Sartre on God and Meaning in Life

“The existentialist . . . finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that “the good” exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote: ‘If God did not exist, everything would be permitted’; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. . . . Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimise our behaviour. Thus we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse. – We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free.”

Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” 1946


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5 thoughts on “Sartre on God and Meaning in Life

  1. Pingback: Dallas Willard on Outrageous Claims Made in the Name of Science « Cloud of Witnesses

  2. Yeah this truly is the kind of “hope” that naturalism brings to us. While I don’t think that this is any reason to accept theism per se, it certainly points to the complete oblivion that one has outside of a theistic view.

    • I think you under-estimate Sartre based on this incomplete snippet. Existentialism offers a broad path to hope and every possibility of satisfying Christian or Jewish or Muslim faith, if read carefully.

      • Hi Dennis,
        The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (2008) notes that one of the core themes of existentialism is “the absence of rational understanding of the universe with a consequent dread or sense of absurdity in human life” (p.125). I think it’s well established that that sense of dread and absurdity is part and parcel of existentialism–at least of the atheistic variety. I agree that one can be a Christian and adopt some aspects of existentialism, like Kierkegaard, but I think the main issue is whether or not one believes in God. With God there is the possibility of hope, meaning, value, and purpose, but apart from God I believe Sartre’s descriptions are exactly right–that we lack all of those things and have to basically make them up for ourselves.

  3. Pingback: Sartre, Existentialism and I « C512

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