Existentialism has been a widely-debated topic among intellectuals since antiquity. This movement first gained momentum during the postmodern era with the philosophical works of Jean-Paul Sartre, which stems for the horrifying incidents of WWII particularly after the capture of France by Nazi Germany. The foundational premise of his philosophy is based on the phrase: “I am what I am not, I am not what I am.” The phrase may seem easy to understand but it carries an entire philosophical framework within in. In order to unlock it, one must read between the lines and understand the context.
Sartre says that when a man is “present”, he is beyond his past but can sense some potential of the future, which doesn’t exist in the present time. Resultantly, he is not what he is at that specific moment in time, which makes his existence null and void. There begets spirituality between his past and future which makes him non-existent. As an atheist, Sartre neither accepts the existence of God nor of metaphysics. According to him, both are just a creation of the human mind. He claims that man has lost God and has instead found himself.
He further laid the foundations of the idea that existence precedes essence. So, if only man exists, all that exists in the universe is merely non-existent. And if the world is non-existent, how can we feel and touch objects? How do objects keep growing and dying? Every philosopher tried to solve the Gordian knot of existence but their ideas eventually fall flat. When a person dives deeper into his philosophical thought, he is dumbfounded to see the complexity with which it has been shaped.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2021.