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188 of 189 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2001
Reading Jean-Paul Sartre's "Existentialism and Human Emotions" is a much easier approach to understanding Sartre's philosophy than reading Sartre's more concentrated work such as "Being and Nothingness." Although I think the best introduction to Sartre is through reading "Nausea" and the plays. This book tries to explain what Existentialism is and what it tries to do. Sartre also defends Existentialism against attacks on it by other Philosophies and the public that often assumes Existentialism is a sad philosophy; giving man no meaning and leads him to nihilistic despair. On the contrary, Sartre says that Existentialism is the only way to give man meaning and dignity. The book also touches on the idea of Man wanting to be God in a world where God does no exist. Sartre at the end gives a quick summing up of Existential Psycho-anaylis. A basic thesis of this work could be explained as the following: "Man is free when in total involvement and action and from Freedom man has an ultimate responsibility he must follow as his actions have to do with all mankind."
I would recommend "Existentialism and Human Emotions" to anyone who wants to understand Existentialism without getting a headache from reading more complicated works(i.e. "Being and Nothingness," Heideggar etc..) I am an avid reader of Philosophy and I always refer back to this book when pondering a question about Existentialism. A must for anyone who is interested in Philosophy.
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93 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2001
Those not wishing to slog through some of Sartre's weightier work will find "Existentialism and Human Emotions" a very useful statement and summation of the principles of Sartre's beliefs. More than half a century after existentialism came to the fore, I, for one, find the ideas as compelling as ever.
Sartre shows on the one hand that existentialism was a movement born out of the rejection of ideology. Ideas that come packaged and defined and handed to the individual for unquestioning acceptance hold no interest for the existentialist. While Sartre makes few, if any, explicit references to the disastrous totalitarian mass movements that gave rise to World War II, it's clear that these -- along with organized religion -- are his targets.
The core of Sartre's analysis lies in his assertion that "existence precedes essence." Every other piece of existentialism flows from this idea that Man, at birth, is a being for whom nothing is determined. Man, Sartre argues, creates the story that becomes his life through living, pure and simple.
From this it follows that all of our lives are shaped by choice. Another of Sartre's famous contentions emerges from the book, that even if one does nothing, that in itself is a choice. Man cannot escape that responsibility for his actions. There is, as Sartre was to famously and dramatically delineate later, "no exit."
For me, the most important idea in the book is that it convincingly refutes the shallow attack often leveled at existentialism: that it is dressed-up nihilism. Sartre shows that the existentialists do not reject meaning; they simply insist that there is no a priori meaning. In fact, in their rejection of ideology and determinism, the existentialists embrace meaning, for what is meaning unless it is that which one discovers on his own, through his own questing?
You can read this book in a couple of hours. For some of us, though, its material has given us a lifetime of things to think about.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2003
If your interest has been picqued by existentialism, whether it be Sartre's or existentialism in general, this is a decent place to start for a theoretical work. This should be read with Nausea, as the latter is his first novel in addition to being a complete work (so is the first essay, however it is a speech and was not intended at first for publication). If you are fairly serious about understanding the complexities of Sartre's philosophy, I would highly recomend Being and Nothingness or, at least, The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, a collection of Sartre's works as edited by Robert Cumming. Nevertheless, this was my first introduction to Sartre and though it failed to give me a full explanation of Sartre's ideas, it will satisfy those desiring a fleeting encounter with a philosophy that speaks more loudly to us even today than it did when it shouted to the resistant spirit of the French in 1943.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2001
However much Sartre's essay enflamed Heidegger (see Heidegger's 'A Letter on Humanism'), Existentialism is a Humanism is perhaps THE quintessential outline of the existential project and of existentialism proper. If one wishes to gain an understanding of Sartre, the journey should start here. All the primary concerns of Sartrean existentialism are laid out in clear and insightful language - freedom, responsibility, bad faith and other issues are discussed. To this effect the translation does justice to the intent and thrust of Sartre.
In particular, Existentialism and Human Emotions is highly recomended for those wishing to begin Being and Nothingness, and those who want a deeper understanding of existential literature.
This book has been an invaluable part of my library, often read, referenced and revered.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2003
This book of 96 pages is a translation of Jean-Paul Sartre work. Specifically: it countains 7 sections:
* Existentialism (43p)
* Freedom and Responsability (8p)
* The desire to be God (3p)
* The Desire to be God (cont.) (5p)
* Existentialist psychoanalysis (16p)
* The Hole (7p)
* Ethical Implications (7p)
The first section "Existentialism" is the translation, by Bernard Frechtman, of the french text by Jean-Paul Sartre "L'Existentialisme est un humanisme" which was originally the text of a conference Sartre gave in Paris on 29 OCT 1945, published later in 1946.
Originally, this text was not intend to explain Existentialism, but to defend it against harsh critics from people who did not fully understand it. It is thus a fairly good introduction for anyone who whishes to recieve a first understanding of Existentialism.
The other sections are extracts from "Being and Nothingness", translated by Hazel E. Barnes, from Sartre's book "L'Être et le Néant" published in 1943.
I did not read the translation, I bought this book for my not-French girlfriend.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2000
Jean-Paul Sartre is a giant of 20th century literature, and his philosophy of existentialism is, along with surrealism, the most important idea of our age. Many people think they know what existentialism means, as I did before I read this work. My half-formed ideas were clarified, misunderstandings sorted out; I found much to think about here. I recommend this because the essays are succint, clear, penetrating: "Man is condemned to be free... because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does." I myself found this book liberating, a challenge to my intellect but not a dreary, endless tract (as "Being and Nothingness" strikes me!) I found much to underline and comment on in my copy. There is much courage in existentialism; and there is much to be learned from this short work.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This is a very accessible book for anyone who has a passing acquaintance with philosophical terminology and discussion. As a Christian, I of course differ with Sartre in many fundamental ways, but one has to admire the consistency of his thought given his philosophical presuppositions.

