Free «Sartre's View about the Relationship between Free Agency and Consciousness» Essay Sample

Sartre's View about the Relationship between Free Agency and Consciousness

Jean-Paul Sartre is a prominent existentialist, which determines his field of interests. First, he is interested in individuals. Sartre believes that the so-called general theory of human nature misses the most important thing, namely the uniqueness of each person and his life. Secondly, the philosopher pays attention to human freedom, the ability of each individual to choose his views, goals, values and decide his actions in any situation. Existentialists do not only assert the truth of this statement, but also try to persuade people to act accordingly and consciously exercise their freedom. Typically, according to the existentialist’s view, the only appropriate way of life worthy of genuine admiration is the one that person has freely chosen.

The point, uniting naturally different issues raised in the philosophy of Sartre is the central theme of his philosophical search, namely the problem of freedom as an internal structure of consciousness. This issue is extremely complex in its essence and the French philosopher raises it throughout his creative heritage. Firstly, it is necessary to determine the possible extent of the essence of freedom concept in Sartre’s philosophy and analyze its possible restrictions; secondly, it is vital to reveal the concept of consciousness; thirdly, one should consider the relationship between the concepts of freedom and consciousness. The objectives of the essay determine its structure. The articles of Weasley Morriston and John Wright assist in generalization and assessment of the philosopher’s essential provisions and ideas.

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Principle Concepts and Definitions

In order to be able to comprehend Sartre’s views about the relationship between free agency and consciousness, it seems appropriate to define these and related terms in his philosophy and, thus, provide general overview of free agency and consciousness in Sartre’s theory. This is possible due to theoretical works represented by Morriston and Wright, who thoroughly analyzed major works of the prominent philosopher.

The theory of freedom (freedom of will, free agency) is opposite to the theory of psychological determinism. While reviewing its name, it may be deducted that psychological determinism claims that all actions and choices are causally determined by the motives, desires, beliefs, and, ultimately, the temper ant the past experience of the agent (Morrison, 1977, p. 237). Generally, the theory claims that in a particular situation a specific person could not have acted differently. By contrast, Sartre’s concept of radical freedom provides that act is not causally determined, but contains the choice of its own end (Morriston, 1977, p. 240). Sartre calls this choice a “project” (Morriston, 1977, p. 240). Thus, a project is the choice of its own end. Another related concept is “fundamental project.” Fundamental project is an attempt to solve the “problem of being,” to perform an impossible synthesis of the in-itself and the for-itself, “to achieve the security of something which merely is what it is, while retaining the freedom of the being whose being is perpetually in question” (Morriston, 1977, p. 224).

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Wright (n.d.), in his turn, determines the affiliation of the Sartre’s views, appropriating them to incompatibilism, which implies the persuasion that free will is incompatible with causal determinism (p. 1-2). This belief, unlike compatibilism, does not concede that any act is the result of a certain psychological state of the person, namely his or her beliefs and desires, rather than the outcome of some physical cause (Wright, n.d., p. 1).

The concept of consciousness in Sartre’s doctrine occupies a significant position. Consciousness is shortly described as an activity that reveals beings as appearances or phenomena and is simultaneously self-conscious (Wright, n.d., p. 4). Sartre rejects unconsciousness as a mental state (Wright, n.d., p. 7). Wright also provides classifications of consciousness. Thus, it can be positional (reflective), namely the consciousness of something, and non-positional (pre-reflective) (Wright, n.d., p. 4-5). However, this does not mean that people have two of them. Moreover it implies that human consciousness can act differently. On the other hand, this stipulates the distinction between other ontological categories as being-in-itself and being-for-itself. Being-in?itself can be simply explained as being as it is (9). Being-for-itself, in its turn, is defined as being what it is not (Sartre, 1992, p. 245). Another useful term reviewed in the present research is chance. It is determined as the absence of explanation where it seems to be appropriate (Morriston, 1977, p. 245).

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In this section, it seems necessary to express the basic manifestations of consciousness and free agency, which will be further reflected in the article. They are act and behavior. Act is considered as principally intentional, purposeful performance aimed at achieving some end (Wright, n.d., p. 8). Behavior, in its turn, is a kind of activity, which does not require consciousness (Wright, n.d., p. 8).

Freedom in Sartre’s Philosophy

Sartre's worldview was formed primarily under the influence of Bergson, Husserl and Heidegger. Sartre's existential philosophy reveals itself as one of the modern branches of Husserl's phenomenology. Moreover, the application of his method to the “living conscience”, namely to the subjective consciousness determining actions of a particular individual, immerged into the world of definite situations, into relationships with other people and things, where the person sets goals, takes decisions, participates in the social life, etc.

