Sartre: The Road to Freedom

Feeling most free when imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, the French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre revolutionized the world of the 20th century with his conception of radical freedom: no matter how stark a situation you find yourself in, you always, without exception, have a choice to do something about it. For a nation that had been obliterated by the vicissitudes of war, Sartre's message was the motivation France needed to rebuild itself, making an intellectual hero out of Sartre. His conception of freedom was so extensive that his arguments implied that even God can't touch our freedom: we are always free to disobey.

Of course, as Sartre himself was quick to realize, radical freedom entails radical responsibility. Since there is always a choice we can make, Sartre argued, the condition of each of our lives is ultimately our responsibility, and so we have no recourse to excuses, rationalizations, alibis or other explanations. Whatever happens to us, it is our own fault because it was our own choices that led us there. Even God can't save us because we make the choice to believe and/or obey God. To use God as an excuse for our actions is an instance of bad faith: a refusal to accept or admit responsibility for the choices we ourselves have made.

In the following documentary from the BBC, you'll get to learn about the life and philosophy of Sartre, and about his struggle and love affair with freedom, and how this idea would ultimately undermine our very conception of our own personal essence and metaphysical identity.

The following is one of my favorite lines from a conference Sartre once gave, entitled Existentialism Is a Humanism. The idea is that radical freedom does not imply nihilism and anarchy, as many students quickly tend to conclude, because as a choice of our own making, every choice is a reflection of our own character; every choice says something about who and what we are:

To choose this or that is at the same time to affirm that which is chosen.

If you are interested, click the following links to see documentaries about Sartre's influences: Nietzsche and Heidegger.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Embed this blog on your site