Many of us would like to think that we are free.
But we would be mistaken.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s defense of personal freedom, which is of course also a defense of existentialism, is certainly encouraging to read at this moment in history because it suggests that even when we feel overwhelmed by the tides of history we remain (or can choose to remain) our own selves. We can be the masters of our fate. Any attempt to lay the responsibility for our own lives on the shoulders of others is laziness on our part or wickedness. At least if we believe Sartre. And – at least while we are reading him – it is difficult not to.
As an Existentialist, Sartre is arguing for a philosophy that is relatively concrete, that is concerned with addressing the place of people in the world, dealing with concrete, real problems. This is a cornerstone of Existentialism, this insistence upon the reality of existence in a real world, and an existence moreover that is marked by no Cartesian dualism. Any Existentialist worth his or her salt would soundly reject the kinds of ideas about consciousness that were promulgated by Descartes. There is for the Existentialist no form of human consciousness that hovers somewhere outside of consciousness and that is used to intuit or to infer the existence of other things in the world. There is the here and now, and our responsibilities are to them.
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