Existentialism Is Humanism

Posted: July 11, 2013 in Benjamin Mensah

Sartre states “Existence precedes essence”. One is born into the world not determined by a god, destiny, faith or others in who or what he or she will or want to be. Rather, one is born into the world to make something of themselves. That individual have a choice in who they are and what they want to become. As a human being we are born into the world freely to make a choice in what we want to be. We are not born for a specific reason, we have a will to choose and strive on what we truly desire on becoming. In doing so existence of mankind precedes essence.

I agree with Sartre because I believe our desires to be whom or whatever we wish are unlimited to us as oppose to following others or having our path laid for out for us. As human beings we are always evolving and changing. What we believe as individuals to have passion for today may change tomorrow and what we believe to love tomorrow will perhaps change the next day. No other person nor god have the right to tell us otherwise except ourselves.

Another reason why I agree that existence precedes essence has to do with choice, the freedom to choose. We have the moral freedom to choose the path that we want to walk. Of course the path we choose may have consequences but throughout the process of our mistakes and success, we make progress which leads us to the aspect of changing and evolving as human beings. This progress affects us as individuals and as a group. We are never complete, we are an unfinished living substance and we will continue to evolve and change until our death but I have the freedom to choose what I will evolve into.

An example that I can relate to Sartre’s Existence precedes essence claim is the evolution of growing up as human beings. A teacher with a degree in a specific area doesn’t necessarily mean that this individual will be an educator for the rest of their life. As a student that have a desire to teach, I’ve seen many educators with degrees and within their life of living and growing they pursued many degrees and some have went along to pursue different careers. My trigonometry teacher was once an engineer. I asked him why did he give up the job and become an educator, His response was “I got bored “. It realized that at any given moment an individual’s passion for something can change. A choice to choose what you want to be and who you want to be can change. This inspired me as a student and as a future educator that I have the choice to pursue what I desire to do in life. Either it is through teaching, coaching, physically working, or singing. I have my right and choice to do so. There is no god, parents, society, friends, and others to tell me I can’t do so.

Another example I can relate to Sartre’s Existence precedes essence claim is as a child and a teenager, my parents have made some of the choices for me. As I am slowly growing up, my parents still made decisions for me and as a result of that, I personally do not feel right when they do. I feel as my freedom of thoughts and action is being stripped away. Like Sartre said “when an individual feels like an object, a thing,” I too began to feel like a mere tool because my choice was being taken from me. As my life is being laid out for me and through this feeling I began to resist what I was told. Even though it feels wrong and disrespectful, I feel at times as If I don’t have my own will to do what I wish. I realize I am not really evolving the way I want to. I am rather evolving the way my parents wants me to. In my resistance, I am slowly making my own choices. I began resisting by making my own decisions and as harsh as it sound, not listening to them. I have the will to do what I please to do freely. I don’t feel like an object, I feel as a breathing human being that have the right to choose who I want to be and where I want to go.

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Comments
  1. Kimberly says:

    Ben, I really liked your thoughtful post. I was wondering about those who have desires that are atypical. For instance, we live in societies that have different institutions (mental institutions, prisons, educational system, etc.) to restrict us and these restrictions shape the desires we have for ourselves. How do we know what we truly desire?

    • benjamin says:

      That’s the thing. we don’t really know what we desire because of the many changes in our desire over time. Our desire is not only one destination, i dont think it’s a destination at all. Our desire changes depending on the places we live and the people that surrounds us. All these different institutions can change us in a positive and a negative way

      • Kimberly says:

        What do you think Satre means, when discusses desire? Is desire subjective? I ask this because desire seems to important to how Satre understands existentialism. I find that many times we desire things because other people desire them. If we live in a world that promotes us to desire certain things (become a Medical Doctor over a English Literature Professor), then it seems that desire is not something that lies solely within us.

      • benjamin says:

        I think by desire sartre means a certain something that an individual feels great fully doing it. Be doing what they desire they are creating and forming their essence in their existence. If an individual desire something because another individual desires it then they are essence preceding existence. which is less likely to happen when the individual grows up. As children we are told what to do and so we do it. we are also taught whats wrong and right. when we grow up we have the choice in choosing a desire instead of doing so because another wants it.

