Download The Self

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Transactionalism wikipedia , lookup

Ontology wikipedia , lookup

Other (philosophy) wikipedia , lookup

Fideism wikipedia , lookup

Jewish existentialism wikipedia , lookup

Edifying Discourses in Diverse Spirits wikipedia , lookup

Being and Nothingness wikipedia , lookup

Existentialism wikipedia , lookup

Lucas Merat
The Self
“Existence precedes essence” (Sartre, Essays in Existentialism 35).
Existentialism has been adopted and molded to fit the views of many
philosophers. Though it began as a philosophical theory, since the late 1900s,
existentialism has been parodied in countless forms of media and used to explain
various artists that never identified themselves as existentialists. Many suggest
therefore that existentialism is a cliché cultural movement rather than an actual
philosophical position. In the duration of these essays, existentialism will be
primarily viewed from the eyes of those who first molded it into shape. Those who
first modeled existentialism were in fact philosophers and regarded it not as a
cultural cliché, but rather as a complex and relevant philosophical outlook on
existence (Stanford).
There is one recurring theme in all variations of existentialism. This
recurring theme is the idea that, in the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “existence
precedes essence.” Before humans form a subjective set of truths or values, we
simply exist. If existence precedes essence, all essence is created by humanity after
our existence. This would mean that there is no absolute truth to any belief, value,
or meaning. Thus, for existentialists, from the human perspective, everything in life
is subjective. This challenges the widespread belief that there is some universal,
logical way of life that humans must abide by. Instead of simply accepting truths
others impose upon you, existentialists believe that your responsibility as an
essence-less being is to create your own meaning and truth out of your life (Sartre,
Essays in Existentialism 35). This new mentality takes power away from those trying
to impose their own opinions about a common way that humans must live life, and
puts power into the hands of the individuals themselves.
If one accepts that existence precedes essence as a truth, truth becomes
subjective, and a new part of the society gains an internal power potentially greater
than that of any army or empire. Existentialism argues that the ultimate power
belongs to the self, the power to choose and create meaning out of the world that
surrounds us.
The first philosopher to formulate and adopt this mentality was the Dane
Søren Kierkegaard. Though he did not coin the term “existentialism” (that
achievement belongs to the Frenchman, Jean-Paul Sartre), Kierkegaard is still
considered the father of existentialism. Kierkegaard believes that it is in existing
that the human condition is stumbled upon. In existing, each human makes choices.
Each choice that a human makes forms and adds to their self. In short, the human
condition is to create an authentic self (Stanford University).
“The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to
itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relations relating itself to
itself (Kierkegaard 13-14).”
This complex statement in its simplest form means that a self is a series of
relations between it, and the outside world. In opening his book The Sickness unto
Death with this complex statement, it can be assumed that Kierkegaard simply
wants the reader to understand that the self is far more complex than a single
enduring substance. This complex statement provides fertile ground for
Kierkegaard to elaborate in the remaining portion of his book on the misrelating of
the self, a common sickness of the self (despair), and how one can avoid this
sickness and live their lives free from despair (Taylor 145-247).
Despair is defined by hopelessness. In his writing, Kierkegaard treats
despair not as a state of mind, but a sickness. He considers it the worst sickness of
all, because it is a sickness that is with us until we die, yet does not kill us. It is as he
explains it, the sickness unto death (13-14).
Kierkegaard says that there are two forms of despair. The first, is to be “in
despair not to will to be ones self. (13-14)” Kierkegaard explains this form of
despair as a hopeless desire to not be the self which one is. This form of despair is
evident in the lives of many. It is a hopeless desire to not be who you are. It is to
despise the self, and desire to not be the self which you are. This form of despair
exists in those who seek refuge too often in what Kierkegaard calls “possibility.”
Possibility is, as Kierkegaard describes it, “the task of becoming ones self.” Though
possibility is what fuels the self to flourish, if one lives too much in the possible, they
never return to their necessity, or the self which they cannot help being (35-42).
One can also describe those who experience this form of despair as living too
much in what Kierkegaard calls “the infinite.” Kierkegaard argues that if one seeks
refuge in only the infinite, with no concept of death, they are left with unlimited
possibilities, and would never have a concept of which possibility to make actual.
This would result in all possibility becoming abstract and never actual. Therefore,
infinitude’s despair is in fact the very concept of the infinite (29-35).
The second form of despair Kierkegaard describes in Sickness, is to be “in
despair to will to be one’s self (13-14).” This form of despair exists in one who only
desires to be the self they already are. Rather than the despair in which we
