“You are free, therefore choose, that is to say, invent. No rule of general morality can show you what you ought to do: no signs are vouchsafed in this world.”

“But in reality and for the existentialist, there is no love apart from the deeds of love; no potentiality of love other than that which is manifested in loving; there is no genius other than that which is expressed in works of art.”

“Existentialism is a Humanism” Jean-Paul Sartre 1946

If the teacher does in fact teach existentialism, then he must dig directly into its origins, and this necessarily involves examining works by the philosophers who invented it.

I think an excellent idea would be to give high school students primary sources to evaluate, even if they are only excerpts. It is better to taste originals than to play superficially with terms.

Sartre felt that existentialism was widely misunderstood and mistakenly reduced to a pessimistic, life-freezing, and amoral philosophy. Dreams and hopes were futile not because they weren’t attainable, but because they existed psychologically and therefore lacked reality. He did not believe that there was an a priori essence that created and defined man, but that man willfully, through action, created himself.

If I hadn’t studied the roots of existentialism, I would have continued to misuse the term. I was taught a limited version in high school, and it stuck for a while.

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