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PHL 358
Instructor: Dr. Bob Zunjic

 

JEAN PAUL SARTRE

The Humanism of Existentialism II

(1946)

An Outline
This is the second part of the 'Existentialism is a Humanism' outline. It overviews Sartre's discussion of ethical and existential issues (freedom - responsibility, moral decisions and values, individualism and intersubjectivity, anguish and forlorness, despair and universality).

II FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

Responsibility:

It is a well known fact that Sartre in his many works regards responsibility as the necessary consequence of inalienable human freedom. This is another reason why he also favors a strict "either - or" between God's existence and human freedom: either God exists or man is free and responsible. There is no third possibility and all philosophical efforts to find an intermediate way between divine omniscience and human freedom are simply a waste of time.

Opposition This is a very bold stance, directly opposed to the mainstream of Western philosophy which typically attempts to reconcile human responsibility with the existence of an all powerful and all knowledgeable being. In addition, moral responsibility has been traditionally linked with God as the ultimate guarantor of values and sanctions. Sartre repudiates both components of the traditional view: in his eyes God is an impediment for human freedom and responsibility. The tension between human freedom and God is therefore insoluble.
  Sartre is convinced that human responsibility makes sense only if there is no God; otherwise divine foreknowledge and predestination necessarily exclude alternative options and consequently responsibility.

Constitution:

Necessity Freedom
Foreknowledge
Possibilities
Determinism
Alternatives
Incompetence Responsibility

 

Derivation In this essay Sartre derives responsibility from the priority of existence much more than from the absence of God. This could create the impression that he is now changing his approach to the question of freedom. Actually, there is no discrepancy between these two ways of arguing for responsibility given the fact that the priority of existence excludes any pre-given essence that would predetermine the course of human actions and the subsequent course of events. If man as existence makes what he is, man is both free to fashion his own self and is accordingly responsible for the outcome of his actions ("for what he is").
Self-Responsibility Of course, no one is responsible for what has preceded this "thrust toward existence" simply because we do not come to the world based on our consent but are, so to speak, "thrown" into it. But we are resposnible for everything that follows. Now that the transcendent source and foundation of responsibility is gone the question arises to whom man could be responsible in the first place? Sartre's answer is simple: only to himself. Not even to some absolute moral standards.

Tasks:

From the previously established priority of existence Sartre now derives two intellectual tasks with a clear practical import:
(1) To make sure every man is aware of "what he is" (this sounds like an Enlightenment project of ever increasing awareness), and
(2) To "make the full responsibility of his existence" rest on man (this comes down to a kind of "total responsibility" which does not allow for excuses).

Graduation: Full responsibility for own existence is grounded on self-awareness and personal freedom to make choices. By exercising freedom to choose man becomes totally responsible for himself. But his responsibility does not stop there; it extends to other people so that at the end it assumes the form of universal responsibility. There are at least three circles in the extension of our responsibility:
- Individual responsibility: If existence precedes essence man is responsible for his own actions (and his individuality)
- Total Responsibility: If man is free to choose what he is going to make of himself, he is entirely responsible for what he is becoming;
- Universal Responsibility: If man is fully responsible for what he is presenting as the image of man, he is responsible for all men.

 

Terminology: Individual responsibility corresponds to the common sense notion of responsibility. Two other may be problematic if they are over-stretched beyond any reasonable concept of accountability. To avoid possible misunderstandings one needs to bear in mind their real scope. Total responsibility is designed to eliminate typical excuses for our choices and actions: human nature, heredity, subconscious drives, emotions, circumstances, external forces. Universal responsibility is strictly based on individual responsibility: a man is responsible for all men not in the sense that one is responsible for what every idiot might be doing, but in the sense that in his actions he involves humanity one way or another.

Subjectivism: In the preceding part of the essay Sartre has explained the first principle of existentialism, the principle of human subjectivity: man makes himself and remains responsible for what he does of himself. Now Sartre introduces another variant of the term - subjectivism - which is very often used promiscuously with the first. Unfortunately it coincides most often with the vulgar connotation of subjectivity. Sartre warns of this equivocation, frequently used against existentialism, by pointing to two different meanings of the expression: (a) "Subjectivism means, on the one hand, that an individual chooses himself" (strict individuality), and (b) "on the other, that it is impossible for man to transcend human subjectivity". While Sartre does not deny that (a) is a kind of truism, he is aware that it is commonly misunderstood in the sense of espousing subjective (arbitrary, emotional, personal) views. Hence he particularly stresses the second meaning (b) as "the essential meaning of existentialism" (along with the second sense of subjectivity). If taken in the sense of fundamental subjectivity (it is impossible to overcome freedom and choosing the way it is impossible to jump over your own shadow) the term "subjectivism" denotes an insurmountable predicament of human existence. In comparison with (b) the vulgar meaning (a) now appears as pre-philosophical and so inadequate to be associated with the first principle of existentialism which addresses man in general rather than an isolated, capricious or whimsical individual.
  Note: When "charges are brought" against existentialism the term "subjectivism" is being used rather in the sense (a). This is a vulgar notion of subjectivity which does not say much about the main tenets of existentialism even though existentialism cannot deny its proclivity toward passionate and singular existence as opposed to one-sided rationalistic and generalized renderings of human nature. This is the boundary that separates Sartre from the post-modernist critique of totality and universality in the name of particularity and individuality.
Individual vs. Mankind: Throughout the essay one should notice a latent ambiguity between two meanings of the word "man": (1) an individual who formulates self-projections and (2) mankind which makes plans only implicitly and anonymously. Both are called subjects by Sartre although mankind could be only a generic (virtual) subject. To be sure, these are different although interrelated levels. Its inner connection is revealed in the act of choosing. Everyone chooses for themselves but also for others. This renders the act of choosing necessarily ambiguous and loaded with unforseeable consequences. However, when speaking about "projects" or "life-defining plans" Sartre refers only to individuals that shape their own identity, not to human race that collectivelly (although spontaneously) creates the essence of being a man.
Universality: Sartre surreptitiously introduces the idea of universalization which he uses as a regulatory principle in assessing the viability of existential choices. Thus when he says that "man chooses his own self" he means it universally in three different senses: (a) All men make choices for themselves ("everyone of us does likewise"); (b) In creating a man that we want to be, every act creates an image of man as we think he ought to be; (c) In making their choices everyone choses man, or as Sartre phrases it, "chooses all men". This means both that choices are made for other men (they involve, implicate others) and on behalf of mankind as implicit but universally binding norms.
Note: One can accept both (a) and (b) as self-evident. Every human action reveals an underlying rule of conduct. But (c) poses a lot of problems. Of course, taken literally, "choosing for others" does not make much sense; I cannot choose for others nor can they choose for me. Sartre obviously means "representatively" and the questions is then how he justifies this transition from individual choosing for myself to choosing for mankind. The answer is not so clear let alone convincing. We only clearly realize that this extension of individual choosing into choosing for mankind represents Sartre's effort to undo un-social and immoral consequences of his previous claims that the freedom of others destabilizes my own freedom, that the looks of others tend to objectify my personality, in brief that hell is the other people.
Freedom: Choosing presupposes freedom and entails self-evaluation. Freedom not only lends the specific character to human reality. For Sartre, freedom is the most fundamental value which renders possible all other values the way our fundamental plan precedes and grounds our small choices. In that sense freedom is the source of all values. To say that freedom is the highest value means that human existence is the highest value, not some ideals, pleasures, power, happiness. If freedom is the only foundation and justification of being, what could be more logical for humans than to embrace it and to confer value on it? In order to be able to freely value anything one must value freedom in the first place. Hence, it is existentially inconsistent to freely choose un-freedom and thus it is not possible to avoid free choosing.
  Note: The great tradition of libertarian humanism clearly comes to the fore in this appraisal of freedom. It both explains and justifies the title of the essay. But Heidegger finds that this link with humanism only reveals how deep the existentialism of Sartre is immersed in the metaphysical tradition of Western philosophy (cf. The Letter on Humanism).
Splintering: The threefold splintering of choosing into various universal implications finds its echo in the threefold concept of responsibility: (1) I choose my own self and I am responsible for what I make of myself; (2) By choosing myself I project an image of man, of what man ought to be, for which I am responsible as well; and (3) My actions have bearing on all men and I am responsible for all consequences of my actions.
  Note: The first type of responsibility is Socratic (the responsibility toward our own self). The second is Kantian springing from a rule or principle of action (an "image" in Sartre's language). The third is Marxist as it links my personal status with the bearing of my actions (or Fichtean insofar it presents my actions as representative for humankind). Sartre does not specify whether one is responsible for all possible consequences of choices or only for predictable and intended ones, but his prevalent stance is that responsibility is virtually unlimited. It is also unlimited in the sense that it embraces all men (everybody) because my acts convey universal messages to all members of mankind. In fact I act as a proxy for mankind.
Good: Actions are not derived from some antecedent values and norms. Norms and values reside in our actions, they are not something transcendent. They are immanent to our actions which themselves are implicit statements of values. By choosing something we pronounce it valuable. Now Sartre makes another bald move and claims: (i) that "we always choose good" and (ii) that "we can never choose evil". But he also asserts (iii) that "nothing can be good for us without being good for all".

