The Socratic Method was used to help clarify certain concepts in philosophy such as beauty, piety, morality, etc. This paper shall aim to clarify another concept in philosophy, which is freedom, using the Socratic Method as its main tool. In addition, the notion of freedom which will be discussed here is the Existential notion of freedom, most notably the concept of freedom according to Jean Paul Sartre. Before we begin with our inquiry, we need to ask “ what is freedom according to Sartre? ” Freedom for Sartre is basically freedom to choose.
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We are free to choose whatever we wish to do in our life as long as we are ready to accept the consequences of these actions. So this concept also implies that although that we humans are an embodiment of total freedom, we are also an embodiment of total responsibility. This absolute responsibility leaves us vulnerable since we will have no one to blame for the mistakes in our lives except ourselves. The problem here is that this responsibility on our lives is very overwhelming that we tend to hide from this fact and point our fingers at other factors to explain why we are living in a very unwanted manner.
Aside from this great responsibility, Sartre also states that each and every choice that we make is a reflection on how we want society to act. It can be compared with Kant’s categorical imperative which basically states that we should act according to a maxim that can be applied as a universal law. So in applying this with Sartre’s philosophy, every time we choose to get married our decision would also imply that we expect every individual to practice monogamy. Now, given this great responsibility and the burden of choosing for the entire humanity, we now understand why Sartre also said that “ Man is condemned to be free.”(Sartre, 1960 p. 483)
Given this fact, we now ask ourselves “ is there any way that we could avoid choosing and let go of this great responsibility? ” The answer is this is a resounding “ No. ” According to Sartre, we can never escape the act of choosing. Whether they are very important decisions or not, we are frequently faced with choices in our lives and we shall hold full responsibility for them. Stating that we had “ no choice” is an act of bad faith. Bad faith for Sartre is the act of lying to one’s self.
We usually try to convince ourselves of a certain fact even though we are fully aware that this idea that we are trying to force to ourselves is totally false. So Sartre would consider not choosing because we had no choice would be an act of bad faith for the fact remains that we could have chosen something or otherwise. Now, you may ask “ but aren’t there may be times that certain conditions force us to act in a manner that we do not desire, hence leading you to say that you had no choice? ” Yes, it is true that certain situations may tend to let you act in a manner which is against your principles.
However, Sartre will assert that you always had the freedom to choose otherwise. Now, the consequences of choosing this instead of that may have a negative impact on your life but nevertheless the choice was still there. So given this, there really is no such thing as having “ no choice” but only the illusion of it. This basically means that although certain factors may lead you into acting in a certain manner a person is always free to choose. Now, choosing otherwise does not necessarily make it a better decision but the fact of choosing between this or that still remains.
Now, we may ask “ if it is possible to choose something in the beginning and then opt of the opposite in the future? ” Yes, remember that Sartre said “ existence comes before essence” (Sartre 1973 p. 2) which means that as long as we are alive, we will always be pour-soi or beings-for-themselves who are empty or without essence. It will only be in death that we will become complete and in-ourselves. In addition, we are all free to change our decisions as long as we can hold the moral repercussions of our actions.
Now since we cannot escape from choosing and that we hold absolute responsibility for both our lives and the whole of humanity, we now ask: “ if there is no one we can turn to for our personal choices, and given the problem of bad faith, then how would we know if we made the right decision or merely acting in bad faith? ” This question is frequently asked regarding Sartre’s ethics. Unfortunately, Sartre never gave any guidelines or ideas which one should follow in order to arrive with the right decision.
Being an existentialist, Sartre believed that we are all abandoned in this world, meaning that we have nothing else but ourselves to rely to when deciding what to do in our lives. These statements now show us that freedom is not necessarily something that we should look for or hold dearly in our hearts. Instead, freedom in the view of Sartre shows us that freedom can also be a very dreadful and inescapable part of our lives. We must hold it with full responsibility and how you should handle it is all up to you.