paper-knife in the mind of the
artisan: God makes man according to a procedure and a conception, exactly as the artisan manufactures
a paper-knife, following a definition and a formula. Thus each individual man is the realisation of a
certain conception which dwells in the divine understanding. In the philosophic atheism of the
eighteenth century, the notion of God is suppressed, but not, for all that, the idea that essence is prior to
existence; something of that idea we still find everywhere, in Diderot, in Voltaire and even in Kant.
Man possesses a human nature; that “human nature,” which is the conception of human being, is found
in every man; which means that each man is a particular example of a universal conception, the
conception of Man. In Kant, this universality goes so far that the wild man of the woods, man in the
state of nature and the bourgeois are all contained in the same definition and have the same
fundamental qualities. Here again, the essence of man precedes that historic existence which we
confront in experience.
Atheistic existentialism, of which I am a representative, declares with greater consistency that if God
does not exist there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which
exists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is man or, as Heidegger has it, the
human reality. What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of
all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. If man as the
existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be
anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature,
because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man simply is. Not that he is simply what he
conceives himself to be, but he is what he wills, and as he conceives himself after already existing – as
he wills to be after that leap towards existence. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of
himself. That is the first principle of existentialism. And this is what people call its “subjectivity,”
using the word as a reproach against us. But what do we mean to say by this, but that man is of a
greater dignity than a stone or a table? For we mean to say that man primarily exists – that man is,
before all else, something which propels itself towards a future and is aware that it is doing so. Man is,
indeed, a project which possesses a subjective life, instead of being a kind of moss, or a fungus or a
cauliflower. Before that projection of the self nothing exists; not even in the heaven of intelligence:
man will only attain existence when he is what he purposes to be. Not, however, what he may wish to
be. For what we usually understand by wishing or willing is a conscious decision taken – much more
often than not – after we have made ourselves what we are. I may wish to join a party, to write a book
or to marry – but in such a case what is usually called my will is probably a manifestation of a prior
and more spontaneous decision. If, however, it is true that existence is prior to essence, man is
responsible for what he is. Thus, the first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession
of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own
shoulders. And, when we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible
only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men. The word “subjectivism” is to be
understood in two senses, and our adversaries play upon only one of them. Subjectivism means, on the
one hand, the freedom of the individual subject and, on the other, that man cannot pass beyond human
subjectivity. It is the latter which is the deeper meaning of existentialism. When we say that man
chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that
in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order
to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image
of man such as he believes he ought to be. To choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm
the value of that which is chosen; for we are unable ever to choose the worse. What we choose is
always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all. If, moreover, existence
precedes essence and we will to exist at the same time as we fashion our image, that image is valid for
all and for the entire epoch in which we find ourselves. Our responsibility is thus much greater than we
had supposed, for it concerns mankind as a whole. If I am a worker, for instance, I may choose to join
a Christian rather than a Communist trade union. And if, by that membership, I choose to signify that
resignation is, after all, the attitude that best becomes a man, that man’s kingdom is not upon this earth,
I do not commit myself alone to that view. Resignation is my will for everyone, and my action is, in
consequence, a commitment on behalf of all mankind. Or if, to take a more personal case, I decide to
marry and to have children, even though this decision proceeds simply from my situation, from my
passion or my desire, I am thereby committing not only myself, but humanity as a whole, to the
practice of monogamy. I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain
image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man.
This may enable us to understand what is meant by such terms – perhaps a little grandiloquent – as
anguish, abandonment and despair. As you will soon see, it is very simple. First, what do we mean by
anguish? – The existentialist frankly states that man is in anguish. His meaning is as follows: When a
man commits himself to anything, fully realising that he is not only choosing what he will be, but is
thereby at the same time a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind – in such a moment a man
cannot escape from the sense of complete and profound responsibility. There are many, indeed, who
show no such anxiety. But we affirm that they are merely disguising their anguish or are in flight from
it. Certainly, many people think that in what they are doing they commit no one but themselves to
anything: and if you ask them, “What would happen if everyone did so?” they shrug their shoulders
and reply, “Everyone does not do so.” But in truth, one ought always to ask oneself what would
happen if everyone did as one is doing; nor can one escape from that disturbing thought except by a
kind of self-deception. The man who lies in self-excuse, by saying “Everyone will not do it” must be ill
at ease in his conscience, for the act of lying implies the universal value which it denies. By its very
disguise his anguish reveals itself. This is the anguish that Kierkegaard called “the anguish of
Abraham.” You know the story: An angel commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son; and obedience
was obligatory, if it really was an angel who had appeared and said, “Thou, Abraham, shalt sacrifice
thy son.” But anyone in such a case would wonder, first, whether it was indeed an angel and secondly,
whether I am really Abraham. Where are the proofs? A certain mad woman who suffered from
hallucinations said that people were telephoning to her, and giving her orders. The doctor asked, “But
who is it that speaks to you?” She replied: “He says it is God.” And what, indeed, could prove to her
that it was God? If an angel appears to me, what is the proof that it is an angel; or, if I hear voices, who
can prove that they proceed from heaven and not from hell, or from my own subconsciousness or some
pathological condition? Who can prove that they are really addressed to me?
Who, then, can prove that I am the proper person to impose, by my own choice, my conception of man
upon mankind? I shall never find any proof whatever; there will be no sign to convince me of it. If a
voice speaks to me, it is still I myself who must decide whether the voice is or is not that of an angel. If
I regard a certain course of action as good, it is only I who choose to say that it is good and not bad.
There is nothing to show that I am Abraham: nevertheless I also am obliged at every instant to perform
actions which are examples. Everything happens to every man as though the whole human race had its
eyes fixed upon what he is doing and regulated its conduct accordingly. So every man ought to say,
“Am I really a man who has the right to act in such a manner that humanity regulates itself by what I
do.” If a man does not say that, he is dissembling his anguish. Clearly, the anguish with which we are
concerned here is not one that could lead to quietism or inaction. It is anguish pure and simple, of the
kind well known to all those who have borne responsibilities. When, for instance, a military leader
takes upon himself the responsibility for an attack and sends a number of men to their death, he
chooses to do it and at bottom he alone chooses. No doubt under a higher command, but its orders,
which are more general, require interpretation by him and upon that interpretation depends the life of
ten, fourteen or twenty men. In making the decision, he cannot but feel a certain anguish. All leaders
know that anguish. It does not prevent their acting, on the contrary it is the very condition of their
action, for the action presupposes that there is a plurality of possibilities, and in choosing one of these,
they realize that it has value only because it is chosen. Now it is anguish of that kind which
existentialism describes, and moreover, as we shall see, makes explicit through direct responsibility
towards other men who are concerned. Far from being a screen which could separate us from action, it
is a condition of action itself.
And when we speak of “abandonment” – a favorite word of Heidegger – we only mean to say that God
does not exist, and that it is necessary to draw the consequences of his absence right to the end. The
existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain type of secular moralism which seeks to suppress God at
the least possible expense. Towards 1880, when the French professors endeavoured to formulate a
secular morality, they said something like this: God is a useless and costly hypothesis, so we will do
without it. However, if we are to have morality, a society and a law-abiding world, it is essential that
certain values should be taken seriously; they must have an a priori existence ascribed to them. It must
be considered obligatory a priori to be honest, not to lie, not to beat one’s wife, to bring up children
and so forth; so we are going to do a little work on this subject, which will enable us to show that these
values exist all the same, inscribed in an intelligible heaven although, of course, there is no God. In
other words – and this is, I believe, the purport of all that we in France call radicalism – nothing will be
changed if God does not exist; we shall rediscover the same norms of honesty, progress and humanity,
and we shall have disposed of God as an out-of-date hypothesis which will die away quietly of itself.
The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there
disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be
any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written
that “the good” exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where
there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote: “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted”; and
that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and
man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside
himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse. For if indeed existence precedes essence,
one will never be able to explain one’s action by reference to a given and specific human nature; in
other words, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom. Nor, on the other hand, if God
does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimise our behaviour. Thus
we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or
excuse. – We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to
be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the
moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does. The existentialist
does not believe in the power of passion. He will never regard a grand passion as a destructive torrent
upon which a man is swept into certain actions as by fate, and which, therefore, is an excuse for them.
He thinks that man is responsible for his passion. Neither will an existentialist think that a man can
find help through some sign being vouchsafed upon earth for his orientation: for he thinks that the man
himself interprets the sign as he chooses. He thinks that every man, without any support or help
whatever, is condemned at every instant to invent man. As Ponge has written in a very fine article,
“Man is the future of man.” That is exactly true. Only, if one took this to mean that the future is laid up
in Heaven, that God knows what it is, it would be false, for then it would no longer even be a future. If,
however, it means that, whatever man may now appear to be, there is a future to be fashioned, a virgin
future that awaits him – then it is a true saying. But in the present one is forsaken.
As an example by which you may the better understand this state of abandonment, I will refer to the
case of a pupil of mine, who sought me out in the following circumstances. His father was quarrelling
with his mother and was also inclined to be a “collaborator”; his elder brother had been killed in the
German offensive of 1940 and this young man, with a sentiment somewhat primitive but generous,
burned to avenge him. His mother was living alone with him, deeply afflicted by the semi-treason of
his father and by the death of her eldest son, and her one consolation was in this young man. But he, at
this moment, had the choice between going to England to join the Free French Forces or of staying
near his mother and helping her to live. He fully realised that this woman lived only for him and that
his disappearance – or perhaps his death – would plunge her into despair. He also realised that,
concretely and in fact, every action he performed on his mother’s behalf would be sure of effect in the
sense of aiding her to live, whereas anything he did in order to go and fight would be an ambiguous
action which might vanish like water into sand and serve no purpose. For instance, to set out for
England he would have to wait indefinitely in a Spanish camp on the way through Spain; or, on
arriving in England or in Algiers he might be put into an office to fill up forms. Consequently, he
found himself confronted by two very different modes of action; the one concrete, immediate, but
directed towards only one individual; and the other an action addressed to an end infinitely greater, a
national collectivity, but for that very reason ambiguous – and it might be frustrated on the way. At the
same time, he was hesitating between two kinds of morality; on the one side the morality of sympathy,
of personal devotion and, on the other side, a morality of wider scope but of more debatable validity.
He had to choose between those two. What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine?
No. Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbour, deny yourself for others, choose the
way which is hardest, and so forth. But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more
brotherly love, the patriot or the mother? Which is the more useful aim, the general one of fighting in
and for the whole community, or the precise aim of helping one particular person to live? Who can
give an answer to that a priori? No one. Nor is it given in any ethical scripture. The Kantian ethic says,
Never regard another as a means, but always as an end. Very well; if I remain with my mother, I shall
be regarding her as the end and not as a means: but by the same token I am in danger of treating as
means those who are fighting on my behalf; and the converse is also true, that if I go to the aid of the
combatants I shall be treating them as the end at the risk of treating my mother as a means. If values
are uncertain, if they are still too abstract to determine the particular, concrete case under
consideration, nothing remains but to trust in our instincts. That is what this young man tried to do; and
when I saw him he said, “In the end, it is feeling that counts; the direction in which it is really pushing
me is the one I ought to choose. If I feel that I love my mother enough to sacrifice everything else for
her – my will to be avenged, all my longings for action and adventure then I stay with her. If, on the
contrary, I feel that my love for her is not enough, I go.” But how does one estimate the strength of a
feeling? The value of his feeling for his mother was determined precisely by the fact that he was
standing by her. I may say that I love a certain friend enough to sacrifice such or such a sum of money
for him, but I cannot prove that unless I have done it. I may say, “I love my mother enough to remain
with her,” if actually I have remained with her. I can only estimate the strength of this affection if I
have performed an action by which it is defined and ratified. But if I then appeal to this affection to
justify my action, I find myself drawn into a vicious circle.
Moreover, as Gide has very well said, a sentiment which is play-acting and one which is vital are two
things that are hardly distinguishable one from another. To decide that I love my mother by staying
beside her, and to play a comedy the upshot of which is that I do so – these are nearly the same thing.
In other words, feeling is formed by the deeds that one does; therefore I cannot consult it as a guide to
action. And that is to say that I can neither seek within myself for an authentic impulse to action, nor
can I expect, from some ethic, formulae that will enable me to act. You may say that the youth did, at
least, go to a professor to ask for advice. But if you seek counsel – from a priest, for example you have
selected that priest; and at bottom you already knew, more or less, what he would advise. In other
words, to choose an adviser is nevertheless to commit oneself by that choice. If you are a Christian,
you will say, consult a priest; but there are collaborationists, priests who are resisters and priests who
wait for the tide to turn: which will you choose? Had this young man chosen a priest of the resistance,
or one of the collaboration, he would have decided beforehand the kind of advice he was to receive.
Similarly, in coming to me, he knew what advice I should give him, and I had but one reply to make.
You are free, therefore choose, that is to say, invent. No rule of general morality can show you what
you ought to do: no signs are vouchsafed in this world. The Catholics will reply, “Oh, but they are!”
Very well; still, it is I myself, in every case, who have to interpret the signs. While I was imprisoned, I
made the acquaintance of a somewhat remarkable man, a Jesuit, who had become a member of that
order in the following manner. In his life he had suffered a succession of rather severe setbacks. His
father had died when he was a child, leaving him in poverty, and he had been awarded a free
scholarship in a religious institution, where he had been made continually to feel that he was accepted
for charity’s sake, and, in consequence, he had been denied several of those distinctions and honours
which gratify children. Later, about the age of eighteen, he came to grief in a sentimental affair; and
finally, at twenty-two – this was a trifle in itself, but it was the last drop that overflowed his cup – he
failed in his military examination. This young man, then, could regard himself as a total failure: it was
a sign – but a sign of what? He might have taken refuge in bitterness or despair. But he took it – very
cleverly for him – as a sign that he was not intended for secular success, and that only the attainments
of religion, those of sanctity and of faith, were accessible to him. He interpreted his record as a
message from God, and became a member of the Order. Who can doubt but that this decision as to the
meaning of the sign was his, and his alone? One could have drawn quite different conclusions from
such a series of reverses – as, for example, that he had better become a carpenter or a revolutionary.
For the decipherment of the sign, however, he bears the entire responsibility. That is what
“abandonment” implies, that we ourselves decide our being. And with this abandonment goes anguish.
As for “despair,” the meaning of this expression is extremely simple. It merely means that 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. Whenever one wills anything, there are always these elements of
probability. If I am counting upon a visit from a friend, who may be coming by train or by tram, I
presuppose that the train will arrive at the appointed time, or that the tram will not be derailed. I remain
in the realm of possibilities; but one does not rely upon any possibilities beyond those that are strictly
concerned in one’s action. Beyond the point at which the possibilities under consideration cease to
affect my action, I ought to disinterest myself. For there is no God and no prevenient design, which can
adapt the world and all its possibilities to my will. When Descartes said, “Conquer yourself rather than
the world,” what he meant was, at bottom, the same – that we should act without hope.
Marxists, to whom I have said this, have answered: “Your action is limited, obviously, by your death;
but you can rely upon the help of others. That is, you can count both upon what the others are doing to
help you elsewhere, as in China and in Russia, and upon what they will do later, after your death, to
take up your action and carry it forward to its final accomplishment which will be the revolution.
Moreover you must rely upon this; not to do so is immoral.” To this I rejoin, first, that I shall always
count upon my comrades-in-arms in the struggle, in so far as they are committed, as I am, to a definite,
common cause; and in the unity of a party or a group which I can more or less control – that is, in
which I am enrolled as a militant and whose movements at every moment are known to me. In that
respect, to rely upon the unity and the will of the party is exactly like my reckoning that the train will
run to time or that the tram will not be derailed. But I cannot count upon men whom I do not know, I
cannot base my confidence upon human goodness or upon man’s interest in the good of society, seeing
that man is free and that there is no human nature which I can take as foundational. I do not know
where the Russian revolution will lead. I can admire it and take it as an example in so far as it is
evident, today, that the proletariat plays a part in Russia which it has attained in no other nation. But I
cannot affirm that this will necessarily lead to the triumph of the proletariat: I must confine myself to
what I can see. Nor can I be sure that comrades-in-arms will take up my work after my death and carry
it to the maximum perfection, seeing that those men are free agents and will freely decide, tomorrow,
what man is then to be. Tomorrow, after my death, some men may decide to establish Fascism, and the
others may be so cowardly or so slack as to let them do so. If so, Fascism will then be the truth of man,
and so much the worse for us. In reality, things will be such as men have decided they shall be. Does
that mean that I should abandon myself to quietism? No. First I ought to commit myself and then act
my commitment, according to the time-honoured formula that “one need not hope in order to
undertake one’s work.” Nor does this mean that I should not belong to a party, but only that I should be
without illusion and that I should do what I can. For instance, if I ask myself “Will the social ideal as
such, ever become a reality?” I cannot tell, I only know that whatever may be in my power to make it
so, I shall do; beyond that, I can count upon nothing.
Quietism is the attitude of people who say, “let others do what I cannot do.” The doctrine I am
presenting before you is precisely the opposite of this, since it declares that there is no reality except in
action. It goes further, indeed, and adds, “Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in
so far as he realises himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but
what his life is.” Hence we can well understand why some people are horrified by our teaching. For
many have but one resource to sustain them in their misery, and that is to think, “Circumstances have
been against me, I was worthy to be something much better than I have been. I admit I have never had
a great love or a great friendship; but that is because I never met a man or a woman who were worthy
of it; if I have not written any very good books, it is because I had not the leisure to do so; or, if I have
had no children to whom I could devote myself it is because I did not find the man I could have lived
with. So there remains within me a wide range of abilities, inclinations and potentialities, unused but
perfectly viable, which endow me with a worthiness that could never be inferred from the mere history
of my actions.” But in reality and for the existentialist, there is no love apart from the deeds of love; no
potentiality of love other than that which is manifested in loving; there is no genius other than that
which is expressed in works of art. The genius of Proust is the totality of the works of Proust; the
genius of Racine is the series of his tragedies, outside of which there is nothing. Why should we
attribute to Racine the capacity to write yet another tragedy when that is precisely what he did not
write? In life, a man commits himself, draws his own portrait and there is nothing but that portrait. No
doubt this thought may seem comfortless to one who has not made a success of his life. On the other
hand, it puts everyone in a position to understand that reality alone is reliable; that dreams,
expectations and hopes serve to define a man only as deceptive dreams, abortive hopes, expectations
unfulfilled; that is to say, they define him negatively, not positively. Nevertheless, when one says,
“You are nothing else but what you live,” it does not imply that an artist is to be judged solely by his
works of art, for a thousand other things contribute no less to his definition as a man. What we mean to
say is that a man is no other than a series of undertakings, that he is the sum, the organisation, the set
of relations that constitute these undertakings.
In the light of all this, what people reproach us with is not, after all, our pessimism, but the sternness of
our optimism. If people condemn our works of fiction, in which we describe characters that are base,
weak, cowardly and sometimes even frankly evil, it is not only because those characters are base,
weak, cowardly or evil. For suppose that, like Zola, we showed that the behaviour of these characters
was caused by their heredity, or by the action of their environment upon them, or by determining
factors, psychic or organic. People would be reassured, they would say, “You see, that is what we are
like, no one can do anything about it.” But the existentialist, when he portrays a coward, shows him as
responsible for his cowardice. He is not like that on account of a cowardly heart or lungs or cerebrum,
he has not become like that through his physiological organism; he is like that because he has made
himself into a coward by actions. There is no such thing as a cowardly temperament. There are nervous
temperaments; there is what is called impoverished blood, and there are also rich temperaments. But
the man whose blood is poor is not a coward for all that, for what produces cowardice is the act of
giving up or giving way; and a temperament is not an action. A coward is defined by the deed that he
has done. What people feel obscurely, and with horror, is that the coward as we present him is guilty of
being a coward. What people would prefer would be to be born either a coward or a hero. One of the
charges most often laid against the Chemins de la Liberté is something like this: “But, after all, these
people being so base, how can you make them into heroes?” That objection is really rather comic, for it
implies that people are born heroes: and that is, at bottom, what such people would like to think. If you
are born cowards, you can be quite content, you can do nothing about it and you will be cowards all
your lives whatever you do; and if you are born heroes you can again be quite content; you will be
heroes all your lives eating and drinking heroically. Whereas the existentialist says that the coward
makes himself cowardly, the hero makes himself heroic; and that there is always a possibility for the
coward to give up cowardice and for the hero to stop being a hero. What counts is the total
commitment, and it is not by a particular case or particular action that you are committed altogether.
We have now, I think, dealt with a certain number of the reproaches against existentialism. You have
seen that it cannot be regarded as a philosophy of quietism since it defines man by his action; nor as a
pessimistic description of man, for no doctrine is more optimistic, the destiny of man is placed within
himself. Nor is it an attempt to discourage man from action since it tells him that there is no hope
except in his action, and that the one thing which permits him to have life is the deed. Upon this level
therefore, what we are considering is an ethic of action and self-commitment. However, we are still
reproached, upon these few data, for confining man within his individual subjectivity. There again
people badly misunderstand us.
