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Jean Paul Sartre

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The type of philosophy Sartre’s existential metaphysics focus on includes 1st order ethical issues and focuses on analytic ethics, contrasted with analytic philosophy. This is important because when we do existential metaphysics, we don’t treat metaphysical questions as purely theoretical ones. We’re actually interested in getting a proper understanding of what we, and the world we inhabit, are like. The 1st order ethical question asks what to do or be in a certain kind of situation- Sartre uses his answer to give a picture of Human Nature.
The cosmic question states: “how can one bring into one’s individual life a recognition of one’s relation to the universe as a whole, whatever that relation is?” Sartre answers this by saying that the cosmic question has no answer, but his sense is that the absence of an answer, even if we aren’t aware of that, is something palpable in our lives and needs to be addressed and we need to cope with it. His idea of human nature is really an exploration of how we should deal with the fact that there is no answer to this cosmic question.
For Sartre, to understand the structure of this world as a whole, one has to understand the place consciousness has in the world. He continues to emphasize that our consciousness is what makes us distinct, makes us human. Intentionality, self consciousness, self-determination, and their interconnectedness.
Firstly, let me iterate that “intentionality” is being used in a sense NOT related to one of its meanings which means “deliberate”. I am not referring to the “intentional” as “deliberate” in this paper. “Intentionality” is a technical term from Medieval Philosophy. Let’s explore the aspects of intentionality.
“Intentionality: a term for the fact that certain relations we stand in have intentional objects” (lecture 4).
Sartre believes that intentionality has important ethical significance; it is involved in the core issues of our human predicament. Sartre also believes that Husserl’s view on intentionality is revolutionary, and offers us a new way of tackling questions about the nature of consciousness. An intentional object is the object of a psychological/mental phenomenon. . In order for the object to be intentional is must either a) not exist, or b) not be particular. When Brentano investigated about the fundamental distinction between mental and physical phenomena, he came upon “intentional criterion”, a phenomenon that is mental rather than physical because it has an intentional object. So, if there is a relation to some intentional object, the phenomena must be mental, for that object, since it’s intentional, either doesn’t exist or isn’t particular, and thus the relation to this object just CANNOT be physical, it must be in one’s own mind (a mental phenomena). This is the idea of intentionality. (*Brentano uses the term intentional inexistence to describe intentional objects, because they exist in one’s own mind only. So when Sartre talks about intentionality, he’s talking about the phenomenon of intentional inexistence, about the phenomenon of having an intentional object.
Sartre believes that phenomenology is a method of studying the nature of human consciousness- and thereby human nature, and chooses the phenomenological viewpoint over the digestive picture. I will not go into details as to why he believes the phenomenological aspect is correct and digestive philosophy insufficient because that is not relevant to Jean Paul Sartre’s view on human nature for this paper. I will take Sartre’s analysis of phenomenology into account for this paper.
The subject matter of phenomenology is about what the subject wants to know or understand about its objects. It is the way that the intentional objects of our consciousness appear to us when were cognizing them. Now, the relation of one’s cognizing about one’s self appears to include two types of awareness: 1) awareness of some me, and 2) awareness of my awareness of myself. Sartre’s self-consciousness requirement that states that anything I am aware of, I must be ALSO aware of me being aware of that thing. Thus, there are two types of awareness occurring: Jean Paul calls them positional self-consciousness and non-positional self-consciousness. So, the positional self-consciousness involves awareness of myself in a way that I can be aware of anything else, like a toy bucket for instance (I can observe and respond to my awareness of it). Positional self-consciousness secondly involves awareness about me in a way that other people can be aware of me (I can think about, imagine, or love myself, just like others can do the same about me). Non-positional self-consciousness can do neither of these things. First it’s a way to be conscious of myself in a way that I can NOT be conscious of anything else. Second, it’s a way I’m conscious of myself that is not available to others to be conscious of me. He believes it is through non-positional self consciousness that I as a human being make myself to be oriented towards the world in the ways I am. And this is fundamental to the distinctive nature that conscious beings have: we are self-making beings. This is the claim for the Being of Consciousness. This claims that we are perpetually posing and answering the question of what or how to be. It also claims that our answers to such questions determine what and how we are. How and what we are is to orient ourselves towards the intentional objects of our consciousness: “Consciousness is being such that in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself”(B and N).
