Die Heuning Pot Literature Guide
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Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre
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Jean-Paul Sartre’s Favorite Buzzwords

All the stuffiest terms, defined for your Shmooping pleasure.

Bad Faith

This one's a biggie for us Existentialists. We're all free, but that freedom comes with heaps of accountability. I'm a human, which is awesome and all, but it means that now I have to deal with social pressure and the aftermath of my every choice. So I'm not really free, in the purest sense of the word.

Some people can't cope with all that responsibility. They just don't want to make all those choices, so they decide to act like a thing rather than like a decision-making human being. Those people are acting in what I call "bad faith."

Being-for-itself

This term just refers to human consciousness, i.e., something that a beach ball does not have, because humans can make choices and determine their lives, while a beach ball just bounces in the breeze. It's that simple.

Despair

So there's despair and then there's despair. For the existentialists, despair is our experience of the difference between the world we live in (and can't control) and the freedom we have to do whatever we please. We can never square the fact that we have nothing external to us (i.e., God), and the fact that we still have inadequate control over our lives. How's that possible?

Essence

Essence equals nature. It's what follows after we are born. So, step 1: be born (existence); step 2: make free choices and act on them, self-creating along the way (essence). Ah life, so simple.

Existentialism

This philosophy has roots in the work of heavy hitters like Heidegger, but Albert, Simone, and I picked up on it and gave it our own spin. Think of existentialism as a form of atheism that adheres to the belief that life is really hard and that being human means making all sorts of high-stakes choices. And since God (or any other higher power) is nowhere to be found, we have to make decisions on our own, and that can be, well, rough.

And we're not talking about "Do I look fat in these jeans?" kinds of questions, either. We're talking puzzling over what's right and wrong in the grand scheme of life. And we've got no one to rely on but ourselves. On top of that, since there's no higher power, when you die you just die. Game over—no beautiful cupids or jet-puffed clouds with harp-carrying angels. If that sounds like the pits, you might be right. But it's the truth.

Freedom

Ah, the agony and the ecstasy of the human condition. We are free to make choices, but those choices come at a cost: responsibility. Spiderman knew what he was talking about.

Happiness

Or, how can I get me some of that in a world that utterly lacks external meaning? Not to be cliché, but I've gotta find happiness within. As the Gershwin brothers said, "They can't take that away from me!" 

Historical Materialism

On your Marx, get set, go!

Do you know anyone who always talks about money? Well then you know a historical materialist… sort of. To this fun gang, history and society should always and ever be considered through the lens of moolah, the big buckaroos, cheese, greenbacks, and, well, you get the idea. Social class and history always boil down to economics, to who has the dough and who owns the "means" of making things (materials). You gotta produce and reproduce, consume and exchange—and all of those things determine who's who when it comes to the haves and have-nots and whatnot.

Immanence

Inwardness, basically. But my main squeeze Beauvoir sees a nasty little opposition here: Men always look outward, imposing their will on, well, the universe and everything in it. (Block off that river! Make me a meal! Go to bed! There's gold in them thar hills!) Women's fate, on the other hand, is to be inward, shut off, and powerless. Men do things like create, build, kill, expand, demand, while women just live for their men. Downer alert! Women are "immanent"; men are "transcendent."

Transcendence

Go ask Emerson. Transcendence means the same here as it does everywhere. It's rising above or beyond or outside of—in this case—ordinary experience. Transcendence takes place when one chooses to do something about all of their freedom.

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