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Dustin Saksek
Dr. Lee
5/11/12
Phenomenology and Existentialism
Condemned To Freedom
In Freedom and Responsibility Jean-Paul Sartre sets out to explore the significance of the
“freedom of the for-itself”, to break away from this being a mainly ethical consideration, and to
discover and explain the significance this holds for the individual, and humanity as a whole
(449).
He begins in recapping an earlier piece stating that man is “condemned to be free”, and
that through this condemnation man “carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders”
(499). “Condemned to be free” seems almost paradoxical at a glance, but in this context is
merely a diction reinforced way of stating that “with freedom comes responsibility”. This
responsibility, Sartre argues, is for both “the whole world, and for himself as a way of being”, a
way to conduct oneself (499). He specifies that responsibility in this context is being defined as
“consciousness (of) being the incontestable author of an event or of an object” (499). This is
where the first and foremost problem with Sartre’s argument can be found. A gross allencompassing assumption is made here with stating that each individual is condemned to be free,
through this condemnation is the weight of responsibility for every action one might ever
encounter, responsibility for every opportunity, every chance to make a decision, and that this
responsibility requires one to be capable of recognizing themselves as “the incontestable author
of an event or of an object” (499). Does the whole of humanity then, according to Sartre, possess
the capacity to recognize themselves as the individual responsible for all of their acts? What of

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the young child who has yet to pass through the different levels of cognitive development;
Sensory-motor, Pre-operational, Concrete operational and Formal Operational as outlined by
Jean Piaget? What of those never provided the opportunity to foster the ability to think critically,
what of the elderly who are afflicted with alzheimer's, or of the intellectually disabled? Are these
not people, not individual humans if they cannot recognize this responsibility? Do they not
possess any consciousness? Sartre ironically assumes the classical definition of man, an animal
capable of reason. Ironic in his distancing himself from the traditional western philosophy which
builds itself upon this, and apparently ignorant in the face of these all too numerous examples
which without the capacity to reason at the level Sartre assumes, are merely animals, not human.
Sartre continues by reiterating the afore-mentioned sentiments stating “He must assume
the situation with the proud consciousness of being the author of it” (500). The diction in this
reiteration provides stronger evidence for the above noted criticism against his argument. In
choosing the word must, he removes any exception that might be made for those not possessing
the ability to “assume the situation with the proud consciousness of being the author of it” (500).
He continues in apparent ignorance of this dilemma his proposal faces saying that because one
holds complete and utter responsibility for their behavior, for whatever the outcome of this
behavior may be, it is “senseless to think of complaining” (500). For under the preposition that
there is no God, as Sartre is writing, each individual is then the cause, the source of whatever the
situation they endure (500).
Sartre’s next point is to establish that there are “no non-human situations” (500). This
concept is drawn up from the observation that the absolute responsibility he describes is a direct
result of our freedom. That all that happens to me, happens through me, and thus it is mine (500).
All that I experience is then my own experience, my situation, is just that, my situation. Nothing

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I ever encounter will be an experience not mine. For some experience to not be my own is for it
to not exist to me, for me to have never had that experience. Even should I vicariously view
another’s situation I take a level of ownership from that situation in two senses; the empathetic
level in vicariously participating, receiving some level of understanding of the situation, and the
experience of performing the very act of vicariously participating. So then each situation “is
mine because it is the image of my free choice of myself” (500). The situation is in effect, Sartre
argues, always a reflection of one’s own choices. The very difficulty of a decision, the level of
perceived adversity is dictated by the individual making the decision, and thus “there is no nonhuman experience” (500). Whatever the circumstance, it is always a human experience, it is
always a show of humanity, be it humane, or tragically inhumane, be it the founding of an
orphanage or the holocaust, it is a human experience just the same. The difference lies only in
that a different side of humanity is displayed in each of these cases.
Sartre Continues to build upon this with the claim that “there are no accidents in a life”
(500). What this means is that there are no random occurrences in one’s life,
If I am mobilized in a war, this war is my war; it is in my image
and I deserve it. I deserve it first because I could always get out of
it by suicide or by desertion. (500)
There is always a choice, no matter the finality of it. A problem to be observed in this though is
that it seems to assume a simple cause and effect to explain things. If one’s situation is fully the
consequence of their decision, then what does this say of the student whose school has lost
funding? It assumes a simple cause and effect, and gives no recognition of one’s environment. A
much more thorough of an explanation of interaction would mirror the sociological systems
theory in which there are six constituents; the individual, the microsphere, mesosphere,

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macrosphere, exosphere, and chromosphere. Each of these levels interacts, is effected by, and
affects, the neighboring levels. These interactions shape each level, including the individual. To
state that there are no accidents in a life, that the individual must take full responsibility for a
situation is to ignore the influence of each and every facet of that individual’s environment. Is it
a choice for a native speaker of one of the Aboriginal languages, living in Australia, never
having contacted any individuals outside of their own culture, not aware of other cultures
existing, to not speak German, Czech, or Spanish? This is a choice not at all made by the
individual, as the very concept of speaking any of these languages does not exist. This is an
environmentally constructed control preventing said choice that is heavily influenced by the
interactions of governments and cultures on a global scale.
This stipulation is not addressed, and Sartre continues with quoting J. Romains; “In war
there are no innocent victims” (501). This is a return to the finality of decisions touched on
before. If “I have preferred war to death or dishonor, everything takes place as if I bore the
entire responsibility for this war” (501). Whatever the finality of the alternatives, they are still
choices, and the results one experiences are still the elected anterior to those options not taken.
Should one attempt to downplay their responsibility as being only an accomplice to some act or
decision, Sartre prepares the response that ; “this notion of complicity has only a juridical sense”
(501). An example of this would be Adolf Eichmann who claimed to merely be doing as he was
told in rerouting the German train network (Lee). His actions effectively streamlined an
industrialized genocide, yet he tried to dissuade responsibility. How many small concessions are
to be allotted to this man to shirk the responsibility of his actions; one, two, as many as he needs
to completely pass on the blame for what he assisted/allowed? To give one concession is to

