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L'existentialisme est un humanisme

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Existentialism is a Humanism (L'existentialisme est un humanisme) is a 1946 philosophical work by Jean-Paul Sartre. It is seen by many as one of the defining texts in the Existentialist movement.

In his text, Sartre says that the key defining point of Existentialism is that the existence of a person comes before his or her essence. In simple terms, this means that, although that person exists, there is nothing to dictate that person's character, goals in life, and so on. Only the person himself can define his essence:

Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself afterwards.

Thus, Sartre rejects what he calls "deterministic excuses" and claims that all people must take responsibility for their behaviour. Sartre defines angst and despair as the emotions people feel once they come to realize that they are responsible for all of their actions. He also describes forlornness as loneliness atheists feel when they realize that they are all alone, that there is no God to watch over them. This is associated with despair and angst.

The essay has been criticized by some for giving only a superficial overview of the themes of existentialism. The essay also boldly asserts that if a man seeks freedom for himself from false, external authorities, he at the same time must invariably will this freedom unto others (hence, existentialism offers a kind of humanism); however, Sartre offers no clear justification for this logic. Sartre himself has called this undeveloped morality an "error".

"Existentialism is a Humanism" was also the title of a lecture he gave to a packed audience at Club Maintenant in Paris, on October 29, 1945. The book is based on the lecture.

Main themes of the work

Further reading

  • Jean-Paul Sartre L'existentialisme est un humanisme Editions Nagel, Paris, 1946 ISBN 2-07-032913-5 (1996 ed., Gallimard)
  • Jean-Paul Sartre (tr. Philip Mairet) Existentialism and Humanism Methuen, London, 1948 ISBN 0-413-31300-X (1973 ed.)
  • Jean-Paul Sartre Existentialism Is a Humanism (translated by Carol Macomber, introduction by Annie Cohen-Solal, notes and preface by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre) Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007 ISBN 978-0-300-11546-8[1]


  1. Yale University Press page for Existentialism Is a Humanism

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