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60008An interview with... Sarah Bakewell on Existentialism

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  • existlist
    Jul 3, 2013
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      Can you begin by saying what existentialism is?

      That's a difficult question to answer. Most of the people we think of as existentialists denied being existentialists — it's practically the only thing they have in common. I think of it as a philosophy that broke with the long tradition of defining human consciousness and the material world primarily through abstract concepts or essences. Instead, existentialism starts with concrete, individual existence, and proceeds from that to try and understand how we go about existing. Sartre famously defined it as "Existence precedes essence." This is a definition of existentialism that is quite puzzling just naked like that, but that's really what it translates into. It's a philosophy that starts with the concrete and individual reality right now, and then looks for definitions and ways of understanding it and ways of behaving in the world.