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Jean-Paul Sartre's Philosophy on Free-Will

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posted on Apr, 27 2012 @ 07:50 PM
I just got done reading Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophy on free-will, and would like to open a discussion on it.

Basically, for those unfamiliar with his existential philosophy, he says that Determinism is impossible because existence precedes essence. In other words, man must exist first in order to give meaning (essence) to his existence, therefore concepts like Human Nature and God (which the determinist might use as arguments for Determinism) are merely concepts created by man and hold no intrinsic; "a priori", value. He claims that not only is there free-will, but that man is "condemned" to it, which ultimately places all responsibility in his hands for not only his life, but everyone else's life also. He defends this claim by stating that since man "invents" his own meaning to life, that whatever he "invents" is his ideal "self"; or else he would "invent" some other "self", and by doing so he is effectively making a decision that 'this' is the ideal "personality"/"self" for mankind.

He says, "What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists... and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward, he will be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no Human Nature, since there is no God (outside entity/influence) to conceive it."

Then later he goes on to say, "The existentialist does not think that man is going to help himself by finding in the world some omen (anything of prophetic significance) by which to orient himself. Because he thinks that man, with no support and no aid, is condemned every moment to invent man."

Now, some of this makes a lot of sense to me, coming from a more Advaita/Buddhist background. It is obvious to me that man is intrinsically nothing, and yet through recognizing his own existence he gives meaning to himself. I also think concepts like Human Nature and God, are relatively not useful in an objective sense, and most definitely defined and given meaning to, by man. Yet I do have one problem with his philosophy, which I may have misunderstood or not completely understood, yet, and that is:

If there is no external nature for which man's "invention" of self is influenced by, then there is no external nature for him to "invent" himself upon. And if there is an external nature which influences man's "invention" of self, then this is an argument for Determinism. I guess Sartre may respond by saying, there surely is an external nature, yet it is man's free choice to view it as he sees fit. Therefore, even though nature may influence his "invention" of self, ultimately it is his choice to choose how it influences him.

This is where it gets really confusing to me. Anyone got anything that might further clarify this perceived dilemma?


posted on Apr, 27 2012 @ 08:12 PM
I read it twice and had to sit back and think, I'm not sure if I can help with the answer but I will surely try as now my mind is all abuzz trying to recollect not only the readings I have done but also what my instructors have stated. First I will go and say that yes man has from the get go no purpose and must come up with it on their own merit such as the way in which he says we are condemned to free will. In that we must make our own sort of "adventure" if you will unlike a screwdriver that is made for a specific purpose whether it be Philips or Flathead it was designed for either one or two things in mind. For us that is not the case and thus must make our own.

I think the latter of what you have stated is what would be the answer to this dilemma basically how we would have a choice in determining a purpose of an event; much like we have a choice as to what type of courses we want to take in college if we even want to go.

I am not too sure whether or not I am going in the right direction but in saying that there is no external may be extreme even for Sartre but the way you put it in that we have a choice of it building us up is perhaps how I would see it. If not then it would mean that the act of free will bound up with personhood would be rather internal than external therefore nature as it is would have very little influence? Though according to Kant this would not be the case as for him Inner experience is generally derived from outer experience in his Refutation of Idealism.

Also would it be more or less Self-determinism or actual determinism? Sorry I don't feel like I helped in anyway but a repeat of your own stated facts and then a proposed question all my own.

posted on Apr, 27 2012 @ 08:28 PM
reply to post by SolidFaith

No, thank you. You have given me a lot to think about. Could you maybe expand on the difference between Self-determinism and Actual-determinism?

I would agree with Kant that all of mankind shares a "universal" set of basic intrinsic qualities, yet I also agree with Sartre that man creates himself; in the sense of an "self-image". Yet Sartre explicitly stands in opposition to Kant, saying he is placing, "the essence of man [before] the historical existence of man in nature."

