Sartre is a twentieth century philosopher who is associated with the movement of existentialism. When it comes to man, Sartre coined a popular phrase used in existentialism that ‘Existence precedes essence.’ He basically means that it is impossible for man to discover any essence inside his being. Man has the obligation to create essence and it has to be created from nothing. Creation of essence is achieved through the choices and efforts of man. The above is the foundation of the concept of existentialism that is popular with Sartre.
From a wider perspective the concept of existentialism sounds very pessimistic. When we critically analyse what Sartre attempted to demonstrate we see that he attempted to come up with an observation that can help us understand the freedom found in man’s being. When we discover the freedom that comes with being a man we are able to achieve a greater meaning in our lives. Sartre is a heroic personnel and an imitation of his attitude brings new energy that it is possible to act and create that which a person desires.
However when we analyse from a logical and philosophical perspective the concept of existentialism we find that the theory is basically hollow and it amounts to nothing (Atwell pg580-591). In the essay ‘Existentialism as Humanism’ Sartre attempts to explain his theory of existentialism with simplicity. He explains the meaning of the concept of existence and essence and the two points of view from both perspectives.
Unfortunately when we analyse his concept we discover that the theory of existence preceding essence implies that human beings are functionless by themselves. This means that whatever man wants to achieve he has to work hard to become that which he desires. Existentialism portrays complete unfamiliarity with the basic concepts of psychology. According to Sartre pre-existing human nature does not exist. And so he Sartre does not acknowledge the existence of human nature because of the absence of God in the conception of it.
Sartre also tries to put forth another theory that man simply is. He means that man is not what he simply conceives himself to be but that man is what he wills. In the process of conceiving himself after existing whatever man wills to be after it will lead to existence. Man is nothing short of what he makes himself to be. This is the principles foundation of existentialism popularly known as subjectivity.
The argument against this principle is that it is delusional to view man as simply is (Lowe pg23-48). As per the term subjectivity there is no viewpoint in the above perspective. It is completely absurd to view man form such angle. If human nature does not exist then it means that all the work that psychologists are exploring and studying is completely useless. Before Sartre came up with this theory, we had psychologists such as William James, Sigmund Freud and Jung. There were also other behaviourists such as Watson and Pavlov who equated man to an animal. Human psychology was pretty much diversified and in a mature stage. Based on the maturity of human psychology it is delusional and absurd for Sartre to come years later and claim that man is a free being and that man has the ability to conceive anything out of himself as long as he wills as if it were some sort of magic. Man has a nature which is identified by his identity, freedom and limitations. Human limitation comes with immense freedom and choice which determines what is to be done.
Atwell, John E. “Existence precedes essence.” Man and world 2.4 (1969): 580-591.
Lowe, Edward Jonathan. “Two notions of being: Entity and essence.” Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 62 (2008): 23-48.