Our point of departure is, indeed, the subjectivity of the individual, and that for strictly philosophic
reasons. It is not because we are bourgeois, but because we seek to base our teaching upon the truth,
and not upon a collection of fine theories, full of hope but lacking real foundations. And at the point of
departure there cannot be any other truth than this, I think, therefore I am, which is the absolute truth of
consciousness as it attains to itself. Every theory which begins with man, outside of this moment of
self-attainment, is a theory which thereby suppresses the truth, for outside of the Cartesian cogito, all
objects are no more than probable, and any doctrine of probabilities which is not attached to a truth
will crumble into nothing. In order to define the probable one must possess the true. Before there can
be any truth whatever, then, there must be an absolute truth, and there is such a truth which is simple,
easily attained and within the reach of everybody; it consists in one’s immediate sense of one’s self.
In the second place, this theory alone is compatible with the dignity of man, it is the only one which
does not make man into an object. All kinds of materialism lead one to treat every man including
oneself as an object – that is, as a set of pre-determined reactions, in no way different from the patterns
of qualities and phenomena which constitute a table, or a chair or a stone. Our aim is precisely to
establish the human kingdom as a pattern of values in distinction from the material world. But the
subjectivity which we thus postulate as the standard of truth is no narrowly individual subjectivism, for
as we have demonstrated, it is not only one’s own self that one discovers in the cogito, but those of
others too. Contrary to the philosophy of Descartes, contrary to that of Kant, when we say “I think” we
are attaining to ourselves in the presence of the other, and we are just as certain of the other as we are
of ourselves. Thus the man who discovers himself directly in the cogito also discovers all the others,
and discovers them as the condition of his own existence. He recognises that he cannot be anything (in
the sense in which one says one is spiritual, or that one is wicked or jealous) unless others recognise
him as such. I cannot obtain any truth whatsoever about myself, except through the mediation of
another. The other is indispensable to my existence, and equally so to any knowledge I can have of
myself. Under these conditions, the intimate discovery of myself is at the same time the revelation of
the other as a freedom which confronts mine, and which cannot think or will without doing so either
for or against me. Thus, at once, we find ourselves in a world which is, let us say, that of “intersubjectivity”. It is in this world that man has to decide what he is and what others are.
Furthermore, although it is impossible to find in each and every man a universal essence that can be
called human nature, there is nevertheless a human universality of condition. It is not by chance that
the thinkers of today are so much more ready to speak of the condition than of the nature of man. By
his condition they understand, with more or less clarity, all the limitations which a priori define man’s
fundamental situation in the universe. His historical situations are variable: man may be born a slave in
a pagan society or may be a feudal baron, or a proletarian. But what never vary are the necessities of
being in the world, of having to labor and to die there. These limitations are neither subjective nor
objective, or rather there is both a subjective and an objective aspect of them. Objective, because we
meet with them everywhere and they are everywhere recognisable: and subjective because they are
lived and are nothing if man does not live them – if, that is to say, he does not freely determine himself
and his existence in relation to them. And, diverse though man’s purpose may be, at least none of them
is wholly foreign to me, since every human purpose presents itself as an attempt either to surpass these
limitations, or to widen them, or else to deny or to accommodate oneself to them. Consequently every
purpose, however individual it may be, is of universal value. Every purpose, even that of a Chinese, an
Indian or a Negro, can be understood by a European. To say it can be understood, means that the
European of 1945 may be striving out of a certain situation towards the same limitations in the same
way, and that he may reconceive in himself the purpose of the Chinese, of the Indian or the African. In
every purpose there is universality, in this sense that every purpose is comprehensible to every man.
Not that this or that purpose defines man for ever, but that it may be entertained again and again. There
is always some way of understanding an idiot, a child, a primitive man or a foreigner if one has
sufficient information. In this sense we may say that there is a human universality, but it is not
something given; it is being perpetually made. I make this universality in choosing myself; I also make
it by understanding the purpose of any other man, of whatever epoch. This absoluteness of the act of
choice does not alter the relativity of each epoch.
What is at the very heart and center of existentialism, is the absolute character of the free commitment,
by which every man realises himself in realising a type of humanity – a commitment always
understandable, to no matter whom in no matter what epoch – and its bearing upon the relativity of the
cultural pattern which may result from such absolute commitment. One must observe equally the
relativity of Cartesianism and the absolute character of the Cartesian commitment. In this sense you
may say, if you like, that every one of us makes the absolute by breathing, by eating, by sleeping or by
behaving in any fashion whatsoever. There is no difference between free being – being as selfcommittal, as existence choosing its essence – and absolute being. And there is no difference whatever
between being as an absolute, temporarily localised that is, localised in history – and universally
intelligible being.
This does not completely refute the charge of subjectivism. Indeed that objection appears in several
other forms, of which the first is as follows. People say to us, “Then it does not matter what you do,”
and they say this in various ways.
First they tax us with anarchy; then they say, “You cannot judge others, for there is no reason for
preferring one purpose to another”; finally, they may say, “Everything being merely voluntary in this
choice of yours, you give away with one hand what you pretend to gain with the other.” These three
are not very serious objections. As to the first, to say that it does not matter what you choose is not
correct. In one sense choice is possible, but what is not possible is not to choose. I can always choose,
but I must know that if I do not choose, that is still a choice. This, although it may appear merely
formal, is of great importance as a limit to fantasy and caprice. For, when I confront a real situation –
for example, that I am a sexual being, able to have relations with a being of the other sex and able to
have children – I am obliged to choose my attitude to it, and in every respect I bear the responsibility
of the choice which, in committing myself, also commits the whole of humanity. Even if my choice is
determined by no a priori value whatever, it can have nothing to do with caprice: and if anyone thinks
that this is only Gide’s theory of the acte gratuit over again, he has failed to see the enormous
difference between this theory and that of Gide. Gide does not know what a situation is, his “act” is
one of pure caprice. In our view, on the contrary, man finds himself in an organised situation in which
he is himself involved: his choice involves mankind in its entirety, and he cannot avoid choosing.
Either he must remain single, or he must marry without having children, or he must marry and have
children. In any case, and whichever he may choose, it is impossible for him, in respect of this
situation, not to take complete responsibility. Doubtless he chooses without reference to any preestablished value, but it is unjust to tax him with caprice. Rather let us say that the moral choice is
comparable to the construction of a work of art.
But here I must at once digress to make it quite clear that we are not propounding an aesthetic
morality, for our adversaries are disingenuous enough to reproach us even with that. I mention the
work of art only by way of comparison. That being understood, does anyone reproach an artist, when
he paints a picture, for not following rules established a priori. Does one ever ask what is the picture
that he ought to paint? As everyone knows, there is no pre-defined picture for him to make; the artist
applies himself to the composition of a picture, and the picture that ought to be made is precisely that
which he will have made. As everyone knows, there are no aesthetic values a priori, but there are
values which will appear in due course in the coherence of the picture, in the relation between the will
to create and the finished work. No one can tell what the painting of tomorrow will be like; one cannot
judge a painting until it is done. What has that to do with morality? We are in the same creative
situation. We never speak of a work of art as irresponsible; when we are discussing a canvas by
Picasso, we understand very well that the composition became what it is at the time when he was
painting it, and that his works are part and parcel of his entire life.
It is the same upon the plane of morality. There is this in common between art and morality, that in
both we have to do with creation and invention. We cannot decide a priori what it is that should be
done. I think it was made sufficiently clear to you in the case of that student who came to see me, that
to whatever ethical system he might appeal, the Kantian or any other, he could find no sort of guidance
whatever; he was obliged to invent the law for himself. Certainly we cannot say that this man, in
choosing to remain with his mother – that is, in taking sentiment, personal devotion and concrete
charity as his moral foundations – would be making an irresponsible choice, nor could we do so if he
preferred the sacrifice of going away to England. Man makes himself; he is not found ready-made; he
makes himself by the choice of his morality, and he cannot but choose a morality, such is the pressure
of circumstances upon him. We define man only in relation to his commitments; it is therefore absurd
to reproach us for irresponsibility in our choice.
In the second place, people say to us, “You are unable to judge others.” This is true in one sense and
false in another. It is true in this sense, that whenever a man chooses his purpose and his commitment
in all clearness and in all sincerity, whatever that purpose may be, it is impossible for him to prefer
another. It is true in the sense that we do not believe in progress. Progress implies amelioration; but
man is always the same, facing a situation which is always changing, and choice remains always a
choice in the situation. The moral problem has not changed since the time when it was a choice
between slavery and anti-slavery – from the time of the war of Secession, for example, until the
present moment when one chooses between the M.R.P. [Mouvement Republicain Poputaire] and the
We can judge, nevertheless, for, as I have said, one chooses in view of others, and in view of others
one chooses himself. One can judge, first – and perhaps this is not a judgment of value, but it is a
logical judgment – that in certain cases choice is founded upon an error, and in others upon the truth.
One can judge a man by saying that he deceives himself. Since we have defined the situation of man as
one of free choice, without excuse and without help, any man who takes refuge behind the excuse of
his passions, or by inventing some deterministic doctrine, is a self-deceiver. One may object: “But why
should he not choose to deceive himself?” I reply that it is not for me to judge him morally, but I
define his self-deception as an error. Here one cannot avoid pronouncing a judgment of truth. The selfdeception is evidently a falsehood, because it is a dissimulation of man’s complete liberty of
commitment. Upon this same level, I say that it is also a self-deception if I choose to declare that
certain values are incumbent upon me; I am in contradiction with myself if I will these values and at
the same time say that they impose themselves upon me. If anyone says to me, “And what if I wish to
deceive myself?” I answer, “There is no reason why you should not, but I declare that you are doing
so, and that the attitude of strict consistency alone is that of good faith.” Furthermore, I can pronounce
a moral judgment. For I declare that freedom, in respect of concrete circumstances, can have no other
end and aim but itself; and when once a man has seen that values depend upon himself, in that state of
forsakenness he can will only one thing, and that is freedom as the foundation of all values. That does
not mean that he wills it in the abstract: it simply means that the actions of men of good faith have, as
their ultimate significance, the quest of freedom itself as such. A man who belongs to some communist
or revolutionary society wills certain concrete ends, which imply the will to freedom, but that freedom
is willed in community. We will freedom for freedom’s sake, in and through particular circumstances.
And in thus willing freedom, we discover that it depends entirely upon the freedom of others and that
the freedom of others depends upon our own. Obviously, freedom as the definition of a man does not
depend upon others, but as soon as there is a commitment, I am obliged to will the liberty of others at
the same time as my own. I cannot make liberty my aim unless I make that of others equally my aim.
Consequently, when I recognise, as entirely authentic, that man is a being whose existence precedes his
essence, and that he is a free being who cannot, in any circumstances, but will his freedom, at the same
time I realize that I cannot not will the freedom of others. Thus, in the name of that will to freedom
which is implied in freedom itself, I can form judgments upon those who seek to hide from themselves
the wholly voluntary nature of their existence and its complete freedom. Those who hide from this
total freedom, in a guise of solemnity or with deterministic excuses, I shall call cowards. Others, who
try to show that their existence is necessary, when it is merely an accident of the appearance of the
human race on earth – I shall call scum. But neither cowards nor scum can be identified except upon
the plane of strict authenticity. Thus, although the content of morality is variable, a certain form of this
morality is universal. Kant declared that freedom is a will both to itself and to the freedom of others.
