“Man is condemned to be free: condemned, because he did not create himself, yet nonetheless, free, because once cast into the world, he is responsible for everything he does” was a statement made by Jean-Paul Sartre in his lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism.”
WHAT IS EXISTENTIALISM?
Existentialism is the theory that believes and emphasizes every individual as a free person, who acts according to his own will. Existentialism takes, as its starting point, the experience of every human subject. It focuses on the idea that man forms his essence in the course of life resulting from his personal choices.
Existentialism further created an emphasis on man’s creating his nature as well as the importance of personal freedom, decision, and commitment. It believes and focuses on individual existence, freedom, and choice. Existentialist philosophers consider the nature of the human condition as a philosophical problem that is best addressed through ontology.
KEY THEME OF EXISTENTIALISM
• PHILOSOPHY AS A WAY OF LIFE: The key philosophers of the existentialism school of thought believe everyone should choose philosophy as a way of life. They believed philosophy must be thought of and made part of our life and lifestyle. Sartre made the point that humans need to develop an elaborate set of methods and concepts, however, it is believed that man can live a life philosophically without having technical knowledge of philosophy.
• ANXIETY AND AUTHENTICITY: The existentialist philosophers believed that human existence is in some way “on its own”, using anxiety as a term of reference in this regard. Anxiety is used to broaden the fact that human emotions and feelings are as important to human existence as anything. This is further connected to the idea of authenticity of being and nature.
• FREEDOM: In Sartre’s statement, he mentioned specifically, the idea of human freedom. This shows how essential freedom is to explain the idea of existentialism. Freedom, here, is used to explain the fact that human decisions are made without being determined by anyone or any deity or anything humans consider to be outside influence.
• SITUATEDNESS: This explains that freedom also has a context that determines its existence. It explains that outside influence affects freedom. In explaining this, existentialist philosophers believe all these are what make freedom meaningful. It further explained that if all options are subtracted from the decision by pretence or absent-mindedness, the possibilities open and choices available are ignored, freedom here will be illusory.
• EXISTENCE: This focuses on human existence which is essential in existentialism. Human, here, is not understood to be objects of knowledge. It is not subjected to being addressed to an object or thing. It states that human is free and situated and exists with the possibility of transcending any knowledge beyond the reach of objects.
• IRRATIONALITY/ABSURDITY: Another idea rooted in existentialism is the irrationality and absurdity of humans. It is believed that human existence is absurd with no design or reason for existence. It says that we cannot pinpoint a reason for the existence of humans. Human beings are expected to be known and accept their lack of reason and the impossibility of an imminent understanding.
Absurdity, however, encompasses the idea that human decisions made out of freedom will forever appear absurd based on knowledge and reason and lack of it. It explains that every decision, in this context, will always appear absurd and will require a continuous reaffirmation to follow up.
• THE CROWD: Existentialism also believes that human decision made out of freedom shows a certain resolution and commitment, so far, the person making the decision is deemed authentic.
WHAT IS HUMANISM?
Philosophically, humanism emphasizes the merits of human value and agency, both as individuals and as a collective community. It was propounded by the 19th-century theologian, Friedrich Niethammer, who referred to it as the system of education based on the study of classical humanism, succinctly put as “classical humanism”. It is a philosophy that affirms human freedom and will be progressive.
In contemporary times, humanism is viewed somewhat as a religion of science aligned with secularism and poised against the supernatural existence of revelation. In its development, it perceives the existence of the world to have come to be on the back of science, explainable and easily conceivable. It negates from all angles, the very perspective that something much bigger than science and human-created the world as it is.
Indeed, the humanist is nontheistic as it upholds and supports the fluidity of ethics and, more importantly, believes in the non-absolutism, a principle established on the temporariness and dynamism of humans and everything progressive around him.
Humanism is built upon certain tenets and principles. These principles are, sometimes, viewed as the guiding templars of the philosophy. They are as follows:
1. INDIVIDUALISM: Humanism is built on personal convictions. Hence, humans, in their individualistic nature, are not afraid to explore and test new things; to question or to fidget with answers (doubt). Individualism connotes that no ideology is binding upon a human being. He may or may not subject himself to the ideals of a collective society unless convinced.
2. CRITICAL REASONING: All humanists make reasoned decisions based on critical thought, with systemic approaches that are convincing. It is believed that religion, arbitrary faith, and authority can alter the state of consciousness and perception.
3. PERCEPTION-BASED DECISION MAKING: Whatever the five senses of a man in collaboration with his mind can make sense of is believable and can be decided upon.
4. KNOWLEDGE: ideas and knowledge are integral to humanism. Knowledge can come from what is read and understood or can be abstract in what can be perceived. It can also be sourced from intuition, hunches, speculations, and flashes of inspiration.
5. Human knowledge is not perfect.
6. Human values are subjective and can only make sense in the context of individual understanding.
What does Sartre mean by the statement “man is condemned to be free”?
In trying to understand Sartre’s “man is condemned to be free”, one has to first understand all the concepts of existentialism as explained above.
Sartre in his work tries to explain that from the moment we are put on this world, we are completely responsible for our actions and inactions. It is believed that our decisions are not influenced by any external value or ethics except ones created by us.
The concepts explain that human decisions are made out of the freedom we have all been condemned to and therefore we cannot blame or hold anyone responsible for our decisions. It further explains that we cannot hide behind the concept of God to make our decisions because all actions are born out of our nature.
Sartre believed that, as humans, we are condemned to make something meaningful out of our existence because our creation has no particular reason except one created or inputted by us.
There is no destiny or way we should live except the ones we make. The idea is that human freedom as explained by existentialism gives us the freedom to make decisions and implement them.
According to Sartre, freedom is more of a curse than a blessing, a burden we all have to live through daily. Sartre believes we all make decisions and live by the decision and its consequences. Our accountability is deemed to come from the life we live and the decisions we make.
In Sartre’s concept of existentialism, good, evil and everything in-between is determined by our ethics not which creates more burden. He believes values and morals are not predetermined in human nature.