Sartre and authenticity

Fotolia_41409422_XS-300x223In the previous post on Sartre I have provided a very brief overview of his phenomenological and existential philosophy. Like most philosophers, Sartre had plenty to say in regards to how one should live one’s life.

Sartre begins with the existentialist thesis that existence comes before essence. What flows logically from this is Sartre’s idea of human freedom – that because there is no essence or nature to man, he is free to do as he pleases. This similar to Kant’s thesis of man as self-legislator, and in contrast to a natural law thesis under which man’s nature determines what is good for him.

So, what to do with all this freedom? Sartre asserts that a man makes himself through his actions, and key to this are his positive concepts of individuality and authenticity, and their corresponding negative bad faith.

Beginning with bad faith, this is most clearly understood as when the “for-itself” rather chooses to become an “in-itself”. Sartre gives the example of a waiter who comes to identify himself as his role, instead of as an individual choosing to perform a certain set of tasks. In this way, the human as waiter relinquishes his burden of freedom as a “for-itself”. Loosely, bad faith can be approximated as man’s tendency to reject his status as a subject and become an object.

In the opposite, a man that recognises his status as a “for-itself” and fully embraces his freedom will live an individual and authentic life. But at the same time, Sartre more fully fleshes out the psychological problems with Kant’s radical ideas about human freedom; in that while man may be free to act as he chooses towards the world, ultimately he will find only indifference and uselessness.

 

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