Re: Sartre and Humanism
- hi Phil,
On 12 Dec 2005, at 19:21, theoryphil2004 wrote:
> Many thanks for your excellent post and the link to the resource site
> (very useful). I gather that it makes no difference to the
> existentialist if God exists since we still have to choose what to
> make of ourselves and what course of action to take.
Yes, that's exactly what I meant.
> This leads me to another question 'What did Sartre mean by 'Humanism?'
> In particular was this a term that Sartre intended to use to describe
> an atheistic viewpoint or not?
Well, I don't think he was specifically contrasting humanism with,
say, Christianity, although I have certainly heard Christians
contrasting their beliefs with humanism!
I think that the concept of humanism as we understand it today *is* a
post-Christian concept. It started to become a mainstream doctrinal
position in Europe just as the Catholic Church was losing its
ideological stranglehold to rationalism, and to Protestantism.
But I would trace it a lot further back, to Protagoras in fact (c.
490 BC - c. 420 BC) who proclaimed that "Man is the measure of all
From a Christian or other theistic point of view this may be seen as
the impious notion that man (rather than God) makes all meaning,
including any meaning that religion has.
But what Sartre was saying, in my view, already took this for
granted. It wasn't controversial in 1941 Paris to say that man,
rather than God, was the measure of all things. But it might have
been controversial to say that true humanism would consist of man
making his own meaning rather than ascribing all meaning to
impersonal forms such as the forces of History, or the economic
imperative, or whatever.
I think the following quote is pretty apposite:
"...[It] is [not] permissable that a man should pronounce judgement
upon Man. Existentialism dispenses with any judgement of this sort:
an existentialist will never take man as the end, since man is still
to be determined. And we have no right to believe that humanity is
something to which we could set up a cult, after the manner of
Auguste Comte. The cult of humanity ends in Comtian humanism, shut-in
upon itself, and–this must be said–in Fascism. We do not want a
humanism like that."
Sartre, J.-P. & Priest, S. (2000) Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings.
I think that it would be a very powerful critique of humanism by a
Christian or other religious believer, that it set itself up as a
"cult of humanity" - but, as Sartre makes very clear, this is is not
what he means by humanism, because "man is still to be determined".
all the best
- That's an interesting point you made. Sorry I haven't able to respond, I've been really busy lately. "Menal life" is pretty accurate, considering that "consciousness" is very vague when you hear about it. As far as Man being "naturally violent" I think this is inherently true. It's like most of us have to rely on the rules and laws of society keep us from "giving in", while others can draw that control within themselves. I don't know if that particular topic can inspire an interesting discussion, but I would like somebody who's well-versed in Sartre to respond to this while referencing some of his texts.
scarey1917 <scarey1917@...> wrote: "theoryphil2004" wrote:<<<<<<<So there is no inconsistency in being
created and being free. There is only an inconsistency between being
an inanimate object such as a paper-knife and being free...The other
criticism that might be levied at Sartre is to question whether his
rejection of human nature is warranted or not.>>>>>>>>>
And it gets even more complicated, Theoryphil. In the last paragraph
of E&HE Sartre states that "Existentialism is nothing else than an
attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic
position." But then a few lines later he says: "Existentialism isn't
so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God doesn't exist.
Rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would change
nothing." So evidently even if the supreme artificer created us, we
are still stuck down here with our unsupportable total freedom,
including the freedom to tell God to go jump in the lake! We decide
the significane of God, just as we decide the ultimate significance
of things, situations, and ourselves.
And don't think that a view of human nature as a "given" or even the
acceptance of the "unconscious" mind would be a problem for Sartre's
theory of freedom, as long as such nature or mind were relegated to
the side of the Situation which the for-itself freely takes up, or
not. So for example one could argue from Sartre's point of view that
man is "naturally violent", but then go on to say that this "given"
receives existential significance within the project of the for-
itself (I decide to give in, or not, to these given tendencies).
In "Being and Nothingness" the ultimate problem is Sartre's total
identification of man with consciousness, which of course is the
influence of Descartes and modern philosophy. But consciousness is
only one aspect (a very interesting aspect!) of man's total being. As
Marx said, consciousness is the consciousness OF an objective being.
Lately I have prefered the term "mental life" rather
than "consciousness", since the former would take into account all
the various unconciousness functions that make up about 99% of brain
activity and which belong to the being of man.
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