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break down the flood gates to all other concessions, and so the reality is then that humans by
large and individually are without excuse (501).
To further cement the concept that a situation is one’s own, that they hold ownership over
it, Sartre says,
The war is mine because by the sole fact that it arises in a situation
which I cause to be, and that I can discover it there only by
engaging myself for or against it. (501)
This is to say that one crafts the very sum of what they are through the decisions they make.
Should I eat a banana, I am then a man who has eaten a banana, should I burn a building to the
ground I am a man who has burnt a building down. Reiterating this point he states “In this war
which I have chosen I choose myself from day to day and I make it mine by making myself”
(501). One is, Sartre argues, the sum of their decisions. This however leaves room for criticism
once again. Do potential and aspirations, the fantasies that transcend one’s actual situation, and
very being, not too constitute an individual as Maurice Merleau-Ponty proposes? Is it not
reasonable to Sartre to consider an individual as not merely the sum of their decisions, but the
resulting conglomerate synthesis of their decisions, their passions, their fantasies, their
environments, and the interaction between each of these facets? To have passion, emotion,
imagination, and varied impactful environments we are wildly flung into, each human experience
differing, without choice, contributing to the life-long sculpting process of one’s self, is far more
encompassing than the single, simple, neat black stroke upon a white canvas which Sartre’s
argument seems to proclaim each man and woman to be. Even here in specifying not just
“individuals”, but “man and woman”, are there not entirely different life experiences, different
existential conditions to be explored? Once more, the machine language of Sartre’s ironically

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classical vision of mankind seems far too narrow in scope to hope to encompass the near
indefinitely differing visceral humanity of humanity.
Sartre continues by rearing his head against the above criticism; “each person is an
absolute upsurge at an absolute date and is perfectly unthinkable at another date” (501).
According to this, one is exactly what they are, the sum of their past decisions, nothing more,
and nothing less. “X” is “x”, and only “x”. You, the president, a starving child, and myself, are
exactly what we are, purely, strictly, the sum of our individual decisions, taking absolute
responsibility for our varied experiences, for they are our own, and death is always an option,
merely one less readily accepted. To accept these conditions over death is to elect these as
preferable to death, and thus, the situation is deserved. If one’s situation is their own, and their
decisions both constitute the whole of what they are, and dictate the situation, they are that
situation; “Thus I am this war which restricts and limits and makes comprehensible the period
which preceded it” (502). With this Sartre is able to add more specific context to the earlier
quoted Romains in stating;
“There are no innocent victims,” we add the words, “we have the
war we deserve”. (502)
In having “what we deserve”, and being entirely responsible for what we have, we are
individually alone in carrying the burden of this absolute responsibility. Absolute responsibility
which is in each case, Sartre argues, deserved; “I carry the weight of the world by myself alone
without anything or any person being able to lighten it” (502).
There is however one thing for which we are not responsible, our very responsibility
itself, “for I am not the foundation of my being” (502). One has no say in the matter of their
being flung into existence, but once this is so, one is, by this argument, fully responsible for their

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behavior, thoughts, actions of any kind, and very situation of their existence. Any act of defiance
of this responsibility only serves to affirm said responsibility. The same as attempting to take
one’s own life is an affirmation of having a life to take. To question one’s life is to acknowledge
it, otherwise, what is it that is being questioned? Not only are these actions affirming of one’s
life, but affirming of one’s responsibility. To question one’s life is then to question one’s
responsibility, and to question one’s responsibility is to acknowledge it (503). So even in
defiance there is no escape; one can deify a brick wall as directly or passively as they like, but
passive resistance still requires something to passively resist, and direct resistance to the wall
would merely result in a flatter nose. With responsibility one may try to passively ignore/resist,
but only in recognition, in affirmation of its existence, and likewise with direct resistance, it
would result only in being abruptly slammed back into the reality of having responsibility.
With no escape from this declared absolute responsibility which presents itself in every
second of consciousness, “every event in the world can be revealed to me only as an
opportunity” (503). It is an opportunity for a decision for which one is responsible. Even the
very interaction had with others is then conceived of as only an opportunity to act, to make a
decision, to make countless decisions. The one being an other for the rest of the world, and this
logic applied to each individual of the world demonstrates how “the responsibility of the foritself extends itself to the entire world as a peopled-world” (503). For each other is then the one
of their own world perspective. This returns to an earlier preposition made by Sartre, that this
responsibility is for both “the whole world, and for himself as a way of being” (499). It is
through this that Sartre proposes and argues that one is “no longer anything but a freedom which
perfectly reveals itself and whose being resides in this very revelation” (503). One is, Sartre

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argues, a being whose very existence and conditions are a sum of their own decisions, the
complete and utter consequences of their entirely free decisions.

Works Cited
Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Freedom and Responsibility.” Author. Phenomenology and existentialism.
Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
Lee, Wendy. "Phenomenology and Existentialism." Class Meeting. Bloomsburg University,
Bloomsburg PA. 2 May. 2012. Lecture.