Wednesday, February 18, 2009
A line in Sartre's Existentialism Is A Humanism that made me chuckle the first time I read it: "And when we speak of 'abandonment'--One of Heideggers favorite expressions--we merely mean to say that God does not exist, and that we must bear the fully consequences of that assertion'.
It's Sartre's use of the word merely that gets me. What an underappreciated word, and what a strange word to use to describe the thought that this world is a godless one. There doesn't seem to be anything mere about the existence of God. At least, not in any way I can think about it.
Dictionary.com defines the word this way:
–adverb 1. only as specified and nothing more; simply: merely a matter of form.
2. Obsolete. a. without admixture; purely.
b. altogether; entirely.
1400–50; late ME mereli. See mere 1 , -ly
But we discover a more substantial meaning to his use of the word a little further on:
" The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely disturbing 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. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse. For if indeed existence precedes essence, one will never be able to explain one’s action by reference to a given and specific human nature; in other words, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom."
Now, this is a bold statement, and one we need not embrace in totality. Even Sartre was very careful to hedge his bets about the existence of God. You can believe or not believe in God and accept the following proposition: Man is free, and thus must decipher a meaning for himself. He is responsible for his own actions and decisions, and is responsible for the person he chooses to be. No one is born a hero or a coward, therefore no one has a right to resign themselves to accepting such stations. We are what we make ourselves.
The bottom-line question Sartre asks us to ask ourself when deciding (through action) what kind of person we are to be is this: If everyone else in the world acted as I am, would this be a good world?
Apparently there is more to merely than I had initially thought.
the exact opposite of an existential worldview:
*The image at the top of the page comes from www.uri.edu.