A Brief Look AtJean Paul Sartre’s Philosophy By Alan CafferkeyID: G00294171Word Count: 2385IntroductionThis essay is going to look at the work of the French PhilosopherJean Paul Sartre and his chosen philosophy Existentialism. I am going to startwith a brief description of Sartre and from here move into describing hisphilosophy. From here the aim is to show what he came to realise about being inthe world. You will see what Sartre means by what he refers to as ‘existenceprecedes essence’ this is we arrive and then we do. Sartre speaks about theabsurdity of the world and examples are in his novel Nausea I will elaborate onthis and give an example of the frightening things in our day-to-day lives.
Iwill explain what Sartre means about aguish that we are condemned to be freeand the fact we run from freedom into ‘bad faith’ we are trapped in doingthings we do not really want to. This essay will explain about ‘being forothers’ and about the gaze of the other and because we are social beings thisis hard to escape. Jean Paul Sartre Jean Paul Sartre was a French philosopher born in Paris 1905where he spent most of his life. Sartre is arguably seen as one of the mostfamous philosophers of the twentieth century.
Sartre’s father passed away whenSartre was only an infant. After he finished his schooling, he moved to Berlinand while there he studied the work of Heidegger and Husserl and he developedtheir ideas into a coherent body of taught called Existentialism (Osborne, 1992). Sartre wasnot the creator of existentialism but rather he popularised the term. Sartrewas a play write, novelist and a political activist; he focused on a philosophyof decision, of freedom. Existentialism is the study of human nature and themeaning of existence. Sartre’s Philosophy has been influenced by manyphilosophers Husserl dominates Sartre’s early writings when he wrote ‘Nausea’,’Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions’ and ‘The Imaginary’. Heidegger dominatesthe next period when he wrote ‘Being and Nothingness’ and ‘Existentialism andHumanism’. His final period was dominated by Marx and Hegel this was whenSartre was most politically active (Magee, 1998).
‘Sartre’s thinking was about a being-in-the world’ (Osborne, 1992). He was a constantpain in the side of the French establishment he saw capitalism as a machinewhich gives a sense of necessity to people, it makes us believe that we have tolive a certain way or purchase a certain thing and work a certain amount ofhours and so on this denies our freedom. It is true that money is a fundamentalpart of lives it has control on certain aspects of our day-to-day lives. WhatSartre’s philosophy Existentialism is trying to do is to dismantle capitalismso we can become free. It was because of these views that Sartre was interestedin Marxism.
For Sartre Marxism seemed to let people explore their freedom byreducing the role material considerations made in their lives. In the 1960’sSartre was part of many protests he was arrested in 1968 but he was pardoned byPresident Charles De Gaulle who said ‘you don’t arrest Voltaire’ (The School of Life., 2014).Sartre rejected the notion of class he wanted to strip away the bourgeoisvalues imposed by the capitalist society in which he lived in. In his politicalrole he wanted to make France a country where freedom existed, not adictatorship. France had been devastated by the Nazi invasion in world war twobut Sartre’s ideas brought new ways of thinking which brought hope to theFrench people (Kenny, 1994).Sartre had an experience in world war two when he spent a year in captivity ina concentration camp his physical freedom was taken but yet he never felt asfree as he did under Nazi occupation because his every move had to beconsidered because he was being watched, but he had to choose to resist or not.I think what Sartre means is that we just seem to go along with the flow ofwhat society writes and we do not explore our own path we do not allowourselves to explore new things it seems to be so easy to choose the unhappything rather than the unexplored happy things in life.
Sartre was a lover of Simone de Beauvoir and they bothinfluenced each other’s work. They never shared living quarters and had an openrelationship and as de Beauvoir said ‘The comradeship that welded our livestogether made a superfluous mockery of any other bond we might have forged forourselves’ (Colman, 2017).He did not believe it possible to have real love between two people one will atall time be the object and the other the subject. There is always going to bethat question, do we love the other person or do we love the love of that person,for you see one person is always going to be the object of desire. It is thencomplicated to understand this word love it is hard to make sense of itall. Sartre explains thereare two types of existentialists ‘there are on one hand the Christians’ GabrielMarcel and Jasper’s and the existential atheists ‘Heidegger and the Frenchexistentialists and myself’ (Sartre, 1946).