I don't know. I'm going to have to think about this some more...

posted on Apr, 27 2012 @ 08:40 PM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

Sure I actually had to look up real quick before typing that out to make sure I was writing it correctly from what I understand self-determinism is basically that the actions we perform and do are determined in themselves. The saying you can be anything you want would be through your own will power as some might call it.

While that of determinism seems to be bound up in causal events such as I push my glass off the table and it shatters the glass fell because I pushed it over and it shattered because it hit the floor or something akin to that. As I see it Determinism is basically following the lines of cause and effect and usually help influence us which is why I think that Sartre would be refuting it and be more in line with self-determinism in that we have control over it and actions are up to us.

Hopefully I said that right and clear enough to where it can be understand I have a habit of not clearly showing my thinking process.

posted on Apr, 27 2012 @ 08:44 PM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

I would say that the unconditioned frame of reference or unconditioned ground of all being and becoming, upon or within which man is compelled to continually redefine himself, has as it's own intrinsic nature or essense, the precondition or "determinism" of unconditionality ie: freedom (as paradoxical as that may sound). This "foundation" of freedom comes then as a free gift of life, and elicits from us a response via our freedom to choose something or to be or become something or other.

And there's still a big everything/something within which man is a big nothing, and we are intrinsic to the essence of that prior something as first/last cause, which for us, is freedom, as a gift, since it presents itself to us on an apriori conditioned-unconditional basis and preceeds us as created beings, in eternity (already always domain of possibility, actualized). If there were nothing, there's no freedom, because there's nothing to choose. Man as a created being is therefore bestowed with the GIFT of free will, and that very freedom is the already unconditioned ground of being (who's precondition is freedom) upon which he stands, and the domain of limitless possibility within which he chooses who and what to be.

Although we may be in the world, we are not OF the world. The choosing self comes from above, from a prior domain of limitless freedom. In religious or spiritual tradition, this domain might be called the holy of holies, because it's where God as the all in all, the uncaused cause, and the unmanifest manifested lives.

Our free will IS our prior nature and our essence, and it's what elevates man as an evolutionary phenomenon, to an exalted state.

There's nothing compelling us though or telling us what to do. God is not a taskmaster.

However, Sartre's view seems to take this domain of limitless possibility and freedom we call life, for granted, while using the supreme gift of freedom to eliminate God as a first/last cause from the equation. This view runs the risk imho, of turning life into a meaningless absurdity, and therefore, nothing of any intrinsic value or substance. Absolute freedom however, in the space of absolute forgiveness, restores the meaning and purpose to life, and best of all, a sense of humor to man, within this predicament he finds himself already emersed, as a nothing, or at best, some sort of add-to-able no-self self standing in the unconditioned (holy of holies) ground of being, relative to himself, his fellow man, and the all in all within which the whole "play" is occuring (the occurance of life)

The intrinsic meaning comes to us in the form of a question - what would you like to do or be?

To me that's cute, playful and even humorous, and creative, as the apriori conditional nature of life as a free gift of freedom itself.

Best Regards,


edit on 27-4-2012 by NewAgeMan because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 27 2012 @ 09:58 PM
Here's the humor, at least in part, that we get from being open minded and open armed and handed in relation to life as a free gift, instead of just nothing already, but instead as something or a question or a riddle posed BY life, to us, and more often than not, to our faculty for supidity, and ignorance, and utter blindness, to the truth of our own experience, which is the only real knowledge that is possible (self knowledge, of the no-self self who creates a self ie: an authentic self):

"All happiness for man must arise only and exclusively in relation to some UNhappiness, already experienced.

~ Gurdjieff

It's a GIFT I assure you, not a curse, and life does not terminate in an insult, or the insult that only adds further insult to injury, nope.

So Sartre's not just an existentialist, he's a nihilist! And that too is rather amuzing, imho.

edit on 27-4-2012 by NewAgeMan because: edit

posted on Apr, 27 2012 @ 10:06 PM
reply to post by NewAgeMan

Honestly I think what you have written is very fair especially the last portion and I see you have added some things which really helped clarify it a lot at least for me. I felt as if I had something to post but I don't know from what I have read and thought about things seem sound to me I thought taking God out of the equation would in someway still lead us down the road of self-fulfillment in there it may have dropped in my mind but simply connecting to a higher would be helpful it does not necessarily have to be God in itself but just the aspect of attaining that sense of betterment or a higher standard that we have come to identify human nature with?

