Jean-Paul Satre, in Existentialism in a Humanism, exhausts the fact that a human being exists as a responsible and free agent, that can determine his/her development willingly. Existentialism (Webber 2), the main theme in the book, has been defended against some of the reproaches that it faces. The reproaches reason that existentialist upholds evil side of human life, and support atheists beliefs. The first reproach relates to the fact that it attracts people to remain in an extent of despair. This was aimed not to bar all ways of solution, as it would render all actions in the world to be ineffective. The reproach is mainly the communist argument. Existentialism has also been considered to be pessimistic, only dwelling on the brighter side of human beings. This argument views it as a consideration of man in isolation but not communally. Christians have viewed the approach as a denier of seriousness and reality of human affairs. These Christians accuse the approach as allowing everyone to engage in whatever he/she likes, without other people’s actions or the action. This last reproach raises concern on the ethical notion of immorality or evil or just the general ‘wrong’ that is part of human character.
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Some existentialists have always based their argument between essence and existence, mainly interrogating which one should come first. Existence, in this case, refers to the availability of someone or something. Essence, on the other hand, refers to the fashioning of the existing object, specifically focussing on its composition and development. The right combination of these two words forms part of Sarter’s arguments in his most theories expressed in the book, which also covers morals of others’ choices.
The theory, in this case, points to the fact that existentialists never make evil choices. In support of this theory, he relates deeds (existence) and feelings (essence). The outstanding argument is that feelings generate from deeds of an individual, therefore consultations cannot be sought to guide actions. Also, there is no ethical formula that prompts an act. That is, in case one seeks or consults about an issue, he/she already possesses an expectation of the results. Moreover, people are always caught in dilemma of choosing between more than one moral act in which neither Christian doctrine nor atheistic doctrine guides them. Similarly, the goodness of choice made is very relative and does not uniformly apply. The only guide in such dilemma is the instinct or feeling. This guide cannot be measured to avail accountability between different people. Most people argue that the final feeling after their acts is what counts, that is, (am I peaceful or stressed?).
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Some schools of thought also believe in ‘quietism.’ This is the attitude developed by those who allow others to do that which they are unable to do. The attitude upholds the fact that reality is expressed in action. For instance, love is not loving until loving actions are expressed. Therefore, the human is but a pack of actions; he is nothing but what he or she purposes. Existentialists partly submit to the ‘quietism’ theory, and they raise the self-deception issue (Satre 10), which eventually contributes to the sensibility of judging other people’s choices.
Judging others on their choices of actions or attitude, whether morally wrong or right, is false in one sense and true in another. At this point of argument, Sartre compares moral choice to the construction of a work of art, and the common ground for both is involvement of creation and invention (10). It is impossible for one to change his or her mind from the first choice made since the choice entails commitment, intellectual clarity, and sincerity. Therefore, one’s choice in the view of others is ‘himself’ or ‘herself’ and it is always right. However, some choices are founded by an error, during the truth. This is supported by the fact that man is a free being to make choices; hence he can make choices without seeking for help or excuse. Therefore, those who embark their excuses for wrong choices or a deterministic doctrine are termed as a self-deceiver. In the process of making wrong choices and viewing their failure, they rely on ‘quietism’ reasoning as a refuge. Such people may not be judged to have made a morally wrong choice, but that they have deceived themselves. The self-deception is regarded as an error.
Also, the morality of the choices made, and the value of the choices are influenced by someone, if God the Father may be excluded at this point. No one invents the choices made, and if said so then there is no life in advance. Life only becomes life ones it is lived, and it makes sense depending on the results of the choices, whether moral or immoral. The results not only affect the person making the choices but also other beings around him or her, as man is always present in the human universe, hence existential humanism.
In conclusion, Sartre, who is an existentialist, reasons that unjust objections have been laid on them by many people regarding their reasoning about ethical notion of ‘immorality.’ However, he clarifies that everyone should realize and understand the kind of humanity he or she is, to determine the attitude and results in choice making. This is because, the realization and the understanding determine error in choice making, which others judge to be immoral. Secondly, man has a character of free commitment which is not uniform to all, but relative. Hence, one’s realization and understanding of self is different from the others. This, therefore, unveils the fact that morality is relative, what one culture defines as moral, is defined by another culture as immoral, hence the diversity of self-understanding. It does not matter what one does, as long as the intellect in perfectly conversant with the attitude and purpose. Ethical notion of immorality is hence relative and applies differently in various situations.
- Jean-Paul Satre. Extentialism is a Humanism. London: Yale University Press, 2007.
- Jonathan Webber. Existentialism. Bristol: University of Bristol, 2009.