The Existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre

The Existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre

The Existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre

The Existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre

Synopsis

Webber argues for a new interpretation of Sartrean existentialism. On this reading, Sartre is arguing that each person's character consists in the projects they choose to pursue and that we are all already aware of this but prefer not to face it. Careful consideration of his existentialist writings shows this to be the unifying theme of his theories of consciousness, freedom, the self, bad faith, personal relationships, existential psychoanalysis, and the possibility of authenticity. Developing this account affords many insights into various aspects of his philosophy, not least concerning the origins, structure, and effects of bad faith and the resulting ethic of authenticity. This discussion makes clear the contributions that Sartre's work can make to current debates over the objectivity of ethics and the psychology of agency, character, and selfhood. Written in an accessible style and illustrated with reference to Sartre's fiction, this book should appeal to general readers and students as well as to specialists.

Excerpt

The existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre is an account of the way that we humans exist, in contrast to the ways in which such things as chairs and tables, flowers and trees, rocks and planets, and cats and dogs exist. It aims to elaborate the central structures of our lives, around which all the things that we do are built. This topic is interesting in its own right and Sartre’s consideration of it is among the most thorough and systematic available. But there is more reason than this to study it. For answering the question of exactly what we are is also central to addressing some of the pressing issues that we all face. This is what motivated Sartre. He intended his philosophy to be much more than an abstract theory to be studied in libraries. He wrote about it in the popular press and illustrated it in his fiction because he saw the questions of how we should treat one another, how we should organise our societies, and how we should each think about our own plans and hopes and dreams as simply unanswerable unless we consider them within the framework of a theory of human existence and as receiving only disastrously wrong answers when the framework itself is wrong.

The theory that he developed, however, has been interpreted in a variety of different ways. This is partly because he does not always express himself as clearly as he might. He seems to have found it necessary to develop a new conceptual repertoire in which to express his thought, but he could have been more careful to explain his terminology. But it is also partly because most commentators on his existentialist work focus on one aspect of it or another, or at least one aspect at a time, at the expense of the overall picture. It then often turns out that one commentator’s reading of one part does not sit easily with their own or someone else’s reading of another part. The aim of this book is to present a single coherent picture of the central themes of Sartrean existentialism. We will see that this philosophy is the elaboration of one basic idea, one that is rarely identified as being even a part of it, and that this idea has much to offer to current debates over issues that we all face. The idea at the centre of Sartrean existentialism is simply that an individual’s character consists in the projects that person pursues.

We should not understand this as claiming that actions result from nothing more than a decision about what to do, as though there were no such . . .

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