L’homme n’est rien d’autre que ce qu’il fait.”

“Man is nothing but what he does.” Or so said French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. But what does that even mean? And what about his other oft quoted ‘existence precedes essence’?

Elsewhere we have defined what philosophers mean by essence as the ‘things that make a thing the thing that it is’. Or the properties without which an object could not be the same sort of object. An example will help. We all know about squares. Squares are shapes that have several essential properties. For example, if i remove the notion of having four sides, what I am left with will no longer be a square. Or if I allow the internal angles not to be right angles my shape will stop being a square. Both right angles and four sides (amongst other things) are essential to squareness.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with philosophy at al, and with the question of human beings more specifically… Well you should have looked at a lot of philosophers ideas about what makes a human/person etc… What these philosophers are doing is suggesting the things that make up the essence of what it is to be human…

For Plato and Descartes they suggest a soul. Locke suggests something to do with memories or consciousness. Hobbes thinks your a bit like a machine while Christians might mention the Imago Dei. What Sartre does is different.

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