I don't know I feel like I'm rambling at the same time trying to poke a few holes in it to see just how sound it is but maybe it's just my lack of understanding in some areas that keeps me from doing such a job. Though ultimately I do agree with the majority of your post and it certainly has given me something to work with or rather think on.

posted on Apr, 27 2012 @ 10:06 PM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

this is kind of like something i was thinking about,,,, regarding sartre saying the essence of man couldnt have come before the physical existence of man.....

ive been thinking about how there is a large percentage chance that if a god did create the universe,, there is no way it could know everything that would come from its first action,,, theres no way it could determine and know that billions of years ago when it made the first, basic and primal move,, that man would come about,, that i would come about and do what i do in this moment, and take a sip of water now..... what im trying to express is that when a creator of something sits down before it begins to create,, it may not be fully aware of its capabilities of creation, or what the final production may consist of, how it will look and function.......... perhaps there were blueprints, and failproofs ( laws of physics) but maybe it is an experiment in chaos, and free will,, how else could beings have free will to explore their environment and selves,,, thats for us to find out, and history is us attempting to find that out, we have no choice, or history is now driving us.... you and i right now as humans on this planet have some of the largest amounts of free will then any other creature in history..( we can hop on a plane and travel the world, order food to our doorstep,, use/develop gagedts,, be creative,etc)

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 02:14 AM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

Without existence to know how could you know you exist? I am aware of myself because i can see existence. I see and experience therefore i know I am. Nothing could appear without me.
When this 'me' that makes existence possible is investigated, when this 'me/I' becomes the only 'thing' of interest, it is found that there is no-thing there (nothing definable)!! The 'I' does not exist as such, it is 'not a thing', it has no definable qualities. I is nothing.

It is the 'belief' that I am 'something' definable that produces the world that is experienced. When you define yourself you define the world. It is nothing more than a case of misidentification. If one 'chooses' to define himself then he defines the world.

'The world' is no more than a thought form, an idea, a 'definition' based upon the initial 'definition' of yourself.

When you find you are nothing, you are freed from the delusion of 'thinking' you are something. When you stop defining yourself you stop defining the world. The world is no longer a problem. In fact 'the world' no longer exists as such because it was based upon you definition of yourself.

It is then seen that all there is, is this.
edit on 28-4-2012 by Itisnowagain because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 03:50 AM

Originally posted by ImaFungi
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

this is kind of like something i was thinking about,,,, regarding sartre saying the essence of man couldnt have come before the physical existence of man.....

Why not? What if humankind was an idea before existing physically? It was a thought that kept changing and evolving and manifesting in this physical world. That would explain evolution.

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 11:35 AM
reply to post by arpgme

I personally dont think that, but if you read the op thats what paul sartre wrote, and so in my post i wrote,, regarding that idea that if man was created via a natural evolution as an animalistic creature,,, he would have struggled to survive and exist physically while unbeknownst, creating the characteristics/instincts/archtypes of man... later man creates language and is able to question himself, label and describe himself..... i related the idea of sartre, to an idea i had,, about what if god is winging it, if he knew "somestuff" would happen if he started the universe, but too many events to detailfully know, to much diversity to comprehend before observing it, before it exists and acts on its own.

i relate this to any creator.... for example a painter... will sit a blank canvas unable to truly vision what the final version of that canvas will hold.
edit on 28-4-2012 by ImaFungi because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 01:03 PM
reply to post by ImaFungi

I see what your saying, but in my mind there really is no need to bring God into this discussion. It is quite obvious that we have created whatever concept of God we have and done so in our own limited "image". The real dilemma with this philosophy, as I perceive it, is: if there is no such thing as Determinism then we are essentially separate from our surroundings, which cannot be true. And yet, if there is no such thing as Free-Will then all thoughts and actions are predetermined, even those of this philosophy.