Objections:

 

These are surely surprising statements for an existentialist who should be very careful not to claim something that imposes counterfactual norms over reality. And these claims appear to be as counterfactual as they could be. This is the reason why they are very often simply dismissed as outright false or even absurd statements. Saddly enough (but undeniably) one can choose something harmful to themselves and even more, people can choose to do something really bad and harmful to others. It could happen that what we have chosen turns into something that is not good either for us or for others.

Caution: Before one makes a final judgment on Sartre's theory of "good choosing" it is advisable first to gauge the proper meaning of his statements. In doing so one needs to distinguish carefully different layers in this admittedly strange doctrine. Let us examine all three claims step by step.
(I)

Do people always choose good? The majority of people do not think so. But, for Sartre, it is contradictory to choose something and not to affirm it as good. In other words, he claims that we always choose what we view as good. At least for us. Unless I am a masochist it would be strange to say that I am deliberately choosing something bad or harmful for me.

Note: This is an old Socratic idea developed in the Gorgias. Socrates assumes that a man who acts should know what his action is good for. If the man does not know that, he runs a risk of incurring a misfortune to himself. If we choose something which is not good, as sometimes happens (at least in the eyes of bystanders), it is so because we do not recognize it as bad. We believed it was good for us. Once we realize its true nature, we cannot choose it because what is bad ultimately turns harmful for us. But no one wants to do any harm to himself. Bad things could not be desired for the sake of themselves, therefore they could not be our ends and no one can want them. We cannot want what is bad, at worst only what we see fit.

(II)

Can I be wrong and can I sometimes choose evil? According to Sartre, this is not possible because to choose and to choose something good are synonymous expressions. One is, of course, tempted to immediately retort by pointing to those who choose to do bad things knowingly. Sartre's answer is that these people treat evil as good. Even if one said: "Evil, you be my good" (Milton) he would think it was good for him to choose that way. It is not perhaps good "in itself", but "in itself" is meaningless and irrelevant in concrete situations. What we have chosen shows what we deemed good for us and what we knowingly or not proclaimed as good for man.

Note: Here we encounter Nietzsche behind Sartre's adoption of Socrates. For Sartre as well as for Nietzsche, it is possible not to regard "bad" as bad simply because there are no pre-given (objective) standards of morality. What is an expression of our freedom or feels liberating in terms of our potentials is good no matter what.

(III)

Can we choose something which is good for us but objectively not good for others? This seems to happen every now and then. But here again Sartre goes against common notions and asserts that when I choose something I affirm it not only for myself, but for everybody including my generation and my age. So there is no such thing as objectively bad choice. How come? The answer is that, for Sartre, every act is an act of universalization in a twofold sense: every particular choice exemplifies both an "image of man" and "involves all mankind". If my acts involve all men, they involve myself, and then (i) and (ii) apply ("we always choose good", "we can never choose evil"). On the other hand, "in choosing myself, I choose man" so that it is impossible to choose exclusively for oneself. And since I choose good for myself I cannot choose the bad for man even if what I have chosen proves bad in its "objective" consequences. One last corrective to the seemingly subjectivist statement that I always choose good (for me) is that my choice must pass the universalization test in order to be viable for me as well.

Note: The idea of universal bearing of our acts is essentially Kantian. In his categorical imperative Kant demands the moral agent to act so that the individual keeps humanity in his mind or, in another phrasing, that the maxim of his conduct could become a rule for others. By taking over an old Stoic view Kant has formulated a principle of legislation for mankind which allows that we fully exercise our freedom. Man is free as long as he is subject to his own legislation. Sartre is now incorporating this principle of universalization into his ethics in an attempt to defuse the allegations of propounding moral anarchy and relativism.

Clarification: Due to Sartre's sketchy and ambiguous way of exposition his ethical view is very apt for serious misinterpretations. It is therefore important not to confuse his propositions with some seemingly admissible but ultimately inappropriate conclusions.
- First misunderstanding is that Sartre simply espouses a kind of wild ethical relativism. This accusation needs to be qualified. The existentialism of Sartre is relativistic in the sense of denying moral absolutes, not in the sense that our moral choices do not matter or that no moral disputes make sense.
- Second misunderstanding is that Sartre is a sheer subjectivist (emotivist) who denies the possibility of rational choice making. Here again one needs to be very precise if we want to do justice to Sartre's position. Sartre does not dismiss reason as relevant instance in our practical decisions and even subscribes to some aspects of Socratic intellectualism.