Agreed: but he thinks that the formal and the universal suffice for the constitution of a morality. We
think, on the contrary, that principles that are too abstract break down when we come to defining
action. To take once again the case of that student; by what authority, in the name of what golden rule
of morality, do you think he could have decided, in perfect peace of mind, either to abandon his mother
or to remain with her? There are no means of judging. The content is always concrete, and therefore
unpredictable; it has always to be invented. The one thing that counts, is to know whether the invention
is made in the name of freedom.
Let us, for example, examine the two following cases, and you will see how far they are similar in spite
of their difference. Let us take The Mill on the Floss. We find here a certain young woman, Maggie
Tulliver, who is an incarnation of the value of passion and is aware of it. She is in love with a young
man, Stephen, who is engaged to another, an insignificant young woman. This Maggie Tulliver,
instead of heedlessly seeking her own happiness, chooses in the name of human solidarity to sacrifice
herself and to give up the man she loves. On the other hand, La Sanseverina in Stendhal’s Chartreuse
de Parme, believing that it is passion which endows man with his real value, would have declared that
a grand passion justifies its sacrifices, and must be preferred to the banality of such conjugal love as
would unite Stephen to the little goose he was engaged to marry. It is the latter that she would have
chosen to sacrifice in realising her own happiness, and, as Stendhal shows, she would also sacrifice
herself upon the plane of passion if life made that demand upon her. Here we are facing two clearly
opposed moralities; but I claim that they are equivalent, seeing that in both cases the overruling aim is
freedom. You can imagine two attitudes exactly similar in effect, in that one girl might prefer, in
resignation, to give up her lover while the other preferred, in fulfilment of sexual desire, to ignore the
prior engagement of the man she loved; and, externally, these two cases might appear the same as the
two we have just cited, while being in fact entirely different. The attitude of La Sanseverina is much
nearer to that of Maggie Tulliver than to one of careless greed. Thus, you see, the second objection is
at once true and false. One can choose anything, but only if it is upon the plane of free commitment.
The third objection, stated by saying, “You take with one hand what you give with the other,” means,
at bottom, “your values are not serious, since you choose them yourselves.” To that I can only say that
I am very sorry that it should be so; but if I have excluded God the Father, there must be somebody to
invent values. We have to take things as they are. And moreover, to say that we invent values means
neither more nor less than this; that there is no sense in life a priori. Life is nothing until it is lived; but
it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose. Therefore,
you can see that there is a possibility of creating a human community. I have been reproached for
suggesting that existentialism is a form of humanism: people have said to me, “But you have written in
your Nausée that the humanists are wrong, you have even ridiculed a certain type of humanism, why
do you now go back upon that?” In reality, the word humanism has two very different meanings. One
may understand by humanism a theory which upholds man as the end-in-itself and as the supreme
value. Humanism in this sense appears, for instance, in Cocteau’s story Round the World in 80 Hours,
in which one of the characters declares, because he is flying over mountains in an airplane, “Man is
magnificent!” This signifies that although I personally have not built aeroplanes, I have the benefit of
those particular inventions and that I personally, being a man, can consider myself responsible for, and
honoured by, achievements that are peculiar to some men. It is to assume that we can ascribe value to
man according to the most distinguished deeds of certain men. That kind of humanism is absurd, for
only the dog or the horse would be in a position to pronounce a general judgment upon man and
declare that he is magnificent, which they have never been such fools as to do – at least, not as far as I
know. But neither is it admissible that a man should pronounce judgment upon Man. Existentialism
dispenses with any judgment of this sort: an existentialist will never take man as the end, since man is
still to be determined. And we have no right to believe that humanity is something to which we could
set up a cult, after the manner of Auguste Comte. The cult of humanity ends in Comtian humanism,
shut-in upon itself, and – this must be said – in Fascism. We do not want a humanism like that.
But there is another sense of the word, of which the fundamental meaning is this: Man is all the time
outside of himself: it is in 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. Since man is
thus self-surpassing, and can grasp objects only in relation to his self-surpassing, he is himself the heart
and center of his transcendence. There is no other universe except the human universe, the universe of
human subjectivity. This relation of transcendence as constitutive of man (not in the sense that God is
transcendent, but in the sense of self-surpassing) with subjectivity (in such a sense that man is not shut
up in himself but forever present in a human universe) – it is this that we call existential humanism.
This is humanism, because we remind man that there is no legislator but himself; that he himself, thus
abandoned, must decide for himself; also because we show that it is not by turning back upon himself,
but always by seeking, beyond himself, an aim which is one of liberation or of some particular
realisation, that man can realize himself as truly human.
You can see from these few reflections that nothing could be more unjust than the objections people
raise against us. Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a
consistently atheistic position. Its intention is not in the least that of plunging men into despair. And if
by despair one means as the Christians do – any attitude of unbelief, the despair of the existentialists is
something different. Existentialism is not atheist in the sense that it would exhaust itself in
demonstrations of the non-existence of God. It declares, rather, that even if God existed that would
make no difference from its point of view. Not that we believe God does exist, but we think that the
real problem is not that of His existence; what man needs is to find himself again and to understand
that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God. In this sense
existentialism is optimistic. It is a doctrine of action, and it is only by self-deception, by confining their
own despair with ours that Christians can describe us as without hope.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
French novelist, playwright, existentialist philosopher, and literary critic. Sartre
was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964, but he declined the honor in
protest of the values of bourgeois society. His longtime companion was Simone
de Beauvoir (1908-1986), whom he met at the École Normale Superieure in 1929.
"The bad novel aims to please by flattering, whereas the good one is an exigence and an act
of faith. But above all, the unique point of view from which the author can present the world
to those freedoms whose concurrence he wishes to bring about is that of a world to be
impregnated always with more freedom." (from What Is Literature, 1947)
Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris. His father, Jean-Babtiste Sartre, was a naval
officer, who died when Jean-Paul was fifteen months old. Sartre never wrote
much about his biological father. More important person in his life was his
mother, the former Anne-Marie Schweitzer, a great nephew of Albert Schweitzer.
Sartre lived first with her and his grandfather, Charles Schweitzer in Paris, but
when his mother remarried in 1917, the family moved to La Rochelle.
At school, Sartre was brilliant, but his behavior was behavior was often
unpredictable and arrogant. When his friend Raymond Aron played tennis, Sartre
preferred giant swings on the horizontal bar. He graduated in 1929 from the Ècole
Normale Supérieure. From 1931 to 1945 he worked as a teacher. During this
period he also traveled in Egypt, Greece, and Italy. In 1933-34 he studied in
Berlin the writings of the German philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin
At the Left Bank cafés Sartre gathered around him a group of intellectuals in the
1930s. During WW II Sartre was drafted in 1939, imprisoned a year later in
Germany, but released in 1941 (or he escaped). However, he lost his freedom he
valued above all for a short time. In Paris he joined resistance movement and
wrote for such magazines as Les Lettres Française and Combat. After the war he
founded a monthly literary and political review, Les Temps modernes, and
devoted himself entirely to writing and political activity. The magazine took its
title from Chaplin's film. Sartre wrote both about and for the cinema. On a visit to
the United States in 1945 he saw Citizen Kane and criticized Welles for using
flashbacks. "Orson Welles’s oeuvre well illustrated the drama of the American
intelligentsia which is rootless and totally cut off from the masses."
Sartre was never a member of Communist party, although he tried to reconcile
existentialism and Marxism and collaborated with the French Communist Party.
When Albert Camus, with whom Sartre was closely linked in the 1940, openly
criticized Stalinism, Sartre hesitated to follow his example. The publication of
Camus's novel The Rebel in 1951 caused a break between the two friends.
"Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count no one but himself;
that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help,
with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges
for himself on this earth." (from L'Être et le Néant / Being and Nothingness, 1943)
Sartre's first novel , LA NAUSÉE (1938), expressed under the influence of
German philosopher Edmund Husserl's phenomenological method, that human
life has no purpose. The protagonist, Antoine Roquentin, discovers the obscene
overabundance of the world around him, and his own solitude induces several
experiences of psychological nausea. He is not only impressed by the solidity of
the stones on the sea shore, but feels similar kind of horror when he contemplates
the world of bourgeois banality. "Nobody is better qualified than the commercial
traveller over there to sell Swan toothpaste. Nobody is better qualified than that
interesting young man to fumble about under his neighbour's skirts. And I am
among them and if they look at me they must think that nobody is better qualified
than I to do what I do. But I know. I don't look very important but I know that I
exists and that they exists. And if I knew the art of convincing people, I should go
and sit down next to that handsome white-haired gentleman and I should explain
to him what existence is. The thought of the look which would come on to his
face if I did makes me burst out laughing." The rationality and solidity of this
world, Roquentin thinks, is a veneer.
LE MUR (1938) was a collection of five stories and a novella, which concentrated
on the theme of self-decption (or "bad faith"). In' The Childhood of a Leader' the
pitiful hero, Lucien, believes that he does not really exists, he only an actor in his
own life. He seeks a feeling of strength through a homosexual affair. Encouraged
by his friend, Lucien ends up in the ultra-conservative organization of the Action
Française, with a desire to purify the French blood and beat the Jews. Lucien's
choices are not authentic, he acts in conformity.
In his non-fiction works L'ÊTRE ET LE NÉANT (1943, Being and Nothingness)
Sartre formulated the basics of his philosophical system, in which "existence is
prior to essence." Sartre made the distinction between things that exist in
themselves (en-soi) and human beings who exist for themselves (pour-soi).
Conscious of the limits of knowledge and of mortality, human beings live with
existential dread. "Man is not the sum of what he has but the totality of what he
does not yet have, of what he might have." (from Situations, 1947) Sartre developed
his ideas further in L'EXISTENTIALISME EST UN HUMANISME (1946), and
CRITIQUE DE LA RAISON DIALECTIQUE (1960). According to Sartre,
human being is terrifying free. We are responsible for the choices we make, we
are responsible for our emotional lives. In a godless universe life has no meaning
or purpose beyond the goals that each man sets for himself. In Being and
Nothingness Sartre argued that an individual must detach oneself from things to
give them meaning.
