The argument of whether we humans are pre determined to turn out how we are and act the way we do or if we are our own decision makers and have the freedom to choose our paths in life is a long-standing controversy. The ideas of Sartre, Freud, and Darwin are each strong in their own manner, yet Sartre presents the best and most realistic argument as to how we choose our path; we are in control of the things we do and responsible for the decisions we make.
Not only this, but also, our decisions have an effect on our peer’s choices, just as theirs affect ours. In this paper, I will argue that Jean-Paul Sartre makes the best argument of the three philosophers in saying we can choose our own path and direction in life because as humans we are consciously aware of what is going on around us and base our decisions on that. During the mid 1900s, when Jean-Paul Sartre began publishing his ideas, his reasons for free will and disbelief in determined human nature began to show up.
He is an atheist existentialist; therefore, he believes that philosophy is directly related to individual’s emotions, responsibilities, actions, thought, and “if God does not exist there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence” (Sartre 187). This means simply that man first exists, discovers himself, and then goes on to define who he is. With this, Sartre believes strongly that individuals have an innate freedom to choose the meaning of their lives based on the decisions they make. He talks in his exposition titled Existentialism and Humanism, about how man begins with nothing and no purpose.
He proceeds to say, “He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it” (188). His quote is explaining that when we are born, we are not who we are going to be in our lives. Who we grow to be is all dependent on the decisions we make throughout our life and how we are affected by the people around us. Our freedom to choose what we do and our consciousness are directly related; therefore, we make each of our choices for a reason.
With each and every decision we make in our lives, we are shaping our purpose and our meaning, but in making our own choices, we have to take on the responsibilities that come with that power. Every individual needs to be accountable for his own actions. Sartre explains in his exposition, “I cannot obtain any truth whatsoever about myself, except through the mediation of another” (199). This is saying that we need others to help us form our own decisions create and image of how we are to be perceived.
It is our responsibility to establish our own value and make the best choices for us and our peers. Sartre goes on to argue, “When we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men” (188). As individuals part of a larger group of humans, we must come to the understanding that all of our choices will affect our peers and have an impact on the decisions they will choose to make which in return affect us. Many people turn to a higher power to pawn off responsibility for their actions.
For example, acts of terrorism are often blamed on a higher power “speaking” to the group of terrorists telling them to do this, however, this higher power does not exist and the responsibility is completely on the individuals. Our choices and actions create an image of humanity and human nature; therefore, we must consciously make decisions that will benefit our group as a whole. In reading part three of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, I had a difficult time finding where in there free will could be seen.
After reading thorough it again, it began to show up that the citizens really didn’t have total freedom. Their decisions were being controlled by the individuals in the government, therefore, preventing them from having true free will. Although in today’s society we are still be controlled by the government just as Winston is in the story, Sartre’s argument of free will still exists. We can still make our own choices to do what we want, but as he said we are also still responsible for our actions, whichever they may be. Sigmund Freud is a philosopher who is well known for his studies in child development.
He believed strongly that the choices that are made for you as a child are ones that will shape who you are as you get older. As far as free will, Freud believes it is something in which we like to think that we have, but really our life is already chosen for us. The way our life is chosen during the child development period is specific and unique for each and every human being because we all encounter different experiences. To Freud, our actions are chosen by an unconscious force, therefore, leaving us no room for free will.
As mentioned before, Freud says that we like to think that we have free will, but in reality it is just unconsciously predetermined thoughts which shape our decisions. He argues in Totem and Taboo, “If one of them undergoes psycho-analytic treatment, which makes what is unconscious in him conscious, he will be unable to believe that thoughts are free will…” (101). With this, he says that because we like to think we have free will, we also believe strongly in superstitions Other determinist philosophers, such as Skinner, believe that there are some behaviors and actions which are not predictable, however, Freud argues otherwise.
His method of thinking is incorrect because as Sartre says, our choices are made by free will and have an effect on others. This effect on others is the reason for their decisions; therefore, it is not the result on an innate predetermined force. Charles Darwin is well known for his evolutionist theories on how we developed from apes into the human being we are today. His most famous idea is that of natural selection, also known as survival of the fittest. He argues that we are a result of a “blind process” of man changing based on the environments we are placed in.
He says that animals adapt physically to their settings through bodily transformations whereas humans adapt to their environments with a change in their habitual behavior passed down through inheritance. Charles Darwin writes in The Descent of Man, “Thus the social and moral qualities would tend slowly to advance and be diffused throughout the world” (166). Darwin strongly argues this point that we are determined by the social changes made by our ancestors. He believes that these changes are made over a large period of time and then slowly be acquired by others.
With this, it can be concluded that Darwin believes we are determined by pre-existing factors especially the habitual changes of our ancestors. Sartre prepares the best argument out of the 3 philosophers to explain our method of choosing our paths in life. We are not unconsciously choosing based on our child development as Freud implies, and we are not who we are based on the process of natural selection which our ancestors have gone through just like Darwin suggests.
We are, in fact, the result of choices both ourselves and others have made and the effects that these decisions create on society. We are all held accountable for our actions and are not to blame a higher power for choosing our courses when we negatively affect others. In lacking a higher power we have no other source of value to turn to other than our own actions. From Sartre’s argument, it is clear to see that we are given the freedom to choose our purpose in life and are presented with a conscious free will in all situations.
Courtney from Study Moose
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