This paper, using work from JP Sartre and Nikolai Berdyaev, will attempt a detailed explanation of existentialism relative to the formula, “existence before essence,” the defining creed, so to speak, of the existentialist movement. With Sartre, the central idea is freedom leads to torture and pain. For Berdyaev, creativity is the antidote to this pain. Creativity is to Berdyaev what Marxism became to Sartre, a way out. It seems only rational to treat these two famous existentialists as complimentary to each other.
The purpose behind existentialism, in its widest meaning, is to preserve freedom in the 20th century, a century saturated with totalist movements that sought to make the human person a mere cog in a larger machine: capitalism, Leninism, Hitlerism and even globalism seek ends and goals outside the person, in the name of abstract historical forces that the individual person will help bring about (Flynn, 2006, 1-11ff). Existentialism is a rebellion against the 20th century for that reason. Philosophy should concern itself with the individual, not with “social forces” or “historical destiny.
” 1. In the work of JP Sartre, freedom is not a destiny, but the fundamental fact of mankind. This fact cannot be denied. Ideology, theology, metaphysics and even psychology are means of denying this freedom, blaming other people, structures and social life or even history for the problems deriving from the choices that individuals make. This is the essence of Sartre: freedom is a curse, but a worse curse is denying that freedom in the name of some other end, some end dictated by “historical forces.
” In the 21st century, such problems have not been solved, and the ego is as under siege as it has always been (Flynn, 2006, 67-69). For Sartre, freedom, ego and consciousness are one in the same object. What typifies all of these three is instability. What typifies bad faith is the desire to end this instability by attaching one’s ego to ideological objects that purport to “solve” the problem of human, historical existence. Instability and a lack of both satisfaction and community are the two hallmarks of freedom and the human condition. It is absurd precisely in that there is no solution.
But if ego, consciousness and freedom are all one object, what does that mean for human behavior? It means that man is the choices he makes. Man is self created. But in this creation, man is fully responsible for what he has become in this struggle. There are no excuses. The specific argument from Sartre looks like this: a. Man is absolutely free. This means that consciousness can abstract from any object in space, or any object that exists in the consciousness of the individual itself. These are also one and the same thing. b. This means that objects exist only for consciousness.
It matters not if some objects exist in themselves or not (a concept dealt with more below), but rather only that they exist for the person in question. Objects exist, then, only to the extent they are objects of consciousness, not whether or not they exist in themselves. But this further means that man creates himself, and that he creates the objects in consciousness. c. So if man is freedom, and objects exist only to the extent they exist for consciousness (and hence derive from the person, not from the outside world), then man not only creates himself, but also the world outside the self.
What this leads to is torture. This is because, as man is responsible for what she becomes, and can make no excuses for this, there are no real guides, and hence, there is 100% responsibility with 0% knowledge of what is right and wrong. This is another reason life is absurd (McCulloch, 1994, 17. ) But the human person is aware that there are objects that come into consciousness, but sometimes, objects appear to be “outside” the ego’s control. In other words, that objects seem to be “brute givens,” objects in space that harm the person’s freedom in that they seem to control themselves.
This is another form of torture, in that the ego is aware of its complete freedom, and yet is confronted with other objects (especially other egos) that seem to resist our control. But, like Hegel, this slowly begins to develop into some inchoate idea of community, but this is far into the future. In our case, this confrontation only really has two choices, neither of which is really pleasant: first, love. Love is unpleasant in that it is the appropriation of the other, the absorption of the other into one’s world.
This is similar to Hegel’s slave/master dialectic that eventually leads to the consciousness of some form of primitive community. But for Sartre, while community is possible, it can only be reached through pain and torture. But the second way of dealing with other egos is sadism: domination, the master/slave dialectic of Hegel. In this latter option, the other ego is not seen as manifesting pure freedom, but rather being a mere object. But given the epistemology above, the object is space is what consciousness/freedom makes it, and hence, objectification or love has no moral basis, it is merely two ways of dealing with “facticity.
” Both are consistent with existentialism and the idea that freedom exists prior to objects. This is another and more accurate way of saying “existence before essence. ” (Sartre, 2007, 22) But the phrase “existence before essence,” by now, should be clear that both words of this couplet are misnomers. There is really no stable existence in that existence is pure freedom. The ego is free in a radical sense of being determined by nothing (including internal reasons), but, given this, there is no essence either.
Freedom is not a thing that can be analyzed. It is a state, the state of all human existence (or at least, of mine). From this, one can conclude that there is no “creation,” no real external world, and hence, no god to create it (Jones, 1980, 235-236). What I am confronted by in the world are objects that seem to restrict my freedom, and I am to dominate them one way or another, either through love or though objectification. It seems that both of these are one and the same thing: both are objectified, the beloved object and the objectified object.
Both of these options are about objectification and absorption: the beloved is taken into the world of the lover without regard to the beloved’s ideas of the matter, and the victim of the sadist is also an object, an object through which the ego expresses its domination over all objects presented to it. Putting it more directly, man has only an adversarial and alien existence on earth. There is no intrinsic purpose to human life and what is worse, that postulating kinds of purposes are always the best examples of bad faith and intellectual dishonesty (Levy, 2003, 166ff).
Courtney from Study Moose
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