Truly Sartre does not derive the necessity of choosing the good from the necessity of possessing the right understanding of our actions - he knows that our actions do not always follow reasons and standards. He means rather this: since there is no absolute good or bad, there is nothing to be mistaken about in our choices. When we choose there is nothing bad in choosing since there are no virtues before choosing. Once I choose I create something as good precisely by choosing it. Therefore I set up my values in the process of choosing and I set them so up that my choice becomes the right one.
Responsibility: Having established the priority of existence and the fundamental freedom of man, Sartre now draws practical implications from these two premises. The first is universal validity of our projects while the second is our universal responsibility springing from the fact that we involve others. The whole reasoning could be represented in this way:
1. If existence precedes essence
2. If we exist and shape our image at one at the same time
3. If in doing this we involve all mankind

(1a) Then this image is valid for everybody and for the whole age
(2a) Then I am responsible for everyone else
(3a) Then our responsibility is much greater than usually supposed.
Validity:

The critical point in this deduction is (1a). Why should our image of man be valid for everyone? Sartre's answer is that we cannot but act as if it were. And we cannot avoid its universal implications. This does not mean that the scope of inevitable universalization procedures could be stretched indefinitely. It is a simplification to ascribe to Sartre without qualification the view that every time I choose something as good or valuable for me (what I ought to be) I choose it as valuable (good) for everyone (what man ought to be). His claim holds only for fundamental choices - to be, to be free, to be authentic, to be spontaneous. Derivative choices that pertain only to my singularity or idiosyncrasy (ex.: enjoying the smell of newly printed books) do not possess this universal bearing.

 

  Note: When I choose my freedom as my primary value I propose that each person's freedom should be his primary value. Every person's freedom is the source of all his values. But this does not mean that I should choose as valuable anyone's freedom other than my own. Of course, if I wish others to act in accord with their freedom, then I have to wish that they have freedom to act.
Examples:  Sartre gives two examples to illustrate his point that our choices and acts entail both universality and responsibility. The only question is whether and how our choices pass the logical test of viability. The first example (join a union) stands for a social action, the second (get married) for an individual choice. The examples given by Sartre could be easily expanded into a more elaborate analysis with at leastt the following connotations included.


Logical Status Social Action - Unionizing Personal Choice Life Style
Self-Contradictory Christian Union- Resignation Staying single - Denying species Abstinence - Self-Denial
Possible but Self-restrained Socialist Union- Reformism Getting married - Playing safe Monogamy - Stability without freedom
Self w/Universal Responsibility Communist Union- Radicalism Having companions - Free choice Promiscuity - Autonomy

 

 

(I) If I choose to join a Christian union, I am sending a message that resignation with the world is the best thing for man. In other words, I go by the the rule; give Caesar his own and find consolation in heaven (hereafter). This is an implication of my choice and a norm at the same time. If I want to show that the best thing for man is resignation, then I want to be resigned for everyone no matter whether I say it openly or not. As a result, my decision has involved all humanity. But that involvement is contradictory because it does not offer anything in this world as this is an action for non-activity or self-denial.

(II)

By the same token, if I choose to get married, even if this decision depends on my personal circumstances and a strong wish, I am involving all humanity in monogamy. By getting married I say monogamy is the best thing for me and for others. Again this is both an implication and a norm. It is not self-contradictory, but as its social counterpart (unionizing based on the principle of piece-meal reformism that leaves many out), cannot be properly universalized. It promises certain security but is biologically problematic (maybe we are not monogamous beings after all?) and limits our personal freedom.

(III) Sartre thinks that only a radical activism and free relationship are viable and universalizable human choices. This explains his very unorthodox personal life style (free affairs with other women while maintaining a long-lasting relationship with Simone Beauvoir, non-institutionalized support of radical leftist groups, etc). If a non-conformist and courageous search for authentic existence is still a valid criterion of life one can say that Sartre was the embodiment of the "single individual" Kierkegaard has described as the human ideal, only that he gave it a more cosmopolitan, worldly, urban and universalistic twist. If "the how" of life commitment values much more than "the what" of verbal propositions then, with regard to Sartre's passionate stance for social justice and the emancipation of the oppressed, it makes sense to claim as some penetrating critics have done it, that in a sense it was better to be wrong with Sartre than to get it right with Reymond Aron.
All these examples are explicated based on their implicit maxim of action which is universalized according to Kantian claims. This explains both Sartre's contention that we choose for all men and that we choose only good. Socrates  (my conviction that my choice was good for me) is complemented by Kant and his test of viability.

III EXISTENTIAL CONCEPTS

 

The triple assertion of subjectivity (in the sense of making ourselves, in the sense of universal bearing of our actions and in the sense enormous responsibility stemming from it) provides the right context for proper understanding of those "grandiloquent words" that both fascinate and spook the broad audience. Now that the conceptual backdrop is secured Sartre feels ready to explain the meaning of the concepts like "anguish", "forlorness", "despair" and the like beyond their vulgar, predominantly negative connotations. Generally speaking, they are all indicative for the fundamental constitution of human existence in terms of its freedom, orientation toward future and law-making character.

   
 
Anguish:
Explication:

What is "anguish"? Certainly not just a negative emotion that indicates a defective adaptability or an emotional disorder in some hyper-sensistive individuals. On the contrary, anguish is the state of mind which attests that a man is taking seriously his freedom and responsibility with regard to many possibilities of action available to him. Anguish is the result of self-awarwness that I am a being capable of choosing freely among many possibilities none of which is either necessary or certain.

Levels of Anguish: Why existentialists say that "man is anguish"?
(1) Because man is free and at the same time responsible. A man "who involves himeslf" cannot escape the feeling of immense, deep and total responsibility for his actions and for other men.
(2) Man is responsible not only for the person he chooses to be but also for other men. He stakes himself out by choosing both himself and all mankind. His actions are inevitably actions of a lawmaker.
(3) Man is constantly in anguish not because he makes daily trivial choices but, as Sartre stated in the discussion following the lecture, (a) because his "original choice" is constant but uncertain and (b) there is no justification for the choice made.

Burden:

If this feeling is constitutive for human existence to such an extent that it touches upon man's fundamental plan, all men should be anxious (in anguish). But this seems to be a counterfactual claim given the number of those who "function" so smoothly that they show no sign of any interior anxiety.

Flight: The appearance of total absence of anguish is due to two reasons:
(a) People are fleeing from anxiety by renouncing freedom, or
(b) they are hiding anxiety from themselves by deceiving themselves.
Rationalization: In both cases they apply a technique of "double dealing" (la movaise foi).

Sartre details extensively the mechanism of "bad faith" in Being and Nothingness. Here he only briefly indicates how it works on the example of a person who refuses to accept that his actions have wider implications and that he himself is responsible for them. The refusal is motivated by the desire to avoid anguish.

Lying Pattern: A person fleeing from anguish or hiding it typically regards his actions as only his, that is as singular and isolated acts: "This is only my project and nobody else's business." Such a person maintains that he is the only one involved and he refuses to take into account others or to consider other implications.

Challenge:

In order to better understand Sartre's concise example we can give it some flesh and bones. Suppose that somebody is littering or cheating before our eyes. Instead of asking him 'why are you doing this' to which he may bluntly retort 'None of your business' we can challenge him on a level that he wants to supress: "What if everyone acted that way?" This is the first question to ask a person who behaves as an isolated individual. (Placing actions into the world of others)

Refusal: The easiest way for the person to reject further discussion would be to say "Not everyone does act that way." (Shrugging shoulders - and refusing to go out of the shell.) The meaning of this statement although acknowledging that others do not do the same is in fact: "I am doing what I want for myself and those who do otherwise have their own reasons. So leave me alone."

