Existence Precedes Essence

Posted: July 11, 2013 in Robert P.

If man doesn’t exist, and by exist Sartre means to be alive, to appear, meet and greet, and to describe oneself, than man cannot define himself. Without definition of self, man is nothingness and by nothingness, Sartre means being responsible for what man is. For Sartre, “man first exists; that is, that man primarily exists-that man is, before all else, something that projects itself in a future, and conscious of doing so” (pg.23). So, what does Sartre mean by “Existence precedes essence?” As an atheist, Sartre believes that man first comes into the world occurring first and perceiving secondly, the nature of his choices. Those choices allow man to project himself into nothingness afterward conceiving himself into a being. God, described by Sartre does not exist for man, man exist before being defined by a concept.

I agree with Sartre that without defining ourselves, we are nothing. I believe man is a work of progress, in process of always searching for answers that define himself as a ‘being”. The essence of life and the ability to exist within the world primarily will come from a sense of being alive, a sense of constructive thinking and movement that produces conceivable factors that man can live with and for. For example, education from a University or College, employment that offers the basic necessities (food, shelter, and clothing) of life, being part of a two family home, and having friends. To exist and merely be a physical presence in the world, isn’t enough, and though to merely exist, which in the case means to wake up, shower, get dress, go to work, and come back home can define man as well, it is not the defining that constitutes anguish – man being responsible for man but it does constitute being condemned – man being responsible for everything he does. And what man does and how he does it will define not only how he projects himself but also what he would like to be.

Sartre says, “Man is not only that which he conceive himself to be, but that which he wills himself to be” (pg.22). What Sartre is suggesting is that man is “existence before essence”, in that existence with sure possibilities man is not only considering himself, he also creating and imaging himself, but also after realizing his existence. How can man conceive himself to be? If man has no desire to will himself into the man he wants to be. If I am to agree with Sartre on this point, which I do, than it would seem to me that in order for man to will himself into what he wants to be, he first has to exist, to conceive the thought of what he wants to create for himself. That is why it is logical to conclude that “existence precedes essence”.

In conclusion, man is not simply a thought of himself but a spontaneous conscious that is able to drive himself to who he wants to be, and after man is able to drive himself after he exist, man is a product of nothingness-responsible for what he is.

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Comments
  1. Kimberly says:

    Robert. Very Interesting! I find that existential philosophy really makes us think about ourselves and how we experience life. In thinking about the quote you mention, [“Man is not only that which he conceive himself to be, but that which he wills himself to be” (pg.22).] I find myself wondering if we can actually will things! I’m thinking about Black life in the U.S. particularly. A whole field has developed in philosophy called Black Existentialism, which takes these questions up concerning Black people. Anyway, your post made me think about it. Great job.

    • Robert Pleasant says:

      Good afternoon kim,

      Hope all is well with you. I think what I meant by “responsible” is holding men accountable for his actions. For example, a man or woman that’s in my circle may see some imbalance emotions in me, and those emotions or there lack of, maybe altering my daily responsibilities.The nature of that man or woman in my circle may say something like, “you’re not doing what you need to do and it’s affecting your movements.” The people who we love and love us back should feel “responsible” in holding us accountable for our actions and reactions, if that make sense.

  2. Liam says:

    Thank you Robert for your very interesting response to this piece. As Kimberly said, it is very thought provoking, and you have clearly touched upon many important issues. I will say, though, that I found it hard to see how your conclusion followed from the earlier post – for instance, the conclusion is the first time you mention “spontaneous conscious”. In general it is a good idea not to introduce complex new concepts in the conclusion; you should explain them earlier in the piece. Still, it was a good and thoughtful piece – keep up the good work!

    • Robert Pleasant says:

      How are you Liam? Yeah, I thought about the conclusion and wondered if I should have used ” spontaneous conscious” in the beginning of my essay. I think as I come along in the class I will be able to figure out more precisely, where things go.

  3. Robin says:

    Robert, I’m really interested in what you say about humans being responsible for ourselves and our lives. I’m curious what you mean by “responsible”? Ordinarily it seems that when we say we hold each other responsible we mean that we praise, blame, resent, feel grateful, etc to each other. But we also sometimes *don’t* hold each other responsible, for example when something was done out of ignorance or accident. How do you think this is related to being responsible for everything we do- are there exceptions, and when? Is a person who just goes through life without ever stopping to think and reflect on their life–who never really seriously makes choices about what they would like to be but just follows the crowd–still responsible?

  4. scholars2013 says:

    Thank you kimberly for commenting on my post. I think that it is possible for man to will himself, but it is the actions and efforts that will define that “will”, and the outcome of it.

  5. scholars2013 says:

    How are you Liam? Yeah, I thought about the conclusion and wondered if I should have used ” spontaneous conscious” in the beginning of my essay. I think as I come along in the class I will be able to figure out more precisely, where things go.

  6. scholars2013 says:

    Good afternoon kim,

    Hope all is well with you. I think what I meant by “responsible” is holding men accountable for his actions. For example, a man or woman that’s in my circle may see some imbalance emotions in me, and those emotions or there lack of may be altering my responsibilities. The nature of that man or woman in my circle may something like, you’re not doing what you need to do and it’s affecting your movements. The people who we love and love us back should feel “responsible” in holding us accountable for our actions and reactions, if that make sense.

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