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  • Writer's pictureJude

Existentialism: What would Sartre’s response be if we asked “What does it mean to be fre

We ended the first part of the article highlighting Sartre thoughts of consciousness as freedom. He concentrates on the desire of the consciousness in wishing. For instance: Lottery winners who become millionaires instantly after winning a lucky draw. A majority people do not plan to win the lottery’s largest prize, they just hope that luck is on their side acknowledging there is a chance. Although some people invest in buying many tickets in order to increase their chances in the game. You could state it was their wish or desire to win the lottery. Another wish they may have could be working harder to be promoted for a higher position in their company. Many previous winners of the lottery have become overwhelmed by the substantial increase of money they win, hence they cannot manage it properly resulting in many factors contributing to their downfall. By winning such a grand prize, once achieved you can cease desiring or endeavouring to achieve any more than that – as in many people’s minds you have enough to live for the rest of your life. Maybe the other wishes someone has after achieving this prize is simply outweighed. This has been the case for many previous winners who quit their job, bought everything they desired and suddenly felt pointless. In this sense, Sartre’s view that the ability to consciously wish is more fundamental to freedom than achieving that wish and obtaining such financial freedom.

Sartre expands on his concept by providing two terms, facticity and situation, to inquire further into the role of freedom. In the facticity of freedom, Sartre states that “we are condemned to be free” whether we like it or not. It is impossible to not be free. Freedom has always been advocated as a good thing. This ties in with another concept within Being and Nothingness called Bad Faith, which in summary is a lie to oneself. Someone who is suffering from Bad Faith tries to escape the freedom which the Being-for-itself has by denying it and accepting other notions. For instance; a criminal that has been imprisoned could accept this and play his role as prisoner. For Sartre, dismissing freedom and the ability to desire otherwise than what is your preoccupation suggests you are acting no differently to a Being-In-Itself, which has no consciousness. Evidently this runs into a problem. We have a Law system, and with most cases it results in jail. You are stripped from your freedom, as your actions have not abided by the Law. Sartre’s concept of freedom loops, or rather entertains a fallacy where if you desire something you must continuously desire. For instance: I cannot sit and wish the days away in that jail cell. I must utilise that conscious desire in order to stay free. Maybe by reading books, writing a story or enhancing my body. For Sartre I would need continuous use or my freedom as acting in Bad Faith or achieving one specific wish is not ideal.

There is another thought in Philosophy based on a similar notion of freedom presented by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche in his book Twilight of the Idols. In a discussion of freedom of the will, Nietzsche claims that the true sense of free will is realised through the achievement of a set goal. This is the opposite of Sartre’s notion of freedom which supports continuous desire. In example: I may wish to become a professional Football player at the highest level, which in this country would be playing for a team in the Barclays Premier League where you are more than likely to progress to a higher level by playing in Europe or representing your nation in International competitions. Evidently most Football players want to reach the pinnacle of the game, but if you are not qualified enough you may have to settle for less. Nevertheless that does not mean you must stop trying or wish for other means as Sartre’s concept of freedom suggests. Nietzsche’s view would advocate trying to reach that level, it would be more fulfilling to achieve that wish than to simply dream. This could be a criticism of Sartre’s concept of freedom. Instead of achieving your desire, he maintains freedom at a conscious level – this is hardly different to dreaming. We can dream but never actually achieve, considering this Sartre’s concept of freedom could be stated as the freedom to dream rather than desire – because in our dreams we can romanticise about possibilities which simply cannot be, the same range of thoughts can be entertained in our waking consciousness. True freedom, to Nietzsche, is the will to affirm and be responsible for yourself.

To utilise your freedom you will face competition from struggles in everyday life, e.g. discrimination, being prevented financially or lack of qualifications to proceed with your aims. However, differentiating from Sartre’s view, this does not mean you should alter your desires and put your faith elsewhere in order to claim you are in use of your freedom. Similarly to conventional views, freedom in this case is to accept their fate and attempt to overcome. For example: Black people who were openly discriminated against after the slave trade for decades by other races and authorities. They acknowledged and were aware of the treatment they suffered. In counter effort campaigning for this treatment to be overturned was fore fronted by many influential speakers such as Martin Luther King, Malcom X – and similarly in South Africa during the apartheid the efforts by Nelson Mandela and other key figures in the fight against discrimination. In the end the outcome due to such determinations took great steps toward freedom for a multitude of coloured people. This acknowledgement of your position in life and accepting it, to Nietzsche, is called Amor Fati. The notion of loving ones fate. This does not necessarily mean you accept things to be that way, but it shows you have the freedom to strive against them and not accept things that way.

As Sartre states, consciousness is the key to freedom even though it is nothingness. Some may question what does this mean in the concept when consciousness is not available to be called upon e.g. when the consciousness is not directly controlled by the Being-for-itself, maybe through sleep or some form of hypnosis. In John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding he briefly touches upon such a point, an example of the point is presented in an analogy of Socrates awake and Socrates asleep – referring to being conscious and being unconscious. Locke suggests Socrates asleep and Socrates awake are not the same person, he claims they are in fact two persons because Socrates awake does not know of the actions Socrates asleep has committed. For Locke, this is no concern to Socrates awake as he was not at fault for the actions of another man. This thought has been implemented into Law and is the basis for claiming insanity. In example: A person who is deemed to be insane may have lapses in memory, they may commit a crime and have no recollection of it several moments later. Hence instead of jailing and treating them like other people who are in control of their consciousness, they are sent to psychiatric hospitals in attempt to fix this battle between their unconsciousness and consciousness. Using this ideology it could be stated that when we are not in control of our consciousness, we are in fact not free like Sartre’s concept suggests.

