Study Questions on Jean-Paul Sartre's
"Existentialism Is a Humanism"

Contact: Dr. Jan Garrett

Last modified March 18, 2004

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1. What are the two main kinds of existentialist? To which does S. belong? What, according to Sartre (=AS), do all existentialists believe in common? (3)

2. What did 18th century atheism discard? What did it keep to which S. objects? (4)

3. What does it mean to say that existence precedes essence? On what basis does S. hold there is no human nature (essence)? (4)

4. What is the "deeper meaning" of existentialism, AS? (5)

5. What does S. mean by "In choosing for himself, he chooses for all men"? (5)

6. Why does he say, "Man is in anguish"? How does S. reply to. those who "show no anxiety"? (6)

7. Can a person ever escape responsibility by claiming that God ordered him to do something? that a superior officer did so? Why? (7)

8. Why, AS, does the existentialist find it embarrassing that "God does not exist"? (8) If God did exist, would that change anything, AS? (22)

9. Why does S. say that man is "condemned" to be free? (8)

10. AS, can we consult a priest or psychoanalyst whose advice will relieve us of the burden of responsibility and choice? Why? (10) What does S. say to people who claim that there are signs or omens in the world? (11)

11. What does S. mean by "despair"? (11)

12. What does S. think of the so-called Marxist theory of the inevitability of a world socialist revolution? (12) How does his view on this matter fit with "existence precedes essence"?

13. Explain the claim that man is "nothing else but the sum of his actions." (12)

14. How do existentialists write about cowards? (13) How, AS, is existentialism "optimistic"? (14)

15. How does S. agree with Descartes? (14) What does he find inadequate about Descartes' philosophy? (15)

16. Is there a universal human condition? (15) If so, what are some of its features? (16) Does S. take back here what he says elsewhere about human nature?

17. What, AS, is not possible? (17)

18. What, AS, do art and moral choice have in common? (17-18)

19. Does S. believe that human beings are getting better? (18)

20. Who is a "self-deceiver" (a person of "bad faith")? (19) How can S. judge such a person if all truth is a matter of human subjectivity?

21. What is the "ultimate significance" of the acts of persons of "good faith"? (18)

22. Whom does S. call "cowards"? (20)

23. What does it mean to say that "we invent values"? (21)

24. With what kind of humanism does S. disagree? Why? (21)

25. What is "another sense of the word [humanism]"? (22)