Suppression:

This reaction, as common and effective as it may be, rests on a self-deceptive suppression. But no one in the long can escape the impact of the anguish ball contained in the following question: "What would happen if everybody looked that way?" (Universalizability Test)

  This is a very disturbing thought as it directly involves the person into the world of other people and into the world of universal responsibility. It is not possible to diffuse the tension it creates. Now, there are only two options left for the "absolute" individual: either to accept the responsibility of "a lawmaker" and start "enjoying his anguish" or to try to flee from it again and to pay the price of self-deception.
Escape: The only way to escape anguish in this case is a kind of self-deception (lying to oneself). It is a deception because it presents given facts as a necessity, as something unavoidable and absolutely objective although they are also a result of our acceptance and choice. In other words, the person claims that things should be as his acts imply while denying any universal message and being unable or unwilling to ground his own choice. At the same time this refusal of universalization is espoused as a universal rule.
Note: In the Republic Plato defines the "true lies" in a manner that bears striking resemblance with this self-committed ignorance and deception. Is there any historical link between Plato's "true lies" and Sartre's "bad faith"? It seems that there is at least in so far as Plato's true lies pertain not only to the "highest realities' of the universe but to self-knowledge as well.

Cost:

"Uneasy conscience". Why? Because we are aware that our attempt to separate our involvement from others is dishonest. We are conferring "a universal value" upon the lie about the way how things should be. How a fact that "not all people behave that way" could become a lie? By cutting the alleged fact off from the context of its production and mediation as well as from the moment of human freedom. It is a lie that I am absolutely isolated individual, that I have to be selfish, that my acts are without bearing upon others, that it has to be so, namely that some people do this and others that, and that those who do otherwise also go by the principle "mind your own business". If I present something contingent as my necessity, if I choose to take it as my maxim because it is expedient no matter whether it is contrary to the demands of universalization or not, then I am proclaiming it as a universal value although I deny doing it. The underlying logic goes as follows: Since whatever I do, it remains I have chosen it as superior to all of its alternatives, my choice becomes a norm both for myself and others. By refusing this universalization the person who lies to himself that this norm is only for himself and does not involve others (which is a contradiction) universalizes a lie.

Self-Disclosing Concealement : Some individuals who otherwise truly accept responsibility might nonetheless try to conceal their anguish. For instance, the patriarch Abraham is portrayed in the Bible as if he had no hesitation and fear when he took the knife to sacrifice his son Isaac. He was calm and poised, he did not talk. But Sartre believes that this potrayal of Abraham gives only an outward aspect of Abraham's mind. He implicitly suggests that Kierkegaard's depiction of Abraham in Fear and Trembling is more faithful to the original event than the biblical rendering of the story precisely by exposing his silence as a mask for anguish. Therefore Sartre contends that "anguish is evident even when it conceals itself".
Abraham's Anguish: Although Kierkegaard does not use explicitly the phrase "the anguish of Abraham" he complains that traditional and familiar versions of Abraham's story "omit" the anxiety, distress and paradox (Fear and Trembling). However, if we take the story seriously, Abraham must have been in anguish. Why? Because he could not have possessed certainty, because he made a risky choice and assumed enormous responsibility. Anxiety in his case stems from the discrepancy between the conflicting demands of the ethical and the religious as well as from his inability to make himself understandable to others.
Credentials: "An angel has ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son." Sartre recounts the story from memory and confounds it with the promise conveyed to Abraham by angels. In fact, the order was given to Abraham in his dream (Gen., 22, 1), which makes the ambiguity of the situation even more tormenting. But Sartre is right that the whole uncertainty of the moment would have been wiped out had the messenger really been an angel and had Abraham been absolutely convinced that an angel was simply relaying him the demand of God to sacrifice Isaac.
Proof: However, even then there would remain a cloud of doubt big enough to nourish our anguish. For how one could be sure that what appeared as an angel was really an angel, that the order was truly coming from God and that the addressee was really Abraham. Finally, how one could be sure that the order was understood properly? There is no proof of certainty there and there could not be any. No certainty - no exemption from anguish.
Decision: The need for a proof of certainty was replaced by (1) Abraham's acceptance of the voice as divine and by (2) his decision to obey the order, all based on an absolute relation with the Absolute. Sartre leaves Kierkegaard's interpretation of Abraham at this point because he thinks that in this singular event only the moment of anguish possesses a universal value, not the resolve derived from blind faith. His point is simply this: If Abraham is not in anguish he must be in bad faith - hiding his uncertainty or renouncing his responsibility.
Analogies: Sartre shows that in terms of missing "proofs" there is not much of a difference between Abraham's recognition of the voice, a madwoman's claim that somebody talks to her on the telephone and my own choice to affirm something as the act to perform.
- What proof does Abraham have that the voices come "from heaven and not from hell, or from the subconscious, or a pathological condition"?
- "What proof did she (the woman) have that it was God (on the phone)?"
- "What proof is there that I have been appointed to impose my choice and my conception of man on humanity?"
 
Authority
Proof
Abraham
God
0
Madwoman
Phone Voice
0
Sartre
Self
0

Abraham - Metaphor:

Like Abraham and the madwoman I do not have proof that would eliminate all doubts and give me an unequivocal authorization for my actions. It is my responsibility if I interpret reality one way or another and it is my decision to act as if my interpretation is right. I am helplessly an imposter.

The "father of faith" Abraham is "the father of us all" in a more profound sense than just being the progenitor of "many nations": he has demonstrated that making decisions without absolute certainty is what constitutes human existence. What I do is (i) always my choice and (ii) my conception of man and the good.

Exemplary: I am Abraham although I am not being singled out by God. And yet, at every moment I have to "perform exemplary acts". I am not beheld by God, but I am more Abraham than Abraham because I am being watched by the world. "For every man, everything happens as if all mankind had its eyes fixed on him and were guiding itself by what he does."

Test:

I cannot simply say it is my duty to obey God or I am acting on behalf of humanity. Sartre inserts here a prequalifying test. I have first to ask the question Abraham was spared by God: "Am I really the kind of man who has the right to act in such a way that humanity might guide itself by my actions?" Everyone who does not submit himself to this (Kantian) test of dignity to be taken as a model "is masking his anguish." Kant asked am I worthy of happiness, Sartre rephrases the same by asking am I worthy of being a human agent.

Inevitability: The qualifying question is always answered one way or another. It is not possible to avoid it, to abolish choosing and to stay away from acting. This is the reason why anguish is inevitable. Anguish does not lead to spiritual passivity, inaction and rejection of volition. Anguish is not an obstacle, but the condition of action.

Responsibility:

 

Anguish is the anguish of responsibility. In making tough decisions one cannot help having anguish. According to Sartre, all (responsible) leaders know this anguish. And still this "direct responsibility to the other men" whom their action involves does not paralyze leaders. Without risk there is no action, because action entails freedom and responsibility, and they in turn generate anguish with regard to many open possibilities.

Value: When leaders choose something they realize that it has value only because it is chosen. Values do not exist prior to choosing and action. On the contrary, like "human nature" they are something that comes later. If God does not exist then normative commandments do not pre-exist either.
   