  2. Robin says:

    Thanks for your post, Ben! I found your examples about the changeability of our passions really interesting. I was wondering: what exactly is going on when our passions change, and how is that related to our freedom to choose? For example, when something suddenly becomes boring, it wasn’t my choice for that thing to become boring. Similarly, I don’t choose for something to seem desirable and lovable. I can definitely choose, when I find something boring or desirable, whether or not I should act to avoid or pursue it. But I can’t choose whether it strikes me as boring or desirable (and often I might feel that way because others make me feel that way- through advertising, peer pressure, etc). Do you think that this might place some limits on our freedom to choose what we want to be?

    • benjamin says:

      I believe we are simply evolving when we go through these changes, its an evolution we can’t stop and sometimes we don;t notice that evolution. And no it does not place some limits on our freedom to choose what we want to be. we have social freedom and moral freedom. No matter what an individual does in life they are always going to be limited to certain things they are capable of doing due to social freedom. But as an individual your moral freedom should suppress the fact that you are being limited through advertisements, peer pressure and many others. You are limited to the way you view yourself not how others view you. And sartre stated “No rule of general morality can show you what you ought to do”

      • zhengrb says:

        Thanks for this, Benjamin. I take your point that what matters is how we view ourselves, and not how others view us. But what I’m wondering about is whether it’s possible that how I view myself is itself limited. For example, imagine someone living hundreds of years ago who’s never ever even heard of outer space. That person, it seems, can’t possibly choose to be an astronaut–and that’s not because other people are repressing her, but because in her social context (the fact that she is living hundreds of years before the discovery of space) she just can’t conceive of herself that way. Similarly, for another example, imagine that there was a time when women were all confined to housework and they never, ever saw any other women pursuing careers outside the house and all their lives they’ve believed that being a good housewife is the best life. It might seem like those women just wouldn’t be able to conceive of themselves as being anything but housewives. Even if nobody is forcing them to stay in the house, the fact that they just can’t view themselves doing anything else makes it seem like maybe they aren’t *really* free to choose whether to be a housewife or to work outside. I don’t know the answer to this- part of me thinks that yes, they do have the freedom to choose is no one is stopping them, but part of me thinks that they don’t really have freedom because one of the options doesn’t feel like a real option to them. I wonder if you feel the same way!

        PS. A lot of what I’ve just said is closely related to what Kimberly and Liam have been saying. So maybe you have a similar response!

  3. Liam says:

    Thanks for your reply, Benjamin. I would just like to reiterate Kimberly’s excellent question: given that we are always restricted (and, in other ways, enabled) by various social institutions, how do we know which of our choices are truly free and which of those are “forced” upon us by outside influences? And, to add to this because it is particularly relevant to you as a future teacher, it is worth thinking about the question from the other side. As an educator, or anybody with influence over other people, what sort of influences is it morally acceptable to have on others? Do we restrict other people’s freedom by trying to educate them; would that always be a bad thing if we did? Appropriately enough, I can’t tell you the answer to these questions! I don’t think anybody can; but it is worth thinking about what your answer would be before you take up an important community leadership position, like being a teacher and a coach, and I hope the philosophy of Sartre helps you to do that.

    • benjamin says:

      it all goes back to “Choice” . If an individual feel the need that he or she is being forced with education. They have the right of choosing weather to get educated by others or self educated. As a student i’ve read about many people that have self educated themselves and have become very successful and pleased with their decision. As a student i sometimes believe education is forced upon me and i am not learning much. I feel as if im always listening and not learning. As a student now and a future teacher, i believe a teacher or individual can enlighten ones mind into a curiosity state in which they learn to love and dwell on education.

      • Liam says:

        So, if I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that for education to enable (rather than restrict) people’s freedom, it has to awaken students’ curiosity and allow them to self-educate, rather than trying to force knowledge into them. Is that right? If so, I think there’s a lot to that, and it would be a great way to try and operate as a teacher. But perhaps I have misunderstood you, so feel free to correct me.

      • benjamin says:

        You can’t force something to any person. In doing so we are disrespecting their moral freedom in deciding what to do. As a teacher i can’t force a student to learn. i encourage them and see their perspective. Education is sometimes forced on people and sometimes in doing so they don’t learn from what is taught. Curiosity leads to self education. If as a teacher i can expand the mind of a student and his curiosity to a point when curiosity to learn or know something become a desire. Then there wont be ” Forcing education” when the individual can teach themselves.

        An example i can make of this is “History class” . History is not like math where you do a problem and you have all these questions in how to solve them. History is simply reading a textbook and interpreting and yet students don’t have the desire to read History books. Rather wait for a teacher to tell them about it.

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