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Saturday, 3 March 2018


This essay will present to us an elaborate discussion on the human freedom as it emerged in the existentialism or philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. He sets out the basic atheistic existentialism in his philosophy. His position is simply that man is nothing but what he makes of himself. Hence, he says “I choose myself and in so doing I created an image for all people”. This means that man becomes of what he chooses to become, and he is responsible for whatever choice he makes. For him existence precedes essence, there is no determinism, hence, one is free. Sartre makes existentialism popular to the extent that for some the term is to have used by him and his major philosophy referred to as existentialism.

In the world there are operations, which tend to hinder the individual person from performing some functions, and there are some oppressive situations that individual experiences. A person thus, possesses an intelligence and will with which he makes choices in accordance with his being. But can these choices be realized if one is not a free being? What is freedom? What exactly do we mean when we say a person is free?

The most direct of the data consciousness coercing freedom is the feeling of a contrast between the free and the non-free event. Our actions exhibit to our inward sense a deeply and vividly different appearance according as they are or are not affected by the modality in virtue of which we call them free. True there are obscure situations in which we happen to ask “Have I acted freely”? Leaves the question unanswered. Likewise we are sometimes unable to say with certainty whether a sound has been heard or merely imagined. In order to evaluate the bearing of such doubts, we must realise that in this world of contingency an even “A” can always be limited by some event “B” so that it is not always possible to determine for sure whether an actual experience is that of “A” or that of “B”.  At this juncture, this discussion we begin proper with:

Brief history of Sartre,
What is existentialism,
What is freedom
 human freedom in Sartre existentialism,
Freedom and determinism,
Responsibility and freedom of choice
Evaluation and Conclusion.

Jean-Paul Sartre was born at Paris in 1905. He attended at the Ecole Normale from 1924 till 1928. After obtaining his Philosophy degree, he taught at Lycees in Le Havre, Laon and then Paris. He was a research student in Berlin and at the University of Freiburb from 1933 through 1935, after which he taught at Lycees Condorent at paris. In 1939 Sartre joined the French army and he was capture in 1940. After his release in 1941, he returned to teaching philosophy and was also as active participant in the Resistance Movement.

Sartre started writing and publishing before the World War. In 1936 he published an essay on the ego or self, and a work on the imagination, L Imagination. Etude Critique. While in 1936 he published his famous novel La nausea. During war in 1940 he published his second book on imagination. He has published a quite number of plays, while collections of essays under the title situation have appeared from 1947 to 1964. He was one of the founders in 1945 of the review Les Temps Modernes, and some of his writings have appeared in it, such as the 1952 articles on communism. His attempt was to combine existentialism and Marxism has led to the production in 1960 of the first volume of the Critique de la raison dialectique. Sartre has also published an introduction to the works of Jean Genet, Saint Genet; comedien et martyr.

The term existentialism first appeared in the work of a Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard in nineteen century. It is no doubt that existentialism is the most influential philosophical movement in this century. The philosophies of existentialists, however, focus on what is now commonly known as existential problem of man, namely, on the meaning of life, death, destiny, existence, self-creation, and other similar related themes. The existentialists generally, are preoccupied with human existence in the world. Existentialism is one of the reactions against metaphysics, whether idealism or materialism, and their dogmatic faith or dogmatic rationalism. Emphasis is laid on the human persons life and experiences.

Existentialism is an explicit philosophy which attempts to clarify what it means for us to exist as free, personal beings. Existentialists, however, generally distinguish our uniquely human kind of existence from the reality of non-human natural objects. This difference consists mainly of the fact that human existence is characterised by individual freedom. For the existentialists, they believe that humans are active and creative while other things are not. Things are simply what they are, but humans might be other than they are. In other word, to be in existence means to have life, and to be able to choose.
Existentialism has also had considerable impact on religious ethics. In the first instance, it has helped moral theories to recognise that our moral actions are not unrelated to the existential situation or context in which they occur. We call existentialism a philosophy for the fact that, it concerns itself with traditional philosophical problems such as the problem of truth, objectivity, the relation of the individual to the universal. The existentialists think that it is very distressing that God does not exist because all possibilities of finding values in a heaven of idea disappears along with him there can no longer be an apriori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it.  Existentialism is not a school, is not a system of philosophy which can be worked at and taught. It does not designate a school of thought inasmuch as these doctrines do not agree on one cardinal point. Existentialism lays emphasis on existence rather than essence; existence precedes essence. For existentialists, existence means a state of being actual; this refers to given here and now. In existentialism, the individual being is the focal point of existence instead of nature. It is the philosophy of the subject rather than the object. The individual is the initiator of activities stemming from the feelings of the person. The emphasis is on freedom rather than inhibition.

