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Ch. 9 - Sartre: Radical Freedom 
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Post Ch. 9 - Sartre: Radical Freedom
Ch. 9 - Sartre: Radical Freedom

Please use this thread for discussing Chapter 9. :)



Sun Feb 24, 2008 3:55 am
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Caricature of existentialism: "Life sucks--get over it!", or "Just do it!"

With no god, not even a spirit that influences history, and no essential human nature, this is the minimalist approach. It attempts to be brutally honest and realistic.

I can't agree with this philosophy, even though it might be good for us in that it doesn't allow us to accept excuses for our behavior. It's not its atheisim that I have a problem with.

To say, on the one hand, that we are not bound by our genetics, and on the other, that environment doesn't play a determining role, either, seems to ignore common understanding. It's great to say we have freedom, but is it really this radical freedom Sartre speaks of? I think who we are is strongly influenced, whereas Sartre would call that a type of bad faith. We can't be or do anything that might come into our heads, because I think we do have essential personalities. Sartre would seem to deny that we have personalities, in any meaningful sense.

But, as I said, it may be healthy for us to try to believe in this way, because frequently we do make excuses based on inherited characteristics or our formative experiences. It has also been said that we should believe in God if for no other reason than that it will make us better, happier people. So that motive--believing in a certain way because it helps us to live, regardless of the truth of the beliefs--is a very important aspect of religion/philosophy, sometimes overlooked.



Sat Apr 12, 2008 7:49 am
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Post Freedom
Unfortunately, I have not been able to get a copy of Ten Theories of Human Nature, so I can't really comment on Stevenson or Haberman's take on human nature and existentialism. Going on my very basic understanding of Sartre and existentialism, I can't see that it offers much to our understanding of human nature. Sartre built his ideas on the premise that there is no basic human nature and therefore are completely free to create their own lives and even their own selves.

What ever else we might be, what ever the relationship between our bodies and this thing we call conscientiousness turns out to be, I believe we are first and foremost biological organisms. As such, the same laws of nature that apply to other biological creates apply to us. Primarily, I am meaning we are influenced by our genetics and that we have certain needs that must be met in order for normal (I know that it is a loaded word and I use it loosely) functioning and development. There is much evidence that we come into the world with an innate temperament or disposition, that becomes the basis of future personality. I am not making an arguement for biological determinism, just that there is a biological component to this equation.

I think the question of freedom is the most intriguing one raised thus far. Are we free? How free? I wonder if that is actually the true quest - to become free. Free of what?

I think DWill hit on it in his post:
Quote:
I think who we are is strongly influenced, whereas Sartre would call that a type of bad faith. We can't be or do anything that might come into our heads, because I think we do have essential personalities. Sartre would seem to deny that we have personalities, in any meaningful sense.

But, as I said, it may be healthy for us to try to believe in this way, because frequently we do make excuses based on inherited characteristics or our formative experiences.


At birth humans are totally dependent and underdeveloped. Infants and small children do not have any control over their environment or the circumstances of their lives. Given these facts, I don't think it is possible to wholly direct and choose who we become. We are at least in part at the mercy of the world around us, at least as children. It seems that here is where we go wrong. I do think too many people use inherited characteristics or formative experiences as an excuse for who we are or as a crutch to get what they want. Buddhist believe there is a way to see beyond the self, that is made up of inherited traits & life experiences, to see the true self.

At this point, I'm just thinking at the keyboard. Hang with me if you want. I don't know what that truer self is, but I do think there is a place from which we can look at our "self" from an observer point of view, without judgment. Meta cognition or mindfulness is the tool that I think makes freedom a possibility. The point of mindfulness meditation is not to deny or change a characteristic, behavior, attachment, like or dislike, but rather to acknowledge it. From the position of thinking about our own thinking (meta cognition) we can come to know ourselves. which is the first step in choosing.


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Sun Apr 13, 2008 7:17 pm
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Saffron,
We are pretty much in step with each other on the matter of various influences shaping us decisively. You get Sartre and existentialism, though.

About freedom, do you find that this emphasis is perhaps too radically individualistic? I wonder if Sartre's ideas would sound crazy to someone from a more collectivist culture. Does it really matter so much, after all, that we each forge our own destinies, if this is part of what Sartre is saying? What if we don't make such a big deal of our own personal meaning and path, but go along to a certain extent with what the group wants? What if ties and obligations are the most valued things, not self-development? Is that a way to be happier, for one thing, and to have a better society? I like Paul Pearsall's description of aloha philosophy, which puts the self in second place. (See The Pleasure Prescription.)
Will



Sun Apr 13, 2008 11:17 pm
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DWill wrote:

Quote:
About freedom, do you find that this emphasis is perhaps too radically individualistic? I wonder if Sartre's ideas would sound crazy to someone from a more collectivist culture. Does it really matter so much, after all, that we each forge our own destinies, if this is part of what Sartre is saying? What if we don't make such a big deal of our own personal meaning and path, but go along to a certain extent with what the group wants? What if ties and obligations are the most valued things, not self-development? Is that a way to be happier, for one thing, and to have a better society? I like Paul Pearsall's description of aloha philosophy, which puts the self in second place. (See The Pleasure Prescription.)


Will,
Yes, I do think other cultures would think Sartre crazy and too focused on the individual. When I was talking about freedom to choose in my post, I was trying to get at the idea that if we can become aware of how we are in the world, what kinds of thoughts occupy our minds (negative, positive, obsessive, etc.), recognize our emotional states and motivations behind our behavior, we can then choose to make changes. I don't think we can change our basic dispositions. What I think we can do is change how we work with our innate qualities and the "stuff" we acquire from the environment (this is sort of close to Sartre's idea of freedom to create oneself). I don't think what I was trying to saying was too radically individualistic. In fact, I agree with the idea that ties and obligations are extremely valuable and give meaning and purpose to a person's life. I would argue that in order to be able to function well in relationship to others, we need to be right within ourselves (self examination - mindfulness). From all that I've read, it seems the way to be happy is to be engaged in a meaningful way with other people. For me, the whole purpose of self-development is to be better able to be in relationship to the people around me. I will have to go looking for the book The Pleasure Prescription.
Saffron



Wed Apr 16, 2008 8:47 pm
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Saffron wrote:
I don't think what I was trying to saying was too radically individualistic. In fact, I agree with the idea that ties and obligations are extremely valuable and give meaning and purpose to a person's life. I would argue that in order to be able to function well in relationship to others, we need to be right within ourselves (self examination - mindfulness).


You mentioned Victor Frankl earlier. I just came across a reference to his belief that meaning is actually impossible to achieve directly, that a person has to come at it obliquely, usually through some kind of service or obligation to others. The more we seek meaning, the farther it recedes.
So, that nugget from a thinker who founded existentially-based therapy put the matter in a different light for me.
Will



Wed Apr 16, 2008 9:40 pm
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