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Existentialism, the optimistic atheism

Submitted by on June 20, 2011 – 3:03 pmNo Comment

Author: Ender Corinthian

What Jean-Paul Sartre means by trying to explain that existentialism is optimistic atheism is that although he doesn’t believe in God, he still sees a purpose, and the purpose is his to choose. In existentialism, the belief is that existence came before essence and not the other way around. This means that there is no preset way for us to be. He’s an existentialist as he believes that existence comes before essence with humans, this means that he doesn’t believe we were planned, we’re unlike a sword, as a sword smith requires some sort of idea of a sword to make one, therefore in this case essence comes before existence. He argues that this doesn’t apply to humans – “Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” From this it’s obvious to see why he’d be considered atheist, and the way in which he tries to argue it’s optimistic atheism is by being responsible for our own actions, and coming to terms with the fact that life is what you make of it. It’s important to establish this concept as an opening for the next part in “Existentialism is a Humanism”. He brings up the word subjectivism and it’s two meanings; the first meaning is the freedom of the individual subject, the second meaning is that man cannot pass beyond human subjectivity, the latter meaning is the deeper meaning of existentialism.
In existentialism “subjectivism” means that when they say a man chooses himself, they mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that they also mean choose yourself in the way you’d choose all men to be. Live your life as you’d see fit for all to live, for what we choose is always the better, and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for us all. “In fashioning myself I fashion man”

In aiding our understanding with the concept of “abandonment” (which simply means that God doesn’t exist) he uses an example involving a boy torn between two choices, join the army to fight for his country, or stay with his mother to help her live. The boy realises his mother lives only for him, and if he were to go away, and even worse if he were to die, she would surely sink into a state of despair. So he is faced with two choices, one will help one individual immediately, and the other is addressed to a greater cause, as it could benefit the entire nation. He was also faced by two types of morality, for he loves his mother and wouldn’t want her to despair, and at the same time a much more wide scope that could save many more lives. No religious, ethical scriptures would aid the boy in his decision, therefore there is no god, or if there is he’s irrelevant. The boy said “In the end it is feeling that counts” and that is how you must make your decisions, by what YOU sincerely feel is right. Another example is used of a man with a tragic life with many bumps on the road, in the end he believes his failed life was a sign from God and joined the Order. It cannot be doubted that this decision to the meaning of the ‘sign’ was his and only his. Many would have come to different conclusions about the signs, so he bears entire responsibility for the way he interpreted the sign. So in conclusion, what abandonment implies is that we ourselves decide our being, and anxiety goes hand in hand with abandonment.

“In reality, things will be such as men have decided they will be.” In the paragraph about despair (starts “Marxists, to whom I.. page 7) Jean-Paul states that no matter what happens, one must commit themselves and then act on their commitment. He uses the quote “one need not hope in order to undertake one’s work” he’s saying that one must do whatever they can to keep living in the way they think all men should live, no matter the reality of it, the man must do whatever he can with utmost commitment

His views are the complete, polar opposite of the Quietism attitude, which is the attitude held by people who say “let others do what I cannot” this is where his optimism is made crystal clear. He says that no one is born a hero or a coward, if you are born a coward you’ll live comfortably as a coward, for no matter what you do in life, you’ll always be a coward, the same reasoning works for heroes. Existentialists would say the coward makes himself a coward, and a hero makes himself a hero, and at any time the coward can give up his cowardly ways and a hero can stop being heroic at any time. We are not born to be anything, we live to become something, fate is an excuse to slack off and accept things. Existentialism is the view that we can do anything, what it all comes down to is total commitment. In this, Jean-Paul has proven that existentialism is by no means pessimistic; in fact it is the most optimistic philosophy, as a man’s destiny is placed within himself. He says there is an absolute truth within us all, and it consists of one’s immediate senses of one’s self.

In conclusion, Jean-Paul Sartre provides an excellent argument for existentialism being an optimistic atheism, as what could possibly be more optimistic than putting faith in yourself and accepting that your destiny is not written, it’s for you to make. It is important for people to understand this so that they know that nothing is set in stone, and you’re destiny lays within you, and even if you have no hope in succeeding, you must devote yourself entirely to what you feel is right, for we can’t know if we’ll fail or succeed, so why not try? He makes it clear that the concept of God should play no part in our lives as (even if he did exist) he’s completely irrelevant and God was just an idea dreamt up by humans to allow us to do whatever we want in life as it must all be part of God’s plan. I have the utmost respect for existentialism and believe all people should strive for it, or else what’s the point of living? There is no set mould for human behaviour, we’re all different, live the way you’d want others to live, or as the old saying goes, “treat others the way you’d like to be treated”.

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About the Author

I was born in Ajax and lived there until my father got a job in Mexico City, which he accepted. I lived in Mexico for the majority of my life, since the age of 6 and we returned to Canada when I was 16. I\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’m Currently in my senior year and am currently planning on volunteering in South Africa to do human rights upon finishing high school for around a year, then returning to Canada to study journalism and the dream is to become a journalist.

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