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John Paul Sartre is known as one of the most influential philosophers of the

twentieth century. He wrote many philosophical works novels and plays. Much of

his work is tied into politics. The essay Existentialism is a Humanism is just

one of his many works. Existentialism is a Humanism is a political essay that

was written in 1945. Its purpose was to address a small public during World War

II in Nazi occupied France. This essay stressed the public not to conform.

Sartre introduced a great number of philosophical concepts in Existentialism.

Two of these concepts are anguish and forlornness. They are simply defined, as

anguish is feeling responsible for yourself as well as others and knowing that

your actions affect others and forlornness is realizing that you are alone in

your decisions. These two concepts are interwoven throughout the essay and

throughout many of Sartre’s other works. Sartre’s view of anguish and

forlornness in Existentialism is a Humanism addresses his view of life and man.

Sartre based his views on the basic ideas of existentialism. The idea that

existence precedes essence is the central factor in the atheistic view of man.

The belief that existence precedes essence states that there is "no

pre-existing concept of man." (2) In the existentialist view, man is what

he makes of himself. They believe that man was indefinable at first; "he

first appears, then defines himself." (1) There are no set plans as to how

a man must live. He must make his own decisions and move towards his future with

no help [from the outside world. The main idea of existential is what Sartre

simply stated as?"I am responsible for myself and for everyone else. I am

creating a certain image of my own choosing. In choosing myself is choose

man." (1) He is saying that man creates his own image of the self and it is

different for all men. The belief that existence precedes essence directly ties

into the fact that the atheistic existentialist believes that there is no god.

They believe that there is no human nature and that humans are inherently free.

The concept of anguish is one of Sartre’s central ideas in Existentialism as a

Humanism. It involves the realization that the choices and decisions a person

makes not only affect the self, but they affect everyone. Anguish is getting

over the selfishness that has become so prevalent in our society. A person must

make decision while looking as society as a whole. Anguish is being concerned

with the impact of your decisions on others. Dealing with responsibility is just

one form of anguish. A person must be responsible for themselves and others. The

essay Existential is a Humanism gives the example of a military officer. All

leaders and military officers feel anguish. They have the responsibility to

themselves as well as others. A military officer preparing to send his troops

into battle must fulfill his responsibilities to himself, his superiors and his

troops. He realizes that his "interpretations of the orders from

above" directly impact the fate of his troops.(1) The fact that he

continues to make decisions even faced with anguish shows that a military

officer feels responsible. "All leaders know this anguish", but they

continue to make decisions. (1) Anguish that they feel does not dissuade their

action, but "on the contrary" it makes them stronger, "it is the

very condition of their action." The anguish that a military officer feels

is what makes them responsible. Sartre saw anguish as a necessary component of

life. It is what makes a person aware of their choices and responsibilities. The

concept of forlornness in Sartre’s eyes is coming to grips with the fact that we

are alone in our decision making. We have "no excuses, determinism or

omens", that influence our decisions. The atheistic existentialist fells

that we are alone in our decision making because there is no god. They feel that

the decisions we make are only up to us. Man is free to make his own choices and

man is condemned in the fact that he is free. "Everything is

choice."(1) Knowing that you are alone in your decisions can raise some

very interesting questions. People must look into themselves and make the

choices base on their own interpretations and experiences. The example of a

young boy forced to make the choice between staying with his mother of joining

the Free French forces illustrates forlornness. In his heart he knows that the

decision is up to him and as a result he is forlorn. In staying with his mother

the young boy is making a choice towards a "sympathetic sets of ethics and

a concrete action." He may be giving up opportunities but feels that

staying with his mother is the right decision. On the other hand if he chooses

to leave his mother and join the Free French Forces, he is making the choice

according to a "broader set of ethics and an action dealing with a national

collectivity." If he chooses the second option it is what he feels is the

right and just decision. |There is one problem no matter what path he chooses.

He will soon be caught in a "vicious circle". He must make his own

choice. Many people seek advice and they choose who will give it to them. A

person chooses an advisor who will give them the answers and advice that they

want to hear. If this young boy were to ask Sartre for advice, he would simply

say, the choice is yours. Anguish and forlornness are connected by the fact that

all men are responsible for their own actions. Every choice a person makes or

action he takes is totally up to the individual. A person is entirely free with

no outside sources having an impact on them. Sartre embraced the views and

concepts of the atheistic existentialist. The concepts he introduced will

continue to be discussed throughout time. While reading Existentialism is a

Humanism, one must remember that it was intended for only a small public. Sartre

never intended it to be read by the masses. It addresses his political views of

the war. He wanted the French people not resist conformity. He wanted them to

remember that they were free even though they were repressed. He also wanted the

public to realize that the actions and choices they made affected the country as

a whole.

1) John Paul Sartre. "Existentialism is a Humanism." 1945. 2) John

Paul Sartre. http://www.lcl.cmu.edu/CAAE/80254/Sart


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