The concept of freedom, one of the most important problems of Existentialism, has been discussed among philosophers for thousands of years. Because it is vital to understand whether a human being is free, why he is free and is he supposed to be free. This concept is exhaustively revealed in the various works of Jean-Paul Sartre who made an outstanding contribution to this philosophical doctrine. His extraordinary understanding of the notion of “freedom” is clearly represented in his short essay “Existentialism is a Humanism”.
The central idea of Sartre’s vision of human freedom is “We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that we are condemned to be free” (32). However, according to the title, his essay is to prove that existentialists’ ideas are humanistic. Therefore it is important to understand in what sense Sartre’s concept of freedom is connected with humanistic approaches.
According to Sartre’s opinion, man’s ability to invent himself as well as to choose the image of the future world is the fundamental consequence of human existence – the freedom. Existentialists claim that man’s freedom doesn’t depend on any circumstances - it is expressed by the ability of a human to make choices. But it has little to do with choosing how to act; it is about the attitude for the certain situation.
Sartre managed to prove that there is no fatal predetermination of human’s acts. Instead he insists on the fact of human’s ability to fight the obstacles and to overcome them by his or her own decisions. Sartre believed that every human being must fill their lives with meaning by making choices and turn them into acts. Going back to his freedom concept, that I started my essay with, this is where “the condemnation” hits the most. If the person is free, he or she decides their own fate and completely responsible for their deeds, then what if the wrong choice is made in the wrong time? Consequently the Sartre’s concept of freedom can be summarized in the following statement: if we choose to be free we have no one or nothing to blame for the wrong decisions and no one or nothing to thank for our right ones. Ion other words, “the technical and philosophical concept of freedom, the only one which we are considering here, means only the autonomy of choice” (Sartre 483).
So in what sense is Sartre’s concept of freedom related to the Humanisms ideas? Humanism is a philosophy based on ethical, metaphysical, epistemological and political approaches in which human interests, values and dignity predominate (Philosophy basics).
Even though Sartre’s understanding of the Humanism differs from the standard viewpoints about this philosophy, we can see from the above mentioned definition that it has a lot in common. Humanism’s main idea asserts that human beings possess the power of potentiality of solving their own problems (Philosophy basics). That is what potentially proves the relation of existentialistic freedom notion of Sartre and humanistic ideas. He clearly summarizes his essay by stating that “this is the humanism. We remind man that there is no legislator other than himself and he mustmake his own choices, and also because we show that it is not by turning inward, but by constantly seeking a goal outside of himself in the form of liberation, that man will realize himself as truly human” (Sartre 53).
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism and Humanism. New ed. London: Methuen, 2007.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness: an essay on phenomenological ontology. 1943. Reprint, London: Methuen & co, 1972.
n.p. Humanism. Philosophy basics. Luke Mastin, 2008. Web. 21 April 2015