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Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir on Freedom, Being-for-Others, And Sartrean Despair
Simone de Beauvoir and JP Sartre were two famous existentialists that converged and diverged on various concepts. These included the existentialist concepts of freedom, being-for-others and transcendence or despair. Their converged and divergences will be addressed in this essay.
Sartre was one of the most famous existentialists of all times. For him, existence did not base itself on an ethos of God-ordained morality nor did it have any transcendental meaning. Rather meaningfulness of life -- or liberty / freedom -- depended on the meaning that one arbitrarily accorded life and he claimed that man is "what he makes of himself," or in other words "in the end one is always responsible for what is made of one" In this way, Sartre's philosophy integrated both optimism and despair: optimism in the belief that one can resolutely make something of one's in this life despite existent nihilism. Despair in that life was closed-ended, and meaningless.
Sartre's despair was expressed in his perspective that transcending subjectivity and margin something of this life is an impossible act. In Transcendence of the Ego (1937), for instance, he argued that we are locked in the phenomenology of things 'as they-are' (or Hegelian phenomena) and therefore cannot examine 'things beyond us' (or numina) since there is no such reduction: we are the 'consciousnesses. Our mind is locked in this world and we cannot transcend it. In The Transcendence of the Ego, Sartre rejects the claim of Husserl and other philosophers as the self being a consciousness that it 'out there' and that can be reflected on. No! For him, the self is like any others, one more individual in the world, shaped by others; "in the world, like the self of another." In other words, it is not distinct or transcendent from the being, nor can one reflect on it (in an act of self-consciousness or self-awareness). It is a being amongst others. This was developed in one of his most famous books, being and Nothingness (1943). where he argues that consciousness has been erroneously interpreted as substance. Rather, it can be thought of as an "empty wind" or a nothingness" that fills the being and is directed towards the world.
Consciousness itself may be nothing but the self-attempts to become a factoid of accumulation striving towards accumulating properties that will make it a 'something' in this world. The inability to become so dissolves in despair (Sarterean despair). But we do at the same time gain certain transcendence from shaping and, depending on individual, following dreams that manifest our pursuance to a destiny that we have created. We, in other words, attempt to transcend our reality of nothingness but shaping ideals for our life and by attempting to make it into 'something'. We are always changing, always in flux, ultimately meaningless; nonetheless we fail to see this and instead perceive ourselves as being settled and with purpose. To that end, Sartre sees us as acting in 'bad faith' and of wresting in which a balance of wanting to be like God (and to a caritas extent thinking ourselves so) I.e. free and omnipotent whilst still being locked within ourselves and constrained by circumstances. There is, in other words, a conflict (only partially seen by us) between the struggle to be both in-itself and for-it -- to strive to be something whilst being compelled to acknowledge one's restraints. This can best be expressed in Sartre's own words:
In life man commits himself and draws his own portrait, outside of which there is nothing. No doubt this thought may seem harsh to someone who has not made a success of his life. But on the other hand, it helps people to understand that reality alone counts, and that dreams, expectations and hopes only serve to define a man as a broken dream, aborted hopes, and futile expectations.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, 70
This being-in-itself and this being-for-itself have a third complicated dimension called "being-for-others" whereby our behavior of ourselves and self-definition not only comes from oust but to an alleger extent is defined by others. Our ability to self-reflect or create oneself, in other words, can not only not be objective as we think it may be (nor can we have pure self-knowledge), but rather all of this is created by the ontological and forced presence of t oars in our world. The example of this is "the look" where someone catches us in "in the act" of doing something humiliating and we define ourselves (where correctly or not) in those terms. Accumulation of these judgments shapes our persona for good or for bad. We are forced to share the world with others; we cannot -- even though many of us erroneously think so -- choose to separate ourselves from others. To Sartre, "Hell is other people." (Jean-Paul Sartre; online)
Simone De Beauvoir too saw people as lacking freedom. Sharing the same belief as Sartre in non-existence of God, she too sees the world as a closed space providing no transcendental meaning. However, she differs in that she perceives freedom as a possibility of coming from the other (being-for-others). The world is a crushing, oppressive state of affairs; it provides us with no liberty and determines our fate and destiny. Others, however, give us the opportunity of acting ethically towards them. This gives us the ability to rupture the world and create our own freedom where we devise projects that will bring a certain sort of happiness (even though it is perpetrated in Sarterean 'bad faith') to ourselves and others. We gain liberty, in other words, through the focus on, and relationship with, others.
For her too human subjectivity is nothingness. Its nothingness, can however be ruptured through certain projects and spontaneous activity which she calls transcendence since it allows the individual to rise above life's nothingness. Like Sartre, she believes that the human is engaged in projects in a desperate attempt to give his or her life meaning. Unlike Sartre, however, she injects her work with a certain ethics -- that of relating in a (even if mistakenly) purposeful way to others. Unlike Sartre, too, de Beauvoir sees liberty as an outcome of one's interactions with others. Others are not the oppressive being that Sartre sees them to be; rather they afford the individual the opportunity of breaking through a constrictive world and crating his own freedom.
Transcendence, therefore, is gained through this activity of acting through and for others. Life in itself may be meaningless but end can be gained through interrelationships. (Vintges, 1996).
Similar to Sartre, de Beauvoir stresses the need for voluntary and independent freedom of choice that even though difficult and perhaps impossible, must spring from detachment of others and individuals spontaneity (not as dictated by any external institution). Instead of being forced into any particular norms, / conventions / institutions, individuals must voluntarily decide whether or not they wish to accept them. This also determines a certain modicum of freedom or transcendence (where one self-consciously chooses who one wishes to be moment-per moment). Freedom is something that is inescapable. We are created in our own space and compelled to be ourselves; we cannot be the other. Yet we are absolved to refrain from hurting others.
We have freedom: yet we are finite and limited. We are, therefore, fragile. The existence of others enables us to somewhat more transcend this fragility.
Freedom, in other words, is the spontaneous choosing of activities. We choose them independently or our own free will and we throw ourselves into them as projects that we wish to do not by escaping into them as static objects. This can best be expressed in the following way:
"Regardless of the staggering dimensions of the world about us, the density of our ignorance, the risks of catastrophes to come, and our individual weakness within the immense collectivity, the fact remains that we are absolutely free today if we choose to will our existence in its finiteness, a finiteness which is open on the infinite. And in fact, any man who has known real loves, real revolts, real desires, and real will knows quite well that he has no need of any outside guarantee to be sure of his goals; their certitude comes from his own drive."
Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, p.15-16)
De Beauvoir too discusses bad faith, but to her bad faith is somewhat different than it was to Sartre. Bad faith implies a fleeing from the responsibilities of freedom such as the sub-man who is bored, lazy, or indolent and who, consequently, may be more easily recruited by the "serious man' who recruits him for brutal, immoral, or violent action. The serious man is also a race from freedom since he sets his values in an external institution instead of something that he has freely chosen. It may be the Military for one, or Fame for another, or Power for another individual. The…[continue]
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