In several of discussion freedom is understood in different terms and manner. Freedom generally denotes the capacity of a person to act without external compulsion, constraint or coercion. The concept of freedom is a slippery term with many overlapping meanings in common usage. Therefore, there will be problem arising from the analysis of the nature of freedom. Further more freedom does not co-exist with any form of determinism.
Sartres conception of freedom is in line with the conception of natural freedom of self. For him, freedom is freedom of choosing but not freedom of not choosing. Not to choose is , in the fact, to choose not to choose. The implication, therefore, is that, a man is free who has in himself the ability or power to make he does his own and what he achieves his own property. Base on this, Sartre insisted that we are what we are through the choices we make for ourselves. And then, the being-for-itself is a corollary of freedom. And then, he must continue to express himself in freedom because he cannot escape being free.
Freedom is a state of being free or at liberty rather in confinement or under physical restraint. Freedom is full of choices which every individual can make themselves. With freedom, and individual is open to make mistakes and make up for its corrections. Freedom gives a person room to make personal choice.

Sartre conceives freedom in negative term. He conceives freedom in terms of negation, nihilation and nothingness. Freedom is the capacity of negation, nihilation which characterises the conscious being. The foundation of this freedom is nothingness. As he puts it negation directly engages freedom. It is the negation that provides the possibility of questions, for no questions can be asked if negation does not exist. Every question presupposes the possibility of negative reply. Indeed, every affirmation implies a negation, for to affirm what I am is to negate what I am not. In other words, to affirm anything is to negate opposite.
Freedom means the opposite of compulsion; a man is free if he does not act under compulsion, and he is compelled or not free when he is hindered from this without in the realization of his desires. Hence, he is not free when he is look up, or chained or when someone forces him at the point of a gun to do what otherwise he would not do. This is quite clear, and everyone will admit the everyday or legal notion of the lack of freedom is thus correctly interpreted, and that a man will be considered quite free, if no such external compulsion is exerted upon him. Freedom as a requisite condition for nihilation of nothingness is not a property which belongs, among other to the essence of the human being. The individual person is freedom itself; freedom is not a quality of a person, for freedom is identical with ones being.
However, it is difficult to distinguish the being of a person from his freedom. In other words, freedom cannot be discussed without the nature of mans existence. Freedom has no essence and it is the foundation of all essence. No one has essence before he exists; rather, existence precedes this essence. In other words, the individual person exists before he creates his or her essence. It is by his or her free choices and actions that one creates himself and in order to correctly explain ones behaviour or actions, this self-made have to be understood.
Again, the central theme of Sartrean freedom is its absoluteness. According to Sartre, the individual is completely and absolutely free: “I am condemned to be free. This means that no limits of my freedom can be found except freedom itself. We are not free to cease being free.” This freedom is not periodical; the individual person is either completely or forever free or he is not free at all. Sartre refuses any attempt to deprive the individual of his absolute freedom. The individual cannot escape this freedom because of this concomitant commitment or responsibility.
Sartres radical notion on human freedom is parallel to the ordinary persons notion of freedom.  Some people believe that one is most free when he is not obliged to choose. Sartre underlined the fact that human freedom is realized when one is obliged to make a choice. But this raises the question: is human freedom actually absolute as Sartre postulate? Should a person be held responsible for his actions, good or bad. These questions will be discussed below under freedom and responsibility of human action.
As an addendum, the concept of freedom for Sartre is quite different from our daily usage of the term freedom. For Sartre, freedom is man itself, thus he asserts that if man were to be free then God does not exist, or God exists man does not free. The concept of God for him is contra. We see God as a being in itself and a Being for itself therefore, as Being in itself he is not different from any object. The indispensable and fundamental condition of all actions is the freedom of acting Being. Freedom is evident in the for-itself in so far the for-itself exists. The simple argument is that mans absolute freedom is that there is an agony behind ones decisions of choice, and these decisions are not determined by anybody.
In the same vein, absolute freedom is the freedom that we become what we desire. But if Sartre says we are absolutely free to choose to live forever knowing fully well is not possible because death is certain. Everything means in life does not go with free will or freedom.

