Considered by many to be the definining text of the existential movement, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism Is A Humanism was originally delivered as a lecture, defending his theory against misguided criticisms. To this extent, it is a short but powerful book that can be read in an hour, but take a lifetime to fully understand. I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said it changed my life; after reading it, I went on to do an degree in Philosophy that has shaped my life – how much more life-changing do books come?
Having been so influenced by this book, I thought it only fair to share the fundamental theme of the text with the Ash Books community, in the hope that some of you will read it for yourselves. Whether you love it or hate it, it will almost certainly raise questions in your mind you would otherwise never experience. So, here is perhaps the key idea behind the concept of existentialism:
For human beings, our existence preceeds our essence. Unlike created objects, which are made to serve a certain purpose, we human beings are free to define ourselves however we want; I could be a policeman, an actor, a writer or a mountain climber. We exist first, then we define ourselves afterwards, However, is is this very freedom to choose that causes so many problems for us – many of which Sartre covers in this book.