Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A Fragment on Jean-Paul Sartre's Positions on Free Will

It's strange how a philosopher who was - and still is - popular in leftwing circles (as well as among “radicals”) should have enunciated a position on free will that's very similar to that which is advanced by conservatives and religious people (both in history and still today). That is Jean-Paul Sartre's belief (at least in his existentialist phase) that we have total (or complete) freedom of will.

That position can be summed up by Sartre's own phrase: “There are no excuses.”

However, it can be said that the act of “rejecting our own freedom” is itself an act of free will. After all, a negative choice is still a choice. Even when you choose to submit to a dictator, that may still be an act of free choice (if not freedom).

All this may be explained by Eric Fromm's phrase (as well as his book title): “The fear of freedom.” And that's basically a version of Sartre's own “bad faith”.

Are we as free as Sartre claimed? 

Well, Sartre himself rejected his earlier “existentialist position” when he embraced Marxism in the 1960s. He once said that his earlier views were a “disgrace”. He did try to fuse existentialism with what he called “humanism” and Marxism; though Marxism seems to have come out on top.

In any case, Sartre came to believe that “economic reality” (or the “class nature of society”) was not only a major restriction of freedom: it also effectively negated free will in that many people have what Marxists calls “false consciousness”. Therefore they couldn't make "genuine choices".

The fact is that all sorts of things determine our “wills”, minds or selves, not just economic realities: genes, upbringings, culture, etc. So is there any free will (or freedom of the will) left after all that?

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