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Existentialism Is a Humanism Paperback – July 24, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Philosopher, playwright, and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was the most dominant European intellectual for the three decades following World War II. In 1964, he was awarded but declined the Nobel Prize in Literature. Annie Cohen-Solal is the author of the acclaimed Sartre: A Life, an international best-seller that has been translated into sixteen languages.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Trade Paperback Edition edition (July 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300115466
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300115468
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steiner VINE VOICE on October 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
Although this is not exactly an introduction to the theory of Existentialism, it is certainly a much more accessible account of it than Sartre's "Being and Nothingness." Sartre addresses the numerous detractors of Existentialism who posit that the theory is essentially pessimistic and anti-humanistic, that it suggests a cynical and amoral view of the world. Sartre argues that man wills what he is (a variant of Heidegger's Being-Becoming), and thus the theory provides for radical freedom. He writes, "when operating on the level of complete authenticity, I have acknowledged that existence precedes essence, and that man is a free being who, under any circumstances, can only ever will his freedom, I have at the same time acknowledged that I must will the freedom of others" (49). Sartre brilliantly links up this conception of radical freedom with the willing of the freedom of others such as communist are Marxist political action. This lecture is a lucid and rich work of philosophy, and it instigated a number of debates around the notion of Humanism, famously refuted by Heidegger.

This collection also includes a Q+A between Sartre and a review of Camus' "The Stranger," which he remarkably compares to Hemingway in terms of prose style. For Sartre, "The Stranger" is the great modern work exploring the fact of absurdity; he indicates that its primary strength is the co-existence of clarity and ambiguity.
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Format: Paperback
Is Existentialism a Humanism?

"Is Existentialism a Humanism?" was the title of Sartre's famous lecture in October 1945 given to an overflow crowd and rapidly to become the talk of the left-bank cafes, then all of Paris and Europe. The talk started by proclaiming "existence precedes essence" which meant, he explained, that individuals create their own values because there is no moral order in the universe. This freedom is the ultimate value. The talk went on by echoing his book "Being and Nothingness". He gave the lecture to answer his critics among the communists and catholics. He needed to present a viable and relevant social philosophy in order to stand comparison with these two groups. He based his appeal on Kant's ethic of universal principles. He continued by arguing that we need a sense of responsibility for other people and society as a whole (which was different from his previous contentions). In asserting that Existentialism is a Humanism Sartre means that it places the human being at the center of its attention and at the apex of its value hierarchy. Our ultimate goal should be to foster the freedom of the individual. To read more about Existentialism see Thomas R. Flynn(2006) "Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction", Oxford University Press.
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This short but extremely clear volume was one of the first opportunities after the war for Sartre to explain to a lay audience his version of Existentialism. It took place on October 29, 1945 when the then already very famous French philosopher was invited to the "Club Maintenant" to "promote literary and intellectual discussion." Sartre used this lecture as an opportunity to settle scores and to set the record straight by answering all his critics at once. They had, among many other charges, leveled the uncomfortable charge that Existentialism showed only the negative and pessimistic side of human nature, and therefore as a philosophy (concerned mostly with abandonment, anguish and anxiety), was thus itself very much devoid of humanity. Sartre took these charges rather personally and to better make his points, pitched the lecture to the least sophisticated of the audience. What results is a beautifully articulated and clearly translated formulation of Sartre's basic philosophy. He answers his critics with a biting flourish, in what is not only a clear exposition, but also a penetratingly coherent piece.

To wit: Existence precedes essence, and in any case is arbitrary. In this world, man is defined by the choices he makes and by his commitments to those choices. He does not define himself prior to his existence and exists only in the present, well beyond any concept of natural determinism. In Sartre's view, there is no human nature superior to that described here.

In short, there is no God; we have been abandoned to our fate. That point however should not be misconstrued as that Existentialism is only about Atheism. It simply affirms that even if a God existed, it would make no difference to our humanity.
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Format: Paperback
With both a preface and an introduction, the text gives fair warning that it is not intended as a comprehensive overview of Sartre's thought (of which I am no judge either). Rather, to quote the preface, it is "a clear but simplistic discourse that reflects the contradictions that Sartre was struggling with in 1945," specifically his attempt to reconcile existentialism with communism. While this main text makes for an enjoyable (albeit brief) evening's read, the real treat here Sartre's commentary on THE STRANGER. After reading the terse Q&A session--the criticisms are, to quote the preface once again, "muddled and hostile"--it is extremely refreshing to find theory put into practice. Here Sartre writes lovingly about Camus's novel as he interprets it via close reading and in light of Camus's THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS. On a whole, the text may be somewhat of a hodgepodge, but it is nevertheless a pleasant one; you may find yourself returning to this text not for reference so much as for inspriation.
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