April Membership Meeting Provided No Exit From Existentialism

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By George Kane

Dr. Nick Pease, adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, presented a lecture on the moral philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre at our public meeting on April 18 at the Ridgedale Library. Dr. Pease explained that Sartre focused on the role of the individual in creating meaning and value in life through his actions. However, each individual also has freedom of choice, and therefore cannot escape responsibility for his actions. That responsibility, in Sartre’s moral construct, is to act authentically in representation of the individual’s values.

Dr. Pease’s presentation sparked a lively discussion. While existentialism is a godless philosophy, several attendees struggled with Sartre’s concepts, particularly questioning the apparent subjectivity of the moral system. For example, if individuals have responsibility for the consequences of their actions, why should actions be praiseworthy only because they are authentic expressions of self-created values? Doesn’t responsibility require that correct moral action should be the product of a decision that leads to the best objective results? Dr. Pease explained that concepts like “correct moral action” and “moral error” are outside the framework of Sartre’s philosophy. Rather, authentic decisions are a goal in themselves.  

Dr. Pease concluded by observing that, while Sartre’s prescription for moral reasoning may seem difficult, it is habit forming. Living an authentic life can become a natural reflex when one begins to consciously follow the precepts of existentialism.  

There were about 55 people in attendance for the lecture.

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