 
Forlorness:

The expression "forlorness" is a rendering of the German Verlassenheit (literally "abandonment"), the term used by Heidegger to denote the situation after the "death of God" (or God's withdrawal from the world). Along with Nietzsche who has pronounced this shocking news (Gay Science, #125) we need to "face all the consequences" of the modern demise of God.

Seriousness: These consequences are very serious and existentialism does not take them lightly. On the contrary, Sartre holds (following Nietzsche) "it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in heaven of ideas disappears along with Him".
Consequences: A suprasensible (transcendent) world of meaning is abolished.
The center of human existence and the source of values have vanished.
We do not have the divine protection Abraham had, but we still have to live in uncertainty.
We are left alone. This is scary. What to do? What to value?

The Least Cost:

Sartre rejects a kind of secular ethics which disposes of God but retains His place for ethical norms with the justification that only in this way we can establish a binding ethics and thus save society and civilization. For Sartre this is a philosophy of the "half-way" or "reformism". Its credo is that everything could remain the same despite the fact that God has gone. It wants to "abolish God with the least possible expense", which means without accepting that we are alone, on our own and that we must exercise our freedom and take responsibility in creating values.
 

Transcendent God A priori Values


The secular ethics of preexisting values preserves God in form of a priori norms. If we are serious with the "death of God" we need to recognize that with the death of God His place has disappeared as well. So there is no room for a priori values "inscribed in a heaven of ideas". Objectively existing values are only a substitute for a dying God. Therefore we have to choose between three positions:

Three Ethics:
Theism: If God does not exist, everything will be in vain. With Him everything will be redeemed and reconciled in hereafter.
Reformism: Nothing will be improved if God does not exist somehow. We need an ethics that will replace God and make Him obsolete.
Radicalism: Nothing will change if God exists. We can be free and responsible only if God does not exist.
   
  Sartre's ethics is opposed both to the outright heteronomous morality of resignation and to the objectifying morality of a priori existing norms.
Transcendence cannot impose obligations or promise rewards because it does not exist. By the same token, it is not a priori that we must be honest, that we must not lie (against Kant and the ethics of French teachers around 1880).
Distress: Why is it so distressing that God does not exist? Because we have lost the center and the direction, everything appears meaningless and arbitrary. (cf. Nietzsche's description of this situation in Gay Science, #125) There is "no possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas". If there are no objectively binding norms, everything becomes permissible.
Starting Point : "If God didn't exist, everything would be possible." (Dostoevsky) "If God exists everything is permissible to Him." (Lacan)
Alone: It is frightening that we are left alone (forlorn). There is nothing to cling to. Only we (men).

Free:

But we are free. This should give us a new strength, we should embrace our freedom enthusiastically, even with optimism.
"Man is freedom."

Indeterminism: There is no "determinism" in human conduct. What Sartre means is rather that there is no "hard determinism". Everyday experience of choosing provides irrefutable evidence that we are not pre-determined in our actions. We can deliberate about doing something or forgoing it only if we believe that it is in our power to make that decision. This does not mean that we do not have reasons and motives for doing it or not. It only means that there is no necessity or external coercion which does not allow choosing. I am free to choose many things, only not free not to choose.
Destiny: Man is "condemned to be free". Why condemned? Because man has not created himself and did not have the initial choice of coming or not to this world (he was "thrown into the world"). But afterwards he is responsible for living on and free in interpreting it. How free? Because he is "thrown in the world" as free and "responsible for everything he does" after that initial moment of being born for which he cannot be held accountable. Man can always change a given situation by choosing alternative venues. The only thing he is not free about is to decide whether he is free or not.
 
Existence precedes No Determinism No explanations No excuses
God non-existent No values No legitimizations No justification
Passions: Sartre rejects the common notion of passions as forces transforming man into a passive object of their impact. Does he deny that "sweeping passions" (drives, instincts, urges) take control over man and determine the course of his actions? Sartre acknowledges that such drives and passions exist, but holds man responsible for them as well. There is no fatality in the way how drives and desires operate. They cannot force anybody to act in a certain way without the individual succumbing to them. If they get the upper hand the subject is responsible for assenting to them and he cannot make excuses afterwards. Passions are our responses to a situation, but they are not predetermined. The fact that different people display different passions in the same situation amply corroborates that they are chosen or at least stem from free spontaneous acts of consciousness.
Virgin Future: Man forges his own destiny. What he does is "the future of man" (a reference to the statement of Ponge: "Man is the future of man."). But that future is not inscribed anywhere in heaven. If God or anybody else can foresee it - it ceases to be a future. It becomes a past to be unfolded and leaves no real freedom to man. Therefore future for man must remain virgin, which means that we are forlorn (or left to ourselves).
Note: Francis Ponge (1899-1988) was a French writer on whose poetry Sartre wrote an essay in 1944 ("L'homme et les choses"). He was specially attracted by Ponge's lines about how we conceal dehumanization as the form of work.
  We are alone, with no excuses behind us (determinism is a form of "bad faith"), nor justification before us (no transcendence that pulls the strings). We are a "purposeless passion" for we can never attain a full identity with that what we have been nor with our projects what to be.
Reasoning:
1. God is dead (does not exist).
2. Everything is permissible (no Good in itself).
3. We are free (we choose).
3. Future is open (to be forged).
4. Therefore we are forlorn (it is upon us).
5. Thus, we have no excuses.
Dilemma: How to resolve a dilemma between two possible choices:
(1) Stay with mother - something certain and important for a very concrete individual, something that requires a direct and predictable action based on the ethics of sympathy.
(2) Join Free French Forces - something uncertain but important for a vaster group, something that requires a chain of very dubious, mediated and collective actions based on the acceptance of social ethics.
Case Study: A student of Sartre is torn between his love for the mother who needs him to be able to carry on and the desire to avenge his fallen brother by joining Free French Forces in England. If he does the latter his mother will be left behind, if he does the former he will let down his country.
 
Personal Devotion Social Commitment
Sure thing Uncertain
Concrete Vague
Individual Group
Immediate Mediate
Ethical Precepts: Which ethics to listen? The one that appeals to personal devotion or the one that appeals to responsibility for a "national collectivity"?
Neither Christian nor Kantian ethics give us the clue how to resolve the dilemma. The former says "be charitable, love your neighbor, take the more rugged path", but it is not clear which action is here more charitable, more in accord with the demand to love your neighbor (your kin or your fellow subject) and which "path" is more rugged. The latter asks to take another person always as an end and never as a means, but the problem here is that whatever one chooses the the other option will be reduced to a mean.
Note: This is probably an overstatement - it is not clear why the categorical imperative would be violated if the student from Sartre's example had chosen to stay with his ailing mother. It would be safer to say that in that case something that deserves to be taken as a practical end would be postponed and thus practically disregarded. Anyway, the categorical imperative (always act so that the principle of your action can become a universal law) proves insufficient to resolve dilemmas which require choosing between different but legitimate values. For instance, if your friend has confided you that he was cheating on his wife and then his wife, also your friend, asks you about that, whatever you choose to say you will violate one moral principle and the value it states (either the promise of confidentiality or the obligation to tell the truth).
 
