Our Own Meanings
a Meaningless World
What do we mean by saying that existence precedes
We mean that man first of all exists, encounters
surges up in the world—and defines himself
If man as the existentialist sees him is not
it is because to begin with he is nothing.
He will not be anything until later,
and then he will be what me makes of himself.
Thus, there is no human nature....Man simply is.
[from Sartre's essay "Existentialism is a Humanism"]
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) is another French
whose approach to life resembles Albert Camus'.
We discover ourselves thrown into a meaningless and absurd existence,
but this gives us an opportunity to re-create ourselves from the core.
The center of a human person, for Sartre, is will, decision, project.
Since the world provides no automatic meanings
(unless we accept some of the assumed meanings from our culture),
we are responsible for creating our own life-meanings out of nothing.
We define, invent, and create ourselves by
selecting our own life-goals.
And our freely-chosen life-purposes are self-grounding,
having no ultimate meaning or value in the universe.
Only we can assign
value to a life-purpose.
And these Authentic projects will continue only as long as we affirm
Whenever we stop focusing and integrating our lives around our projects,
they disappear as easily as yesterday.
We become more Authentic, according to Sartre,
to the degree
that we integrate all the dimensions of our lives into one project:
Our particular projects,
aimed at the realization in the world of a
are united in the global project which we are.
But precisely because we are wholly choice and act,
these partial projects are not determined by the
They must themselves be choices;
and a certain margin of contingency, of
and of the absurd is allowed to each of them.
[Jean-Paul Sartre Being and Nothingness,
translated by Hazel Barnes
(New York: Philosophical Library, 1956) p.
JEAN-PAUL SARTRE: INVENTING OUR OWN MEANING by JAMES
This is the first
page of the chapter on Sartre in
The Positive Side of Existentialism
If you would like to see the whole table of contents, click this title.
If you wish to cite anything from this page,
use the page number at the bottom of the page:
James Park Becoming More
Authentic: The Positive Side of Existentialism
(Minneapolis, MN: Existential Books: www.existentialbooks.com,
September 11, 2008