Jean-Paul Sartre and the Reality of the Elimination of God

Jean-Paul Sartre and the Reality of the Elimination of God

“Existentialists, on the other hand, find it extremely disturbing that God no longer exists, for along with his disappearance goes the possibility of finding values in an unintelligible heaven. There could no longer be any a priori good, since there would be no infinite and perfect consciousness to conceive of it. Nowhere is it written that good exists, that we must be honest or not lie, since we are on a plane shared only by men.

Dostoevsky once wrote: ‘If God does not exist,everything is permissible.’ This is the starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and man is consequently abandoned, for he cannot find anything to rely on – neither within nor without. First, he finds there are no excuses. For it is true that existence precedes essence, we can never explain our actions by reference to a given and immutable human nature.

In other words, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom. If, however, God does not exist, we will encounter no values or orders that can legitimize our conduct. Thus, we have neither behind us, nor before us, in the luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism” (Yale University Press, 2007; p. 28-29)

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5 responses to “Jean-Paul Sartre and the Reality of the Elimination of God

  1. “everything is permissible if God does not exist, and man is consequently abandoned, for he cannot find anything to rely on”

    I completely disagree. Logic is a much more useful tool to determine courses of action than a very old, culturally-specific book of with rules that have many interpretations. Like every other animal, we have a naturally strong impulse to protect and provide for our offspring. In human society, and in our increasingly international world, this means wanting equality of opportunity for everybody – this means treating everybody as we would wish our children to be treated. We have common sense to rely on, and the more people that understand this, the better for quality of life of all humans.

    • Hello, and thank you for your comment.

      I think you are confused on the language being used. Logic cannot tell you whether or not you should lie to a murderer, steal candy from a baby, or kill your offspring. It can tell you however, that defeaters for suggesting these actions are morally right exist against their truth-hood. The discourse we would employ for discovering the action themselves if they were right or wrong is found in the discipline of moral epistemology (“how do we know what is right/wrong?”).

      And that even then is not the point Dostoevsky is trying to convey. Dostoevsky is drawing a discussion towards the grounding problem; i.e., what is the foundations for morality? We then step out of the discipline of moral epistemology and now into moral ontology. In other words, what is your basis for morals, and with that basis, how do you come to know what is right or wrong?

      The challenge is, atheists have no sound basis for morality and thus cannot account adequately for an “absolute” measure of “wrongness” or “rightness”. Jean-Paul Sartre sees the merit of this.

  2. “Logic cannot tell you whether or not you should lie to a murderer, steal candy from a baby, or kill your offspring.”
    Yes it can. I would logically weigh up the positive and negative outcomes of each potential action and make a decision based on that. Assuming it’s not a straightforward, everyday issue that I’ve already resolved, or can weigh up in the blink of an eye.

    “what is the foundations for morality?”
    It’s a sense of cultural norms, which might stem from laws or religions held within society, combined with naturally evolved empathy, as already discussed. Religious people waywardly think there are absolutes (and many highly regarded thinkers have followed suit) but it’s not that complicated.

    “atheists have no sound basis for morality and thus cannot account adequately for an “absolute” measure of “wrongness” or “rightness”.”
    Agreed there is no absolute measure. That would be ridiculous. Each situation can be weighed based on advantages and disadvantages. Even obvious issues like killing can’t be described as ‘absolutely wrong’. The Christian God killed all the time and encouraged other people to follow suit, so Christians have no absolute guide either. Self-defense killings and euthanasia are constantly under discussion – because the positive and negative outcomes are finely balanced.

  3. I disagree. There can be “good” with out God. We are social animals. We evolved in a social groupe. When we evolved to forme clans and tribes it was genetically bread into is that what is good for my groupe is good for my DNA to be passed on. If I help the other homosapian in my group, my group prospers. As a member of that group I also prosper. Those groups that have more “moral” DNA reproduce more and homosapian’s in general become more chairing and “good”.

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