Sartre's first play, LES MOUCHES (1943), examined the themes of commitment
and responsibility. In the story, set in the ancient, mythical Greece, Orestes kills
the murderers of Agamemnon, thus freeing the people of the city from the burden
of guilt. According to Sartre's existentialist view, only one who chooses to assume
responsibility of acting in a particular situation, like Orestes, makes effective use
of one's freedom. In his second play, HUIS CLOS (1944), a man who loves only
himself, a lesbian, and a nymphomaniac are forced to live in a small room after
their deaths. At the end  although realizing that the "hell is other people" they
remain slaves to their of passions. The play was a sensation and was filmed in
1954. Sartre's screenplay TYPHUS, which he wrote in 1944, was produced in
1953, starring Michèle Morgan and Gérard Philipe. The director was Yves
QU'EST CE QUE LA LITTÉRATURE (1947) is Sartre's best-known book of
literary criticism. He grouped poetry with painting, sculpture, and music  they
are not signs but things. One of the chief motifs of artistic creation is the need of
feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world. A writer is always a
watchdog or a jester, but the primarly function of the writer is to act in such a way
that nobody can be ignorant of the world: a novelist cannot escape engagement in
political and social issues. The reader brings to life the literary object  it is not
true that one writes for oneself. On the other hand Sartre saw that literature is
dying and alludes to newspapers, to the radio and movies. "The goal of art is to
recover this world by giving it to be seen not as it is, but as if it had its source in
human freedom." From 1946 to 1955 Sartre wrote several biographical studies, of
which the most important was Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr (1952), about his
friend Jean Genet (1910-1986), a convicted felon and writer.
After Stalin's death in 1953, Sartre accepted the right to criticize the Soviet
system although he defended the Soviet state. He visited the Soviet Union next
year and was hospitalized for ten days because of exhaustion. With his interpreter,
Lena Zonina, he had a love affair. In 1956 Sartre spoke out on behalf of freedom
for Hungarians, condemning the Soviet invasion, but not the Russian people, and
in 1968 he condemned the Warsaw Pact assault on Czechoslovakia. In the Soviet
Union, Sartre was privately criticized by the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.
The O.A.S. (Organisation de l'Armee Secrete), engaged in terrorist activities
against Algerian independence, exploded a bomb in 1961 in Sartre's apartment on
rue Bonaparte; it happened also next year and Sartre moved on quai LouisBlériot, opposite the Eiffel tower.
A superb conversationalist, Sartre unexpectedly lost his debate with the
philosopher Louis Althusser, perhaps the only time in his public life. Althusser
had joined the French Communist Party in 1948, and during the 1960s and 1970s
he was considered the most influential voice in Western Marxism.
At the height of the student rebellion, which Sartre supported, his main interest
lay on his four-volume study called L'IDIOT DE LA FAMILLE. The wide
biography of Gustave Flaubert used Freudian interpretations and Marxist social
and historical elements, familiar from his philosophical work. Sartre had been
preoccupied with Flaubert since childhood. In this study, finished in 1971, Sartre
showed how Flaubert became the person his family and society determined him to
be, and how Flaubert's choices summarized the historical situation of his class.
While writing this work, Sartre used Corydrane. The drug, a combination of
aspirin and amphetamine, was popular among students and intellectuals. Also race
bicyclists used it in the 1960s.
Sartre became also closely involved in movement against Vietnam War. In 1967
Sartre headed the International War Crimes Tribunal, set up by Bertrand Russell
to judge American military conduct in Indochina. Among the New Left Sartre
was a highly respected figure and his stand on the French colonial policy in
Algeria was widely known in the Third World. One of his most powerful texts,
written under the influence of Corydrane, was the foreword to Frantz Fanon's The
Wretched of the Earth (1961), published toward the end the of the Algerian War.
The book was soon translated into seventeen languages.
In 1970 Sartre was arrested because of selling on the streets the forbidden Maoist
paper La cause du peuple. Sartre was familair with the though of Mao Tse-tung
and he had traveled in China in 1955 with Beauvoir, who decided to write a whole
book about the country. However, in the early 1960s the Cuban economic and
social revolution fascinated Sartre more. He also met Fidel Castro, but broke with
his dictatorship later. In 1974 Sartre visited the terrorist Andreas Baader at the
prison of Stammheim in Germany.
L'idiot was Sartre's last large work; it remained unfinished. According to Sartre,
the fact that he will never finish it "does not make me so unhappy, because I think
I said the most important things in the first three volumes." From 1973 the
philosopher suffered from failing eyesight and near the end of his life Sartre was
blind. Sartre died in Paris of oedema of the lungs on April 15, 1980. Arlette
Elkaïm, Sartre's mistress whom he had adopted in 1965, received the rights to his
literary heritage, not Simone de Beauvoir.
Like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald after WWI, Sartre was considered after
WW II the leading interpreter of the postwar generation's world view. In his
essays Sartre dealt with wide range of subjects, sometimes in provocative manner.
'The Republic of Silence' starts, 'We were never more free than under the German
occupation', explaining this later that in those circumstances each gesture had the
weight of a commitment. In 'The Humanism of Existentialism' he condensed the
major theme of existentialist philosophy simply "first of all, man exist, turns up,
appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself".
For further reading: The Psychology of Sartre by P. Dempsey (1950); Sartre, Romantic
Rationalis by I. Murdoch (1953); Sartre: The Origins of a Style by Fredric Jameson (1961); The
Theatre of Jean-Paul Sartre by D. McCall (1967); Sartre and the Artist by George H. Bauer
(1969); Jean-Paul Sartre by Benjamin Suhl (1970); The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre by M.
Contant and M. Rybalka (1974); Existential Marxism in Postwar France by Mark Poster (1975);
Critical Fictions by Joseph Halpern (1976); The Existentialist Marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre by J.
Lawler (1976); A Preface to Sartre by Dominic La Capra (1978); Sartre and Flaubert by H.E.
Barnes (1981); Sartre: pelon, inhon ja valinnan filosofia by Esa Saarinen (1983); Writing Against
by Ronald Hayman (1986, publ. in 1987 as Sartre: A Life); Jean-Paul Sartre: Freedom and
Commitment by C. Hill (1992); Jean-Paul Sartre by P.M. Thody (1992); Siècle de Sartre by
Bernard-Henri Lévy (2000) - Suom.: Sartrelta on suomennettu useita näytelmiä, esseevalikoimia
ja lisäksi kokoelma Esseitä 1-2, joka sisältää tutkielman Mitä kirjallisuus on? - Esa Saarinen on
julkaissut tutkimuksen Sartre: pelon, inhon ja valinnan filosofia (1983) - Other film adaptations:
Les jeux sont faits, dir. by Jean Delannoy, 1947; Les orgueilleux, dir. by Yves Allégret, 1953 - See
also: Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Anouilh, André Gide
Selected works:
L'IMAGINATION, 1936 - Imagination: A Psychological Critique (tr. by
Forrest Williams)
LA TRANSCENDANCE DE L'ÉGO, 1937 - The Transcendence of the
Ego (trans. by F. Williams and R. Kirkpatrick)
LA NAUSÉE, 1938 - Nausea (trans. by Lloyd Alexander) - Inho (suom.
Juha Mannerkorpi)
LE MUR, 1938 - The Wall (trans. by Andrew Brown) ä- Muuri (suom.
Maijaliisa Auterinen, Jorma Kapari) - film 1966, dir. by Serge Roullet
Outline of a Theory (tr. by Bernard Frechtman) / Sketch for a Theory of
the Emotions
L'IMAGINATION, 1940 - Psychology of Imagination / The Imaginary: A
Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination (tr. by Jonathan
L'ÉTRE ET LE NÉANT, 1943 - Being and Nothingness (trans. by Hazel
L'ÊTRE ET LE NÉANT, 1943 - Existential Psychoanalysis (tr. by Hazel
E. Barnes)
LES MOUCHES, 1943 - The Flies (tr. by Stuart Gilbert) - Kärpäset
(suom. Pirkko Peltonen)
HUIS CLOS, 1944 (prod.) - No Exit (tr. by Paul Bowles) - Suljetut ovet
(suom. Marja Rankkala) - film 1954, dir. by Jacqueline Audry, starring Frank
Villard, Gaby Sylvia, Yves Denlaud, Arletty, music by Joseph Kosma
L'ÁGE DE RAISON, 1945 - Age of Reason (tr. by Eric Sutton)
LE SURSIS, 1945 - The Reprieve (tr. by Eric Sutton)
(tr. by George J. Becker) / Portrait of the Anti-Semite (tr. by Erik de
MORTS SANS SÉPULTURE, 1946 - The Victors
and Humanism (tr. by by Philip Mairet) / Existentialism (tr. by Bernard
Frechtman) - Eksistentialismikin on humanismia (suom. Aarne T.K.
LA PUTAIN RESPECTUEUSE, 1946 - The Respectful Prostitute Kunniallinen portto - film 1952, dir. by Charles Brabant & Marcello Pagliero
BAUDELAIRE, 1947 - Baudelaire (trans. by Martin Turnell)
LES JEUX SONT FAITS, 1947 - The Chips Are Down (tr. by Louise
Varèse) - film 1947, dir. by Jean Delannoy, screenplay by Sartre, Delannoy, JacquesLaurent Bost, starring Micheline Presle, Michel Pagliero, Marguerite Moreno, Fernand
SITUATIONS I, 1947 - Situations (tr. by Benita Eisler)
QU'EST-CE QUE LA LITTÉRATURE?, 1947 - What Is Literature?
(trans. by Bernard Frechtman) / Literature & Existentialism (tr. by Bernard
Frechtman) - Mitä kirjallisuus on? (suom. Pirkko Peltonen, Helvi
LES MAINS SALES, 1948 - Dirty Hands - Likaiset kädet (suom. Toini
L'ENGRENAGE, 1948 - In the Mesh (tr. by Mervyn Savill)
LA MORT DANS L'ÂME, 1949 - Iron in the Soul / Troubled Sleep (tr. by
Gerard Hopkins)
KEAN, 1951 - Kean (tr. by Frank Hauser) / Kean; or. Disorder and Genius
(tr. by Kitty Black) - Kean - näyttelijä (suom. Jorma Nortimo)
LE DIABLE ET LE BON DIEU, 1951 (prod.) - Lucifer and the Lord /
The Devil and the Good Lord - Paholainen ja hyvä Jumala (suom. Ritva
SAINT GENET, COMÉDIEN ET MARTYR, 1952 - Saint Genet: Actor
and Martyr (trans. by B. Frechtman)
Literary and Philosophical Essays, 1955 (tr. by Annette Michelson)
NEKRASSOV, 1955 (prod.) - transl. - (suom. Helvi Nurminen)
QUESTIONS DE MÉTHODE, 1957 - Search for a Method (tr. by Hazel
E. Barnes)
LES SÉQUESTRÉS D'ALTONA, 1959 (prod.) - Loser Wins (tr. by Sylvia
and George Leeson) / The Condemned of Altona - Altonan vangit (suom.