Sartre believes that our existence precedes our essence, and something whose existence precedes its essence gives itself its own essence. Thus, we human beings give ourselves our own essence, through what is called self-determinism. That is where an entity, through non-positional self-consciousness, which is the vehicle by which a conscious entity determines what orientation it will have towards the intentional objects of which it is conscious: what it will believe about them, respond to them in action, what attitudes it will have towards them. The problem starts to arise when we go deeper into what non-positional self-consciousness entails: committing yourself to something of universal import (universal commitment).
Now that we looked at intentionality, self-consciousness, and self-determinism, I am going to explain their interconnectedness. I have shown that Sartre believes that non-positional self-consciousness entails us the freedom to be self-deterministic. Self determinism is related to the non-positional self-consciousness claim that it is us that determines our attitude, beliefs, and choices towards a certain object. Because of this, we are also responsible for those choices and beliefs and attitudes. Intentionality is connected to self-consciousness because self-consciousness is involved in every act of consciousness in regards to an intentional object. So, when conscious of an intentional object, we are also conscious of our selves. Furthermore, upon deciding what action to take, attitude to carry, or belief we should have, it is a result of our own self-determinism that makes this happen in the instance of consciousness. Sartre believes the freedom of non-positional self-consciousness and self-determinism can actually bring anguish and abandonment.
Anguish is the anxiety over the responsibility one has for any exercise of freedom. Non-positional self-consciousness posits universal commitment, committing yourself to some universal import where you must take something to have feature F (where F is a grounding feature). A grounding feature for a kind of act is a feature of its object that makes that kind of act an appropriate response to it. Sartre believes that there are two types of anguish, anguish in the face of the future and anguish in the face of the past. In anguish I’m non-positionally conscious of myself, not as a “thing among things” (positional), but as the source of my own attitudes, choices, and beliefs concerning what I will do (choice referring to decision not intention.) In anguish in the face of the future I am responding to something I might do in the future, or in anguish in the face of the past I am responding to something about my past self. I think the anguish part is come from facing what we learned about human nature: that my existence is being addressed constantly, as an ongoing question, and that I am responsible for my beliefs, intentions, and feelings, and yet I cannot keep the same ones in the past and future, I must constantly be addressing them.
Abandonment is a sense of profound isolation at being the only one who can exercise my own freedom. Because my consciousness is non-positional self-consciousness, I am faced with a choice relating to something that only involves my consciousness and attitudes and believes and feelings with my object, but it is not apparent to anyone else nor can anyone have my consciousness’ choice. Thus, a sense of loneliness and isolation occurs being the only one who is non-positionally self-conscious in a situation and must be the one to make a decision, no one can decide for me. Sartre believes that were constantly vulnerable to anguish and abandonment, and thus we are likely to self-deceive ourselves to avoid our freedom. This avoidance of anguish and abandonment can fall into bad faith: we can distract ourselves from fully acknowledging our freedom and the aspects of it that can inspire these reactions. In doing so, we are not facing up to the facts of what we are, unpleasant or not, and Sartre believes this is an inherent cowardice we have. So, Sartre’s account of human nature includes a duality- a duality in how we relate to ourselves as conscious beings- that parallels the duality between the deceived, that we can actually hide ourselves from ourselves. In further explaining bad faith, Sartre brings the example of a waiter in a café. The waiter is a perfect exemplar of the ideal waiter in action: his movements indicate he’s working busily and trying to help customers, he is attending to any orders that might be called out, and he is almost “performing” perfect actions and precise movements to indicate he is an efficient waiter. Sartre believes that he is not acting “normally”, he is in fact “play-acting” to be a waiter, which gives him qualities not similar to a human being, but rather similar to a “machinistic” waiter. The waiter is acting in bad faith because he is ignoring his own freedom to choose how to behave and how to act, and instead forcing a certain persona on himself that he must conform to.
Sartre recognizes how our choices affect and reflect our attitudes and beliefs, and thus making choices to avoid our freedom is going to leave us ignorant and lacking self-understanding, which is very important! Sartre offers a solution to this problem by encouraging people to make a “radical choice” meaning to choose one thing over another for no reason other than that a choice needs to be made (rather than avoided). Another alternative to bad faith can be good faith. Good faith is the acceptance of one’s freedom, accepting that one is responsible for the outcomes of the experiences of anguish and abandonment are addressed, faced, and acknowledged in reality. It’s just hard to understand what goes on in bad faith as completely fixable forever, and that good-faith can conquer our difficult decisions consistently and effectively all the time. This doesn’t sound realistic because many times we are not positionally conscious of how we are deceiving ourselves, and thus the non-positional awareness might not enable us to become positionally aware and thus make a decision on good faith instead of bad faith.…...

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