Existentialism

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“Man is condemned to be free. Condemned because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” — Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism.” What is the author saying in this quotation? Also, how do the passage’s ideas fit into the author’s philosophy?

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In the quoted sentences, Jean-Paul Sartre is claiming that human freedom is partial at best because humans do not chose most of the conditions of their existence. At the same time, humans must make countless decisions every day, which will have an impact on others as well as themselves. By saying that man is “thrown into the world,” Sartre means that each person’s birth results from random circumstances as well as other people’s choices. The author is arguing that even as infants, humans begin to make choices, even though they may not be fully aware of exercising their will.

The passage fits with Sartre’s overall philosophy in that it conveys the essential paradoxes that he believes characterize human existence. Humans have a responsibility to try to live according to their moral principles, which means that their choices should be concerned with others’ welfare as much as their own. This obligation, however, comes with no guarantee of human effectiveness. Because the universe is largely unconcerned with what happens to each person, however, human efforts to live morally are also reflections of their own self-interest, for it requires egotism to believe that one person’s actions can actually have a significant impact.

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