Author Archives: Jonathan Webber


About Jonathan Webber

Reader in Philosophy, Cardiff University

The Imperative of Authenticity

photo of Simone de Beauvoir
A draft of chapter 10 is now available to download.

It reconstructs Beauvoir’s argument for the moral requirement of authenticity in Pyrrhus and Cineas.

The argument begins from a premise that, according to existentialism, everyone must accept: that some ends are valuable. It then argues that this commits one to valuing achieved ends as potential means to further ends, which in turn commits one to valuing the capacity to pursue projects.

If the argument is sound, then it derives the imperative to value the structure of human agency, the capacity to pursue projects, from that very structure itself.

The chapter is devoted to clarifying and detailing Beauvoir’s argument for this Kantian moral conclusion. It concludes that this argument for the imperative of authenticity should be taken seriously as a contribution to contemporary moral philosophy.

Please do let me know what you think of the chapter, either by posting in the Comments thread to this news item or sending me an email.

Draft chapters are available from the Book page.

From Absurdity to Authenticity

A full draft of chapter 9 is now available to download.

It analyses the eudaimonist arguments for the virtue of authenticity found in Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. It argues that, because these are psychoanalytic arguments aimed at diagnosing and treating the sources of anxiety and distress, they cannot establish the moral conclusion that we all ought to adopt the project of authenticity irrespective of our other commitments.

In the absence of an argument for that conclusion, it looks as though existentialism entails the absurdist view that although we are each committed to our values, none of us actually have any justification for our values or for rejecting those we find abhorrent.

The chapter concludes by suggesting that Sartre’s Kantian comments on the moral requirement of authenticity in Existentialism Is a Humanism might best be read as summarising the argument Beauvoir gives in Pyrrhus and Cineas. The next chapter is devoted to that argument.

Please do let me know what you think of the chapter, either by posting in the Comments thread to this news item or sending me an email.

Draft chapters are available from the Book page.

Black Skin, White Masks

photo of Frantz Fanon

A full draft of chapter 8 is now available to download.

It argues that Fanon’s first book, Black Skin, White Masks, is a single coherent argument for a form of existentialism that agrees with Beauvoir’s in The Second Sex and Sartre’s in Saint Genet that personal characteristics are formed through the sedimentation of projects.

Unlike Beauvoir and Sartre, however, Fanon is a psychiatrist. His primary interest is in diagnosing and treating distress. He develops his existentialism as a contribution to the methods and concepts of psychiatric practise.

The book also develops an existentialist literary style, manifesting his philosophy in the range of works analysed in developing the theory and in the textual form of the argument itself.

Please do let me know what you think of the chapter, either by posting in the Comments thread to this news item or sending me an email.

Draft chapters are available from the Book page.

Sedimentation and the Grounds of Cultural Values

A full draft of chapter 7 is now available to download.

It argues that Sartre’s initial form of existentialism precludes any explanation of the widespread adoption of the project of bad faith that Sartre claims shapes our culture, and this seems to have been the problem that led him to adopt Beauvoir’s idea of sedimentation.

More specifically, Sartre’s analysis of anti-Semitism and Jewish culture is his attempt to ground a cultural theory in his initial form of existentialism. Its reliance on an unexplainable prevalence of bad faith is the central weakness of this analysis.

By contrast, Sartre’s essay on Négritude poetry, ‘Black Orpheus’, written only a few years later while Beauvoir was finalising The Second Sex, rests its account of cultural values on the idea of sedimentation through upbringing rather than on the idea of bad faith.

But it is his biography of Genet, published in 1952, that undertakes the task of fully rethinking his existentialism with the idea of sedimentation incorporated into it.

Please do let me know what you think of the chapter, either by posting in the Comments thread to this news item or sending me an email.

Draft chapters are available from the Book page.

Five talks now available on YouTube

The project YouTube playlist now has these five films on it …

1. What Is Existentialism?
2. Why Camus Is Not An Existentialist
3. Freedom and the Structure of Experience
4. Two Varieties of Existentialism
5. Existentialism and Psychoanalysis

They’re around 20-25 minutes long each and summarise the first five chapters of the book. They’re posted with a Creative Commons license, so feel free to share them!

photo of sign that says Keep Off The Grass

Why Inez Is Not In Hell – draft available

photo of doors to 42 rue Bonaparte, Paris at night
A full draft of chapter 6 is now available to download.

It argues for a new interpretation of Sartre’s play Huis Clos (aka No Exit or, better, In Camera).

More specifically, it argues that the usual reading of the play’s characters as three mortals facing an eternity of torturing one another is mistaken, and that the play is rather set at the Last Judgment, with Inez as an undercover prosecutor attempting to bring Garcin and Inez to recognise and regret their basic sin in front of us, the audience, who sit in judgment.

On this interpretation, the play dramatises Sartre’s theory that other people are hell only if we are committed to the project of seeing ourselves as having a particular fixed essence, which is what Sartre sees at this point in his career as the original sin of bad faith.

Please do let me know what you think of it, either by posting in the Comments thread to this news item or sending me an email.

Draft chapters are available from the Book page.

Rethinking Existentialism in Psychotherapy: a conference

Rethinking Existentialism in Psychotherapy
Wednesday 13th January 2016
10.00 – 16.30

Montague Room, Senate House
Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Each session will include presentations followed by general discussion.

Arrival, with tea and coffee

Legacies of Colonialism
Lennox Thomas, psychotherapist and vice-chair of the Refugee Therapy Centre
Jonathan Webber, philosopher at Cardiff University

participants are to make their own arrangements for lunch

Drama and Play
Eva Koumpli, psychodrama psychotherapist
Rebecca Pitt, researcher at The Open University

Tea and coffee

The Lived Body
Katherine Morris, philosopher at Oxford University
Miles Clapham, consultant psychiatrist and Lecturer at the Philadelphia Association

Just £10 for standard registration, £5 for students/unwaged.
Registration is now open.

YouTube film ‘What Is Existentialism?’ now available

The first of the project’s YouTube films is now available at

It is based on chapter 1 and forms an introduction to the series of films. It is 20 minutes long and free to use under a Creative Commons license.

The draft of chapter 1 available from the website has also been updated, to reflect progress on the book so far:

Image of film opening screen

The Future of Existentialism: a workshop

The Future of Existentialism
Call For Papers

Submissions are invited for a one-day workshop on existentialism for people considering doing postgraduate research on the theoretical, biographical, or literary works of Beauvoir, Fanon, Sartre or other existentialist thinkers.

Each participant will give a short paper analysing or applying some aspect of existentialism.

Participants should have, or be currently studying towards, a Bachelors or Masters degree in a discipline relevant to their paper. The event will include a session on applying for postgraduate research study in the UK.

Accommodation, meals, and UK travel expenses for all participants will be provided by the workshop, which will be held at Cardiff University. The venue will be fully accessible.

To apply to participate, please send a paper of no more than 3000 words (all inclusive) or a one-page Mumford Method handout (what’s that? – see here). The deadline is strictly 5pm GMT on Friday 4th December 2015.

Papers will be selected by anonymous review. Please ensure that your paper or handout does not include any information that could identify its author. Please give your qualifications in the email itself.

For any enquiries or to apply for a place, please email me.