Jean-Paul Sartre claims that existence precedes essence in his article Existentialism And Human Emotions. Even though things exist as essences, how they exist is more impactful than the things themselves. In other words, things do not have a purpose without some sort of function given to them by persons. I will agree with Sartre that existence precedes essence, and I will specifically argue that something can have an existence without an essence at all such as God.
Sartre believes that whether or not something is an object that is manufactured or something that we can only conceive in our minds, the function or impact of it must always precede the thing itself. In terms of an object that is manufactured, Sartre uses the example of a paper-cutter, because what the paper-cutter produces and what it is used for precedes the paper-cutter itself. That is to say, the paper cutter is the essence while books or any other paper that needs to be produced is what we ultimately want. While it is true that the essence of the paper-cutter produces the existence of books or cut paper, it is not the object or the essence, but it is the finished product or existence that matters. “Therefore, we have here a technical view of the world whereby it can be said that production precedes existence.” (pg. 2) In terms of something that we can only conceive in our minds, Sartre uses the example of God because He is not a visible or tangible essence, but those who believe He exists are greatly impacted by what He does. “Thus, the concept of man in the mind of God is comparable to the concept of paper-cutter in the mind of the manufacturer.” (pg. 2) That is to say, the impact of God’s existence precedes the idea of God as an essence. Therefore, existence must always precede essence.
One might object by claiming that it is irrational to compare the existence of something visible and tangible such as a paper-cutter, to the existence of something that is conceived in the mind and without an essence at all such as God. Even if not everyone uses paper-cutters, they still have a known and particular purpose which is cutting paper. However, God is conceived only in the mind which prevents Him from having an essence altogether, therefore, His existence must be subjective for those who both believe in Him and do not believe in Him. Even for those who follow a strict religion and see God as someone who exists with a particular purpose, this purpose must vary among individuals because we all live different lives and desire different impacts from God. In other words, something that does not have a visible and tangible essence must only exist subjectively and without a particular purpose, thus being unable to have a known existence to precede its essence. Those who do not believe in God have an even stronger reason to not believe that His existence precedes His essence. Thinking back to Sartre’s paper-cutter example, one cannot argue that a paper-cutter’s existence is subjective because it has a known purpose of cutting paper even if the paper-cutter itself were to sit on the shelf and collect dust. However, those who do not believe in God must also believe that He does not have a purpose at all, therefore, He cannot have an existence that precedes anything let alone an essence. With this being said, it is irrational to compare the existence of something with a known purpose such as a paper-cutter, to the subjective existence of something that is conceived in the mind only by some individuals and not others such as God.
To this objection, I argue that something can still exist without an essence at all such as God. I agree with Sartre that the impact of the belief in God’s existence alone precedes the idea of God’s essence. Since God exists in the minds of those who believe in Him, it is fair to claim that He is something that can have an existence without an essence at all. Sartre acknowledges the perspective of atheists by stating “…if God does not exist, there is at least one being in who existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man…” (pg. 3) I agree with Sartre because his claim is that we have a known existence as humans that precedes the essence of the physical body. Therefore, like God, our purposes vary among individuals and our purposes might be seen as subjectively important to others, yet we must always have an existence that precedes our essences as physical bodies. In addition, unlike God, we are not defined by the concept of religion but rather by our individual actions and minds which gives God even more of a particular purpose then us as humans. In Sartre’s words, certain things are “Objective because they are to be found everywhere and are recognizable everywhere; subjective because they are lived and are nothing if man does not live them.” (pg. 10) Therefore, the belief in God’s existence shows that He is something that can have an existence without an essence, even if this existence is subjective. One must admit that the belief in God impacts the lives of many so He must exist to those who believe in Him regardless of the subjectivity within these beliefs.
Overall, Sartre claims that existence precedes essence, no matter if this essence is visible and tangible or if it is conceived by the mind. I agree that existence precedes essence, and that something can have an existence without an essence at all such as God, because the impact of anything must always be more important than the thing itself. Since God is a thing that exists in the minds of those who believe in Him, He must be something that exists without an essence at all.