Evaluating And Understanding Sartres Existentialism Philosophy
Sartre was a great French philosopher, writer, dramatist and essayist. He was born in Paris in 1905. After graduating from the High School in 1929, he dedicated 10 years to teaching philosophy in different colleges of France, as well as studying and travelling through Europe. His early works reflect his early conclusions in the sphere of philosophy and its problems. In 1938 he published his first novel "Nausea" which has a lot in common with Kafka's works. Actually Sartre treated any literary work very carefully, and said: "A good novel induces in the reader a sense of the free, creative, and temporally extending nature of the self" (Colwell 1972).
This novel soon became one of the canonical novels of such a literary tendency as existentialism. In fact, Jean Paul Sartre dedicated almost all his literary activity to studying of this sphere, the sphere of existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophical tendency to find sense in life with the help of such things as freedom, choice and responsibility. It is necessary to identify several exact features of the Sartrean existentialism, which come out of each other logically. First is the question of existence and essence. In fact, these are two totally different things and Sartre believes that it is not human essence, but human existence which is worth considering. Sartre firmly believed that there is no God. Without God, there is nothing to stand as the origin of "human nature." And with the resulting absolute freedom, man is only what he wills himself to be. According to Sartre, one can choose himself whether to believe in God or not, but this decision can't be made with the help of other people. A human must not be forced to make decisions and choose religion or anything else. So, first comes existence, and only then a human creates his essence according to his actions and behavior. The second and important part of the Sartrean beliefs comes out of the first one and it is the question of freedom. If there is no human essence and there is no God or anyone else to create rules, there are no values at all. Sartre understands the complete freedom of humans, basing upon the words of Dostoevsky: "If there is no God, then everything is permitted". The third peculiarity of the Sartrean approach is the following: if there is a complete freedom, there is also a complete responsibility. In other words, if there are no rules and people do everything they want to do - they must take responsibility for all their actions. Why should they do this? Because being a certain kind if man, one man is the reflection of the whole humanity of a certain period of time, certain epoch. For example, one rejects to get married and chooses to make a career instead. And he is not the only one to be like this. Responsibility of each person plays an important role in the history of humankind, in the choice of its beliefs and behavior. Therefore, each person makes his or her own contribution to the development of the society of his epoch.
Here comes that people are all abandoned. They have no basis to make their choices and to rely on something. The important is the question of responsibility for one's choices. If a person tries to connect the present-day situation with the past, or with the surrounding circumstances, it is an evident escape from responsibility. No one and nothing but a human itself is responsible for himself and the consequences of his actions. Here comes another thing - the feeling of adventure and not knowing what will happen next. When one makes a certain decision, he cannot be sure what consequences it will have, and this "not-knowing" gives him a feeling of adventure, risk. Maybe this is one of the few pleasant things, concerning the state of existential crisis and realizing the helplessness of oneself.
One of the most popular and successful Sartre's plays is "No Exit". The original French title is "Huis Clos", but English translations have also been performed under the titles "In Camera", "No Way Out" and "Dead End". The play is about three people, who met in hell after their terrible actions in life. These are Garcin, who deserted the army during World War II, and he cheated on his wife - he even brought his lovers home and made her to prepare food for them. Inès Serrano is the second character. She was a lesbian postal clerk, she was turning a wife against her husband. Estelle was a high-society woman, who had married her husband only for money and had an affair with a younger man. To her, the affair was nothing, but her lover fell in love with her and she gave birth to a child. She drowned the illegitimate child, which made her lover to kill himself.
They all are in hell because of their sins and they all realize it. Each of them is quite curious and tries to know the reasons of the others to be in hell. But the thing is that they all are ashamed of their deeds and try to hide them. And they lie about everything and everyone, carefully hiding their past. But soon they realize that it is impossible to lie all the time and as they are in hell, it will never end. This torture will never end.
Here is the confirmation of the Sartre's ideas about human actions. There is nobody to control us, nobody to dictate rules to us and to say what is good and what is bad. A person himself chooses the direction and each of his actions leads to a definite consequences. The most evident consequence is hell, where people go after death.
Sartre describes existentialism as "being about human existence, as opposed to the existence of other beings" (Mattey). He believes that "a human being makes himself what he is through his free choices, rather than being what he is (having an essence) prior to his existence" (Mattey). Let us turn to the main characters of "No exit". Inez, Estelle and Garcin are alone in a room. They have no exit and they have to put up with it. Why do they appear in hell together? Because they are the complete reflection of each other. They talk a lot about mirrors and about their absence in hell. But this is irony: they themselves are mirrors of each other. This is the only way to make them think of their deeds and to realize their guilt. Physical punishment is not that cruel, and suits animals only, because they don't understand what they did wrong, they have not the ability to realize and to be sorry. But the best punishment for people is moral punishment, emotional punishment, when the person can feel sorry for what he did with every part of his mind. In addition, they have no privacy, they can not escape from each other even for a minute, they have company all the time, and this is as well hard for a person: "A man is what he wills himself to be" (Sartre 1976).
From now on these three people will have time to think about their existence and their essence. Was their existence useless? To what essence have they come as the result of their existence? Doing anything, one takes responsibility for his deeds and must be able to answer. Actually, there is no one to blame for this or that event in life. A person himself chooses the further development of event by his actions. There is no one to help him to make a decision, there is no basis for his actions, he is disposed to himself, he feels an alien to the surroundings. And, as it was already said, existence precedes essence and if it was not for their "wrong" existence, they would have never appeared in hell. But now these people are primed for tortures forever.
One of the most famous phrases from the play, which later became very popular, is the following: "Hell is other people". Really, we deal with people every day for all of our lives and sometimes it is a real hell. We may hate people without whom we cannot exist, and that is also a torture. For example, one hates his boss but can not leave his job because it is impossible to find another one. Or, what is worse, one can not stand his sister or brother, who lives in the same house. In all these cases people have to deal with other people and sometimes it is not easy at all. Often one can not just escape; he has to put up with it somehow. We can bind this very move of the playwright with the time he lived, with the society oÐ° his epoch. The time Sartre wrote this play the World War II occurred. Each war is a failure of people to come to the common ideas and views. War is punishment for not being able to deal with people of other cultures and nationalities, and not only them.
Sartre`s ideas are a little bit unreal but there is a lot to be dwelled upon. After reading his books one will think over his existence, over the sense of his life, which is useful nowadays, in an epoch of wars and hostility.
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