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 01:09 PM
reply to post by SolidFaith

I think I lean more towards the Determinist stance, it is just a little shocking to say because I also agree with a lot of what Sartre says, and he believes we are "condemned" to Free-Will. Again, maybe I have not fully grasped his definition of Free-Will yet, it may be much different than our current cultures understanding. I'm sure it is.

And thanks for that break down of terms. However, I don't see how Self-Determinism could work, it seems there must either be Free-Will or Determinism, not a mixture of both. Unless of course we redefine Free-Will to simply mean an apparent illusion; a predetermined choice that gives the appearance of a "chooser", as I know many of the eastern philosophers would say. Then we could have the illusion of Free-Will, when in fact it would just be a predetermined action that our brains cannot fully reflect upon in its total complexity. This is a very real possibility. However, again, this would mean that even the misconception of Free-Will (the illusion) is predetermined.


posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 01:25 PM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

No problem and well as you state it I can kind of see the dilemma in it as well but in accordance to the Eastern Philosophers and the apparent illusion I have begun to think of it as a tree branch of sorts. Where there are several actions we can take but it is up to us to chose said action such let's say for simplicity going left or right, but actions are already determined in a branch style all you as a person will have to do is chose which way you want to go. With each direction chosen a new branch will come out, moving into more complicated and 3-D fields would certainly open up these complications. I don't know I've been working on this idea for a few years and I swear I thought I heard someone present it before and it seemed to resonate with what I thought could be free will but also seems like that of predestined actions.

Honestly speaking I have not touched much of Sartre over my years and am currently writing several papers on other Philosophers, hopefully I can get these done or some of them done in enough time today that will allow me to read up on Sartre and come back with a better viewpoint, but from what I have gathered from little snippits that I have searched for led me here:

Another argument a free willist can make is that we have this unique ability to stop and think about a decision-making situation. We can exit the stream of cause-and-effect for a moment. We pause before the high-calorie meal to consider the advisability of diving in. Animals rarely do this: If a hungry lion has an antelope before her, she eats. And we can postpone the decision as long as we like. Even if the actual choice we make at some particular moment in time is determined, the length of time we wait for that moment to arrive is not.

Not too sure if it helps or not but several passages in that link got me to think on a few things.

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 01:37 PM
reply to post by NewAgeMan

I'm trying to grasp exactly what your point is. You seem to be adding many different ideas together, which has kind of confused me. Again, I see no need to add the abstract conceptual idea of "God" into this discussion, it only sends us further away from what we are trying to clarify. We create "God" to say he/it created us. Even if this makes us happy and gives us a feeling of warmth and security, it does nothing to help us clarify reality.

And I really don't think Sartre said life is "meaningless", in fact, quite the opposite. He said, in his argument for absolute Free-Will, that we can give life whatever meaning we wish. This means, that we have the ability to give great meaning to an intrinsically meaningless life. A child growing up in the Ghetto has the ability to give meaning and purpose to his/her struggles, thus something to live for. I think that is great, but it is not why I wrote the OP.

I wrote the OP because his claim for absolute Free-Will seems to separate us from the entirety of our surroundings, as if they don't influence us. Because if they do influence us, then that is not absolute Free-Will. I thought maybe I misunderstood what he was saying, which is why I asked if anyone else knew this philosophy.

I don't know, right now I am leaning towards Free-Will being an apparent illusion which allows meaning and purpose; a creative force, within an intrinsically purposeless deterministic 'universe'.

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 01:47 PM
reply to post by SolidFaith

Cool. And in that quote you added, couldn't that also be perceived as a predetermined decision? It seems like with enough reduction and thought, every perceived free action or decision could be given a predetermined cause, thus denoting the whole notion of Free-Will. For instance, that person stopped to think about how healthy the food is because he feels unhealthy, which is a quality that was influenced by prior conditions. Maybe his wife called him fat, or he was watching basketball on the television and became envious of the athletes physique, thus the choice to stop and think about the food was already made before he even sat down to eat. And maybe his wife called him fat because she was watching television and saw what she deemed to be attractive athletes, and maybe she was watching television because she was stressed out from work and watching television is a culturally conditioned method of stress relief... on and on we could go.

