Wednesday, 4 March 2015

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

It's funny how a philosopher who was/is popular in left-wing circles (amongst “radicals”) should have enunciated a position on free will that is very similar to that 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 (or free will).

That position can be summed up by Sartre's 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 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 is 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 (in his 1963); though I think that Marxism came 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; but that it effectively negated free will in that many people (all except Marxists) have what Marxists calls “false consciousness” and 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; but also genes, upbringings, culture, etc. Is there any freedom left after all that?

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