Morality and Atheism

Existentialist atheism affirms that God doesn’t exist, but then there is at least one being whose existence precedes the essence, a being that existed before being defined by a concept, and that being is man…

il_fullxfull-270453411 What is meant here by the statement that existance precedes the essence ?

This mean that man first exist, is situated, is emerging in the world, and then he is defined. As he is conceived by existentialism, man is undefined because at first he is nothing. But then he will something, and he will be what he does himself. So there is no human nature, because there is no God to create it.

Dostoievsky wrote: “If God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted”. This is the starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permitted if God doesn’t exist, and consequently man is abandoned because he finds neither in himself, nor outside, any possibility that he can cling. He can no longer apologize.

If indeed existence precedes the essence, we will never be able to explain something reffering to a established or fixed nature; in other words, there is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom.


On the other hand, if God doesn’t exist then we don’t find any value or ordinance to legitimize our behavior. Today we have neither justification, nor excuses, in the bright field of values. We are alone, without excuses.

If we suppressed God, then one has to invent the values. The things must be interpreted as they are. In fact, to say that we invent the values doesn’t mean anything: life has no established meaning. Before you live, life is nothing; but you are those who give it meaning, and values is nothing but meaning you give to life…

from J. P. Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

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But who am I ? A thing that thinks. What’s this ? One who inquires himself, understands, says, denies, wants, doesn’t want, always imagines and feels.

cogito)Therefore, from the simple fact that I know about my existence, besides the fact I am a being who thinks, I rightly conclude that my essence lies in the fact that I am only a being who thinks.

And yet… I have a body that I’m very tied to… And on the one hand I have a distinct and clear idea that is mine as the being that thinks; and on the other hand I have a distinct idea of my body… and I’m sure I’m different from my body and I can exist without it…

But best nature teaches me that I have a body that feels pain and that’s unpleasant to it, that it needs food or drink when I suffer from hunger or thirst; so I don’t have to doubt that there is something real in this matter.


Nature shows us through our senses of pain, hunger, thirst, etc., that I’m not only present, in relation to my body, as the sailor is present on his ship, but I’m tightly tied up to the fusion of my body that I make a single thing with it.

Otherwise, when the body is hurt I  – who are only a being that thinks –  would not feel pain, but I perceive that pain only through my intellect as the sailor realizes by seeing that something cracked on the ship; and when my body needs food and drink I would understand clearly, and my senses wouldn’t be troubled by hunger and thirst.

from R. Descartes, Meditationes de prima philosophia

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