The concept of freedom is deployed in Sartre's theory of “project”, according to which the individual is not a given substance, but designs and creates himself. Therefore, a coward, for example, is responsible for his cowardice, and, therefore, has no alibi. Existentialism of Sartre tends to make a person realize that he is fully responsible for his actions, existence and the surroundings. The reason is that the philosopher proceeds with the assertion that, not being something given, a man constantly builds himself through its active subjectivity. Hence, the expression that Sartre expresses as the general principle of existentialism, “existence precedes essence” (Sartre, 1992, p. 725). In general, this means that common, socially significant (cultural) objectifications, which act as essence, human nature, universal ideals, values established by God, etc, are only frozen moments of activity, which a particular subject never coincides with. They are just means of escaping responsibility for making free choices, and just expressing excuses (Morriston, 1977, p. 245).

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Every human is free to create his own essence because, as it has bee already noted, he is originally given only as existence. He is not complete as things, and he makes himself what he is: the honest or scoundrel, the coward or a hero. This statement is supported by the quote: “As long as I exist, I am defined, not only by what I have been and done, but also by what I can still do, by my possibilities for change-even total and radical change. The possibility of complete conversion is never finally ruled out”. (Morriston, 1977, p. 244)

The person himself is his fundamental project (Morriston, 1977, p. 245). Sartre claims that in their inner world, people do not depend on the society, other people, moral and religious precepts, or even their own past. This independence is the result of the ability of consciousness to deny and exempt from any external influence.

Sartre declares human being to be a carrier of absolute freedom. However, this thesis is accompanied by numerous restrictions against anarchy that the outcome of Sartre's reasoning is not freedom, but responsibility and guilt. He formulates the “paradox of freedom”: freedom exists only in the situation, and the situation exists only through freedom. Human reality meets resistance and obstacles that it has created everywhere.

Free choice is the lot of each particular person. Human, according to Sartre, is doomed to freedom of choice. He chooses inevitably even in the situations when he does not want to choose. Behavioral and moral choice, according to Sartre, involves not clear reflexive consciousness of a man, but some pre-reflective layers of his inner world. A person does not make choice using his mind, but the integrity of his “I.” The choice is realized through the act.

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While people do not act, they do not know who they really are. Only the behavior of the person demonstrates his true qualities. Even the feelings that the person tries to refer when choosing, are a product of the act he conducts. In this sense, Sartre ignores the problem of motivation, the inner state of the soul. He considers it irrelevant, sharing pragmatic view of morality, according to which people judge a man by the consequences of his deeds, not his intentions.

The man is completely free to choose, but he is the one totally responsible for his choice. He is responsible for his decisions only to himself, but not to the public or the higher powers. He must know that he will personally pay the price of his actions. The foulest people are those who believe themselves to be forced to a certain behavior. Sartre despises such individuals.

A person's ability to create himself and the world of other people as well as to choose the image of the future world is a consequence of the fundamental characteristics of the human existence, namely his freedom. A person is already freedom. Existentialists emphasize that every man is free, independently of the real possibilities to implement his objectives. Human freedom is preserved in any situation and is expressed through the ability to make a choice. This is not related to the choosing options for the action, but to the way of expressing the attitude to the situation.

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Another important issue within the theory of freedom is chance. Sartre claims that the acts of people are neither chance happenings (because every act has its reason and motive), nor causally determined events (because the reason and motive are constituted by the free choice of an end) (Morriston, 1977, p. 243). Sartre insists that the proportion of chances must be minimized in order not to restore the irrational, as it is often claimed, but rather to reduce the share of uncertainty and ignorance. The task of the progressive method is to identify a reasonable project, through which an individual can establish himself because he is the central object of the existential theory.

The concept of nothingness goes through all the categories of Sartre’s philosophy and unites them. The author proves the presence of a negative aspect of freedom, because if one is unable to perform an action, it is not proper to desire its implementation. Thus, being-for-itself, according to Sartre, has the seemingly paradoxical feature of negative existence, or as he states, “being what it is not and not being what it is” (Sartre, 1992, p. 245). Therefore, it is intimately related to negativity and Sartre's concept of nothingness (Wright, n.d., p. 10).

While analyzing the problem of freedom, the researches face the important question concerning the existence of its restrictions. Sartre manages to prove the absence of a fatal predetermination of the human action, a person's ability to deal with obstacles and overcome them. One can agree with the statement of Sartre that the freedom of a person’s decision determines whether he obeys the established prohibitions or fights against them. However, for example, the danger of death associated with the decision shows that freedom does not set obstacles for the actions itself, but meets them as objective data. Accounting for these factors, the thesis of the absolute freedom of the individual is refuted.