Christian Ethics Indiscriminate
Kantian Ethics Formal
Ethics of Feelings Posterior
Feelings: Feelings and instincts are vague and un-decisive as leads. How to determine the value of a feeling? How to compare different feelings and to assess their respective value? A feeling obtains value not by being followed, but by performing an act which manifests and confirms that affection. "The feeling is formed by the acts one performs." Practice is decisive for defining feelings. Therefore I cannot refer to a pre-existent feeling in order to be able to act upon it. Gide was right in saying that "a mock feeling and and a true feeling are almost indistinguishable". If they both lead to the same practical consequences the difference does not matter much. This is another confirmation that stataments are acts and why performances imply commitment (cf. Pascal's answer to the question: how to induce faith?).
Foundations: Actions, performances and practices are more fundamental than feelings, preferences and values.
Summary: 1. The true condition for action does not lie in my instinct and feelings.
2. It is not to be found in any general ethics.
3. One cannot get any direction from others without personal involment.
Adviser: Very often people have already decided on the kind of advice they are going to get. In asking for advice they only seek for confirmation.
Therefore, in choosing your counselor you have chosen the advice. Even priests will advice depending on their practical stance.
In choosing Sartre you have chosen to be reminded on what you are condemned to: "You're free, choose, that is, invent."
Omens: There are no objective orientation marks. Therefore do not look for omens in the external world. There are none. Man is condemned to interpret everything that may appear as a sign. And man chooses the interpretation. In doing this man chooses himself. In that sense Sartre says that man "is condemned every moment to invent man".

Case Study: A young man who "had botched everything" in life does not fall into despair and bitterness but decides to interpret his vicissitudes as a sign that his true vocation is to serve God. But he could have deciphered those "signs" differently, "to turn carpenter or revolutionist". Only he is responsible for his interpretation.
Articulation: "Forlorness implies that we ourselves choose our being. Forlorness and anguish go together."
(The first pressuposes absolute freedom, the second unlimited responsibility.)
A. You are free (Forlornness).
B. You cannot avoid choosing (Anguish).
C. By choosing you create an image of man that you want to be (Invention).

 

Despair:

  The word "despair" is typically used as a synonym for human despondency and hopelessness. But again Sartre distances himself from a superficial understanding of those expressions that existentialist use to describe human moods. He takes the term "despair" in the sense of self-confinement that resembles some Stoic techniques designed to facilitate an adjustement to the adversities of environment. Sartre does not suggest a positive acceptance of the rugged reality but a clear awareness of what could be done given the circumstances. Briefly, one should reckon only with "what depends upon our will", or, in a more modern formulation, one should care only for "the ensemble of probabilities which make our actions possible".

Probabilities:

Sartre admits that in real life we are "left in the realm of possibility" and that we always have to deal only with probabilities (a lesson learned from Hume and his destruction of causation?). He is also aware that the realm of possibilities is virtually indefinite and that the bulk of them are beyond our control. But for him this is not a sufficient reason to despair. Not even when possibilities do not open according to our wishes. What does he suggest?

Reckoning: First we should not seriously engage in pondering sheer logical possibilities. Next we should ignore the possibility that something might happen by chance or miraculously (supernatural possibilities). One should reckon with possibilities only as long as "my action comports with the ensemble of these possibilities". When my actions do not strictly involve these possibilities I should disengage myself from them, which means I should practically disregard them. If this attitude is viewed by some as giving in to resignation and despair, so be it, but it is better to direct our activism where it could yield some results than to be disappointed that the possibilities beyond my reach do not conform to my expectations. If I cannot do something I should not expect that some transcendent factor will instead adapt the world to my will. On the contrary, I should adapt my will in keeping with the Stoic insight that what is not in my power should not be my concern.

Note: In support of this attitude Sartre quotes Descartes' exhortation: "Conquer yourself rather than the world." (Descartes is much more famous for his more activistic statement that we need to make ourselves the masters of Nature.)
Reliance: Social activists (especially Marxists) do not accept this attitude. They object to Sartre that his Stoicism is not healthy and heroic. On the contrary, it masks the despair of an isolated individual who does not realize that we are not alone in our struggles, that other people can provide support and that our fights are both collectivelly and historically defined undertakings. Therefore they demand from Sartre to recognize the true forces of Revolution, embrace them (overcome his bourgeois individualism), put everything into (historical) perspective and thus secure the meaningfulness of his actions, for "you're not going to live forever". These critics also imply a moral obligation to heed this demand, for "otherwise you're immoral".
Individualism: Sartre is ready to rely on others only within groups that allow individual initiative and do not reduce their members to mere numbers or pawns. As long as group actions are transparent and perceived as the actions of the subjects involved he can see himself engaged in common struggles, precisely because he can regard the support and unity coming from others as real and meaningful probabilities.
Collectivism: But he is not willing to embrace some abstractions or collectives (the Party, the Revolution, the Good, the History) as a condition of his engagement. Since these instances lack a direct experiential link with his actions Sartre is reluctant to delegate his activism into the hands of their leaders. On the contrary, he is rather skeptical about their announcements and demands. He cannot count on men he does not know by simply relying on human goodness (that is another ghost coming from the concept of "human nature") nor can he internalize big promises on behalf of an imminent historical progress. He knows very well that history is contingent and that men can freely choose not only a different course of action but also different ends (Fascism instead of Socialism).

Uncertain Progress:

 

Progress is desirable but it is not inevitable. One way or another, "things will be as man will have decided they are to be". But I cannot be sure which way they will be decided no matter how I am now eager to fight for the cause of social justice and freedom. Future is open. This does not mean that I am relinquishing any ambition to fight for a global social change. On the contrary, I am very much engaged in it despite the uncertainty that gives birth to my anguish. But it is my own, inalienable action. I do not give up ideals, only illusions.

   

IV EXISTENTIAL ETHICS

Quietism: The anguish that conditions and follows action does not have anything to do with the "quietism of despair". Sartre renounces quitesim and despair despite the fact that he does not know what the future brings. His motto ("saw") is "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." This means that the only certain way not to achieve anything is to give up upfront any intention of trying something. In contrast he fully invests his energy and enthusiasm in the struggles of the present. Even though he lacks certainty, he does not beg for any consoling illusions or incentives coming from transcendence. He counts on himself. He is confident in his action although not in the outcome. Therefore his position should not be confused with the resignative posture od those who say why strive for something when everything is in vain anyway. He rejects the quietism of those who say: "Let other people do what I cannot." I am what I do, and I should not not extrapolate my projects by adding to them what others may or may not do in the future. I should focus on that what I can.
Potential Reality: Quietism reconciles with the current frustrations and places the unaccomplished strivings onto the shoulders of other people. But other people might not be interested in taking over. Sartre saves the integrity of human reality by transforming its potentials into free actions that realize the "plan" here and now. His stance about human reality and human true self is expressed in the statement that "there is no reality except in action". Hence he rejects the idea that there is a true yet not actualized Self deeply hybernating in the inwardness of our being. He is almost brutal in dismissing the reveries about unrealized human potentials ("propensities, inclinations, possibilities") which are typically cited to compensate or excuse for real wretchedness and unfruitfullness of an individual.
Example: "What I've been and done doesn't show my true worth."
Manifested Reality: Real is only what manifests itself, no hidden nature or "a host of unused possibilities". This holds true even for my own selfhood. In fact there is no true self sitting inside me, no real me, no showcase "personality" apart from the one realized in life.

