Sartre's Concept of Freedom between Phenomonolgy and Marxism

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 10/07/2013

Sartre rejects the epistemology of Descartes and the neo-Kantians and their view of consciousness's relationship to the world. Consciousness is not related to the world by virtue of a set of mental representations and acts of mental synthesis that combine such representations with the ‘I think’ to provide us with our knowledge of the external world. The ego would have to feature as an object in all states of consciousness. This would result in its obstructing our conscious access to the world. But this would conflict with the direct nature of this conscious access. So, consciousness would be divided into consciousness of ego and consciousness of the world. This would however be at odds with the simple, and thus undivided, nature of our access to the world through conscious experience.

Sartre’s ontology is explained in his philosophical masterpiece, Being and Nothingness, where he defines two types of reality which lie beyond our conscious experience: the being of the object of consciousness and that of consciousness itself. The object of consciousness exists as “in-itself,” that is, in an independent and non-relational way. However, consciousness is always consciousness “of something,” so it is defined in relation to something else, and it is not possible to grasp it within a conscious experience: it exists as “for-itself". Consciousness is nothing but a directness towards things. Sartre gives an example: If I love her, I love her because she is lovable.  Within my experience, her lovableness is not an aspect of my image of her, rather it is a feature of her (and ultimately a part of the world) towards which my consciousness directs itself. So consciousness is primarily to be characterized as nothing. When I am conscious of a tree, I am directly conscious of it, and am not myself an object of consciousness. However, when I hear a floorboard creaking behind me, I become aware of myself as an object of the other’s look. My ego appears on the scene of this reflective consciousness, but it is as an object for the other. This objectification of my ego is only possible if the other is given as a subject.

Regarding self-consciousness, when the subject is clearly aware of her pre-reflective consciousness of the house. This awareness does not have an ego as its object, but it is rather the awareness that there is an act of ‘seeing’. Reflective consciousness is the type of state of consciousness involved in my looking at a house. For Sartre, the cogito emerges as a result of consciousness’s being directed upon the pre-reflectively conscious. In so doing, reflective consciousness takes the pre-reflectively conscious as being mine.  Ego is constructed in reflection. There is no SELF that exists through time.  There is only the now and in the now, the eternal present, there is only the awareness and not the awareness of our self being aware.  We are only the collection of awareness and we are not aware of the self being aware.

Sartre discusses the example of entering a café to meet Pierre and discovering his absence from his usual place so there is a negation, a void, a nothingness, in the place of Pierre. Sartre talks of this absence as ‘haunting’ the café, a ‘nothingness’ is really experienced. The nothingness in question is also not simply the result of applying a logical operator, negation, to a proposition. For it is not the same to say that there is no rhinoceros in the café, and to say that Pierre is not there.  When looking for Pierre his lack of being there becomes a negation; everything he sees as he searches the people and objects about him are "not Pierre". So Sartre claims "It is evident that non-being always appears within the limits of a human expectation". In this simple example, Sartre has again proven how human reality is the origin of Nothingness. Nothingness is produced from the subject's consciousness and is a pre-requisite for Freedom. Because when we are conscious of something missing from human experience, then we are free to expect more than we experience in the real world. So we aren't built only to think of one way only, we always create negations and this creates Nothingness as an opposite of being which makes us free.
if consciousness is free, the noematic correlate of its freedom should be the world that carries in itself its possibility of negation, at each moment and from each point of view
Sartre gives the example of finishing a book: Essence: “I have been wanting to write this book”. Nothing separates my Freedom from this essence: Nothing can compel me to write this book. I discover that the permanent possibility of abandoning this book is the very condition of the possibility of writing. This negation is the condition of my freedom for I'm being conscious of being (writing) and nothingness (Not writing). If I could not abandon this book (No Negations but only one way), then my being would not be Freedom but something else.

Declaring that a biological motivation for sex does not exist. Instead, "double reciprocal incarnation" is a form of mutual awareness which Sartre takes to be at the heart of the sexual experience. This involves the mutual recognition of subjectivity.

Sartre's primary idea is that people, as humans, are "condemned to be free". This theory relies upon his position that there is no creator, and is illustrated using the example of the paper cutter. Sartre says that if one considered a paper cutter, one would assume that the creator would have had a plan for it: an essence. Sartre said that human beings have no essence before their existence because there is no Creator. Thus, my existence (the mere fact that I am) is prior to my essence (what I make of myself through my free choices). I am thus utterly responsible for myself. So I am free. I also find myself surrounded by such images – from religion, culture, politics or morality – but none compels my freedom. I exercise my freedom through choosing my projects. My projects can be realized only with the cooperation of others; however, that cooperation presupposes their freedom (I cannot make her love me). Therefore permitting and nurturing the freedom of others must be a central part of all my projects. Sartre thus commits himself against any political, social or economic forms of subjugation.
"We are left alone, without excuse."
Bad faith (or "self-deception") can be understood as a person who defines himself through the social categorization of his formal identity. Our only way to escape self-deception is authenticity, that is, choosing in a way which reveals the existence of the for-itself as both factual and transcendent.

In Being and Nothingness, he passionately argued that even prisoners are free because they have the power of consciousness. prisoner, though coerced, can choose how to react to his imprisonment. The prisoner is free because he controls his reaction to imprisonment: he may resist or acquiesce. Since there are no objective barriers to the will, the prison bars restrain me only if I form the will to escape. In a similar example, Sartre notes that a mountain is only a barrier if the individual wants to get on the other side but cannot. But an attacker who gives me the choice of “what sauce to be eaten in” could hardly be said to meaningfully promote my freedom. In Critique Sartre uses the example of a labor contract to illustrate the claim that choice is not synonymous with freedom (Critique, pp. 721-2). An impoverished person who accepts a degrading, low wage job for the sake of meeting her basic needs has a choice—she may starve or accept a degrading job—but her choice is inhumane.

In Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, Sartre replaces the traditional picture of the passivity of our emotional nature with one of the subject’s active participation in her emotional experiences. Faced with an object which poses an insurmountable problem, the subject attempts to view it differently, as though it were magically transformed. Thus an imminent extreme danger may cause me to faint so that the object of my fear is no longer in my conscious grasp. Or, in the case of wrath against an unmovable obstacle, I may hit it as though the world were such that this action could lead to its removal.

In Sarter's Political Period, as a Marxist he believed that societies were best understood as arenas of struggle between powerful and powerless groups. But as an Existentialist he held individuals personally responsible for vast and apparently social ills. Sartre deepened his psychological explanations of human behavior by contextualizing individual action within wide social structures (class, family, nation, and so on). He held that economic class was only one of many important structural factors that explained human action. Vehemently criticizing all forms of social scientific reductionism, he claimed that the human situation includes birth, death, family, nationality, gender, race and body, to name only the most relevant. Like later analytic Marxists, he would claim that “objective interests” are insufficient to explain the intentions of individual agents. Class analysis must be combined with personal history. Individuals have the power to change history, through group struggle. Sartre rejects group minds, arguing that there is a basic ontological distinction between the action of persons (individual praxis) and the action of groups (group praxis). While groups exhibit collective intentionality, no group is a literal organism. Individuals are ontologically prior to the groups they create.

He also changed his views about freedom to a more material definition, following Marx, he saw human freedom limited by economic scarcity. For Sartre, Marxism will remain the only possible philosophy until scarcity is overcome.

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