Helvi Nurminen) - film 1962, dir. by Vittorio De Sica, starring Sophia Loren,
Maximilian Schell, Fredric March, Robert Wagner, screenplay by Abby Mann, Cesare
Zavattini, prod. by Carlo Ponti
of Dialectical Reason, vol. 1 (trans. by A. Sheridan-Smith)
OURAGAN SUR LE SUCRE, 1960 - Sartre on Cuba
BARIONA, 1962 - Bariona; or, The Son of Thunder
Essays in Aesthetics, 1963 (tr. by Wade Baskin)
LES MOTS, 1964 - The Words (trans. by B. Frechtman) - Sanat (suom.
Raili Moberg)
SITUATIONS V: COLONIALISME ET NÉO-COLONIALISME, 1964 Colonialism and Neocolonialism (translated by Azzedine Haddour, Steve
Brewer, and Terry McWilliams)
Communists and Peace
LES TROYENNES, 1965 - The Trojan Women (tr. by Ronald Duncan)
ŒUVRES ROMANESQUES, 1965 (5 vols.)
The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, 1965
Spectre of Stalin (tr. by Irene Clephane) / The Ghost of Stalin (tr. by
Martha H. Fletcher)
Essays in Existentialism, 1967
Of Human Freedom, 1967 (ed. by Wade Baskin)
L'IDIOT DE LA FAMILLE, 1971-72 ( 3 vol.) - The Family Idiot: Gustave
Flaubert (trans. by Carol Cosman)
SITUATIONS IX: MÉLANGES, 1972 - Between Existentialism and
Marxism, 1974 (tr. by John Mathews)
Politics and Literature, 1973 (tr. by J. A. Underwood, John Calder)
UN THÉÂTRE DE SITUATIONS, 1973 - Sartre on Théatrer (tr. by Frank
The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, vol. 2: Selected Prose, 1974
SITUATIONS X, 1976 - Life/Situations: Essays Written and Spoken (tr.
by Paul Auster and Lydia Davis)
LETTRES AU CASTOR ET Á QUELQUES AUTRES I-II, 1983 Witness to My Life: The letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de
Beauvoir, 1926-1939 (tr. by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee);
Quiet Moments in a War: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de
Beauvoir, 1940-1963 (tr. by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee)
Jean-Paul Sartre: November 1939-March 1940 (tr. by Quintin Hoare); War
Diaries: Notebooks from a Phoney War, November 1939-March 1940 (tr.
by Quintin Hoare)
CAHIERS POUR UNE MORALE, 1983 - Notebooks for an Ethics (trans.
by D. Pellauer)
LE SCÉNARIO FREUD, 1984 - The Freud Scenario (ed. by J.-B.
Pontalis, tr. by Quintin Hoare
of Dialectical Reason, vol. 2 (trans. by Quentin Hoare)
MALLARMÉ: LA LUCIDITÉ ER SA FACE D'OMBRE, 1986 Mallarmé, or, The Poet of Nothingness (tr. by Ernest Sturm)
"What is Literature?" and Other Essays, 1988
VERITÉ ET EXISTENCE - Truth and Existence (trans. by A. van de
Friedrich Nietzsche
thus spake the radical individual
It is my opinion that Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard were the first of The
Existentialists. Other thinkers, Hegel and Husserl for example, contributed to existentialism
but are not existentialists. Nietzsche does mark the outer edge of existentialism, but I
consider no other writer as important to the school of thought.
Few other names in philosophy hold such deep meaning in Western society as Nietzsche.
Variously linked by scholars to nihilism, existentialism, and the Nazis (though he died two
decades before National Socialism took root in Germany) Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the
most misunderstood philosophers in history. He embraced no formal school of philosophy;
he was stridently independent. As for the misappropriation of his works by Nazi sympathizers
and others... I believe people will find support for their ideals in any book.
Nihilism is the complete disregard for all things that cannot be scientifically proven or
demonstrated. Nietzsche did not claim that nothing exists that cannot be proven, nor that
those things should be disregarded. What Nietzsche did suggest was that many people used
religion, especially Judeo-Christian teachings, as a crutch for avoiding decisive actions.
Nietzsche's contribution to existentialism was the idea that men must accept that they are
part of a material world, regardless of what else might exist. As part of this world, men must
live as if there is nothing else beyond life. A failure to live, to take risks, is a failure to realize
human potential.
Do not use this site as a study guide. The incomplete nature of this Web site might result in misunderstanding the
profiled individuals. The pages are sometimes posted unedited or appear in outline form. These documents contain
excerpts from the works of others. Read their books.
NOTE: Citations are not in MLA or APA format to prevent “borrowing” from this site. Included passages are in the format
Work; Author, p. Page, with full citations at the end of each Web page.
Friedrich Nietzsche was born in Röcken, Prussia, on 15 October 1844. This date was the same as the birth date of
Prussian king Frederick William IV. Friedrich's father Karl Ludwig Nietzsche was a tutor in the royal court and
was quite pleased by the timing of his son's birth.
There was at all events one advantage in the choice of this day to my birth; my birthday throughout the whole of
my childhood was a day of public rejoicing.
- from Ecce Homo
Friedrich Nietzsche's life unquestionably trained him for his role as an "anti-Christian" philosopher. He
descended from a long line of clergymen, including his father, giving him the theological background to
challenge the familiar religious institutions. Biographers indicate there were at least 20 clergyman in the
Nietzsche family within five generations. His paternal grandfather, Friedrich August Ludwig Nietzsche, was even
granted an honorary doctorate in 1796 for his work Gamaliel, a defense of Christianity. It was assumed Friedrich
would be a minister. As a child, Nietzsche was called the "little minister" by schoolmates. He spent much of his
time alone, reading the Bible. Nietzsche's father died in 1849. The young man
withdrew deeper into religion.
Friedrich received a scholarship to Schulpforta, an elite prepatory school with
only 200 students, in October 1858. The scholarship was intended to fund
Nietzsche's training for the clergy. His mother, Franziska, and his young
sister, Elisabeth, were dedicated to Friedrich's success, certain of his future.
At the age of 18, Nietzsche lost his faith in traditional religion. His faith
received a fatal blow when he found philosophy. In 1865 Nietzsche discovered
Schopenhauer's World as Will and Idea. The work forever changed
Nietzsche's view of the world. Schopenhauer's philosophy was rather dark for
its time; it became a part of Nietzsche's world-view as it was well-suited to his nature.
It seemed as if Schopenhauer were addressing me personally. I felt his enthusiasm, and seemed to see him
before me. Every line cried aloud for renunciation, denial, resignation.
Nietzsche was conscripted into the military at the age of 23. While he had hoped to avoid the draft, he had no
such luck. He was not destined to be in the military however, soon falling (or thrown) from a horse. Nietzsche's
shoulder and chest were injured, possibly torn muscles, and he was released from service having not yet
completed training. Curiously, Nietzsche continued to idealize the military and its orderly way of life despite not
wanting to serve in the army. His respect for the individual gave way at times to a need for order.
The University of Basle appointed Nietzsche to a chair when he was 25 years old. As a professor of classical
philology, Nietzsche spent his days lecturing and analyzing Latin and Greek works. He later recalled this as a
most un-heroic contribution to mankind, wishing he had pursued a more active and socially valuable career,
such as medicine. Nietzsche was never satisfied with his own value, always seeking to be more. It should be
noted that war with Napoleon provided Nietzsche an opportunity to take leave of the University and join the
medical corps. At the time, he stated (paraphrased), "Duty to Germany comes first," according to biographer
Marc Sautet. Nietzsche had renounced his Prussian citizenship to teach at the University of Basle, which was in
Richard Wagner
In 1869, composer Richard Wagner invited Nietzsche to spend a winter holiday with him in Tribschen. Wagner
was living with another man's wife and was not known for his conformity. Somehow, Wagner appealed to
Nietzsche's sense of adventure. Nietzsche was so taken by Wagner that he decided his first book would be a
tribute to Wagner's music. Unfortunately, the writing of this work was delayed by war in 1870, when Germany
and France went to war.
Still romanticizing the life of soldiers, Nietzsche went to volunteer for military service. This time the army
refused him due to his poor eyesight, in addition to his weak upper body. Nietzsche found it possible to serve as
a medic, allowing him as close to medicine as his nature would ever allow. As he quickly learned, Nietzsche did
not like the sight of blood, and the suffering of others made him ill. He eventually fell ill, possibly due to stress,
and was sent home.
The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music was published in 1872. With the publication of The Birth of
Tragedy, Nietzsche returned to Baasle to lecture. The work became a subject of ridicule in academic circles, but
the nobility and nationalists loved it. Nietzsche became a celebrity, a standing he put to work on behalf of his
friend Wagner. The two men were able to convince the government to fund the construction of the Bayreuth
theatre, which would feature Wagner's works.
The Bayreuth was completed in 1876. On 12 August 1876, the Emperor arrived to hear Wagner's The Ring of the
Nibelung, a work Wagner considered his masterpiece. To his dismay, Nietzsche found he hated the work. He
made an excuse to depart, and promptly took a vacation to reconsider his opinion of Wagner's music and
Prussian culture in general. At least Nietzsche was not alone: the long, multi-day performance proved a failure
financially and in terms of attendance. Wagner's public star faded... at least for a bit.
Ready to Die
Physically and mentally, Nietzsche collapsed in 1879. He was certain death was near and even arranged his
funeral with his sister's assistance.
Promise me that when I die only my friends shall stand about my coffin, and no inquisitive crowd. See that no
priest or anyone else utter falsehoods at my graveside, when I can no longer protect myself; and let me descend
into my tomb as an honest pagan.
Nietzsche recovered from this primarily emotional collapse, but he knew he had come close to death. The
experience changed Nietzsche for a time. He enjoyed life and the universe around him. For a time, he was happy.
The books The Dawn of Day and The Joyful Wisdom were published in the early 1880s, reflecting Nietzsche's
new optimism.
His mood came crashing down with a smash... the sound was that of his heart as it hit bottom. Nietzsche fell in
love, but was rejected. The result was another emotional spiral downward. His only goal was to be completely
alone with his misery. The result of Nietzsche's bitterness was Thus Spake Zarathustra, published in 1883.
Written in anger, the work presents the ideal man as everything Nietzsche was not. It was the ultimate paradox
of philosophy: the thinker never able to live according to his beliefs. Still, Zarathustra stood apart as a
masterpiece. The author knew it was a great work.
This work stands alone. Do not let us mention the poets in the same breath; nothing perhaps had ever been
produced out of such a superabundance of strength. If all the spirit and goodness of every great soul were
collected together, the whole could not create a single one of Zarathustra's discourses.
No matter what Nietzsche might have thought, the book was a failure. His publisher would not print the entire
work, so the author paid for the printing. Forty copies were sold and seven were given away. Nietzsche's great
work mattered only to the writer. It mattered a lot to Nietzsche -- the work would dominate his thoughts for the
remainder of his career. Yet even his friends and supporters found the work odd, at best.