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To some extent, Sartre realizes this fact, which is reflected in the new restriction, and in fact, the limitation of the concept of freedom: Formula “to be free” does not mean “to achieve the wanted”, but it implies “to decide on volition of (to choose) yourself.” In other words, success is not important for freedom. In light of the above statements, real purposeful human activity involves freedom as the ability to choose the goals of the action; to act in order to achieve goals; to achieve goals; to express will. Ignoring at least one of these aspects leads to a serious restriction or even negation of freedom.

Sartre’s restrictions of the concept of freedom reduce it to the autonomy of choice, framing it within the scope of consciousness, the changes of reality only in the person’s mind. This freedom does not make any changes in the world and is not a valid overcoming of a particular situation. However, this identification of freedom with the autonomy of choice allowed Sartre arguing that a person is always free. He also opines that considering the concept of freedom, there is no difference between the diametrically opposite situations, for example, to remain steadfast or to betray a friend and beliefs.

On the other hand, Sartre seeks to prove the possibility of human freedom in difficult circumstances and its responsibility for the situation, from which he does not have right to escape. It is important to note that the obstacles that can make the goal unattainable are found only within the field of person’s freedom. Freedom may be limited because it is a choice, and every choice already implies the elimination and selection. The actual boundary of freedom one can encounter is the way of life prescribed specially for each individual.

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Consciousness is spontaneous and active; the world of things is inert. According to Sartre, there is no feature for-itself which can be a feature in-itself. Following this logic, if consciousness is variable and active, the things being the objects of consciousness (phenomena), must be inert and motionless; if consciousness is self-contradictory, the things should be positive, absolute, identical. Considering the world of things, one may state the following: “Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is” (Sartre, 29). One cannot provide any information about the development of the world, changing conditions and states. People live and observe only the present and fixed moment.

According to Sartre, the world is a universal nothingness, the complete absence of any factor which corresponds to the human expectations, images, and concepts. In order to be real means to appear being alien to consciousness, completely random and in the limit is a total absurd. Consciousness, as it tries to conceive the world, is an illusion from the beginning to the end. There is an unbridgeable chasm between the world and the human mind.

Consciousness is a living contradiction, overflow, decompression of being, nothingness (Wright, n.d., p. 10). However, this nothingness is filled with colors and meanings. The mode of consciousness existence is a denial of any determination and certainty from the outside. Thus, it may be concluded that one does not have a stable core, but has a thirst for the fullness of existence.











Correlation of the Concepts

Within the history of philosophy, it is difficult to find a thinker who would completely identify freedom with the very structure of consciousness. Originally, freedom in Sartre’s philosophy is an essential characteristic of consciousness and coincides with its internal structure. In the early works of the philosopher, freedom is separated from the specific goal and historical sense, being determined by nothing. Sartre identifies freedom and consciousness, which implies the negation of the condition of its existence.

With the development of the philosophy, understanding consciousness as freedom and nothingness increasingly attracts Sartre’s attention. The heart of a person contains freedom as nothing, forcing him to constantly make himself, instead of just being. The fact of human freedom should manifest itself through intuitive sense of transcendence and the groundlessness of the existence. Transcendental, spontaneous, independent, and unreflective consciousness is primary related to reflection, and is the epitome of freedom, a place where a choice occurs. Having complete freedom one can any time refuse from his essence, when it is impotent and tends to nothing, as well as break the contact and continuity. People are free when a certain limit, showing what they are, is a goal, not a fulfilling wish, but also not the existing object yet.

“Consciousness must regard its object as transcendent, that is, as being independent of consciousness and being in--?itself, even if the object is fictional or imaginary” (Wright, n.d., p. 9).

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Freedom is not any kind of being, it is human existence, namely nothingness of existence. If the person was understood as complete, it would be absurd to look for the mental aspects or areas where he would be free. One cannot be sometimes free, and sometimes a slave, he is completely and always free or dependent.

Thus, freedom in existentialism is primarily freedom of consciousness, choice, as well as spiritual and moral position of the individual. Sartre identified the negative power of consciousness with the freedom of a man. From the perspective of Sartre, the man makes the choice of his “project” unconsciously at some point of his life, which subsequently determines his whole existance. People tend to identify themselves with their conscious states, motivations, aspirations, feelings, perceive themselves as a kind of frozen essence. However, this is a profound mistake. At the moment when a man realizes himself, he changes. Moreover, this change is manifested in the fact of his awareness, the fact that he learned about himself what he did not know until that moment, and therefore, he is no longer what he was just a moment ago. Therefore, freedom causes anxiety, which means acceptance by a person of his own being, creating himself as nothing, namely the recognition of freedom. Man flees from anxiety, thus trying not only to escape from his freedom and future, but also from his past. He would like to understand the past as the principle of his freedom, even though it is once and for all, still and alien being-in-itself. However, any person cannot be free from anxiety because he is his anxiety.

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