By: Arjun Verma
Jean-Paul Sartre’s seemingly pessimist philosophy of existentialism offers a path to fulfillment in a world of constant struggles.
Who was Jean-Paul Sartre?
Jean-Paul Sartre was a 20th century French philosopher who was a proponent of existentialism. Sartre was deeply affected by the major events of his time, including both world wars. These horrific events disrupted his faith in the universal ethics of the Enlightenment and Christianity.
For Sartre, there was no predetermined moral code that humans had to abide by. The war had proven that nothing restricted humans from doing terrible things.
However, there was a way out. Even if without humans there was no meaning in the world, people can create meaning based on their actions and beliefs. People, in fact, had the obligation to generate their purpose and find what’s best for them to do.
Counterintuitively, this lack of restrictions on what we can do is in fact a burden that weighs upon us. As Sartre himself said, people are “condemned to be free.” Because it is people who determine how to act, they are ultimately responsible for what they chose and have to own up to that. Thus, existentialism ultimately cares about living our lives authentically and coming to terms with this existential question of what our life should be.
Why is this relevant today?
In a world where it seems that society has collapsed in on itself and hate crimes are on the rise, it can be tempting to lose faith in humanity. Economic crises and the loss of loved ones inevitably can have a profound negative impact on the way we view the world.
However, this is exactly where Sartre begins his ethical philosophy. It is because life seems meaningless that gives life meaning. If life was based on abstract rules that we have no influence on, then we would be mindless rule followers.
On the other hand, existentialism gives us the tool to be hopeful in the face of hopelessness. People have the agency to create new worldviews that are inspiring and can create change.
Overall, existentialism might seem like a depressing philosophy that can’t tell us how to act, yet it’s this exact aspect that gives it its appeal as a philosophy to deal with challenging times.
Arjun is a current high school junior. He is a captain of his high school's Lincoln Douglas debate team.
I am an undergraduate student who's fascinated by anything related to philosophy. I hope to show you how philosophy can apply to everyday life! Check out my Youtube Channel, Philosophy in Context.