Sartre is unafraid to face and even embrace the consequences of the idea of life lived without hope of fundamental purpose or meaning. Life, both corporate and individual, is the outcome of choices we make. Every man carries the burden and freedom of all humanity and in his time through his own actions makes the human race what it is and becomes through him.

The weakest areas of his ethics is when he seeks to divorce them from absolute standards. Though he requires that individual man must necessarily act on his freedom to judge and evaluate the actions of others, and to make statements about his evaluation, yet he seeks to distance such statements from any claim that all should so evaluate them. I think Sartre recognizes the logical tension he creates here but his explanation is not satisfying.

All in all, if someone wants to sample the waters of atheistic existentialism, then you can't go far wrong with this book. It is not light reading but it is worthwhile. After reading it find a similar book on Christian ethics for the other side of the story.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2009
If Sartre wanted to endear himself to the masses, he did himself no favors with the cover to Existentialism and Human Emotions, with his pipe-puffing professoriality conveying enough know-it-allness to give most anyone not assigned to read it a hearty guffaw. Which is a shame really, as this 96-page essay serves as an excellent primer for anyone who thinks of existentialism as a ponderous, do-nothing philosophy (If all I am to do is exist, why do anything else?), defining the terms, fielding common accusations from other religious and philosophical camps, and connecting existential philosophy to other critical traditions.

That said, the title is a bit misleading, or incomplete at least - it really just introduces and retorts the accusations Sartre wrote the essay in reaction to. It does this brilliantly though, especially on pp18-33 where he fairly systematically explains the philosophical reasoning behind the 3 quintessentially existential emotions of anguish, forlornness, and despair. Outside of this and a section from page 41-51 where he addresses 3 major emotional objections to existential philosophy, he is speaking on a more general plane - I almost think that it would be published today under the title Existentialism for Dummies.

What I found most engaging in the text (mostly the section simply entitled "Existentialism" that takes up the first 51 pages) was his connection of the notion of subjectivity in religious, philosophical, and practical discourse, summed up in this passage from pp22-23: "If existence really does precedes essence, there is no explaining things away by reference to a fixed and given human nature. In other words, there is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom. On the other hand, if God does not exist, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct. So, in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us. We are alone, with no excuses."

In context of a modern world of jihad, know-nothing consumerism, religious fundamentalism, and a creeping sense of dislocation in both the family and the workplace, Sartre's words are scathingly prophetic, as each of these elements of the modern world has one thing in common: each subjective way of looking at the world is equally right - or equally wrong - and we are without recourse when things don't go as we hoped ("To be sure, this may seem a harsh thought to someone whose life hasn't been a success").

But the wondrous thing about the text is that, despite the focus on words like anguish and despair, Sartre ends up coming off as fairly optimistic. This achieved at least partially by his following the notion of subjectivity with the notion of intersubjectivity - "this is the world in which man decides what he is and what others are." I would describe this as almost a fusion of the classically opposite Civil Society and State of Nature - every person is dependent on other people insomuch as those people influence our own "projects," as Sartre calls them; in other words, when they impose their wills enough that their world, their projects become part of ours.

He follows this up in the short section entitled "The Hole," stating, "A good part of our life [and it may simply be the translator's choice, but I found it encouraging that he said "life," not "lives"] is passed in plugging up holes, in filling empty spaces, in realizing and symbolically establishing a plenitude." He actually hilariously (though not intentionally so) applies this to sexual intercourse and eating in two of the more entertaining passages, with the mouth and the you-know-what being the holes literally and symbolically filled.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This work is readable and clear. In this it is possible to learn more from reading a few pages of it than from reading all of Sartre's major philosophical work 'Being and Nothingness'. The basic idea of Sartre's Existensialism is that we are born into the world without having any prior purpose or meaning. Our life is the story of the meaning we make for ourselves. And we do this through our decisions and choices. We make the meaning by our action. And should we decide not to take action then this too is a meaning and action. For Sartre the rejection of all a priori systems most especially those of the great religions leads to the idea of human dignity as based primarily on human freedom and decision. This is an appealing doctrine in some ways because it would seem to free Mankind of all shackles, liberate it to be itself completely. The problem is that the meaning we make is mortal as we are, and the path of freedom would then seem to lead no matter who we are to an ultimate annihilation and nothingness.

We need God if we are to have a meaning that will endure. But this of course would not be acceptable to Sartre.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
For the first 59 pages of this book, I was entranced. It was my first experience with existentialism, and I was fascinated. Jean-Paul Sarte's main reason for writing this text was to explain existentialism, and I felt it made a lot of sense and I wanted to learn more. After page 59 though Sarte begins discussing existential psychoanalysis and I had to fight to stay awake, quite literally.

If you want a good idea of what existentialism is and what their views are, I highly recommend the first 59 pages... after that, if you enjoy psychoanalytical philosophy or if you have insomnia the rest of the book is a good cure.
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