But they all have the same thing in common they believe that ‘existence comesbefore essence’. Another way of looking at this is that first we exist theneverything comes afterwards. He believed that we are just dropped into aparticular time and place we just land here and we become aware of ourselvesand have to make choices, even not choosing is still a choice. Sartre believedthat every choice gives us an insight into what we think a human should be. Forexample, take a knife it has an essence it has a blade that’s why it is a knife.
Therefore its essence pre exists, the actual knife made from the design. Butaccording to Sartre this is not so for us, there is no design for a humanbeing. God does not create a purpose for us; there is no way we have to be. It is my actions that create me. So Sartre’s first realisationis we are alive in the world. Therefore, existence is the primary reality onwhich all other ideas of essence are based, such as science for example.
It isonly by experiencing existence in a certain way we can come up with scientificprincipals in the first place. It is really quit telling what Sartre is saying’I create myself by what I do the choices that I make in a world with no fixedvalues that’s what makes me, me’. ‘I am what I do’ (BBC Radio, 2015). What raises the aguish is that every sinceredecision I make this gives a picture of what any human being should be like. Infashioning myself, I fashion humanity it is as if everyone is watching meescaping this is difficult (BBC Radio, 2015).Sartre came to realise that things are weirder than wethink.
There are moments when the world we find ourselves reveals itself as farmore stranger and absurd than we realise. Moments when our day-to-day logic ofthings breaks down, and the world seems frightening and absurd. Sartre’s novelNausea is full of such moments. For example when the hero Roquentin findshimself on a train and has an encounter with a seat he puts his hand on theseat but quickly with draws it, it is as if he has never seen one before theword seat all of a sudden becomes lose and it reveals itself in all its oddity.He then has to convince himself that the thing beside him is for sitting on. Inthis brief moment, Roquentin has experienced Sartre’s absurdity of the world.
Momentslike these go to the heart of Sartre’s philosophy (The School of Life., 2014). Another examplewould be meal times in our day-to-day lives and in particular your evening mealalong with your partner. This seems easy to explain but a Sartrean would stripaway the so-called normality and expose the strangeness that lies beneath.
Yourevening meal really means that you slide your knees under chopped up pieces oftree you then proceed to put plants and pieces of dead animal into your mouthand begin chewing while across the table another mammal you are close to andtouch sometimes is doing the exact same. This is a very interesting way todescribe your dinner. We do not actually really take the time to enjoy mealtimes we do not actually think about it. It is the same for other aspects oflife. We seem to be ticking along with time we never seem to have time to livein the moment we are always rushing. No one seems to think that there is alwaystomorrow. We do not take the time to embrace the riches in life and in ourexperiences.
Sartre believed that as humans we live in anguish. Of courseanguish does not imply that life is somewhat unbearable or terrible in some waybut the fact that we are condemned to be free. As spoken about previous thereis no essence which determines us. We are free to be whatever we like. However,there are certain facts that are just true we cannot escape these facts and herefers to them as ‘Facticity’. Like the colour of your eyes, height, the timeof your birth you cannot escape these facts.
We are free to choose ourattitudes and if we want to do a certain job or how we respond to something. Weare the authors of our very being. Our freedom and Facticity are always caughtup together.
Sartre argues that most people run away from their freedom into ‘Badfaith’. It was when he was writing being and nothingness he came to realisethis problem that plagued modern life this ‘Bad faith’. ‘Bad faith’ is a formof lying to ourselves so we spare ourselves from short-term pain. However, thisaffects our psychological health. We somehow force ourselves to do something weare not happy doing or convinced by because we think it is easier to do so. Welie to ourselves because we don’t think there are other options. We keeptelling ourselves we don’t have options it seems reassuring to say this in someway it lets us off the hook. This ‘Bad faith’ is usually associated with work,for instance if someone finds themselves employed in a certain job they are nothappy in or have been pushed into doing the job by someone else then this is ‘Badfaith’.
