You are on page 1of 8

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

CHAPTER 1: INTRAPERSONAL DIMENSION


Lecture 5: The Human Person as Free Being

Man is condemned to be free.


Jean-Paul Sartres Existentialism
Ryan Calica
Biographical Note
Sartre was born in 1905 in Paris. His father is Jean-Batiste, a naval officer and his
mother, Anne-Marie Schweitzer. His father died when he was still a child. Consequently, his
grandfather has raised him. He finished his high school in Lyce Henri IV in Paris. After two
years of preparation, he gained entrance to the prestigious Ecole Normale Suprieure in
Paris. He has exhibited at an early age a precocious gift for literary expression. While at
Ecole Normale, he was attracted to philosophy by Henri Bergson, whose Time and Free
Will (1889) left him, bowled over. In Ecole Normale Suprieure, when from 1924 to 1929
he came into contact with Raymond Aron, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and
other notables. He passed the agregation on the second attempt when he adapted the
approach institution required.
As a seeker of wisdom, he was not afraid to change his mind. I think against
myself. Sartre was a great borrower. His early years were influenced by Descartes, Hegel,
Husserl and Heidegger. Later, his ethical ideas were from Kant and Marx. Sartres
originality consisted in his creation of new syntheses from reinterpreted borrowed ideas
and offered a new solution to traditional philosophical problems. Beauvoir said something
about Sartre, For me, a philosopher is someone like Spinoza, Hegel or like Sartre:
someone who builds a great system and not simply someone who loves philosophy and
can use in it essays, etc., but it is someone who truly constructs a philosophy. And that I
did not do.1 Sartre had a strong relationship with Beauvoir but they never got married.
Their loyalty and love took the span of 51 years.
He lived simply and with few possessions. He only lived in a small apartment on the
Left Bank in Paris. He was involved in a lot of political activity and he loved to travel. He
died on April 15, 1980 at the age of 74 due to declining health and visual impairment.
Existentialism
Sartres existentialism is basically found on his novel Nausea, a novel in diary form
about a fictional historian named Antoine Roquentin and on his essay Existentialism is a
1 Richard Kamber, On Sartre, Wadsworth Philosophers Series, (USA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, Inc.,
2000), 44.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

Humanism which was delivered on October 1945 at the Club Maintenant. He has
expounded his existentialism on Being and Nothingness; however, I shall not delve on it in
this paper.
Sartres brand of existentialism is generally a doctrine that we exist before we have
an essence or definitive attributes.
Antoine Roquentin, In Nausea, discovered the things he perceives exist. When we
say existence it is the independent reality of physical objects. The objects are considered
being-in-itself which is apart from consciousness; being is. Being is in-itself. Being is
what it is.2 Our typical idea of artefact is what the object is for, or means to our ends. As a
result, we barely attend to them. Existence cannot be reduced to essence. 3 To exist is
simply to be there; what exists appears, lets itself be encountered, but you can never
deduce it.4 In-itself: an object has no connection to any human concept, standard,
expectation or intention5 The discovery oppresses him and gives him a physical nausea.
Nausea, in the novel, is a special kind of consciousness: different from the nausea
(stomach upset) in ways that it is experienced as a revelation of overabundance,
contingency and absurdity6 yet at the same time, similar in ways that it is experienced
with a feeling of disgust, repugnance and exhaustion. Sooner, in the experience of
Roquentin, he realized his own existence and found it to be contingent. Contingent means
that something exists but it is possible that it should not have existed; it is not necessary.
From the fact that something is it does not logically follow that it necessarily is.7
Roquentin felt disgusted. Roquentin is contingent. I too was a superfluous I hadnt any
right to exist, I had appeared by chance, I existed like a stone, a plant, a microbe 8
Essence is an illusion; only particular things exist. The world is divided linguistically and
conceptually by imposing an organising framework upon it. 9 Existence is inherently
meaningless and pointless but brutally oppressive and present Only particulars exist and
2 Ibid.
3 Something exists is to say that it is and somethings essence is to state what it is.
4 Jean-Paul Sartre, Basic Writing, Ed. Stephen Priest, (London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2001), 21.
5 Kamber, On Sartre, 45.
6 Ibid., 60.
7 Sartre, Basic Writing, 22.
8 Ibid., 23.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

things being what they are depend on the fragile contingencies of human language and
face the unsolved problem of induction.10
Sartre distinguished things or objects around us. He divided these existing things
into three categories: human beings (existence precedes essence), artefacts (essence
precedes existence) and naturally occurring objects (existence and essence coincide).
Chronologically, to precede means to occur before or predate and logically, it means, a
necessary condition for or a prerequisite for. For artefacts, Sartre used the paper knife as
an example: the manufacturer conceived first the idea of the object before it has come to
be; the idea is necessary in order for the conceived object to fit in to the its purpose and
the external reality. The what precedes the is. 11 For naturally occurring objects like
stones and trees: They are and they are what they are simultaneously. Their being and
their being that they are are mutually dependent.12 For human beings, they were not
created to serve a pre-existing purpose. Human beings: there is no predetermined
human essence and there is no human nature fixed in advance of human existence. 13
Human beings exist first, and thereby acquired his essence through his actions. We have
no essence and it is only in the totality of our choices that we define ourselves.
Existence Precedes Essence
This is the first principle of existentialism is: Existence precedes essence. Man
simply is Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. 14 Man cannot be
likened to a paper knife which served a pre-existing purpose according to the mind of the
artisan. If essence precedes existence, man would be treated similar to a knife which
would serve a purpose according to the mind of a maker, of a creator, of God. Sartre is an
atheist. Thus, for him, there is no human nature because there is no God who would
conceive of it. First, we are, then confront ourselves, emerge in the world and define
ourselves later.
9 Conceptualism generality belongs only to our conceptual scheme, of our modes of classification.
Nominalism generality only belongs to language.

