Jean-Paul Sartre says “man is nothing else but what he makes of himself” (762). This existentialist view depicts the idea that one is not based on the essence of a soul, but rather, based on decisions made throughout life. Sartre also believes that every man is responsible for all men. One may choose his marriage partner, however, in choosing to marry, one chooses monogamy.
Decisions that individuals make will collectively create a set of principles and beliefs for all of man. Many people believe that a person’s decisions are a reflection of his soul and personality. However, it is more likely that the conclusion a person reaches is due to the influence of different ideas, as well as the circumstances surrounding the choices. One does not have an innate “essence”, but instead, the choices that a person makes constantly shape his character, which in turn creates his essence.Decision-making is based on many different conditions and controlling factors that exist at the time of conflict. People take into consideration the thoughts and opinions of others, hindering the idea of an individual’s essence. If an essence really existed, another person’s thoughts would not affect someone else’s.
Instead, a person makes choices from birth and the different decisions that one chooses form a pattern and creates one’s character.Sartre also says, “Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life” (769). This exemplifies the point that man is the product of his actions and has complete control over his own life.
The soul and personality that are given to a person do not limit him in his actions; the judgments that he makes depict the type of person that he is. Therefore the essence does not create the man, the man creates his essence. Also, one’s choices and decisions create a code for all of man. This set of codes creates the unwritten laws of people, which in turn create “good and bad.” If a person acts against this he can pray to God and ask for forgiveness. However, existentialism is indifferent to God’s existence, which makes the person fully responsible for his own actions. This causes despair because it leaves people with nothing to cling to when they have made the wrong decision.
If God does not exist, then there is no moral code to follow, therefore all men are free. It is completely upon the man to decide what is good and what is not. There is no longer the sense of “God judging man” so one must make his own decisions and based on them he is “condemned to be free” (765-766). Sartre believes that man is condemned because he did not choose to exist, but is also free because he is completely responsible for his actions.
Existentialism does not allow room for mistake. A person has no one to blame for bad decisions or misunderstandings. One cannot say, “I have had bad luck” because existentialism does not believe in fortune or misfortune, but only in personal decisions. This enhances the true reality of life. Situations create the future and therefore hopes and dreams are a mere loss of reality. The future is produced by a person’s decisions and so one should not dream but rather, make decisions that will lead to a beneficial life in the future.
Sartre also says “a man who lies and makes excuses for himself by saying not everybody does that,’ is someone with an uneasy conscience, because the act of lying implies that a universal value is conferred upon the lie” (764). This further illustrates the concept that there is an unwritten law for man, and creates the idea of good and bad. There are choices that are universally made when a person is placed in the same situation, with the same circumstances. Sartre believes that man should base his decisions on the thought that all of mankind is watching and will guide themselves by the actions of that one person.This belief forces people to think before they act and consciously make decisions knowing that it will reflect humanity. Simply, one person’s actions are enough to influence another’s action, which influences one to act morally. This ripple effect is the component that forms the idea of right and wrong.
It also enables order and establishes a conscience. If a person knows that there are consequences for every choice, then more thought will be placed behind the decision. Although influence from outside forces will have an impact on a person, one still has to make the decision for himself.
Existentialism forces people to take responsibility for their actions and not blame society or bad luck. Man constitutes society and must therefore choose the make up of principles that will most benefit the public. This also manifests the feeling of control within the community. People will follow laws because they created them. Laws are based on choices that should be made when given specific circumstances. If the wrong decision is made, then negative consequences follow. By living an existential life a person can detach himself from the idea of expectations and hopes, and instead, choose the right paths that will lead him to his desires.Sartre steers away from the traditional belief that God has an influence on choices that a person makes, and the idea that unreasonable circumstances, or worse yet, bad luck, play a role in one’s decisions.
Instead, existentialism prompts a person to become liable for his choices. This often ignites anxiety because there is no longer a cushion to fall back on. Sartre explains this by saying, “the coward is defined on the basis of the acts he performs” (771). This portrays the idea that people are not born a certain way, or with a certain type of personality. Everyone creates his own essence by the decisions that he makes on a daily basis, and from this, he becomes the person that he created.Works CitedSartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism.” The Norton ReaderEd.
Linda H. Peterson, John C. Brereton, Joan E. Hartman. NY: W.W.
Norton and Company, Inc., 1996. 762-771.