Human reality does not exist first in order to act later; but for human reality, to be is to act and to cease to act is to cease to cease to be. But if human reality is action, this means obviously that its determination to action is itself action. If we reject this principle, and if we admit that human reality can be determined to action by a prior state of the world or of itself, this amounts to putting a given at the beginning of the series. Then those acts disappear as acts in order to give place to series of movement. So, if one is to claim determinism as a result of previous choices, environmental influences and heredity, for instance, one might argue that these factors which are further determined make no sense. Choice, freedom, and action are inextricably bound together in the existence of the for-itself. There can be no freedom if there is no choice; there can be no choice if there is no freedom; there can be no action where there is no freedom. Freedom, choice, nihilation are all one and the same thing.
Furthermore, the external forces that seemed hindrance to freedom of man do not stop him to be free. Freedom does not mean that a person is a completely undetermined being. As a matter of fact, human freedom is not unlimited as Sartre think it is. Human actions are to some extent controlled by some factors. This does not remove freedom from the individual. So, a choice made without support and dictating its own reasons of itself, can very well appear absurd and in fact it is absurd. This is because freedom is a choice of its being but not the foundation of its being.

The term responsibility is used in three ways. Employed descriptively, it simply expresses a cause-effect relationship between an agent, and an action or a consequence, without implying anything with regards to the ethical character of the act. Used prescriptively, responsibility indicates a moral or legal obligation binding one to do avoid doing something. For instance, it is a mans reasonability to care for his children. Responsibility attribute to blame or credit to an agent or a person who acts with or without due conformity to moral or legal norms of conduct.
Freedom excludes all excuses from what one is or for what one does. Hence, what existentialism does is to put the whole person in possession of what he is and to make the total reasonability of his or her existence repose on him or her. Even if a person finds himself in a situation not beyond control, though he is not responsible for being in that situation, the person is to be held responsible for whatever manner he reacts to that situation. Thus, responsibility inevitably goes with freedom, because to be free is to be responsible.
Furthermore, Sartre believes that history and society do influence human freedom as well. Hence, it can be said that there are obstacles to human freedom. But these obstacles are the products of freedom itself. Thus, freedom suffers from its own self-imposed restrictions and obstacles. Moreover, it can be said that one is still free in the midst of these obstacles, since this freedom is identical with his very existence. To say that, one is free does not mean that one must always accomplish his subjective. Freedom is not “will to power”, but it is the permanent ability to decide on what to do or choose.  Even if on the long run the aim or objective is not attained, freedom has been exercise from the very fact that one has made a choice.

From this discussion thus far we have x-rayed the nature of freedom and conception of human freedom in Jean-Pauls existentialism. It shows that freedom means the ability of being free from the external force or coercion. We equally expose the meaning and nature of existentialism, Sartrean philosophy of human freedom. It is a known fact that Sartre regards responsibility as necessary consequence of inalienable human freedom. This is why he favours a strict either or between Gods existence and human freedom; either God exists or man is free and responsibility.
For Jean-Paul Sartre as it has been discussed, as we could see that freedom and existence cannot be separated. One does not first exist and later become free; rather to be human is already to be free. For him also, action implies freedom, but then, how can we conceptualise freedom? The more clarify its meaning the more it eludes our human language. However, precious one may esteem it, but its nature is insubstantial and fleeting. Thus freedom is established by an act of negating. Furthermore, Sartres theory of freedom is opposed to determinism.  For determinists, every human choice takes place according to some laws of a causal or functional sort. If we abide by Sartres notion that a person is a victim of some psychological and biological forces then how can we admit the fact that a person could acted otherwise.
We came to see that our freedom does not determine with any circumstances and situation that seem in the worlds phenomena liable to pose on our free will. However, we further argued that if freedom must co-exist with any form of determinism, cannot say that one is free. It should be noted that in spite of the freedom of choice we try to analyse, man is held responsible morally for whatever actions he perform.  So also, the main perceive threats to our freedom of will are various alleged determinisms: physical, psychological, biological, and theological. For each varieties of determinism, there are many scholars who deny its reality, either because of the existence of free will or on independent groups; or sometime accept its reality but argue for its compatibility with free will, or accept its reality and deny its compatibility.
In conclusion however, It is true that many people follow religious norms and beliefs without question, that does not hinder our human freedom and that is why Sartre is not comfortable with the existence of God.

Blackham H.J. (1965), ed. Reality, Man and Existence: Existential works of Existentialism, (New York: Bentham Books,).
Frederick Compleston, (1975), A History of Philosophy, Vol. 9, (Britain: Burns and Oates Press,)
Jean-Paul Sartre, (1956), Being and Nothingness, Trans. By Hazel Barnes, (New York: Philosophical Library,)
M Natanson, (1973), A Critique of Jean-Paul Sartres Ontology, (Netherlands: Marinus Nijhoff Publication,).
Martin Heidegger, (1982), The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. By Albert Hofstadter, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,).
Martin J.w. (1976), A History of Philosophy, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd,).
Robert Denoon, (1965), The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, (ed.) (New York: Vintage Books,).
Yves Simon, (1969), Freedom of Choice, edited by Peter Wolff, (New York: Fordham University Press,)

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