While pondering the ignorance of the critics, his sister left Nietzsche. She had been his friend and companion for
most of his life, so the loss was very painful. Worse, she married an anti-Semite, a man Nietzsche despised.
Contrary to popular myth, Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite -- just a nationalistic Prussian in his early years. His
sister begged Nietzsche to move with her and her husband to Paraguay with the intention of forming a
commune. Nietzsche would do nothing of the sort.
The Last Collapse
Nietzsche's final collapse came in 1889. On 3 January 1889, Nietzsche spotted a coach driver beating his horse.
Nietzsche considered this cruel, and rushed the man. He did not reach the coach, collapsing. He was taken back
to his apartment, but he had collapsed mentally. He was later found by friends, playing the piano with his
elbows, singing wildly. Friedrich was taken to an asylum, but was quickly reprieved by his mother, who took him
home. She did not agree with her son's works, but loved him nonetheless. She cared for him like a child, as he
was incoherent and reduced to an infantile state. His mother died in 1897, and Nietzsche's care fell to his sister,
now living in Weimar.
Elisabeth took it upon herself to get her brother's works published. She did an excellent job promoting him, and
he rose again in public opinion. Near death and incoherent, Nietzsche became the leading German thinker.
Finally, Nietzsche seemed oddly at peace, though not aware of his fate. On one occasion he found his sister
crying. "Lisbeth, why do you cry? Are we not happy?" he is reported to have asked. His sister also recorded an
incident when Nietzsche overheard a discussion of books. "I too have written some good books," Nietzsche told
the room... then faded back into silence. Nietzsche died in 1900, apparently unaware of his former self.
1844 October 15
Born in Röcken, Saxony, to Karl and Franziska Nietzsche. The family is
important, with a long history in the church clergy.
Father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche, dies. Friedrich Nietzsche later blames
both himself and, to a greater degree, the Revolution of 1848.
The King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, tours Naumburg, where
Nietzsche now lives. Nietzsche, raised to respect the power of the
church, shows nearly equal respect for the king.
1858 October
Receives a scholarship to Schulpforta, an elite school with only 200
students. Nietzsche is expected to become a clergyman, as was his
father, grandfather, numerous uncles, and other relatives.
Passes the Schulpforta exit exams and enrolls as a theology and classics
(philology) student at the University of Bonn.
Forms close friendship with composer Richard Wagner.
Offered the chair of classics at University of Basel, in Switzerland, based
upon published works.
Receives doctorate from a Leipzig university.
1871 January 18
The German Empire is formed.
The Birth of Tragedy is published. Nietzsche is 27. Most scholars
consider the work sloppy, while the nobility are impressed. The work is a
promotion of Richard Wagner, some believe, more than a serious study
of philology.
1873 August
The first volume of Untimely Meditations is published, a direct attack of
Friedrich David Strauss.
Year of Crisis: European Economic Depression. Many banks failed,
resulting in businesses closing and families loving all their money.
Communism and socialism became increasingly popular ideas. Nietzsche
steadfastly supports authoritarian power -- Otto von Bismark.
1874 February
Publishes a second volume of Untimely Meditations.
1874 October
The third volume of Untimely Meditations is published: Schopenhauer as
1876 August 12
The Bayreuth theatre opens. Nietzsche and Wagner had convinced the
German Reich to fund the theatre's construction. The guests include
nobility, as well as Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky. This moment marks a break
with Wagner... the concerts are a disappointment for Nietzsche -- and
the Reich, which withdraws financial support.
Resigns teaching position in Basle due to poor health.
Publishes Assorted Opinions and Maxims: Against Illusion. This work
marks Nietzsche's break from Birth of Tragedy, a work he admits was, at
least in part, too idealistic.
1881 August
Declared "everything recurs" while at Sils Maria, Switzerland. This idea is
not original, but Nietzsche receives accolades for this recycled theory.
Publishes The Gay Science.
Starts work on Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
1883 February 13
Richard Wagner dies.
Completes draft of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Publishes Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche considers the book a
companion to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Only 114 copies are sold in six
The Genealogy of Morals is published, a sequel to Beyond Good and Evil.
Writes The Case of Wagner, Twilight of the Idols, and The Anti-Christ.
1888 September 30 Formulates the "Law Against Christianity" for The Anti-Christ.
1889 January 3
Suffers a mental breakdown after seeing a coachman beat his horse.
Nietzsche rushed to challenge the man, but collapsed.
1890 May
Nietzsche joins his mother in Naumburg, where she cares for him for the
next seven years.
Nietzsche's mother, Franziska, dies. His sister Elizabeth becomes his
caregiver. Elizabeth sees that her brothers works are collected and
published. Amazingly, they are a success!
1900 August 25
Dies famous. His sister's efforts made his a celebrity in Germany shortly
before his death.
The Birth of Tragedy, Essay: 1872 (English, 1968)
Human, All Too Human, Essay: 1878
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Essays: 1883-1892 (English, 1961)
Beyond Good and Evil, Essay: 1886
On the Genealogy of Morals, Essay: 1887
Ecce Homo, Essay: 1888
Twilight of the Idols, Essay: 1889
The Anti-Christ, Essay: 1895
The Will to Power, Essay: 1901 (English, 1967)
Walter Kaufmann has noted that the major existentialists share a preoccupation with dread and death.
If we consider this striking preoccupation with failure, dread, and death one of the essential characteristics of
existentialism, Nietzsche can no longer be included in this movement. The theme of suffering recurs often in his
work, and he, too, concentrates attention on aspects of life which were often ignored in the nineteenth century;
but he makes much less of dread and death than of man's cruelty, resentment, and hypocrisy -- of the immorality
that struts around masked as morality.
- Existentialism; Kaufmann, p. 21
In the story of existentialism, Nietzsche occupies a central place: Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre are unthinkable
without him, and the conclusion of Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus sounds like a distant echo of Nietzsche.
- Existentialism; Kaufmann, p. 21
While I do consider Nietzsche among The Existentialists, unlike others contributing so much to the ideas
explored by existentialism, I recognize that he is indeed on the edges of this school of philosophy. It is important
to recognize that many scholars consider Nietzsche outside of existentialism and defend this view quite logically.
Again, I turn to Kaufmann for one of the best descriptions of Nietzsche's roles in both literature and philosophy.
Existentialism suggests only a single facet of Nietzsche's multifarious influence, and to call him an existentialist
means in all likelihood an insufficient appreciation of his full significance. To be sure, his name is linked
legitimately with the names of Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre; but it is linked no less legitimately with the names
of Nicolai Hartmann and Max Scheler, and with Spengler, and with Freud and Adler, and with Thomas Mann
and Hermann Hesse, with Stefan George no less than with Rilke, and with Shaw and Gide as well as with
Malraux. Almost everyone of these writers saw something different in him
Existentialism without Nietzsche would be almost like Thomism without Aristotle; but to call Nietzsche an
existentialist is a little like calling Aristotle a Thomist
- Existentialism; Kaufmann, p. 22
Nevertheless, his father was a minister; a long line of clergymen lay behind each of his parents; and he himself
remained a preacher to the end. He attacked Christianity because there was so much of its moral spirit in him....
With perhaps one disastrous exception, Nietzsche remained pious and Puritan, chaste as a statue, to the last:
therefore his assault on Puritanism and piety. How he longed to be a sinner, this incorrigible saint!
- The Story of Philosophy; Durant, p. 402-3
To be sure, Nietzsche was, no less than Kierkegaard, an apostle of passion and a critic of hypocrisy, but he did
not extol passion at the expense of reason, and he repudiated Christianity not because he considered it too
rational but because he considered it the archenemy of reason; and his caustic critique of faith, both in the
Antichrist and elsewhere, reads like a considered censure of Kierkegaard among others.
- Existentialism; Kaufmann, p. 19
Will to Power
According to Wm S. Sahakian's History of Philosophy, Nietzsche developed a philosophy based upon his
extrapolation of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Nietzsche believed that the Judeo-Christian morality ran
counter to the natural instincts of human nature. Accordingly, Nietzsche sought to replace these values with a
philosophy advocating the maximum development and expression of animalistic instincts. The primary human
instinct, according to Nietzsche, was the "Will to Power." By advocating this philosophy, Nietzsche was rejecting
the belief that sympathy was the proper and natural -- via societal pressures -- foundation for moral systems. In
effect, Nietzsche abandoned the theory of Darwin that humans had developed a sympathetic society to ensure
Professor Sahakian views the ethics of power developed by Nietzsche as rejecting the social instinct praised by
Darwin, replacing social drive with egoism and individualism. The ethics of power are derived from Nietzsche's
belief that the strongest of the human species desire not only to survive, but to gain power over others. The best
human instinct is the Will to Power in this ethical system. Watching young boys play, for example, Nietzsche
would observe each wanted to lead the group, until a strong leader emerged from within this micro society.
The Superman
The Master Morality was first explored by Nietzsche in his work Thus Spake Zarathustra, published between
1883 and 1885. In the story, Zarathustra teaches people are the Superman, an idealized person who defines his
own morality.
Nietzsche's fictional Superman rejects faith and immortality, assuming that either "God is dead," or that the
Creator is no longer active in human development. By rejecting faith, this Superman and his ideal society
become responsible for their own morality. Curiously, Nietzsche concluded that no person had yet reached such
a level, noting that even the greatest of men is "all-too-human."
Master Morality, Slave Morality
Nietzsche hypothesized moral systems developed from within a society. The societal systems, and their cultures,
were examined in Genealogy of Morals, published in 1887. In this book, Nietzsche discussed the Master
Morality of aristocratic cultures, such as the Roman Empire, and the Slave Morality of Jewish communities.
Nietzsche recognized that the two cultures were actually components of one greater society / culture, but the
moral systems were markedly different.
The aristocratic class, or ruling class, became leaders through their naturally superior abilities and stronger
aggressive instincts, according to Nietzsche. This has improperly led to a belief that Nietsche thought a race
could be naturally superior; his only claim was the individuals can be born superior. As proof, slaves could
become citizens and even senators in Rome. These natural leaders, according to Nietzsche, would highly value
sexuality based upon Darwin's theories that the strong wish to procreate and continue their power.
Another mark of the ruling class would be an acceptance of aggression and the use of force. As these rulers
express power openly, they view the pursuit of power and the defense of self as honorable. For this reason,
Nietzsche speculated that these leaders would not hold a grudge against enemies. In fact, they would not view
competitors for power as enemies, but rather as opponents in a great game of human ability. These rulers
welcome competition, believing that it builds character and teaches valuable lessons. After a battle, they study
their failures and openly admit the strengths of others. Nietzsche wrote that such leaders do not see a right and
wrong, only a superior and inferior combatant.
In stark contrast to the ruling class, the subservient populations embrace a moral code based upon a mythical
equality of individuals. Knowing this, the aristocrats claim to acknowledge this equality in various empty
manners -- such as equality under the law, which applies seldom in reality. The subservient, slave class
eventually realizes that life cannot be equal, so a religion is developed promising that they are actually superior
to those in power on earth.
