EXISTENTIALISM & Satre’s Definition Expanded in Bakewell’s book: “At the Existentialist Café”

By Bob Whitesel, D.Min. Ph.D., 2/27/16.

In Sarah Bakewell’s new book “At the Existentialist Café” (Other Press, 2015) she carefully depicts the personalities behind the rise of existentialism. She explains how standard-bearer Jean-Paul Sartre was influenced by phenomenologists (e.g. Heidegger, Husserl, etc.) in 1932. She depicts how extensive reading in phenomenology along with witnessing the rise of Fascism in Germany led him to a new outlook based on freedom, which he summarized as: “existence precedes essence.”

In her book, Sarah Bakewell offers a helpful expansion of Sartre’s popular phrase, stating:

“As a human being, I have no predefined nature at all. I create that nature through what I choose to do. Of course I may be influenced might buy my biology, or by aspects of my culture and personal background, but none of this adds up to a complete blueprint for producing me. I am always one step ahead of myself, making myself up as I go along.”

This is a good expansion with several implications.

First, there is an understanding of free-will inherent in what Sartre was saying. Perhaps partially in reaction to the Nazis as much as in embracement of the new phenomenologists. He recognized that humans are influenced by many factors but they have the power to accept and reject influences as warranted.

Secondly, existentialism appears to this writer to be the epitome of postmodernity. Sartre’s expression clearly sums up the postmodernal predilection for experience as the best teacher.

But, experience which begins in the supernatural can in many lead to a spiritual quest to understand the Author.