"There is no genius other than one which is expressed in works of art..."
"There is really no love other than one which manifests itself in a person's being in love".
"A man is involved in life, leaves his impress on it, and outside of that there is nothing."
Note: B. Croce argued along similar lines that an idea which does not find expression in thoughts and words is a non-existing idea.

Positive Reality:

Only realized reality counts, not dreams, expectations, and hopes. The latter define man only negatively, by refering to what he is not or failed to be: "a disappointed dream, miscarried hopes, vain expectations". The former provides a way to define man positively (cf. Schelling's idea of "positive existence").
Yes, man "exist only to the extent that he fulfills himself", but this means that he is then indistingusihable from his life: "the ensemble of his acts". This does not mean that a man is only "a series of undertakings". Sartre is sensitive enough to compliment his "definition" by adding "the sum, the organization, the ensemble of relationships which make up these undertakings".

Optimistic Toughness: Man's destiny is within himself.
But it is not inscribed in his physiological or psychological constitution. If individuals behave like soft, weak, cowardly or downright bad people, this is not because of their heredity or biological make-up. Even less because of "the workings of environment" or "society". Zola's characters are potrayed in that way and this why they allow only one type of comment: "Well, that's what we're like, no one can do anything about it."
Sartre rejects any biological, psychological or sociological determinism in defining human character. No one is condemned to be a coward because "he has a cowardly heart or lung or brain" (this naive notion of cowardice is nicely worked out in Baum's Wizard of Oz whose characters eventually realize that they do not need better organs if they act in accord with their ideals). There are no born cowards as there are no born heroes. There is no such thing as a cowardly or heroic constitution. The coward makes himself cowardly and the hero makes himself heroic. The first by performing acts of "renouncing and yielding", the second by standing up and fighting. Both have always a possibility to act differently, only not to be defined on the basis of the acts they perform. "Action is the only thing that enables a man to live" (= to be what he is).

Note:
This explains why it makes sense to regard cowardice as a moral vice and courage as a virtue (cf. Aristotle). Of course, one particular action is not sufficient to claim any state of mind as a virtue for it requires a continuous and comprehensive involvemnt. But to ascribe any chosen reaction as a consequence of natural or social circumstances is, for Sartre, just another way of finding excuses.
Absolute Truth: Sartre now addresses the charge that existentialism immures man in his "private subjectivity". The basis for that charge is the acceptance of the Cogito as the starting point (see above). To be sure, Sartre accepts the individual certainty of the Cogito as an abosulte truth which grounds all subsequent probabilities. It has to be taken as a starting point because every individual can experience it with the same intensity as an unassailable truth.

Intersubjectivity:

But the subjectivity that Sartre proclaims to be the foundation and the "absolute truth" is not the Cartesian self-enclosed res cogitans = "a strictly individual subjectivity". Sartre contends that while performing the cogito one discovers "not only himself, but others as well". This goes against both Descartes and Kant, but Sartre regards this extension of awareness as a justified departure from their solipsistic and egological ruminations. He asserts that "through the I think we reach our own self in the presence of others, and the others are just as real to us as our own self". Others are therefore not just "walking automata" of Descartes. On the contrary, "the man who becomes aware of himself through the cogito also perceives all others, and he perceives them as the condition of his own existence" (I become fully aware of myself only through the look of another person, otherwise I am entirely immersed in-the-world). Descartes' cogito and Kant's a priori subjectivity of awareness have to be transformed into transcendental inter-subjectivity. Next step in Sartre's broadening of human consciousness is the integration of Hegelian need for recognition: I cannot be anything (positively or negatively) without being perceived by others and recognized as such (cf. the dialectic of master and slave in the Phenomenology of Spirit). Summing up all these stages in the development of Western subjectivity Sartre anounces the discovery of the world in which "man decides what he is and what others are".

 

Fundamental Situation: Although Sartre denies that there is a universal essence embodied in human nature he acknowledges that there are universal human conditions, or beter to say "a universal human condition" that outlines man's fundamental situation in the world. The fundamental situation of man is defined through certain a priori limits such as: to be in the world, to be there at work, to be in the midst of other people, to be mortal. These limits are both objective (found everywhere) and subjective (must be lived, otherwise do not exist).
Configuration: Historical settings change and differ, but they have universal value because in all of them man assumes attititudes toward those fundamental constants. The answers are different (escapism, adjustement, rebellion), but they all could be understood by every man even if they are formulated within a specific culture or a society (this is what Sartre calls "configuration"). The universality of man consists precisely in the fact that we always find a man in them, although not as a pregiven magnitude but perpetually made. But I build the universal both in choosing myself (absolute choice) and in understanding the configuration of every other man (relative epochs).
Compatibility: The absoluteness of choice does not do away with the relativeness of each epoch. "The relativity of Cartesianism" (as a historically conditioned view) and "the absolute character of Cartesian involvement" (consciousness aware of self and others) go together. On the contrary, existentialism is concerned to establish a connection between the absolute character of free involvement (self-realization) and the relativeness of the cultural ensemble which may result from such a choice. According to Sartre, not only that there is no contradiction between "being like a configuration" and "being absolute" but there is no difference between "being an absolute temporarilly localized" in history and "being universally comprehensible".
Note: "Configuration" as another term for historical situation should allow for the interplay of relativness and absoluteness.

Subjectivism Revisited:

 

Objections:
Having analyzed the charges that allege an excessive philosophical stress on human subjectivity, Sartre now turns to those that accuse existentialism for sheer subjectivism. These are contained in the following statements:
(1) "So you're able to do anything, no matter what." (the objection of anarchism)
(2) "You're unable to to pass judgment on others, because there's no reason to prefer one configuration to another."
(3) "Everything is arbitrary in this choosing of yours. You take something from one pocket and pretend you're putting it into another."

Responses:
Sartre regards all these objections as pointless.