The same can be said about education a student may not like a coursethey are doing but it may have been their parents who pressured them to do thecourse this is ‘Bad faith’. Equally, in relationships a person who is stuck ina relationship and sticks at it even though they are unhappy this is ‘badfaith’. However, in the end it is our own responsibility to choose forourselves. This links with our feelings and emotions. For Sartre it is not factthat anyone can make us sad or unhappy we can always choose another emotionalresponse to situations or we could just forget about the situation altogether. An example Sartregave was about a waiter. The waiter tells himself this is what he is just awaiter. It’s his lot in life.
He convinces himself he has no choice he has tostay at it so he can make money. But Sartre believes this is not true we areall free. There are sickening moments or ‘Negative Ecstasy’ according to Sartrewhich may come late at night when you realise we are far more free than wethink. That yes we can stop working, go, and live in the woods to reinventourselves.
This idea can be difficult because we feel we are wasting our livesaway and it is our fault at the end of the day. We just seem to blame otherpeople or circumstances at the end of the day. So we suppress this idea andcontinue on as normal the next day as a waiter or whatever. We forget whatSartre said all along ‘Being precedes essence’. Sartre’s work ‘being and nothingness’ is one of his famous writingsand is the phenomenology of ontology. In his ontology which is the study ofhuman being. Sartre explores being Sartrelooks at this ‘being for others’ there are however two other aspects of beingin the world two primary modes and these are ‘being in itself’ and ‘being foritself’. ‘Being in itself is the being of objects for our consciousness such asa table, chair, and lights and so on.
‘Being for itself’ is human beingsbecause we are conscious we relate to ourselves we think about ourselves. Weunderstand that we exist in a world with other conscious beings however I am myown body I am an embodied consciousness. When I encounter the other, it is bodyto body and although within myself I understand that, I am a ‘being for itself’,to others I am a ‘being in itself’ I am an object for them to act upon. Howeverbefore any encounter with the other takes place I am a subject who is free andI create my own meaning in my world. What disrupts this is when the other makesan entrance. I lose my central role the power I had.
I lose control to anextent, with my ‘being for others’ being determined by them they now havecontrol and pass their meaning on my actions. As an object for the other, I amno longer a free subject. This object, subject is complex in Sartre’s ‘being forothers’ but it is depicted in what he calls the ‘look’ or the ‘gaze’ of theother. Sartre believed Emotions such as guilt, shame and pride are what weexperience when we allow ourselves to be in the ‘gaze’ of the other (Meakin, n.d.). Take for exampleSartre’s view on the peeping tom it is a good way to illustrate his idea, ifcuriosity takes hold of me and I want to know what is happening on the otherside of a door I start looking through the key hole.
Then all of a sudden, I hearthe floorboards creak behind me in that moment I feel the eyes of the other onme. There is this shift in mode I now judge my action through the eyes of theother and from this brings about the emotion shame. Say you are walking down the street or in thepark and a homeless person, laying on the ground the person is an object to you.But then all of a sudden he looks up at you in this moment it has a profoundimpact on you, you feel somewhat guilty.
It is in that moment you become partof that person’s life. You may choose to help or ignore that person but thefact you feel responsible you feel shame this is ‘being for others’ and we onlyovercome this shame by overcoming the others gaze. ConclusionThis essay has focused on Jean Paul Sartre’s work and itgives us an insight into certain aspects of his work which explain his viewpoint quit well. You can see that this idea and view on being free is not thateasy to comprehend it is a vast concept.
We see that it is too easy to becaught up in what Sartre says is ‘bad faith’ we accept things to be as they arewe do not see the fact that we can make choices we can change our lives. Sartre’sideas are interesting and do make you think about what it is to be in the worldwhat it is to exist. He makes philosophy interesting and has a complex way oflooking at existence. It seems, we are constantly fighting with freedom issue’sit is so easy to beat ourselves up psychologically we continue doing theunhappy things and blame everything else around us that’s why we don’t change.Sartre’s view on the world and what he calls the’ absurdity of the world’ is sotrue and it appears that to be Sartrean is to strip away any prejudgement orassumptions we have of existence that is lent to us on a daily basis. ‘Beingfor others’ is interesting and for sure we are social beings and are neverreally alone. It is true that there is no escaping the eyes of the world.
Weneed moments, which bring about emotions such as shame, guilt and pride this iswhat makes life the world would be a strange and boring place otherwise. Sartreis inspiring in the way; he says things do not have to be as they are we needto realise there is no set logic to life and realising this can be liberating.