hopelessly desire to not be the self we currently are and are left with infinite
possibility, those who experience this form of despair ignore the possible, and
simply exist in the necessary. Though with possibility, God allows humans to work
to create and improve their selves, those who dwell too much in their necessity
cannot escape from the self they already are and therefore ignore what is possible
and never progress (35-42).
Kierkegaard says that those who experience this form of despair seek refuge
too much in the finite. They ignore the infinite possibilities in front of them and
wrongly accept that they have already reached their final self, and cannot escape it.
Though death is a reality, in order to achieve a better self, Kierkegaard believes that
one must explore the world of possibility that constantly surrounds them (29-35).
Therefore, Kierkegaard believes that in order to avoid these forms of despair, one
must live in the infinite, but still accept the reality of human finitude. One must take
advantage of infinite possibility, but never so much that they ignore their necessity,
or real self, and never achieve actuality. This is achieved by a leap of faith, or as
Kierkegaard describes it, “[resting] transparently” on faith. He believes that taking
refuge in either possibility or necessity, or finitude or infinitude is an easy way to
live life but will result in despair. To take refuge in faith is to live in between
possibility and necessity with an even balance of the two. This for Kierkegaard is
crucial to living a life free from the sickness unto death (49).
For Kierkegaard, personhood is “like breathing.” “Possibility is for the self,
what oxygen is for breathing.” In essence, possibility fuels the self whereas
necessity is like nitrogen in air. It is there as an element that makes the air stable
but the oxygen is what feeds the breath. Though oxygen seems to be more
important to the breath, just as possibility to the self, without either, one is
asphyxiated, which for Kierkegaard is equivalent to being in despair (40).
Though Jean-Paul Sartre takes a different approach to existentialism, one can
still see the similarity in the ways in which the two philosophers approach the
concept of self. He believes that the ultimate challenge in life is to form an authentic
self. As existentialists, the two philosophers both believe that as human beings, free
to choose, our selves are subjective and will be formed by the individuals
Sartre approaches the concept of how one forms the self in a manner similar
to that of Kierkegaard. Like Kierkegaard, Sartre explains that in forming their self,
humans have a tendency to take refuge too greatly in two phenomena. Sartre labels
these phenomena “being-in-Itself,” and “being-for-Itself.” Those who take refuge in
the in-Itself live only for what is on the exterior or what truly is (Sartre, Being and
Nothingness 120). They think two dimensionally without paying attention to the
possibility that there is more to a situation than what is initially perceived. These
people are similar to those who Kierkegaard says live too much in the necessary
because of their ignorance toward greater possibility than what exists or is
occurring currently.
Those who take refuge in the for-Itself see only what may occur despite the
in-Itself (Sartre, Being and Nothingness 121). These people are like those who
Kierkegaard says live in the possible because they never return to the actual reality
of a situation and are essentially stuck in infinite possibilities.
Both being-for-Itself and being-in-Itself inevitably exclusively lead the self to
suffer from what Sartre calls, “Bad Faith.” One has Bad faith when one divorces what
Sartre labels the “Facticity” or the concrete factual nature of being-in-Itself and the
“Transcendence” or ulterior possibility of being-for-Itself and takes refuge in one or
the other (Sartre, Being and Nothingness 98). Those who live in bad faith due to
exclusively being-for-Itself or in-Itself can be compared to those who Kierkegaard
says live in despair due to their taking refuge in possibility or necessity.
An example Sartre gives of someone living under bad faith is a lady who is
asked on a date by a man. The lady accepts this invitation and the two go on a date.
On the date, the man compliments her. Only being-in-Itself, the lady accepts this
compliment, only seeing it as a compliment. In reality, the man is complimenting her
because he wishes for future sexual relations with the woman. The woman ignores
the transcendence of the situation and sees the compliment only for what it is
initially: a compliment. She ignores the future implication that the man wishes to
have sexual relations with her.
This lady is living in bad faith. Rather than uniting the facticity and
transcendence of the for-Itself and in-Itself, the lady divorces the two and only
acknowledges the basic facticity of the situation (Sartre, Being and Nothingness 9698).
Another character Sartre portrays living in bad faith due to taking refuge in
the in-Itself is Roquentin, the protagonist of Sartre’s novel Nausea. In Nausea, Sartre
explains a phenomenon central to his philosophy on the self. He explains that, “you
have to chose: live or tell.” For Sartre, this statement means that as humans, we
either live our life as the mess of disconnected moments that Sartre believes it truly
is, or we tell our life as a story with a beginning, middle and an end that Sartre
believes does not exist but is rather an illusion humans create to gain some sense of
adventure in their lives (Sartre, Nausea 38-40).
Those who live their lives moment by moment can be compared to those who
Kierkegaard believes are in despair because they seek refuge too often in the