Nietzsche hypothesized the slave class embraced democracy and the principle of equality in order to bring the
naturally superior class down to their own level. Sin and evil are artificial constructs, created by the slaves and
adopted by the leaders of this class, who often become leaders in the aristocratic class -- proving they do not
believe in this religious myth. The slaves demean sex, human desire, and teach humility instead of respect for
power and authority. Nietzsche believed this was a repression of resentments. A minority of religious leaders are
either true believers or individuals seeking power, but unable to admit this due to their own repressed natures.
Eternal Recurrence
Nietzsche theorized that while time might be infinite, the possible combinations of happenings was statistically
limited. Therefore, some events were bound to repeat. He went further by suggesting that even material objects
would be recreated by nature, due to the limited number of possibilities. These cosmic cycles were called Eternal
Recurrence by Nietzsche, a consoling substitute for immortality.
The Birth of Tragedy
In the consciousness of the truth he has perceived, man now sees everywhere only the awfulness or the absurdity
of existence... and loathing seizes him. The Birth of Tragedy, ch. 7 (1872)
Human, All Too Human
Because men really respect only that which was founded of old and has developed slowly, he who wants to live
on after his death must take care not only of his posterity but even more of his past. Assorted Opinions and
Maxims, aph. 307 (published as first supplement to Human, All Too Human, 1879)
The irrationality of a thing is no argument against its existence, rather a condition of it. Human, All Too Human,
aph. 332 (1878)
Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit:
for merit itself is offensive. Human, All Too Human, aph. 332 (1878)
Thus Spake Zarathustra
Once spirit was God, then it became man, and now it is even becoming mob. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, part 1, "Of
Reading and Writing" (1883)
Distrust everyone in whom the impulse to punish is powerful! Thus Spoke Zarathustra, part 2, ch. 29 (1883)
These people abstain, it is true: but the bitch Sensuality glares enviously out of all they do. Thus Spoke
Zarathustra, part 1, "Of Chastity" (1883)
He who cannot obey himself will be commanded. That is the nature of living creatures. Thus Spoke Zarathustra,
part 2, "Of Self-Overcoming" (1883)
You may have enemies whom you hate, but not enemies whom you despise. You must be proud of your enemy:
then the success of your enemy shall be your success too. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, part 1, "Of War and Warriors"
Beyond Good and Evil
Almost everything we call "higher culture" is based on the spiritualization and intensification of cruelty -- this is
my proposition.... That which constitutes the painful voluptuousness of tragedy is cruelty; that which produces a
pleasing effect in so-called tragic pity, indeed fundamentally in everything sublime up to the most highest and
most refined thrills of metaphysics, derives its sweetness solely from the ingredient of cruelty mixed in with it.
Beyond Good and Evil, aph. 229 (1886)
It is always consoling to think of suicide: in that way one gets through many a bad night. Beyond Good and Evil,
ch. 4, aph. 157 (1886)
There is in general good reason to suppose that in several respects the gods could all benefit from instruction by
us human beings. We humans are -- more humane. Beyond Good and Evil, aph. 295 (1886)
On the Genealogy of Morals
All in all, punishment hardens and renders people more insensible; it concentrates; it increases the feeling of
estrangement; it strengthens the power of resistance. The Genealogy of Morals, essay 2, aph. 14 (1887)
Oh, how much is today hidden by science! Oh, how much it is expected to hide! The Genealogy of Morals, essay
3, "What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?" aph. 23 (1887)
Everyone who has ever built anywhere a "new heaven" first found the power thereto in his own hell. The
Genealogy of Morals, Essay 3, aph. 10 (1887)
Ecce Homo
The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends. Ecce Homo,
Foreword (1888)
I know my fate. One day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful -- of a
crisis like no other before on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against
everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified. I am not a man I am dynamite. Ecce
Homo, "Why I Am a Destiny" (1888)
After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands. Ecce Homo, "Why I Am a
Destiny" (1888)
Twilight of the Idols
The moment Germany rises as a great power, France gains a new importance as a cultural power. Twilight of the
Idols, "What the Germans Lack," aph. 4 (1889)
The Germans -- once they were called the nation of thinkers: do they still think at all? Nowadays the Germans
are bored with intellect, the Germans mistrust intellect, politics devours all seriousness for really intellectual
things -- Deutschland, Deutschland üuber alles was, I fear, the end of German philosophy. Twilight of the Idols,
"What the Germans Lack," aph. 1 (1889)
The most spiritual human beings, assuming they are the most courageous, also experience by far the most
painful tragedies: but it is precisely for this reason that they honor life, because it brings against them its most
formidable weapons. Twilight of the Idols, "Expeditions of an Untimely Man," aph. 17 (1889)
When one does away with oneself one does the most estimable thing possible: one thereby almost deserves to
live. Twilight of the Idols, "Expeditions of an Untimely Man," aph. 36 (1889)
As regards the celebrated "struggle for life," it seems to me for the present to have been rather asserted than
proved. It does occur, but as the exception; the general aspect of life is not hunger and distress, but rather
wealth, luxury, even absurd prodigality -- where there is a struggle it is a struggle for power. Twilight of the
Idols, "Expeditions of an Untimely Man," aph. 14 (1889)
Nothing is beautiful, only man: on this piece of naïvety rests all aesthetics, it is the first truth of aesthetics. Let us
immediately add its second: nothing is ugly but degenerate man -- the domain of aesthetic judgment is therewith
defined. Twilight of the Idols, "Expeditions of an Untimely Man," aph. 20 (1889)
To live alone one must be an animal or a god -- says Aristotle. There is yet a third case: one must be both -- a
philosopher. Twilight of the Idols, "Maxims and Arrows," aph. 3 (1889)
Two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity. Twilight of the Idols, "What the Germans Lack," aph. 2
I fear we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar. Twilight of the Idols, "'Reason' in
Philosophy," aph. 5 (1889)
To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. Death of one's own free choice, death at the proper
time, with a clear head and with joyfulness, consummated in the midst of children and witnesses: so that an
actual leave-taking is possible while he who is leaving is still there. Twilight of the Idols, "Expeditions of an
Untimely Man," aph. 36 (1889)
The Anti-Christ
What is good? -- All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. The Anti-Christ,
aph. 2 (1895)
The "kingdom of Heaven" is a condition of the heart -- not something that comes "upon the earth" or "after
death." The Anti-Christ, aph. 34 (1895)
The anarchist and the Christian have a common origin. The Anti-Christ, aph. 57 (1895)
Wherever there are walls I shall inscribe this eternal accusation against Christianity upon them -- I can write in
letters which make even the blind see... I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity,
the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret, subterranean, petty -- I
call it the one immortal blemish of mankind... The Anti-Christ, aph. 62 (1895)
Against boredom the gods themselves fight in vain. The Anti-Christ, aph. 48 (1895) Nietzsche refers to Schiller's
Maid of Orleans, act 3, sc. 6: "Against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain."
The word "Christianity" is already a misunderstanding -- in reality there has been only one Christian, and he
died on the Cross. The Anti-Christ, aph. 39 (1895)
The Will to Power
I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its
advantage. The Will to Power, book 2, note 362 (1888)
Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions. The Will to Power,
aph. 55 (1888)
The idealist is incorrigible: if he is thrown out of his heaven he makes an ideal of his hell. Miscellaneous Maxims
and Opinions, no. 23 (1879)
The strongest knowledge (that of the total unfreedom of the human will) is nonetheless the poorest in successes:
for it always has the strongest opponent, human vanity. Assorted Opinions and Maxims, aph. 50 (1879)
The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet
dared to draw. The Wanderer and His Shadow, aph. 278 (1880)
To exercise power costs effort and demands courage. That is why so many fail to assert rights to which they are
perfectly entitled -- because a right is a kind of power but they are too lazy or too cowardly to exercise it. The
virtues which cloak these faults are called patience and forbearance. The Wanderer and His Shadow, aph. 251
Existence really is an imperfect tense that never becomes a present. The Use and Abuse of History, sct. 1 (1874)
Not necessity, not desire -- no, the love of power is the demon of men. Let them have everything -- health, food, a
place to live, entertainment -- they are and remain unhappy and low-spirited: for the demon waits and waits and
will be satisfied. Daybreak, aph. 262 (1881)
The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty
and confound the remainder, and revile the whole. Assorted Opinions and Maxims, aph. 137 (1879)
Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very
rare species. The Gay Science, aph. 109 (rev. ed., 1887)
Only the most acute and active animals are capable of boredom.-- A theme for a great poet would be God's
boredom on the seventh day of creation. The Wanderer and His Shadow, aph. 56 (1880)
What is wanted -- whether this is admitted or not -- is nothing less than a fundamental remoulding, indeed
weakening and abolition of the individual: one never tires of enumerating and indicating all that is evil and
inimical, prodigal, costly, extravagant in the form individual existence has assumed hitherto, one hopes to
manage more cheaply, more safely, more equitably, more uniformly if there exist only large bodies and their
members. Daybreak, aph. 132 (1881)
Gane, Laurence and Chan, Kitty; Introducing Nietzsche (New York: Totem Books, 1998) ISBN: 1-84046-075-X
Kaufmann, Walter Arnold; Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1974)
Mencken, H. L.; The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (Tuscon: See Sharp Press, 1908, 2003)
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm; On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (Indianapolis: Hackett
Pub. Co., 1980)
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm; Ansell-Pearson, Keith and Large, Duncan; The Nietzsche Reader (Oxford:
Blackwell, 2006)
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm; Levy, Oscar; and Roth, Samuel; My Sister and I Trans. Levy, Oscar (New York:
Boar's Head Books, 1951)
Sautet, Marc; Nietzsche for Beginners (New York: Writers & Readers, 1990) ISBN: 0-86316-118-9
Solomon, Robert C., and Higgins, Kathleen Marie; What Nietzsche Really Said (New York: Schocken Books,
Strathern, Paul; Nietzsche in 90 Minutes (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996) ISBN: 1-56663-121-1 []
Steinhart, Eric; On Nietzsche (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2000) ISBN: 0-534-57606-0 []
Tanner, Michael; Nietzsche (New York: Oxford University Press; 1994) ISBN: 0-19-287680-5 []
Wicks, Robert; Nietzsche (Oxford: Oneworld, 2002)
Complete source list.
Books: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
The following titles are arranged by publication date. Some titles appear more than once, with newer editions
and translations appearing earlier in the list. Many of the older titles are not readily available, so I suggest
ordering from the top of the list.
The list was generated using EndNote and Amazon, which is why the list is not in a standard bibliographic
format. However, titles link automatically to Amazon making the format less of a concern. For even easier access
to current titles, shop our online store operated in association with