Sartre1

“If man…is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he will himself have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature…” Jean-Paul Sartre, in ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’

A man will be what he will have made himself to be.

Aristotle would concur. But for Aristotle all the drama of this statement is rooted in the fact that there is a human nature. A man can choose to respond to the ‘given’—or we could say the gift—of human nature. Will I put first things first, according to the order that I discover? It is up to me; nobody can walk the walk for me.

But if Sartre is right, the only walk there is, is the walk I or others will choose to walk. I am master not only of my own actions, but of good and evil itself.

A sign that Sartre is wrong is not that he has pointed out too great a burden. Rather, he has not comprehended something yet greater. The greatness of a good that is for man, but not designed by man.

Aristotle: “[the distinction of good and evil] may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature.” Indeed such may be thought.

But when we lay our head on our pillow tonight, we should rest assured: the true goal of our self-making-through-action is already written, and it is something we could never have conceived. Our glorious burden is to transcribe it, to make it a reality in our lives.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) is a major figure in the philosophy of existentialism.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Er…ah…Sartre was not right about anything. He is another incarnation of that hideous 20th archetype of the Left wing “intellectual”, and to link him with serious thinker such as Aristotle is to not understand Philosophy at all.

  2. Not to pick on the deceased but Sartre’s Laputan gaze should impart a tad of concern over his great pronouncements. However, one has to understand that his philosophy, in its historical context was a reaction to long degrading traditions and we adopted the new philosophy propounded by the revolutionary thinkers because they gave some new light in an emerging culture, however dystopic.

    Needless to say, the intellectual grabass, anti-traditionalists have shown themselves to be just as imperious and hind-bound as those they criticized but still, confusion reigns.

    This current generation is still hungover on the notion of self-empowerment within a mass market culture no less domineering than older church-ordered regimes. Corruption seems to be the only commonality.

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