10 Ibid., 24.
11 Ibid., 25.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Steven Luper, Existing, An Introduction to Existential Thought, (California: Mayfield Publishing Company,
2000), 266.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

The first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession of himself
as he is and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his shoulder. 15
The opposition to Sartres existentialism is that it is highly subjective that we can do
whatever we wish to become and do. But Sartre would like to emphasize the dignity of
man compared to a stone or table. What gives me dignity is the possession of a
subjective life, meaning I am something that moves myself toward a future and am
conscious that I am doing so. 16 The consequence of existing before having an essence is
not that we create ourselves but that responsibility for existence rests on squarely on each
individual.17 Man is not just responsible of for himself but for the whole mankind. What he
does in his self affects the whole humanity. He is tied up to the human race as a member
and actor who can change the course of human history. Man is not just a stone or table for
these things cannot be responsible. If essence precedes existence, we cannot be held
responsible for what we are.
For Sartre, man is freedom; an embodiment of freedom.
Anguish
Human beings experience their freedom as anguish (anguish in the face of the
future). This anguish is similar to Kierkegaards. Man experiences anguish when he
realises that he is not just responsible for himself but for the whole mankind. anguish,
he means the apprehension, anxiety and sense of burden we experience when are
confronted with the inescapability of making a choice that will change the course of our
lives.18 Man is not just responsible for himself but for others and rest of mankind. Sartre
phrased this idea that one ought always to ask oneself what happen if everyone did as
one is doing.19 Although he said that one is not always considering this question, but we
are ought to ask ourselves such question. Everything happens to every man as though
the whole human race had its eyes fixed upon what he is doing and regulated its conduct
accordingly.20 Anguish is the very condition of our action, for action presupposes that
15 Ibid.
16 Samuel Enoch Stumpf and James Fieser, Socrates to Sartre and Beyond, A History of Philosophy, 8th Edition,
(New York: McGraw Hill Companies Inc., 2008), 434.

17 Ibid.
18 Kamber, On Sartre, 76-77.
19 Luper, Existing, 267.
20 Ibid.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

there is a plurality of possibilities, and in choosing one these, they realise that it has value
only because it is chosen.21 Sartre gives the example of a military leader who needs to
decide on an urgent matter in a battle. The leader is confronted with choices wherein the
possibility of letting the soldier under him to die or more casualty for the civilian of his
nation. The anguish is felt at the moment of deciding. There is this kind of feeling that I
dont want to decide on this matter or the feeling that one would refuse to decide. But
there is the inevitability of deciding and so the leader decides in or with anguish. When
Sartre said that man is freedom and he is condemned to be free, because he is not free
not to be free there is that sense of anguish in freedom. We are condemned because we
didnt choose to be but find ourselves existing, thrown into the world, yet free because as
soon as we are conscious of ourselves, we are responsible for everything we do. 22
Abandonment
This state of being thrown in the world without God caused man the feeling of
abandonment a term inspired by Heidegger. God does not exist, and that is necessary
to draw the consequences of his absence right to the end. 23 We shall not consider God as
the ultimate source of morality but there is such thing as good even without Him
conceiving it. Our sense of abandonment is a curious consequence of the fact that
everything is indeed permitted, and as a result we are forlorn, for we cannot find anything
on which we can rely, either within or outside ourselves. We are without any excuses. 24
Sartre gives the example of his student who was confronted with choosing between two
important matters in his life: going to England to join the Free French Forces or staying
near his mother and help her to live. The student was faced with two moralities: morality
of sympathy and morality of wider scope (Christian or Kantian). Values are uncertain,
they too abstract to determine the particular nothing remains but to trust in our
instinct25, the student said. Further, from the students reflection, he supposed, In the
end, it is the feeling that counts; the direction in which it is really pushing me is the one I
ought to choose.26 Sartre argues feelings are formed by the deeds one does. It cannot be
21 Ibid.
22 Stumpf and Fieser, Socrates to Sartre, 435.
23 Luper, Existing, 267.
24 Stumpf and Fieser, Socrates to Sartre, 435.
25 Luper, Existing, 269.
26 Ibid.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