necessary and ignore possibility. They can also be compared to those who Sartre
believes take refuge in facticity because those who “live,” ignore the meanings and
essences of things and situations they are faced with, and see things only for what
they are initially (Sartre, Nausea 38-40).
Sartre believes merely “living” is a bad way to go about living life because it is
simply not possible without experiencing Sartre’s equivalent to Kierkegaard’s
despair. Those who live their lives in no particular order but rather as a mess of
disconnected two-dimensional moments will experience the existential
phenomenon Sartre describes as the “nausea.” This is what happens to the
protagonist of Sartre’s novel. He begins to recognize that the pre-established
essences typical of our society in actuality do not exist at all. This causes him to
realize that he has lived as a teller, rather than a liver, and in doing so has lied to
himself. The consequence of this epiphany and transition from Roquentin’s being-
for-Itself to being-in-Itself is the Nausea that occurs soon after it. The protagonist
cannot go about living every day life without viewing the world as a disconnected
meaningless ball of matter, and therefore, he suffers from nausea (Sartre, Nausea
38-40). He has lost ability to see the transcendental properties in the world and is
trapped in the facticity of the in-Itself.
Sartre would say that those who live to tell a story of their life take refuge in
the for-Itself. By taking moments and forcing them to have a beginning, middle, and
end, the teller is stuck in an abstract possibility which in actuality does not exist. By
living as a teller, one loses touch with the facticity of life, which is crucial to living
authentically. The teller is trapped in a lie they create for themselves and is never
able to experience the actuality of life and form an authentic self, but rather is stuck
in a phony self that they truly are not.
Both Sartre and Kierkegaard believe that the only way one can attempt to
avoid sicknesses of selfhood is by faith. Faith is the only process by which one can
strive to bypass the negative side effects of freedom and individuality such as
nausea and despair, and let their self flourish to be all that it can be. Where the two
philosophers differ, is to what they believe one should devote their faith.
In Sartre’s philosophy is the notion that God is not and has never been
present in the human situation (Sartre, Essays in Existentialism 34). Therefore faith
in God is not necessary in forming our self. Kierkegaard on the other hand believes
God created humans (13-14). God then essentially let go and at that point, freedom
was bestowed upon all humans to form their own self. Since God created man and
bestowed this freedom upon us, Kierkegaard believes it is necessary that in forming
our subjective self, our faith be grounded in the entity that created us: God (49).
As an atheist, Sartre does not say as Kierkegaard does that in “rest[ing]
transparently (Kierkegaard 49)” on faith one can be redeemed of nausea, or despair
because for Sartre, religious faith is false as well. In fact, such faith simply impairs
humans ability to complete the only task, and only burden Sartre believes they are
ever faced with: to be free. Faith is simply another inauthentic leash that impairs
ones ability to take advantage of the freedom each individual is granted and let their
authentic self flourish.
Since he calls divorcing the for-Itself and the in-Itself and taking refuge in one
or the other “Bad Faith,” and not doing so not having bad faith, it can be assumed
that Sartre implies one must have faith in something. The problem is that Sartre
does not believe in God. So the question remains. According to Sartre, to what
should those hoping to form an authentic self dedicate their faith?
Sartre takes the individualistic ideology of existentialism and tunes it even
more to the individual. He says that instead of having faith in God, we must abandon
the notion of God, accept that we are free individuals, and have faith in our self and
nothing more. Without the help of god if we live our lives with an equal balance of
facticity and transcendence and have faith in our own ability to create an authentic
self, God is irrelevant. In having faith in our self, we unhook God’s leash, avoid bad
faith and are free to form our own authentic being, our own authentic self.
Both Sartre and Kierkegaard approach existence and the self in a similar
manner. They point out how despairing and painful it can be to consciously exist
and in existing accept our freedom as individuals. Though they differ greatly in the
process by which they believe one should achieve authentic selfhood, they both
treat the freedom bestowed upon us not only as a burden and a responsibility, but if
acted upon correctly, as a gift.
Kierkegaard, Søren, Howard V. Hong, and Edna H. Hong. The Sickness Unto
Death: a Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and
Awakening. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1980. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul, and Lloyd Alexander. Nausea. New York: New Directions,
1964. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness; an Essay in Phenomenological
Ontology. New York: Citadel, 1964. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul, and Wade Baskin. Essays in Existentialism. New York, NY:
Citadel, 1993. Print.
Stanford University. "Existentialism (Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy)." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 20 Sept. 2010.
Taylor, Mark C. Journeys to Selfhood, Hegel & Kierkegaard. Berkeley: University
of California, 1980. Print.