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Philosophical Theory Essay

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was a renowned French philosopher of twentieth century Europe. His highly unique political philosophy was merely influenced by the work of Marx and Hegel. From 1945 and onwards, his writings had dominated political themes which further recognized him as Europe’s best public intellectual of the century. One of his famous essays was “Anti-Semite and Jew” which had criticized French complicity in the Holocaust and defined oppression as an interpersonal recognition distortion (Sartre’s Political Philosophy; IEP).

He co-founded “Les Temps Modernes”, a journal which published seminal essays on world affairs and political theory. It was only in 1950 when Sartre’s political inclination bent towards Marxism; he eventually released “Critique of Dialectic Reason, Vol. 1” in 1960, a systematic account which massively spoke of group struggle and history (Sartre’s Political Philosophy; IEP). Critique embodied Sartre’s earlier radical view and philosophy of existential freedom which had further led to his pioneering fusion of Marxism and Existentialism – an original political philosophy which touched the tension between historical forces and individual freedom.

Marxism implied that societies can be better understood through struggle which existed between powerless and powerful groups. Existentialism viewed individuals as entities responsible for the numerous authorless social ills (Sartre’s Political Philosophy; IEP). It is in this respect that authenticity is considered a primary existential virtue; that is, it is a requirement for a person to critically examine one’s social situation prior to his or her acceptance of personal culpability with respect to the choices one made within that certain situation.

In short, his new political philosophy embodied theories of both moral responsibility and individual agency. His well recognized work “Existentialism is a Humanism” although which was presented and shared a common argument of the categorical imperative of Kant, spoke largely of Marxism and Hegelianism. With respect to Marx and Hegel, Sartre developed his very own political view as reflected on his “Notebooks for an Ethics” (1982) (Sartre’s Political Philosophy; IEP).

He agreed with Hegel who claimed that in order to win recognition, humans need to undergo a mutual struggle (Being and Nothingness). Initially, Sartre rejected the notion of transcending struggle by relations of mutual and reciprocal recognition; that is, all human relations according to Sartre, were by products of the master and slave relation. However, his idea on human relations was altered as he made the Notebooks.

This may be summarized into four parts: (1) that there is a possibility for struggle to be transcended by both reciprocal and mutual recognition (2) that struggle is located in history and society rather than in onthology (3) that the struggle for recognition is a significant component in analyzing oppression as a form of domination and (4) that social solidarity was an ontological reality (dependent on recognition ties) rather than psychological projection which Hegel had claimed. Sartre’s theory of Existentialism had always accompanied Marxism.

His description of social reality utilized Marx’s structural analysis which he further used to “rescue” Marxism’s categorization as “lazy dogmatism” (Sartre’s Political Philosophy; IEP). The combination of Existentialism and Marxism into a single unique theory criticized not only the economic class being a significant structural factor, but also human situation as dictated by gender, family, death and birth. An individual’s intention, he further claimed, can be sufficiently explained not by “objective interests” alone but through the combination of class analysis and personal history.

Soren Kierkegaard Another renowned philosopher and Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard relied on the theory of Existentialism with respect to understanding human relations and individual particularity. Prior the release of his famous work “The Sickness unto Death”, Kierkegaard had claimed that there are forces at work in society and history which when projected, tend to focus on “sheer oneness” defined by singleness and particularity rather than by unity with others (Kierkegaard, Soren; 1989).

The European society’s massive industrialization in the nineteenth century had led to the disruption of rurally-based societies and organic groupings with their respective identified function. Kierkegaard claimed that the age of rationalization had further drained the ethical content with respect to a well-defined group’s membership (intensive division of labor, multiple social roles and loss of corporate identity) and promoted “rational” reorganization (Kierkegaard, Soren; 1989). It was in this respect that he emphasized the world’s need of “absolute” particularity in oppose to universality.

The notion of particularity, as Kierkegaard claimed, is precisely reflected in the principle of Christianity. Individuals find themselves in a lonely self emancipating situation, by which they are considered single human beings who stand before God. The more individual lose one’s social identity, the more “spiritual” and undifferentiated one becomes. Kierkegaard’s notion of the “true self” is one which conforms to the image of humanity as reflected by God through Christ (Kierkegaard, Soren; 1989).

With respect to this principle, there are two theoretical dilemmas which other public intellectuals like Sartre may be facing: (1) in such a manner by which an individual stood before God, there is a possibility that the split between social and personal life is further accentuated (in oppose to Sartre’s dependence on both social and personal analysis); that is, the self and social life cannot be combined into one and (2) the situational status itself and that an individual identity for instance, cannot be placed over social and familial roles (which again contradicts Sartre’s notion of human situation as a by product of family, gender and other social structures). The Existentialist Thinker If it is in fact true to say that neither Kierkegaard nor Sartre agree with each other’s philosophy, why are they both considered existentialists any way? The very notion of Existentialism suggests that individual essence can only be realized after the “existence” of an individual had occurred and not the other way around; and that human beings cannot be understood in terms of science (Existentialism; 2010; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). As per Sartre’s definition, Existentialism viewed individuals as entities who are responsible for a certain social situation.

In respect to this, an individual’s authentic value (so to speak one’s personal originality) is considered as the theory’s existential virtue necessary to examine one’s individual situation within a given social phenomenon. Kierkegaard, like Sartre, recognized the value for individual authenticity. Instead of relying on universality, he emphasized on the importance of absolute particularity of individuals. Placing a high regard for individual particularity over a more collective and universal approach to human relations and the society, Sartre and Kierkegaard somehow shared a common ground with respect to political philosophy. Thus, the accuracy of such theory may be defined in subjective terms rather than objective.

Kierkegaard and Sartre viewed individuals as the center of rationalization; that is, when an individual is born, he or she is authentic by nature, one who dictated rather than be dictated by social condition; however, individual existentialism can be deemed applicable not only towards understanding human action and intention along with other social structures (for instance familial and social roles) but also towards absolute particularity which rejected the very notion of social influence. References “Sartre’s Political Philosophy”; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP): A Peer Reviewed Academic Resource. Kierkegaard, Soren (1989); “The Sickness unto Death”; Penguin Group. “Existentialism” (2010); Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Sartre, Jean-Paul (1993); “Essays in Existentialism”; Citadel Press


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