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

Excerpted in Kahn and Markie, eds., Ethics (2009)

Contact: Dr. Jan Garrett

Last modified August 2, 2010

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? (406.1-2)

2. What did 18th century atheism discard? What did it keep to which S. objects? (407.1)

3. What does it mean to say that existence precedes essence? On what basis does S. hold there is no human nature (essence)? (407.1)

4. What is meant by what Sartre calls the "first principle" of existentialism? (407.1-2)

5. What does S. mean by "In choosing for himself, he chooses for all men"? (407.2, last full ¶)

6. Why does he say, "Man is anguish"? How does S. reply to those who show no anxiety? (408.1)

7. Can a person ever escape responsibility by claiming that an angel ordered him to do something? that a superior officer did so? Why? (408.2)

8. Why, AS, does the existentialist find it distressing that "God does not exist"? (409.1)

9. Why does S. say that man is "condemned" to be free? (409.2)

10. AS, can we consult a priest or psychoanalyst whose advice will relieve us of the burden of responsibility and choice? Why? (410.2) What does S. say to people who claim that there are signs or omens in the world? (411.1)

11. What does S. mean by "despair"? (411.1-2)

12. What does S. think of the view that theory that a world socialist revolution is inevitable? (411.2) 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." (412.1)