(1) The first objection is absurd if it supposes that one can do everything. This is simply not possible. But if not everything is possible, this does not mean that we cannot choose.
Avoidance: - Existentialism claims that "choice is possible" and that one "can always choose". This means only that one cannot avoid choosing, because "if I do not choose, I am still choosing".
Accountability: - It is also absurd to claim that one can choose to do anything disregrading all consequences. At least this is not what existentialism says. Existentialism contends that one cannot avoid responsibility for the choices made.
Caprice: - To say that not choosing is a kind of choosing is not a word game. It points to the extended realm of responsibility that keeps "fantasy and caprice within bounds".
Arbitrariness: Sartre warns not to confound his theory with Gide's theory of "arbitrary act". Andre Gide conceives freedom as equal with gratuitious, wild chance. Therefore his individual acts "out of pure caprice" (cf. Fruits of the Earth).
Difference: The only similarity with Gide's theory is the absence of preestablished values, but the caharcter of acting is very different. Choosing in an "organized situation" while taking full responsibility for his acts is not an arbitrary act.
Comparison: Sartre allows a comparison beween "making moral choices" and "making a work of art". But he refuses to call his philosophy of action an "aesthetic ethics" just because it displays some parallels with artistic creativity. The main point here, however, is that even if the equasion between the two were justified his ethics could not be regarded as arbitrary, for we do not regard artistic creation as arbitrary (cf. "Le Mystere de Picasso" by G. Clouzot).
Congruence: Existentialist ethics shares with art "the same creative situation". The moment of creativity and invention is essential in both because in both there are no a priori rules which determine what is to be done. There is no single compelling action to choose and "there is no definite painting to made". The artist is making himself while he is painting (Picasso), the agent makes himself in choosing his action (the young student). And in both cases a judgment is in order only afterwards.
  (2) The second objection (inability to pass judgment) is justified in one sense, but entirely misplaced in another.
Commitment: It is justified if it refers to the fact that a person who sincerely "involves himself and chooses his configuration" cannot sensibly prefer another configuration. This is a logical and psychological necessity. It is a kind of constant for man since man has not historically changed in that respect. Situation always changes. What does not change is the necessity to make choices in a situation.
Judgment: The objection is unjustified with regard to the fact that one can pass judgment about other people's choices, all the more so since one makes choices in relationship to others. This judging is rather of logical than moral nature. It refers to the truth or falsity of choices (this is what Sartre calls "bad faith"). For instance, the existentialist can say that somebody is in a state of "bad faith" if the analysis of the person's choice and words indicate that he is taking refuge behind certain excuses. Or if he claims that there are certain pre-existing values that he must choose.
Note: In this essay Sartre contends that a man can esape from freedom and responsibility only by virtue of a mechanism called "bad faith" (movaise foi). This mechanism manifests itself in two forms: (a) lying to oneself (exemplified by the person who claims that "not all people act this way") and (b) making excuses (now illustrated by the person who invokes passions or other objective factors to account for his conduct). The former engages himself in "double dealing", the latter in "dishonesty" (as reads the English rendering). It is important to note the terminological identity of the two which was unfortunately lost in the english translation (in both cases the French original has one and the same phrase - "bad faith").
Error: "Bad faith" is understood as a kind of error or inconsistency rather than a moral defect. The inconsistency consists in maintaining that there are some pre-existing values imposed on me and at the same time declaring that I want them. This is a kind of contradiction, but Sartre regards it as a kind of falsehood as well: "Dishonesty (bad faith) is obviously a falsehood because it belies the complete freedom of involvement." (This aspect of "bad faith" receives a detailed discussion in Being and Nothingness.)
Of course, one can choose to be in "bad faith" and pay the price. In sofar as those who choose "dishonesty" hide the complete arbitrareness and the complete freedom of their existence from themselves, and insofar as they do this "out of spirit of seriousness or by means of deterministic excuses", they are exposed to my "unbiased" judgments. Thus it is possible to criticize a choice at least in the sense of unveiling its inherent contradictions.
Note: "The spirit of seriousness" is the expression of M. Montaigne denoting the attitude of rationalist objectivity which regards the world as the Sartrean "being-in-itself". In Being and Nothingness Sartre says that the spirit of seriousness has two characteristics: "it considers values as transcendent givens independent of human subjectivity, and it transfers the quality of 'desirable' from the ontological structure of things to their simple material constitution" (Being and Nothingness, p. 626).
Coherence: The coherent attitude is the stance of "good faith" (bonne foi). Once we recognize that we are forlorn and the creators of values we cannot but want only one thing: freedom. Hence we want freedom for freedom's sake. And we want it in every particular circumstance. The test for choices is always one and the same: has the invention been made "in the name of freedom"?

Note: In his exaltation about freedom Sartre does not address the following objection: "How can we choose that which defines our very human condition and fromn which we can never escape?" (R. Bernstein, Praxis and Action, p. 152). Or, in other words: "If all people are aready free - why would they also want to be free?" (cf. Guignon and Pereboom) The answer is probably that since a denial of freedom is also a form of freedom, it makes sense to demand that we positively accept freedom. Kantian ethics on which Sartre obviously draws does not face the same problem, because it postulates freedom. But Sartre believes that Kant's ethics is too formalistic and abstract. It is not sensitive enough to the complexity of reality that prevents any a priori judging. Two opposed moralities could be both chosen as forms of "free involvement" (compare the choices of Maggie Tulliver and Sanseverina).
Dependence: In wanting freedom we discover that it depends entirely on the freedom of others, and that the freedom of others depends on ours. Now the solitary freedom must give place to the will for freedom within the complex realm of involvement (engagement). Having recognized that man is "a free being who, in various circumstances, can want only his freedom" I must recognize that I can want only "the freedom of others".

Note: Here again Sartre pays tribute to Kant who strongly affirmed both the non-instrumental value and the universal character of freedom: "freedom desires both itself and the freedom of others". However, this transition from self-assertion to genuine respect for others and even engagement for universal liberation has never been elaborated by Sartre with a desirable clarity and completeness.
  (3) Third objection says that values could not be taken seriously if we can choose between them freely.
Ascription:

Sartre claims that values are rather created by man than chosen. But creating values is both indispensable and unavoidable if we want to have values in the first place. Since God does not create them and since they do not exist a priori the only question is do we need them and if so are we capable of creating them. His answer is positive. Creating values is nothing else but giving life a meaning. "Value is nothing else but the meaning that you choose".
Note: But if values are not justifiable, then no choice is better than another. This is the problem which does not find a satisfactory answer in Sartre.

Passing Beyond: Precisely the possibility of creating values opens a prospect to create "a human community" (obviously not just any type of society, but one that transcends current forms of domination).
The basis for that is to be found in man's ability to transcend both himself and his conditions.
"Man is constantly outside of himself; in projecting himself, in losing himself outside of himself" (cf. the literal meaning of the word ek-sistence).
Besides, man exists by pursuing transcendent goals, by passing-beyond, by "being this state of passing beyond", by seizing upon things only as they bear upon this passing-beyond.
Existential Humanism:

With regard to these transcendent goals that involve all men Sartre finally explains in which sense it is appropriate to regard existentialism as a humanism.
He denies that existentialism is "humanistic" if humanism denotes a theory which takes man "as an end and as a higher value". Man is always ahead of any given end, since he is always in the making. The theory that man is "the end" operates with an "aerial view" of humanity that focuses on "the highest deeds of certain men". But Sartre rejects it as "absurd" since it presupposes an "over-all judgment about man", a perspective inaccessible to man. This type of humanism is possible only as self-enclosed (the example of Auguste Comte) because it is based on a definite image of man.
For Sartre, the only appropriate humanism is the one that affirms that man is in the process of self-overcoming. Existentialism is humanism in the sense of connecting this transcendency of "going beyond" (not to be confused with the divine transcendence) with the subjectivity of a being embeded in a human universe (not to be reduced to the Cartesian individual mind). Humanism is a reminder that "man fulfills himself, not in turning toward himself, but in seeking outside of himself a goal which is just this liberation".

 


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