A majority of us do not know what to do with our freedom, yet we are forced to be free. Sartre claims by stating we are not free, we lie to ourselves playing the role of a Being-in-itself, defined by our past or set up for the future. For instance: those discriminated people who state they are not entitled to be free in such a society. Sartre’s concept of freedom claims they are living in the past, as they are some engrossed with previous events and they allow this to define their present and future. This is no different to a chair, which is created with the intention to be used as a seat. It was created in the past and its objective nature has come through to the present and will serve the same purpose in the future. However this would not be entirely true for all those who understand discrimination and claim it effects them in Society today. In Franz Fanon’s book Black Skin White Masks he presents an overview of racism he has experienced in the past. Despite this recollection, Fanon states “I will not make myself a man of the past. I do not want to sing the past to the detriment of my present and future” pointing out that both sides of discrimination are holding onto the ill and oppressive notions embedded within them through ancestry. In order to overcome this he states “Both (black people and white people) have to move away from the inhuman voices of their respective ancestors so that a genuine communication can be born.” Evidently he does not hold to this logic, but still notes the lack of freedom in certain societies which must be addressed.

Simone de Beauvoir’s views on oppression could be used to reinforce this point. In her book The Second Sex she describes oppression from men as segregating women into another section called the other, where they are forced into the role of the object whilst men remain in the role of the subject. This is similar to Sartre’s notions of being; Being-in-itself and Being-for-itself. The women’s role is forced by Society to enact that of a Being-in-itself. In example: The idea that a woman’s job in Society is to be impregnated by men and nurture their Children into Society whilst doing the men’s bidding. Whilst the man wills to do whatever he likes in the World, the women waits to be saved. In denying the woman the same rights the man has, the man is denying her humanity. The man in this case represents the Being-for-itself, as seen in the previous examples through his consciousness he can do whatever he likes through his freedom. Oppression and discrimination hold similarities, as the group of people it is against both lack freedom. Despite these points which represent conventional views of freedom, Sartre’s concept points to Bad Faith as an explanation for those who claim they are not free. Freedom cannot be enclosed as suggested through discrimination or oppression. Controversially this would mean Sartre would not accept there being a lack of freedom in the most coercive cases e.g. slavery, a sexist society or in a religious country. It could be claimed that those discriminated against and oppressed in Society do not experience this existential freedom Sartre advocates in his concept.

In conclusion, Sartre’s concept of freedom in response to the question what does it mean to be free presents many notions. Sartre is adamant that the consciousness leads to freedom, this is somewhat a controversial view but it is understandable as Sartre did not intend to divulge into societal effects. There are criticisms of Sartre’s concept of freedom, one presented by Leo Franchi. Franchi states Sartre concept of freedom implies the only way to encroach a man’s freedom is by killing him. As we cannot control each other’s consciousness in his view, the only way to intrude upon another’s is by preventing him from using it. That extreme would be murder. Franchi states this is an uncomfortable position to take, as it does not feel natural to him to suggest no matter what we do to each other we cannot effect each other’s sense of freedom. This ties in with many if not all the previous points and examples I have made throughout the essay. We are born into this world with a lack of sentience. We cannot control our consciousness to an extent we can claim we are free until adulthood e.g. when we are children many ideologies are imposed upon us, we are named by our Parents, we are placed in Schooling and nursing in order to learn things Society wants us to know in order to grow up and become its benefactor. We adopt our Parents ideologies, such as their thoughts on other people, religion, tradition and cultures subconsciously until we are of age and in a position to create, manage and adopt other thoughts. Are these forms of knowledge embedded within us from birth our own? If not that would suggest these thoughts have been encouraged into our mind, this shows a lack of freedom as we have not come to our own rational conclusions.

Sartre’s concept may state that we are free to desire or wish otherwise e.g. we may have been brought up to be Christians, but we can revert to Islam or simply give up our faith. It is still conspicuous that some people have been effected to an extent they cannot change their ideologies. Going back to John Locke, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding he argues against Innatism by presenting his thoughts on why it cannot be true. Sartre’s concept of freedom suggests an innate idea, as our consciousness would tell us we are free. However in Locke’s view, the mind is a tabula rasa which means a blank state. Innatism suggests we are born with knowledge, like the idea we are all born with a notion of God. This is an innate idea presented by Descartes. Locke asserts if Innatism is true, that innate notion we are supposed to share must be evident at birth. In this case, if we all shared this notion of freedom innately, due to the consciousness, we would all have share this similar sense of freedom Sartre does. For these reasons it is somewhat impossible to continuously use Sartre’s existential freedom.

Despite these points in the conclusion, I admire parts of this idea of freedom being conscious desire and Sartre’s existential framework in whole. As in today’s Society we are often presented with roadblocks within our mind. For instance: being told you cannot achieve something simply because you are of a certain race, creed or level. A grade could indicate you are poor at History and it may deter you from taking interest in the subject again. However a grade should not prevent such an endeavour. We are free to research once more without an education systems guide or marking, but out of genuine interest. Since understanding Sartre’s concept I have acknowledged my mind is freer than what I once thought. Utilising this expansion I have continuously attempted to fill the void.

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