Just playing devil's advocate.

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 01:49 PM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

there are certain things that are determined,, and there is a gradient of free will.... humans compared to everything else we know physically exists have a tremendous amount of freewill, we have the definition of freewill/free choice,,, we have the largest selection of choices...... I will not bring the abstract concept of god into this, but maybe you shouldnt be soo shunning of the idea,, almost fearful of that being a possible truth,, actually it seems you have made up your mind there is absolutely no way anything could have created the universe....

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 01:56 PM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

im gonna reply fast n i guess u will follow bc u seem smart enough

existence is to truth first so truth only would have any end of it, i think u got that already from what i keep repeating

truth is freedom value, this also is said before
but as objective positive constancy of absolute right facts out of freedom superiority moves

when truth is freedom value then the issue is the possible existence of what is not true since freedom cant b conditioned by truth while nothing objectively

so truth run fast to realize objective existence rights that else freedom cannot do of course, then would come the time to kick what is not truly free out of existence by forcing them to their own results of never being free

im loosing focus, back to the track i meant

the point of free will in truth is to consider objective freedom as superior fact
when u value being free u would value any true objective freedom existence truly so as superior to ur own freedom value,

of course noone mean that in free will

truth looks fine with it, from the term of nothing freedom right
nothing freedom is the exception of rights being given, u cant talk to nothing to explain to smthg
so since truth is freedom value then nothing would be free as a fact result, but as nothing in subjective truth of its freedom it cant mean objective freedom nor any value or superiority

so that is why it looks ok all those shapes of means and energies run of free useless wills, knowing that it wont change a thing as if it doesnt exist

but, when nothing reach to find pleasure in existing and start to enjoy targeting truth weakness, by willing to abuse the concept of absolute condition in forcing a concept of freedom being subjective and exclusively individual that give the right to any to destroy another freedom or freedom realities, then the red alarm start to bippp saying it is the time

like it is the time now to know that truth is constant base set as absolute objective fact, which is that constant is always in absolute superiority terms existing, so there is no way of accepting nothing to exist or to mediocre repetitions of being

watch out what u want u might get it on ur face

freedom kick u out

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 02:00 PM
reply to post by ImaFungi

No, I have not made any definitive decision on the matter. In fact, that is why I would rather leave that out of the discussion, because it IS just an abstract concept that none of us can be absolute about. Maybe there is a "creator", yet this "creator" cannot be given any qualities because by doing so we have limited 'it' to human experience. So therefore, if 'it' is quality-less, what point is there to use 'it' as a quality for an argument or conversation piece? This is also exactly why Sartre put this aside. Our society could very much as well make up a new word, say "Hoglumish", and give it certain abstract qualities we conceptualize about, and then use it for argument and worship and conversation too. It is pointless. If the concept of "God" makes you feel good, then okay, that is fine with me. But don't bring it into a philosophical argument because it is too abstract of a concept and it falls apart too quickly.

posted on Apr, 28 2012 @ 02:08 PM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

I think that's fair and certainly could be a dilemma in that proposed statement as everything boils down to something we can easily connect it with that of an outcome. Though it seems that stimuli would change the factors of free will as you said in that these small implants into our knowledge base would shape our actions and then become that of predestined actions. So then for it to be that of free will we would necessarily have to limit the amount of stimuli on us; but in our current generation that is not as feasible as it once was. Though eturning to that of the proposed question in your OP I think perhaps this could go in line with the last few sentences?

"there surely is an external nature, yet it is man's free choice to view it as he sees fit. Therefore, even though nature may influence his "invention" of self, ultimately it is his choice to choose how it influences him. "

I feel like I have made a very weak connection though and really would like to expand upon it yet I just need to know if this is even going in the right direction or if somehow I slipped off because of the few tangents I was making previously. This all speaking primarily of the quote of course.

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