According to Sartre, man is free to make his own choices, but is “condemned” to be free, because we did not create ourselves. Even though people are put on Earth without their consent, we must choose and act freely from every situation we are in. Everything we do is a result of being free because we have choice. The only choice we do not have is that of having choices. Not only are we condemned to be free because we did not choose to exist, but we are also condemned to be free because we are the only thing that exists that has to be responsible for all of our actions. However, how do we know that God doesn’t have everything determined for us and just leads us to believe that we are free? The truth is that we don’t know, and won’t until we leave this earth. It is now up to us to decide if our freedom is to be valued, and to choose the way we want to use our freedom.
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Sartre’s main point is that from the moment we are thrown into the world, we must be completely responsible for all of our actions. There are no eternal values or ethics that we can base the way we live off of. It doesn’t make sense to use the words “I can’t, or I must” to something, because we ultimately do have a choice for everything we do. When we act in a certain way, we can not blame it on anyone but ourselves, and we must take full responsibility for our actions, even though we may not really want to. Sartre says that we cannot say that we picked one action over another because it is what God wanted, or because it was in our nature to do so. The responsibility is ours and ours alone. Sartre believed that throughout each of our existence, we must create meaning in each of our lives, and this is what it means to exist. We are responsible for our destiny and the way we live is formed from what we make of ourselves.
It seems like Sartre see this freedom as a curse. The use of the phrase “condemned to be free” sounds like Sartre see’s this freedom as an inconvenience rather than a blessing. Since Sartre doesn’t believe in God, he is seen as alone in the world with no one to depend on but himself. According to Sartre, God does not exist, and therefore cannot limit what we do or how we act. A person cannot make excuses for their actions, because there is no God to respond to, and he has chosen them on his own. We are condemned to face life and the responsibility that comes with it. Even if Sartre believed in a God, it still wouldn’t help what he is trying to express. If God existed then some people would just want to let God make their decisions for them, which gives people an excuse for their actions, and takes away all sense of freedom. Or people would have to decide if they wanted to follow God’s rules in the first place, and would then have to be responsible for this decision.
However, there are consequences for this side of the argument as well. If God does not exist, everything is permitted because there is no God to stop us from doing whatever we want, whenever we wanted. Man would not have to be accountable for their actions since there is no God to judge them. Without values or morals predefined in human nature, there is also no determinism when it comes to how we act in each situation. Sartre says that being human means taking responsibility for the choices that you make. But if there is no God, then what should we make of ourselves? Who are we to decide what is moral and immoral? How can we possibly choose to do good when there are no predefined standard that tells us what is good and what is evil? Sartre says it is dependent upon us to decide the goodness of our choices. Our humanity is choosing actions that have value to us, and those choices continue to define us. When we think about a decision we have to make, Sartre says that we really have already made up the decision of what we are going to do, and if we choose not to choose, that is a choice as well. Despite of the burden of freedom, man must take advantage of his condemned freedom, because giving up our freedom would be giving up our humanness as well. Surely it is better to be “condemned to be free”, than “condemned to be God’s puppet”.
Sartre uses the main idea of Existentialism “existence precedes essence,” in his argument to show that we have the choice in everything we do. The belief that existence precedes essence states that there is no pre-existing concept of man. This is how we need to understand man – that our “essence” is not something that is fixed in advance, but rather that each man creates this himself. Humans exist in a different way than any other thing. Plants and animals also have life, but they do not have to think about what their life means, or how they are going to act. Sartre is trying to signify that man exists first, and then has freedom to choose what kind of person to be. If existence really does come before essence, there is no determinism, man is free. Man lives determined by his essence. Part of what makes you the person you are, is based off of things that no longer exist. We make choices looking at the future which determine who we are now. So we can’t say that man has an essence first, because we are always “ahead of ourselves.”
The belief that “existence precedes essence” ties into the fact that the existentialist doesn’t believe is a God. If a human is created by God, then the human’s essence has been determined, just like everything else in this universe. However once again, how do we know that God doesn’t have everything determined for us and just leads us to believe that we are free? We don’t know. In the existentialist view, man is what he makes of himself. There are no set plans as to how one must live. We have “The Experience of Choice Making” regardless of determinism. People must look into themselves and make the choices based on their own interpretations and experiences.
Sartre also says that in turning to people for advice, you are making the decision for yourself because you know what advice they are going to give. Many people seek advice and they choose who they are going to ask. This responsibility for self determination is hard to accept, as people would much rather want to be able to blame something else. We have to realize that our destiny is in our own hands. Sartre defines the act of blame and non-responsibility as bad-faith or self-deception, and is just betrayal of one’s self.
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The determinist view such as Laplace argues that determinism is true; determinism rules out human freedom and responsibility, and human freedom and responsibility must be rejected. The determinist believes in a god, which only God would be able to handle something as perplexing as the world and the human. Sartre clearly rejects this view, as it would deny the inherent freedom of man. The libertarian such as Sartre argues that human freedom and responsibility must be accepted, human freedom and responsibility rules out determinism, and determinism must be rejected.
As Human’s, we must find our own course through the world and make our own choices about what we will value, what we are going to expect from one another, and what we are going to deice is “good” or “bad.” Even though Sartre does not believe in God and seems man as “essentially alone, he also recognizes we are unavoidably connected with other people. Even if there is no God to judge us, we need to realize that every one of our actins will have an effect on another human being. Whatever we choose to do, others will be affected and they are free to react negatively.
I believe Sartre’s whole purpose is to wake us up from the idea that we can use excuses for our actions. I would have to say that Sartre has a pretty good argument. However, I have one last question for Sartre: Even if we are “condemned to be free,” and we are not free in the choice of having choices, don’t we have the ability to take away this freedom at any moment with suicide?
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