a guide for an action. If the student would ask an advice from a priest, the advice would
reflect the person of priest, which would likely bias the Churchs doctrine or ethics. If the
student would ask an advice to a professor, the same applies, the beliefs of the teacher
would reflect in the advice. From the two advices, it would still be up to the student what
to choose. The choice would still be his in relation to the commitment he gave to the
advice. Even in the case of sign - the sign would still be interpreted by him. Thus, burden
or responsibility still falls on him. Abandonment implies that we ourselves decide our
being. And with this abandonment goes anguish. 27 In abandonment, there is more God to
blame mans actions, but only himself.
That is why, in abandonment, Sartre suggests that we invent and create values. He
says that values are subjective.
Despair
Another element of human existence, according to Sartre, is despair. This is the
feeling of being limited within the scope of our wills. we limit ourselves to a reliance
upon that which is within our wills, or within the sum of probabilities which render our
action feasible.28 We cannot expect more from our existence than the finite probabilities
it possesses.29 We are just finite beings and we are limited. This finitude is related to
nothingness. Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being, like a worm 30 Man is nothing
else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realises himself, he is therefore
nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is. 31 It is in our
actions that we make our realities. If I am a cheater, I make myself a cheater. It is not just
a consequence of my incapacitated mind or my poor memory. I am a cheater because I
made myself a cheater by my actions. But it is not also to say that it I am a cheater once
or twice in the examination, I am definitively a cheater, that I am nothing else but what I
have lived. On the contrary, man is no other than a series of undertakings, that he is

27 Ibid., 270.
28 Ibid.
29 Stumpf and Fieser, Socrates to Sartre, 436.
30 Ibid,. 436. Note: We will discuss more on this matter on nothingness for it shall fall on Sartres Ontology.
31 Luper, Existing, 270.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

the sum, the organisation, the set of relations that constitute these undertakings. 32 Man is
the sum of his actions and purposes.
Human Condition
Although Sartre says that there is no human nature, there is, nevertheless, a
universal human condition. By discovering myself in the act of conscious thought, I
discover the condition of all people. We are in a world of intersubjectivity.33 We are always
with other persons and all our actions affect others and others affect us as well. What one
purposes may be the same as the other. In this human condition, one cannot just act
according to his whims because what one chooses or does affect others. I am always
obliged to act in a situation that is, in relation to other people and consequently, my
actions must not be capricious, since I must take responsibility for all my actions. 34 Man is
free and his actions in every situation are always related to others since he lives in an
intersubjective world. If man makes excuses through fate, mysterious forces, passion or
heredity to account for his actions, man is guilty of bad faith (mauvaise foi) or selfdeception.
Bad Faith
Bad faith is the act hiding something from myself. Bad faith is difficult to
understand because we can hide something from ourselves only if we know what we are
hiding.35 The act of denying or fleeing from our freedom through a psychological
determinism the view that human nature is responsible for what we do, is what Sartre
calls, flight. If this is mans belief, he reduces himself to never being anything but what
who he is.36 Moreover, flight is the response to the feeling of anguish. When man is
confronted by the inevitability of freedom, of acting in every situation and the burden our
freedom causes us, the tendency is to flee; and to flee is to live in bad faith. Living in bad
faith is to live in lie. Sartre says, consciousness, instead of directing its negation
outward, turns it towards itself. This attitude is bad faith 37 It is a lie to oneself. Moreover,
32 Ibid., 271.
33 Stumpf and Feiser, Socrates to Sartre, 436.
34 Ibid.
35 Luper, Existing, 262.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid., 291.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

The essence of lie is implied in fact that the liar actually is in complete possession of the
truth which he is hiding.38 The liar is half victim of his lie. The one practicing bad faith is
hiding a displeasing truth or presenting as truth a pleasing untruth. 39 Sartre believes that
most men live in bad faith; a constant lie and denial of ones freedom and the
responsibility that accompanies it.
For Sartre, existentialism is a humanistic philosophy of commitment. In his
Existentialism is a Humanism he intended to define existentialism and to distinguish
atheistic from religious existentialism; to show that it is not a philosophy of despair,
solitude and hopelessness, but a kind of humanism; to demonstrate that it offers a viable
alternative to Christianity and Marxism as basis for choice and action.
Conclusion
To conclude, man is an existing being. He has no predetermined future and he has
no (human) nature. He makes his own future and defines himself through his actions. Man
is free. Man is freedom; he is the embodiment of freedom. With freedom, he is faced with
the full responsibility that accompanies it. Consequently, this inescapability of freedom
and the burden of responsibility in every moment he is called for action let him experience
anguish. Another feeling arising from this experience of absolute freedom is abandonment
wherein man finds himself accountable for his action because there is no God to blame for
or account for his action. From this constant anguish, he withdraws, he flees. In this
attempt to escape he lives in bad faith, which is a kind of self-deception the kind wherein
he accounts that human nature or a kind of determinism is responsible for his actions. Man
lives in bad faith when he tries to escape or hide from himself the truth that he is free and
thus responsible for his action.
Other Reference:
Onof, Christian J. Sartres Existentialism. http://www.iep.utm.edu/sartre-ex/ (accessed on
August 18, 2013).

38 Ibid.
39 Ibid., 292.